Early American History Seminar: Carolyn Eastman, University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, March 18, 2004

3:30 pm to 5:30 pm

Early American History and Culture Seminar

“The Female Cicero: Young Women’s Oratory and Gendered Public Participation in the American 1790s”
Carolyn Eastman, University of Texas at Austin
It has long been a tenet of American women’s history that women were, for the most part, excluded from public speaking during the early republic, a silence that was broken controversially by women reformers of the 1820s and 30s. This essay examines young women’s oratory within the common school and academy environments, milieux that reveal that girls learned elocutionary and oratorical skills alongside boys and regularly practiced those skills before explicitly public audiences of community members. Even more significant, their educations in speaking skills reveals the extent to which contemporaries had far different conceptions of what constituted “public” speaking - conceptions that have important ramifications for how we understand gender and the public sphere of the era.