Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric

By Gregory Clark; S. Michael Halloran | Go to book overview

7
Jane Addams and the Social Rhetoric of Democracy

Catherine Peaden

The rhetoric of Jane Addams presents itself as an exemplary site for an examination of resistance to the Burkean "transformation" of oratorical into professional culture as interpreted by Halloran and Clark in the introduction to this volume. Addams, born in 1860 on the threshold of the transformation, forged a powerful rhetoric of social reform by articulating familiar strands of classical oratorical discourse with Enlightenment and contemporary Christian discourses. This late-century synthesis represents a distinctive strand of women's Progressive Era rhetoric.

The daughter of an Illinois pioneer and politician, Addams spoke in the tradition of her father's friend, frontiersman-turned-moral- leader Abraham Lincoln, calling for a new, more moral vision of democracy based not on competitive individualism but on a "social ethic." Appropriating the tradition of Greek democracy, she espoused a higher, democratic ethic in which the social claim would be recognized as superseding the individual and the family claim ( Addams [ 1902] 1907, 77). 1

In her many speeches, articles, and books, Addams urged women, as the morally superior sex, to be the initiators of this new stage in the "evolution" of democracy. She encouraged them to expand their province from the domestic hearth to "municipal housekeeping," and, in her later texts, extended women's sphere even to the international arena, in particular the global feeding of the hungry. From the 1889 founding of Chicago's Hull-House settlement, Addams and her partner, Ellen Gates Starr, espoused a "feminine cooperative ethic" in

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