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

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

Anthony: "[I]f you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first." ( Suhl, 1959:238)

During the 1870s and 1880s, nativist sentiment increasingly permeated suffragist rhetoric. The moral superiority of white women, suffragists argued, would offset the treachery of Chinese immigrants, counteract the drunkenness of the Irish, and civilize Eastern and Southern Europeans. Granting white women the vote would be a counterweight to immigrant votes. As anti-suffragist rhetors often argued, white women would vote as their husbands did or white women's votes would offset African-American votes. This second argument was less pronounced after the turn of the century, perhaps because the advent of Jim Crow laws had effectively eliminated Black male suffrage ( Woodward, 1974). Of course, nativism is wholly inconsistent with an ideology of humanism, but by the latter decades of the nineteenth century, suffragist rhetoric was grounded more in issues of expediency than questions of inherent human rights. Potowski Rose's ideology had always contradicted arguments from expediency; her persona as a foreigner living in a foreign land alienated her from the movement she helped create. Thus, movement historians would have very little incentive to seek out, record, or publicize the rhetoric of a woman whose ideology was so inconsistent with the views of the woman suffrage movement.


CONCLUSION

One of the realities faced by members of movements for societal change is that they must adapt if they are either to survive or succeed ( Simons, 1970). Another reality is that movements will be attractive to potential members only if they offer a sufficiently broad ideology to be relevant to the experiences, needs, and desires of their audiences. If the espoused ideology changes, so does the potential appeal of its rhetoric. Demands for adaptation that audiences and opposing rhetors impose on movement rhetors inevitably create tensions between ideological purity and practical demands for effective political action. Rhetors may respond to these tensions in two ways. They may strive to maintain internal unity by retaining a pure ideology, which may not only lead to a cohesive and homogeneous movement, but may also increase the alienation between movement and society ( Shils, 1968). Alternatively, they may sacrifice ideological purity in an attempt to obtain enhanced opportunities to effect desired sociopolitical changes, resulting in an ideology altered to make it more palatable to outsiders. The cost of reducing ideological purity is an increased potential for internal schism. As an ideology becomes more pragmatic, it becomes less visionary. When visions are modified or abandoned, the grounds for unification of the movement are lost. As the early women's movement progressed, the originating ideology of the essential humanness of women was transformed into the essentially different ideology of national improvement that characterized the later movement.

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