Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

have its basis in a consciousness of the truth and justice of our cause, and which kept the members of the Convention unmoved, amid all the prevailing confusion, gives us matter of real congratulation. (WRC, New York, September 6-7, 1853, Proceedings, 55, quoted in CSAS:206-207)

Beyond the presence of mind, courage, and integrity that she enacted as she spoke, this series of rhetorical moves was brilliant, in part, because she appropriated an act calculated to intimidate and silence the women. She also redefined it to provide dramatic evidence of how men oppress women and proof of the very claims about woman's rights that the women had gathered to advance. She and her audience became heroines who survived and prevailed during the experience of overt oppression. As such, they could not be defined as the "weaker sex," expressly enacting a refutation of the myths about women's need for protection. She took this argument even further by alluding in the final line to the women's calm self-reliance as evidence for the truth, justice, and moral righteousness of their cause.


CONCLUSION

Lucretia Coffin Mott's public speeches merit study because she represents a singular voice in nineteenth-century U.S. reform. The most distinctive quality of her rhetoric was the degree to which she relied on a religious foundation for her arguments about all reform, a foundation firmly rooted in her experience as a Quaker. This foundation was the basis for her complex rhetoric about the means to realize a world replete with equality, peace, and justice. Although her way of thinking was characterized by broad, abstract principles, its elements-- her epistemology, moral and political philosophy, and rhetoric--were intricately related and internally consistent.

Furthermore, Coffin Mott's discourses merit study in that she addressed virtually every reform movement in nineteenth-century U.S. life. Her rhetoric displayed her ability to draw explicit connections among diverse movements. These connections were evident to her because of her central belief that the inward light "equalized" all humanity ( Bacon, 1980:73; Greene, CSAS:9).

Finally, Coffin Mott's discourses merit study because of the range of her rhetorical techniques and her distinctive style. She was an extemporaneous speaker of remarkable eloquence whose rhetoric was beautifully crafted and is still moving more than a century later. Her style was characterized by connecting broad principles with everyday actions to exemplify them, to make them accessible to people of diverse backgrounds, and to empower them actively to improve society. Her style and highly imagistic language enabled her to connect spiritual insights to contemporaneous contexts. Above all, she held before her audiences a vision of an ideal society and sought to persuade them that their choices and actions had the potential to make that society real.

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