History Department
History Department

Historians have been mistaken: Women orators in the 1800's more common than widely believed

Mon, September 17, 2007

Eastman demonstrates that historians need to correct the assumption that women played little part in public debates during the early years of the American republic because society forbade them to do so.

The historical record shows that in the late 18th century, most young white women in the northeastern United States engaged in public speaking, and she suggests that historians overlook that phenomenon because they adhere to modern conceptions of what constituted the "public"–that is, speeches made from podiums, bars, or pulpits. Early Americans had a different perspective, she says: "What people in the 18th century most often meant by 'public' was sociable as opposed to solitary (which was 'private')."

At that time, "girls spoke regularly at school 'exhibitions' from Maryland to Maine at least twice a year, no matter how rudimentary the school's curriculum," she notes. Speeches by young women were commonly published in books, magazines, and newspapers of the era. And, she adds, many public discussions took place in "female-governed spaces" like parlors "that fostered practices of sociability not readily classifiable as either strictly public or private."

Read the rest of this article at The Chronicle of Higher Education...Offsite Link

Related links:
Assistant Professor Carolyn Eastman
History News NetworkOffsite Link

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