Imagining Rhetoric: Composing Women of the Early United States


Imagining Rhetoric examines 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...

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Imagining Rhetoric examines 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A truly fascinating look at how educated women used the power of the pen to promote civic goals, as well as how a new female readership emerged and changed as the yet fledgling book industry, Imagining Rhetoric is a highly recommended contribution to Women’s Studies and Literary History reference collections and academic reading lists.”
—MidWest Book Review

“ . . .highly recommended as a source for those studying rhetoric and composition, American history, educational theory, women’s studies, women’s history, and philosophy at the upper-division undergraduate level and above.”

“Eagerly awaited, Eldred and Mortensen's Imagining Rhetoric will excite anyone interested in early modern U.S. women's composition pedagogy and practice.  From early national notions of language, fictions of schooling, textbook pedagogies, and perspectives from a black woman's teaching journal--the diverse richness of women's views on rhetoric, anguage and teaching astonishes.  Significantly, the book helps uncover a tradition of female civic rhetoric that resists raced and gendered theories of domesticity. It will persuade those who still believe American women did not participate in public persuasion over the major national events of their day.”
—Catherine L. Hobbs, University of Oklahoma

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822962281
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/2002
  • Series: Pitt Comp Literacy Culture Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet Carey Eldred is associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky.

Peter Mortensen, associate professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is co-editor of Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Tradition of Female Civic Rhetoric 1
2 Schooling Fictions 34
3 A Commonplace Rhetoric: Judith Sargent Murray's Margaretta Narrative 66
4 Sketching Rhetorical Change: Mrs. A. J. Graves on Girlhood and Womanhood 89
5 The Commonsense Romanticism of Louisa Caroline Tuthill 113
6 Independent Studies: Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps and the Composition of Democratic Teachers 145
7 Conclusion: Rhetorical Limits in the Schooling and Teaching Journals of Charlotte Forten 189
App. 1: Chronologies 215
App. 2 From Hannah Webster Foster's The Boarding School (1798) 220
App. 3 From Judith Sargent Murray's The Gleaner (1798) 223
App. 4 From Louisa Caroline Tuthill's The Young Lady's Home (1839) 229
App. 5 From Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps's Lectures to Young Ladies (1833) 232
Notes 243
Bibliography 261
Index 275
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