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

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

the establishment of Jerusalem as an international city. Here, as on women's educational issues, she was ahead of her time, but her voice carried little weight in political circles. By the time her dream was realized, people had forgotten her prophetic words and recalled Emma Hart Willard only as an outstanding educator.


CONCLUSION

At her death in 1870, the New York Times called Emma Hart Willard the "most famous teacher in America." Perhaps her true genius in life as in her Plan was

to find a way to work within the framework of social expectations about women's proper behavior without allowing that framework to hamper seriously her very large plans or limit her ambition. The skill with which she did this is attested by the fact that while she achieved a public career stretching over fifty years, she was seldom criticized for stepping out of her place. . . . A close study of Willard's projects and methods shows that a determined woman dedicated to bringing about change could overcome these complexities and obstacles without alienating the men who controlled the money and power she needed, and how she could build a highly successful career by using for her own ends social stereotypes about woman's place . . . watching her, [her pupils] could learn something of the techniques for effective functioning in a male-dominated society. Few lessons could have been more useful to an ambitious nineteenth-century woman. (Quoted in Scott, 1978a:702-703)

Throughout her long life and in her voluminous writings, Hart Willard relied on the "strength of argument" to advocate her major cause: the improvement of society through the education of women. Her argument relied on the persona she created and enacted: a respectable, proper, pious homemaker and wife who was also intelligent and informed because she had been well educated. She never deviated from her singular strategy: to influence men in high places to do what would benefit her sex because it was part of their proper role as "the head of human society, and with him improvement should begin and it is his superior stability by which it must be sustained" ( 1848, Letter to L'Eure). Clothed in feminine propriety, she appealed to masculine superiority through an argument rooted in domesticated logic and pragmatic republicanism. One wonders why this woman who could argue like a lawyer but humbly asked men to read her speeches in public was never suspect. Did her deference to custom and her excellent reputation as an educator cloak her radical stance? Did men fail to realize the changes that her education would bring in young women to come? Was the erudite and articulate Hart Willard such a consummate actress that she convinced them that all future educated women would continue to defer, as she did, to "male superiority?"

Although arguing from the same premises of female equality and women's rights that created problems for her predecessor Mary Wollstonecraft in England

-251-

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