Creating homeplaces for social reform: A study of key activist rhetorics by Anglo-American women in nineteenth-century America, 1837-1879
AuthorFiesta, Melissa Jane
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation examines commonplaces in influential Anglo-American women's activist rhetorics of the mid-nineteenth century. In contemporary rhetorical theory commonplaces refer to "opinions or assumptions...that people generally consider persuasive" (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives 56). Because the persuasiveness of evidence depends on the assumptions that audiences hold, Cicero defines commonplaces as "the very homes of all proofs" (2.39.162). Social-activist rhetorics by nineteenth-century women literally relocated the homes of proofs to challenge previous assumptions. Nineteenth-century audiences generally considered persuasive the assumption that women should not speak or write on matters of public policy outside of the home. As a result, most audiences found evidence that corroborated this assumption to be true rather than simply more persuasive in a given set of historical circumstances. Women social-activists undertook the arduous task of convincing audiences that this evidence could not withstand every rhetorical situation, including social reform movements that extended women's homes into society. Homeplaces figure in how women could define social reform issues as well as their own characters as rhetors, in nineteenth-century America. Whether activist or nonactivist, nineteenth-century rhetorics commonly take character construction as an integral part of women's spiritual province within the home (see Barbara Welter). Female rhetors relocated homeplaces in effective ethos constructions, wherein character resides in discourse rather than in preconceived notions about the character of all women (Aristotle 1356a2-13). In this case women's embodied presence made these preconceived notions unavoidable, however. Widely held social beliefs about women's role in the home contested the ethos of women who engaged social issues in "the public sphere." While nineteenth-century conservatives posit a static conception of the public sphere as an indeterminate location opposed to the private sphere of home, even their arguments demonstrate the fluidity of the term public. Activists use this rhetoric to constitute multiple publics for women, publics that reside both inside and outside the home. The revised homeplaces of nineteenth-century female rhetors bequeath a rhetorical legacy to social-activists.
Degree ProgramGraduate College