Women of the spheres: Early American women rhetoricians
Early American women rhetoricians wrote, published, and edited essential texts that contribute to American rhetoric; however, many of these texts have been overlooked and lost. This dissertation reclaims, remaps, and analyzes a selection of early American women's editorials, treatises, essays, and conduct books and connects their unique rhetorical approaches to those of the first Sophists.
The feminist sophistic approach redefines the theory and practice of rhetoric to include women's works and a field of rhetoric more equitable toward women. A series of four feminist-sophistic criteria may be used to analyze early American women rhetoricians' works. First, a specific rhetorical method did not restrict early American women rhetoricians, and social circumstances shaped their rhetorical approaches; they expressed themselves in varied approaches and used available resources to argue for change. Second, early American women rhetoricians, similar to the Sophists, created knowledge through discourse, which they identified as an intellectual and collaborative method of generating and gaining knowledge. Third, early American women rhetoricians realized the power of language; as the Sophists needed language as a tool to reform a growing government, women needed language to create their sphere in a male-dominated world. Finally, early American women rhetoricians focused on creating better citizens, similar to the way in which the Sophists educated students in civic duty.
This dissertation focuses on women in terms of their gendered rhetorical space. Women of the public sphere includes works by Margaret Fuller and the authors of the Lowell Offering and focuses on independence and equality, civic duty, reliance on scientific evidence, and polite learning and provided women with the opportunity to argue for female education, reform, and equality. Women caught between the spheres demonstrate how women's roles shifted from same and equal to different and equal. In this section the overlapping of rhetorical spaces is discussed through an analysis of works by Judith Sargent Murray and Sarah Josepha Hale. The third section, women of the private sphere, identifies women as a class apart from but equal to men and includes the analysis of conduct books by Catharine Beecher, Lydia Sigourney, and Lydia Maria Child.