FROM THE LATE 1860s TO THE MID-1870s, HARRIET BEECHER STOWE AND Elizabeth Stuart Phelps made public forays into the controversies surrounding the American woman's movement. 1 As early as 1865, Stowe avowed that the Woman Question was the next great social debate, the cause to which the nation should turn its attention with the Civil War over and Reconstruction underway. "This question of Woman and her Sphere is now, perhaps, the greatest of the age," Stowe suggested in one of her Chimney-Corner papers 2 -especially now that America had "put Slavery under foot" ("Chimney" 673). 3 In turn, Phelps couched her rallying call in even more inflated terms, writing a series of women's reform articles for the Independent and the Woman's Journal from July 1871 to February 1874. 4 "It is no great figure of speech," asserted Phelps, "to say that the 'woman question' is the most tremendous question God has ever asked the world since he asked, 'What think ye of Christ?' on Calvary" ("Higher Claim" 343).
But while Stowe and Phelps claimed this Question "the greatest," "the most tremendous" of the age or even of a millennium, both writers employed this discourse as a vehicle for more immediate aims: to set themselves up as cultural mediators for women readers, simultaneously "just like" their audience yet artists quite apart from them. To achieve this position, Stowe and Phelps adopted remarkably similar rhetorical strategies within the context of Woman's Rights. On the one hand, both formulated analogous models of "strong femininity" that appropriated masculine authority without sacrificing womanly decorum. On the other, both applied this model as the basis of a symbolic system for professional female artistry in a transnational context, constructing images of England-especially of George Eliot and her novels-as evidence of their artistic and professional influence over women readers.
This chapter, then, begins by characterizing this simultaneously aesthetic yet professional model of "strong femininity," a model predicated on the movement for