“Monitoring Columbia’s Daughters: Writing as Gendered Conduct”

The mental flower garden: Or, An instructive and entertaining companion for the fair sex, 1807

With greater access and attention given to educating women, textbooks written specifically for women appeared where “white women’s rhetorical training was closely aligned with a particular kind of moral and civic conduct – gendered conduct” (47). By tracing textbooks produced by Donald Fraser, including revisions and different editions of similar works, the authors show developments in gender biases as reflected in this instructional material. Civic rhetoric was viewed as integral to the maintenance of the Republic, with women’s training in these areas important for the upholding of American ideals, largely in their roles as mothers to sons who required this training as part of their civic duty. In this sense, though mothering is still viewed as a private, domestic affair, because of its potential effects upon the state and society, “such mothering is ultimately a public role” (52). Additionally, rhetorical training was deemed necessary for women in order to guard against the male persuasive powers of seduction, thus in America at this time was “the notion that seduction and illiteracy are linked” (53). Fraser’s texts somewhat surprisingly move from a substantial, rigorous rhetorical training for women in post-colonial American, to the more restrictive “learning as conduct” mode, then finally to simpler, morality-based education for women by 1800 (63). This trend of movement from expansion to constriction of rhetorical education for women somewhat mimics the move by formerly all-male colleges that admitted women to “change their minds” as women excelled, only to exclude them again. It also demonstrates a tacit knowledge of the powers of rhetorical training, where regulation of that knowledge, or a channeling of its strategies into more culturally-endorsed, gendered avenues, seemed important in order to maintain the status quo and stabilize the gender inequalities so prevalent at the time.


Works Cited:

Eldred, Janet Carey and Peter Mortensen. “Monitoring Columbia’s Daughters: Writing as Gendered Conduct.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 23.3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1994): 46-69. Print.


Speaking Like A Woman

“Parlor Rhetoric and the Performance of Gender”

Newman's "Masculine" Rhetorical Text

Johnson describes the role of rhetoric in the lives of nineteenth century post-antebellum women who were trained in the rhetorical arts through conduct books and increased educational opportunities, but who were still prohibited from speaking publicly. Popular textbooks at the time[1] promoted rhetoric as a masculine endeavor and thus women were offered a type of rhetorical training that “helped them become more effective in their sphere,” referred to as parlor rhetoric (24). Even in texts that seem to refer to gender-inclusive speakers, it is clear from close analysis of these texts that the appropriate venue for male speakers is the public, whereas “women needed only to acquire those rhetorical skills that corroborated their roles as wives, mothers, or light-hearted entertainers” (38).  Women are often shown in costume “acting” melodramatic roles with “pathetic and homelike qualities,” whereas men are depicted as respected public orators (43). Thus, the rhetorical powers granted to women in this area via the popular books on the topic relegated women to situations with the least amount of power, despite offering them expanded rhetorical capabilities. Johnson’s work offers a critical perspective on the rhetorical texts available to women during this time, and gives a comparative perspective with which to view the work done at Western in this area. Alterations that occurred at Western near the turn of the century, including its change to a college, a new, more progressive president, and the introduction of an elocution course specifically designed to give women more rhetorical power in society, show that there was some resistance to this gendered model of rhetorical abilities common in the “parlor rhetoric” genre popular during this time.

Work Cited:

Johnson, Nan. “Parlor Rhetoric and the Performance of Gender.” Gendered and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. 19-47. Print.

[1] Newman’s A Practical System of Rhetoric is mentioned specifically as promoting a masculine agenda in rhetorical practices in order to “produce successful public discourse” (26). It is interesting to note that, according to The Western Oxford’s , the Western library procured Newman’s text in 1854 and it was used as part of the course, despite its bias against women. Quackenbos, also mentioned as particularly masculine, was the primary rhetorical text used at Western beginning in 1886.

“The Agora,” The Western Oxford’s, and The Nellie Tilton Warfield Essay Prize

“The Agora”was a women’s club initiated at Western in 1894 that promoted discussion, lectures, and intellectual development amongst its members stating that its mission is “first, to awaken and develop the interest of its members in all vital questions, and to prepare them for active participation in the great movements of the day – literary, social, and philanthropic.” In the first program produced by this club, twice-monthly lectures are

The Agora program 1895

announced that are given by various members of the club. Each month has a topic: “History and Travel,” “Literature and Fine Arts,” and “Contemporary Events.” Particular subjects include, “Greek Music,” “Debate: Resolved, That the House of Lords should be abolished,” “The French Revolution and its Relation to English Poetry,” “The Noble Peasant in Russia,” and “The Eastern Question.” Given the practice of reciting compositions, it is likely that these lectures were fully or largely written prior to their delivery, though unfortunately I could find no remaining samples of these papers. Additionally, this shows evidence of public debate amongst the women as part of these activities, a skill often denied to women at this time. The topics delivered demonstrate an interest and knowledge of diverse issues, as well as a sophisticated awareness of the purpose of these meetings and the audience to which these deliveries would be addressed.  It further demonstrates the initiative of the women of Western in creating, sharing, and providing educational opportunities to one another in addition to their official curriculum.

The Western Oxford’s were publications produced quarterly and seem to have been distributed via subscription. Included within them are reports about students and alumnae, mention of major events, editorials, letters from alumnae, fictional stories, essays, and lists of new additions to the library. By reviewing these publications, additional information about Western can be gained, including the types of writing that students were doing near the end of the nineteenth century, and the books to which they had access.

I was especially interested in The Nellie Tilton Warfield Essay Prize, as the winning essay each year was to be published in The Western Oxford’s and would give an example of an exemplary essay for that year. Publication of these essays did not appear to occur with complete regularity, however, and I was only able to find a couple that still fell within the timeframe of the nineteenth century. The two that I reviewed, from 1896 and 1989, were both literary analyses on a George Elliot novel and Wordsworth, respectively. These essays give some insight as to the type of writing students were doing by the turn of the century, as by this time, seniors were required to take a History of Literature course along with English Composition; it is possible that the winning essay was taken from assignments produced in this class, given the topics and the centrality of literature to them.

Works Cited:

“The Agora: 1895.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Print Original.

“The Nellie Tilton Warfield Essay Prize.” The Western Oxford’s 4.4 (1896) and 7.1 (1898). Print.

“From Seminary to University: An Overview of Women’s Higher Education, 1870-1920”

This chapter provides an overview of the changes in women’s higher education between the years of 1870 and 1920, providing dual but overlapping narratives for both co-educational and women-only institutions. Once it was largely (though not unanimously) agreed upon in American society that women should be educated, it became a matter of debate as to how to best educate them in a manner that would not threaten their “natural” sphere of domesticity. As Gordon points out, however, these conservative fears were largely recognized as, by the end of the nineteenth century, women receiving college educations married later and less frequently and became more involved in the public sphere and professional life (483). According to available data, the first generation of female college graduates (“Pioneers”) were only about 50% likely to marry, and many of them found

Class of 1869 with Miss Peabody, The "Pioneers" of Western

companionship with another unmarried woman or within communities of women. The next generation of women (the “Progressive Era”) showed more interest in forming heterosexual relationships with men during or shortly after college and married younger, thus causing a rift between these two generations of women. While some women adamantly insisted upon admission rights to co-educational colleges, they often found themselves marginalized and treated badly by the male students and faculty once they arrived. All-women’s colleges, though segregated by gender, “did not have to compete with men for attention and recognition [thus] their work and aspirations were taken seriously” (482). College attendance for women increased drastically near the turn of the century, and fears began to arise that campuses would become “feminized” or that male academic superiority would come more into question, thus many co-educational institutions chose to segregate women into separate colleges within their university, and in many cases, slowly cut off funds and resources to the all-female departments. For many campuses, these practices persisted well into the middle of the twentieth century.

I found this chapter very interesting in its portrayal of the multiple narratives of women’s college life during this time frame; it also provided information that I had also not previously encountered, such as the institutional backlash against the initial successes of women in higher education.  It also gave further insight into the process enacted at many institutions in the transition between seminary and college in the last half of this century, a change that eventually occurred at Western as well. Though this chapter did not directly deal with composition, I found it useful in the detail it provided about the transitions, attitudes, and experiences of women who sought a college education, including the differences in focus between the first and second generation of women who entered these institutions.

Work Cited:

Gordon, Lynn D. “From Seminary to University: An Overview of Women’s Higher Education, 1870-1920.” The History of Higher Education. Ed. Goodchild and Weshleser. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. 473-498. Print.

“Education” from The Bonds of Womanhood: ‘Women’s Sphere’ in New England, 1780-1835.

In this chapter, Cott outlines the changing attitudes and educational opportunities for women during this time period, where women’s literacy increased 100% in just sixty years (101). Citing the famous text by Benjamin Rush (Thoughts on Female Education) that persuasively argued for the importance of “useful” education for American women as a method of social utility for the home education of sons, the moral influence of men, and the

The Domestic Women's Sphere of the 1800's

promotion of republican values, hostility toward educated, literate women slowly gave way to “a consensus on the desirability of female literacy [that] seems to have emerged during these years” (103). By the beginning of the 1800s, the general curriculum for women included writing though, according to Cott, “utilitarian education for women in American narrowed their prospects because it was based on a limited conception of woman’s role” which still held women’s primary duties to be domestic in nature (109).  At first, many boy’s schools admitted girls, though this eventually transformed into a preference for gender-segregated schools, since it was believed that men and women occupied such wholly distinct spheres in life, that to educate them similarly “had to seem either absurd or threatening” (117). Thus, women’s education tended to reinforce gender roles where “the predominant philosophy of female education encouraged women to understand gender as the essential determinant of their lives…[though]… as some opponents had correctly feared, education led many women to look beyond their domestic duties” (123, 125). In Cott’s overview of life for women at this time in history, education attempted to further ingrain divisions of sex roles, though as it put women together as comprising a “separate sphere” that crossed class, and sometimes racial, boundaries, these forces eventually came together to found the burgeoning movement toward women’s equality in future generations.

I find Cott’s work useful in examining the nature of the socially constructed “women’s sphere” of this historic moment, as well as her understanding of how practices designed to uphold the status quo “backfired” at times and served to work against the prevailing model of gender inequality in sometimes unexpected ways. In addition to offering an excellent historic framework for gender conditions in post-Revolutionary America, the subtle forces of power and resistance underscore much of Cott’s work, which makes it especially relevant to the angle from which I see composition studies working to both regulate and empower women in the nineteenth century.

Work Cited:

Cott, Nancy. “Education.” The Bonds of Womanhood: ‘Women’s Sphere’ in New England, 1780-1835. New Haven, Ct: Yale UP, 1977. 101-125. Print.

Advice from Dad

Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College: From 1913

This folio was written by the president of Western Reserve College near the turn of the twentieth century from the perspective of a college administrator and a father sending his daughter to college. Though it was written slightly after the time period I am studying, it reflects the sentiments of those living at the time who were aware of the college experience for women from perspectives of both college faculty and parent. This letter reflects the fears and hopes for women going to college, and offers advice on boys (avoid them), keeping one’s health, making friends, one’s position in the community, and maintaining religious observances. It also discusses areas that are viewed by the author as different for women than for men, such as the belief that “college women are inclined to have an undue appreciation of the intellectual values and an undue depreciation of the ethical values,” which seems the opposite of views held in the preceding century where women were seen as more “naturally moral” than men but intellectually inferior (19). This father does offer specific advice, too, on the importance of handwriting, advising his daughter to avoid “illegibility and uncouthness,” and reminding her that “it is important that your writing should be easy to read and pleasant to look at” (69-70). Overall, this letter was interesting as it “updates” the views that society had about women going to college at the beginning of the twentieth century, and even mentions the historic changes of the women’s college which “has ceased to be a nunnery; it has become a community” (59-60). The author mentions that his wife was educated at Vassar, one of the sister schools of Mt. Holyoke, and has always assumed that her daughters would attend college, thus showing an attitude of continuity and continuing educational opportunities for women who were the offspring of former college (women) graduates. Though not directly related to the time period I am studying, Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College reflects back to those times and shows how the generation of college women from the nineteenth century influenced perceptions of women attending college for subsequent generations of Americans.

Work Cited:

Thwing, Charles Franklin. Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College.  New York: The Platt & Peck Co., 1913. Print.

“The Female Seminary Movement and Women’s Mission in Antebellum America.”

Though this article is dated and tends, at times, to overstate the liberatory power of women’s education in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it does also offer a different insight into the success of the argument for women’s education during this time. Though the argument of the necessity of educating women for the office of “republican motherhood” is a common one, this article speaks more directly about the influence of evangelical Christianity in promoting women’s education, both because of its reliance upon individual salvation, and because of the hope that educated women could help usher in a

Kumler Chapel, Western Campus

“new millennium” of spiritual, moral, and intellectual elevation. This article also distinguishes between the ideas of “ornamental” versus “useful” education for women, with “usefulness” being the higher ideal in antebellum America, which helped justify the teaching of heretofore “masculine” subjects, such as Greek, Latin, and advanced mathematics, to women. The methodology of research for this article was conducted “by examining public speeches delivered of the subject of female education during the antebellum period,” which gives insight into the actual views proclaimed publicly by church and social leaders on this topic (43). Though this article does not delve deeply into any one area of research, it does offer different insights into the success of seminary education for women during this time. Additionally, despite Sweet’s sometimes sweeping claims about the alterations in society’s opinions about the importance of educating women during this time, he does also note the ways in which women were still regulated and limited by perceptions of their “natural sphere” of domestic and service work, and how this ideology was embedded into the type of education they received. Though seminary educations, with their emphasis on religious duty, domestic service, and the moral development of women appeared to be a “safe” way of educating women to maintain the status quo, he notes how access to ideas, literacy, and the demonstration of intellectual equality with men “enabled some to break out of old definitions and roles,” thus demonstrating the multiple and simultaneous influences of power and resistance that I have noted elsewhere in examining this topic within this time period (55).

Work Cited:

Sweet, Leonard I. “The Female Seminary Movement and Women’s Mission in Antebellum America.” Church History 54.1 (March 1985): 41-55. Print.