Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David S. Reynolds

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Studies | Literature in English, North America | Women's Studies


American literature, nineteenth century, woman lecturer, women's literature, women's public speech, women's rights fiction


This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the figure of the woman lecturer/speaker that appeared in American women's rights fiction in the period between 1839 and 1915. I argue that examining the figure of the woman lecturer/ speaker in a wide variety of texts and over an extended period of history reveals that the figure served as a dynamic vehicle for women writers to advance a broad range of social and political interests; writing in a social and historical context that discouraged women's participation in public speech, women authors used fiction as a rhetorical space to articulate different visions of political and social rights. Moreover, as this dissertation explores, the genre of fiction offered women writers a set of rhetorical tools through which they were able to communicate their ideas to a diverse--and, at times, hostile--audience; for some of the authors of women's rights fiction, the genre also served as a canvas for aesthetic expression of their voices.

I situate a close reading of the fictional texts in the greater social and cultural history of the period to illuminate the ways in which the individual authors engaged with their cultural moment, as well as to suggest that variances in the representations of the woman lecturer/speaker reflected the authors' individual aesthetic and political interests. This research reveals that "women's rights" were interpreted broadly by women during the period, encompassing property rights, labor rights, custody rights, access to health care and education, and influence over temperance laws, in addition to women's suffrage.

The texts discussed include Sarah J. Hale's The Lecturess, Laura Curtis Bullard's Christine, Lizzie Boynton Harbert's Out of Her Sphere, Mary Clemmer Ames's Eirene, or a Woman's Right, Lillie Devereux Blake's Fettered for Life, Louisa May Alcott's Work, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Silent Partner, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's The Portion of Labor, Marietta Holley's Samantha on the Woman Question, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's What Diantha Did.

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