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Imagining Rhetoric

Imagining Rhetoric: Composing Women of the Early United States

Janet Carey Eldred
Peter Mortensen
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    Imagining Rhetoric
    Book Description:

    Imagining Rhetoricexamines how women's writing developed in the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War, and how women imagined using their education to further the civic aims of an idealistic new nation.In the late eighteenth century, proponents of female education in the United States appropriated the language of the Revolution to advance the cause of women's literacy. Schooling for women-along with abolition, suffrage, and temperance-became one of the four primary arenas of nineteenth-century women's activism. Following the Revolution, textbooks and fictions about schooling materialized that revealed ideal curricula for women covering subjects from botany and chemistry to rhetoric and composition. A few short decades later, such curricula and hopes for female civic rhetoric changed under the pressure of threatened disunion.Using a variety of texts, including novels, textbooks, letters, diaries, and memoirs, Janet Carey Eldred and Peter Mortensen chart the shifting ideas about how women should learn and use writing, from the early days of the republic through the antebellum years. They also reveal how these models shaped women's awareness of female civic rhetoric-both its possibilities and limitations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7881-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 Introduction The Tradition of Female Civic Rhetoric
    (pp. 1-33)

    In the years surroundingthe American Revolution, civic rhetoric grew rich with opposing images of tyranny and liberation, anarchy and restraint, lawlessness and justice. This richness, history shows, was not exclusive to the rhetoric of men. Long before the feminist Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions was drafted at Seneca Falls in 1848, civic rhetoric was available to the women of the new republic. True, full civic membership—legal citizenship—was denied women until passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Yet a form of what we call liberatory civic rhetoric, written by women and directed toward their concerns in life,...

  2. 2 Schooling Fictions
    (pp. 34-65)

    In 1807 Dr. Benjamin Rush,the celebrated champion of U.S. women’s education, enthusiastically endorsed the second edition of Donald Fraser’sThe Mental Flower Garden,recommending its adoption in all women’s schools: “ACCEPT my thanks for the valuable publication which you sent to me. I shall, with great pleasure, endeavour to bring your‘Mental Flower-Garden,’into notice; it is calculated to do good: if my influence were as extensive as my wishes to promote its circulation and usefulness, it should be adopted in ALL theFemale Academiesand Female Schools in the United States.”¹ Given Rush’s enthusiasm, we expected to find...

  3. 3 A Commonplace Rhetoric Judith Sargent Murray’s Margaretta Narrative
    (pp. 66-88)

    Writing with an earnestnessborn of the American Revolution, Judith Sargent Murray, essayist and playwright, shared her compatriots’ faith in the power of rhetoric and felt strongly that this power could and should be claimed by women. Indeed, Murray suggested that the Revolution provided the impetus for her ideas about gender equality.¹ But as we discussed in the introduction, Murray also shared her compatriots’ fear of sophistry, their fear that rhetoric misused might turn an illiterate populace against republican virtue. To ensure its effectiveness, republican rhetoric had to be safeguarded. For Murray the political essayist, a national language standard, a...

  4. 4 Sketching Rhetorical Change Mrs. A. J. Graves on Girlhood and Womanhood
    (pp. 89-112)

    The fictionsin Hannah Webster Foster’sThe Boarding Schooland Judith Sargent Murray’sThe Gleanercertainly evince an interest, perhaps even a preoccupation, with imagining how young women in the early years of nation making might best acquire and use an advanced rhetorical education. It is possible, however, that neitherThe Boarding SchoolnorThe Gleanercirculated widely in the new republic. And so, while the impetus to create these schooling fictions was strong, their influence was no doubt limited. It would be some time, decades in fact, before such imaginings, penned by a new generation of U.S. women, would...

  5. 5 The Commonsense Romanticism of Louisa Caroline Tuthill
    (pp. 113-144)

    Favoring feminine delicacyand ardently opposed to woman suffrage, Louisa Caroline Tuthill might seem an unusual subject for a study of women’s civic liberatory rhetoric. A prolific writer of juvenile fiction, Tuthill occupies a minor place in the history of women’s fiction—and that perhaps only because the influential Sarah Josepha Hale found occasion to mention her inWoman’s Record.¹ Tuthill’s standing is further diminished by discussions of her deficiencies as a novelist: namely, that her narratives are hopelessly didactic. “Many woman’s fictions,” Nina Baym reminds us, “are long, complex, densely plotted novels containing numerous characters, experimenting with dialogue and...

  6. 6 Independent Studies Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps and the Composition of Democratic Teachers
    (pp. 145-188)

    Over a half centuryafter the Revolutionary War, liberatory civic rhetoric fueled a growing women’s suffrage movement, just as it remained a feature of prose that imagined or prescribed the conditions of women’s schooling.¹ But by this time, as we saw in the case of Louisa Tuthill, there had come to be a sharp divide between those who spoke out directly for political rights and those who, as educators, wrote and promoted writing as a way to inscribe women’s power through domestic influence. Almira Phelps, like Tuthill, provides an example of the latter stance. The success of Phelps’s many books...

  7. 7 Conclusion Rhetorical Limits in the Schooling and Teaching Journals of Charlotte Forten
    (pp. 189-214)

    In the midst of the Civil War, Almira Phelps threw considerable energy into editing a collection of essays she hoped would strengthen loyalty to the union while softening condemnation of “our erring brethren of the South.” Her own contribution toOur Country, in Its Relations to the Past, Present and Future: A National Book(1864) is a blank verse poem that recites the history of the United States from colonial days through the War of Secession. Recurrent in its stanzas are images of sectional harmony, none so familiar as a return to her school at Patapsco, where Phelps asks readers...

  8. Appendix 1: Chronologies
    (pp. 215-219)
  9. Appendix 2: From Hannah Webster Foster’s The Boarding School (1798)
    (pp. 220-222)
  10. Appendix 3: From Judith Sargent Murray’s The Gleaner (1798)
    (pp. 223-228)
  11. Appendix 4: From Louisa Caroline Tuthill’s The Young Lady’s Home (1839)
    (pp. 229-231)
  12. Appendix 5: From Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps’s Lectures to Young Ladies (1833)
    (pp. 232-242)