A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840-1910

By Martha M. Solomon | Go to book overview

11
Evolving Rhetorical Strategies/ Evolving Identities

Linda Steiner

The reliance of American woman's rights advocates on their own periodicals for organizing and sustaining an entire social movement is clearly articulated in the introduction to this volume. The preceding chapters trace how journals published by women activists mixed various kinds of symbolic materials in order to attract and convert women readers and to bring them together as a community. Articles, editorials, and even fiction and poetry helped women to recognize their common oppression and the obstacles they confronted on account of their gender.

As Kohrs Campbell has observed, consciousness-raising was a primary rhetorical strategy for generating a sense of community within the woman's movement; she shows how this worked in speeches, debates, and public discussions.1 Rhetors had a crucial role in helping women come to recognize their common problems, the educational and professional barriers they faced as women, and the mounting restrictions on their social and political activity. Furthermore, speakers could enact on the platform the "new woman" who could replace the "true woman" ideal. So aware were Anna Howard Shaw and other movement leaders of this task that they carefully chose both dress and hairstyle to demonstrate how the new woman could be different without appearing abrasive or "unwomanly."

The nineteenth-century woman's rights publications were also necessary, given that "new women" then had relatively few opportunities to meet in person, to see what these new women actually looked like. Local, state, and even national organizations sponsored speaking tours, meetings, and conventions, but these were hardly enough to support an emergent political movement, much less a cultural community just beginning to form itself. These publica-

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