"I Am as a Bell That Cannot Ring": Antebellum Women Oratory

By Mattina, Anne | Women and Language, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview

"I Am as a Bell That Cannot Ring": Antebellum Women Oratory


Mattina, Anne, Women and Language


As our understanding of women's position in American history grows, so too, does our knowledge of their role as orators. Within the last decade, much research has been done on women rhetors but an area deserving greater scrutiny is antebellum rhetoric. Noted as the "Golden Age of Oratory'" in American history, little scholastic inquiry has focused on women in the period. Most has focused (understandably) upon woman's rights advocates and abolitionists. This paper explores existing and potential sources and opportunities for study of a wider variety of women within this time. I wish to challenge the notion that these women are easily categorized. Even though women were publicly vilified and privately chastised for speaking out, literally hundreds regularly took the platform.

While the texts of women's speeches from this period are difficult to locate, their legacy is important for a more complete study of the role of women in American rhetoric. From these speakers we can learn much about social movement genesis and the strategies employed to deal with public and religious sanctions against taking to the platform. Three sections follow: a brief review of the literature of the history of rhetoric; suggestions for additional sources; a list of over 80 female speakers from this era as potential subjects of study.

Review of the Literature

That women spoke at all in the antebellum period is surprising, considering the strength of societal prohibitions against such an act. However, inspired by numerous motives, not the least of which was compassion, many female orators faced hostile crowds during this period, their very presence challenging the notion of a "woman's sphere." Doris Yoakum provided a first look at these women in 1937 when "Women Orators of America" first appeared. She focused primarily on abolitionists and woman's rights activists speaking in the antebellum period. Yoakum begins by noting that both men and women adhered to Paul's biblical injunction that "women should keep silent in the church," and extended it to include all public gatherings. Yoakum pointed out how difficult such speech often was:

The Pioneer Women Orator's meetings were fre-

quently broken up, they experienced riots and mob-

bings, and they dodged flying missiles, the favorites

among which seem to have been rotten and fresh

eggs, dried apples, beans ... They tried to speak

above the din of hissing, stamping, groaning, shout-

ing, whistling and other demonstrations of disap-

proval. They endeavored to keep audiences quiet

and attentive in the face of threats of fires, the extin-

guishing of lights, the locking of outside doors, the

breaking of windows and disturbances outside the

halls. (257)

Six years later, in an expanded version of the paper, Yoakum credits these early speakers with establishing the base from which the "Woman Movement" was established. A similar claim is made in almost all remaining articles dealing with antebellum women orators (1943). Yoakum's two articles represent the first published contributions to rhetorical history regarding antebellum women speakers.

Crediting Yoakum with inspiring her interest in this area, Lillian O'Connor wrote Pioneer Women Orators (1954). O'Connor took as her subjects 27 female orators who worked publicly for the causes of temperance, women's rights, abolition, free inquiry, and other topics between the years of 1828--1869. She described the historical setting in which women spoke, gave biographic sketches of her subjects, excerpts from their speeches and analyses of extant texts. Unfortunately, she didn't reproduce the texts themselves within the book. She did, however, give detailed bibliographic references. Questioning the extent to which the women of the antebellum period practiced "sound" rhetorical principles, O'Connor used as criteria both the Aristotelian ideal and mid-nineteenth century expectations as found in Blair, Whatley and Campbell's treatises on rhetoric, concluding that the women exemplified the standards of their time. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"I Am as a Bell That Cannot Ring": Antebellum Women Oratory
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.