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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

History

First Advisor

Marc W. Kruman

Abstract

Early nineteenth-century northeastern and western white women increasingly lived in a bifurcated world where many men went to work in locations beyond the home and women were responsible for educational values and household matters. Outraged and motivated to address an institution that had long existed in the United States that could no longer be morally or politically tolerated, women used various strategies to accomplish the societal change they sought -- abolition. By deferring to authority, they achieved their goal. However, for women to publicly testify, they needed to learn the tools of articulating their voice. This study examines the barriers these middle and upper-class abolitionist women met, the ways in which they informally educated themselves, the specific rhetorical strategies they embraced, and the various means by which they sought to make men aware of the evils of slavery. Their writing, boycotting, petition gathering, and celebrations were transgressive speech acts the abolitionist women in this study defined their citizenship in less confrontational ways to achieve their goal to end slavery.

It is they, empowered and inspired, who worked in a host of various rhetorical spaces such as writing friends, newspaper articles, novels and children’s books; circulating petitions; advocating boycotts; holding teas and gatherings in their parlors; organizing and attending antislavery fairs; and composing songs who are the focus of this study for their unrelenting efforts to bring attention to the institution that had been ignored, justified, and accepted for decades – slavery.

It is because the majority of these abolitionist women chose rhetorical strategies of maternal love, Christ-like vision and protection, self-less lives, and teachers of virtue that they were allowed to be heard either in the voice of characters they created or acts of support to men. For women to be allowed their voice, they had to accept submission to male authority. Staying within that loosely defined, but clearly delineated perimeter of expertise – home, family, and relationships, they could pursue their citizenship.

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