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

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

Making a final assessment of this prodigious rhetorical career is complicated because of the extremes to which Jackson Gougar and her critics went. On the one hand, she delivered more than 4,000 speeches during her career and was often paid between $50 and $100 per speech, impressive sums for her day. Coupled with the favorable critiques of her rhetorical prowess, these reports lead to the conclusion that she was, in at least some sense, a popular and successful rhetor.

On the other hand, Jackson Gougar inspired outspoken critics. One went so far as to spell her name "Hellen" saying "one I does not properly classify her" (HGC). In addition, her overpowering moral stance and singleminded determination to pursue her vision of the one true path made her an occasional organizational annoyance, if not an outright embarrassment. She never captured the imagination or the leadership of the movements which were, to her, dearer than life itself ( OH, April 14, 1883:2). As a moral warrior, she crossed the line to become a fanatic zealot and alienated those with whom she was attempting to serve. Her failure to accomplish more as a reformer was probably caused as much by the internal conflicts she engendered in the movements as by any difficulties she had with liquor traffickers or recalcitrant legislators.

Jackson Gougar's confrontational rhetoric was, in many ways, a precursor of later feminist activism. At a time when few echoed her concerns, she called for "equal pay for equal work" and encouraged women to have more ambition. She was vicious in her sarcasm and abrasive in her attack. She willingly risked her character and her reputation in order to be politically active and to represent unpopular positions. Like so many first-and second-generation feminists, she did not live to see most of the reforms she advocated come into being. Nonetheless, she spoke, she wrote, she sued, she stood firm, believing to her death that "women are people" and that the right would prevail.


SOURCES

The Helen Gougar Collection (HGC), Alameda McCollough Library, Tippecanoe County Historical Association, Lafayette, Indiana, contains her notebook compilations of newspaper reports and transcripts of her speeches. These papers are important given her heavy use of extemporaneous delivery. The Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, has the only sizable holding of Our Herald; twenty-five issues ( August 13, 1881, February 24-August 11, 1883) are on microfilm. The Library also owns the last five months of the paper ( September 1884-January 1885) in original copy, but, at this writing, the issues are not available for study. The History of Women Collection (HOW) has two of Jackson Gougar's undated pamphlets; miscellaneous articles by her are in general circulation publications of the day such as the Arena and the Voice. Speech excerpts are found in HWS and in suffrage papers such as the Woman's Tribune and the New Era.

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