Desiring Citizenship: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Wells/Willard Controversy

By Parker, Maegan | Women's Studies in Communication, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Desiring Citizenship: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Wells/Willard Controversy


Parker, Maegan, Women's Studies in Communication


The debate between Frances E. Willard (1839-1898) and Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) concerning the horrors of lynching in the 1890s was also, and l argue fundamentally, about the expansion of citizenship. A rhetorical analysis of this public argument, which spanned nearly a decade and took place before national and international audiences, offers a glimpse into how sexual desire, race, and gender functioned as mutually constitutive categories of identity in turn-of-the-century struggles for suffrage. Keywords: Frances E. Willard, Ida B. Wells, suffrage, lynching, sexual desire, nineteenth-century reform

**********

On October 23, 1890, the Voice, a temperance publication based in New York, interviewed Frances E. Willard, (1) the second national president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), about the "race problem" in the South. Willard, a "Northern temperance woman," who had "spoken and worked in perhaps 200 ... [Southern] towns and cities," offered her perspective as a sympathetic expert-outsider to the region ("The Race Problem" 8). Beginning with the declaration, "I am a true lover of the Southern people," Willard shared the harsh reality of Southern life with her Northern audience: "The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt." She asserted, "The grog shop is its centre of power. The safety of women, of childhood, of the home is menaced in a thousand localities at this moment so that [white] men dare not go beyond the sight of their own roof-tree" (8). In statements such as these littered throughout the interview, Willard attributed the South's racial problems to one categorical culprit: the drunken black beast rapist, in so doing, she tapped into the cultural capital of this mythical figure, which was frequently invoked to deny the ballot to black men following Reconstruction. In characterizing black men as drunken threats to the safety of the white home, more pointedly, Willard extended central aspects of the "lynch-for-rape" mythology, a justificatory narrative propagated by white supremacist Southerners who defended the act of lynching black men by claiming that it was retributive punishment inflicted for the rape of white women. (2)

Ida B. Wells, (3) a renowned journalist and anti-lynching crusader, began challenging Willard's characterization of black men in 1891, and continued to publicly refute her racist remarks until Willard's death in 1898. Various speeches, letters, newspaper articles and pamphlets, in addition to several interviews given by the women in both the United States and the United Kingdom, comprise the dispute. Reconstructing the fragments of this larger controversy as they developed over space and time reveals several significant points. Although their exchange is ostensibly about the practice of lynching, the Wells/Willard controversy also features competing claims concerning white women's sexual desire and hence her gendered identity as either a morally superior, passive victim of abuse or a willing participant in interracial sexual desire and activity. In this sense, the Wells/Willard controversy underscores the way in which race, sexual desire, and gender identity mutually constituted one another in turn-of-the-century reform campaigns for women's suffrage and black men's full enfranchisement. Willard's campaign for women's suffrage, for instance, reveals that the competing gendered identities Wells and Willard fashioned for white women, which featured either the presence or absence of sexual desire, directly influenced white women's as well as black men's claims to citizenship. In Willard's case, she could not concede to Wells that white women willfully participated in acts of miscegenation without threatening the premise that women's moral superiority formed the basis for their right to vote. For Wells, on the other hand, the argument that white women were consensually involved with black men supported her contention that the lynch-for-rape mythology, which effectively barred black men from political assertion, was a subterfuge masking Southern white men's efforts to retain exclusive rights of full citizenship. …

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

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

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.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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 article

Desiring Citizenship: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Wells/Willard Controversy
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.
    Sign up now 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.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.