In Speaking While Female, Dana Rubin assembles a comprehensive anthology of vibrant female voices from over 200 years of American history.
Female orations, explains Rubin, were rarely published and generally excluded from the mostly male canon of America’s historical speeches. But women, too, were eyewitnesses to injustice and had something to say about it, she asserts. The selected recovered speeches are hidden gems showcasing rich, inspiring public voices that belong front and center in the American narrative.
Women advocating social change and armed with the courage to speak out in the face of abuse (cat-calling, spitting, harassment) appeared in town halls, courtrooms, tents, pulpits, barns, churches, and elsewhere. They championed change, defended the female gender, and raised awareness of the human condition.
Rubin offers introductory historical and biographical context before each woman’s speech and organizes them chronologically. She casts a wide net for topics: labor, abolition, education, women in science, the rights of the mentally ill, temperance, suffrage, and the injustices of the marriage contract. The standard likes of Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott and Eleanor Roosevelt appear. But also included are Nanye’hi, the Cherokee matriarch who negotiated U.S. peace treaties; Young Ladies Academy of Philadelphia salutatorian Priscilla Mason demanding a larger role for women in the new republic, and Inez Milholland whose “how long must we wait?” (for the vote) tour braved the Wild West.
Featured, too, are the leftist leanings of Katherine Hepburn’s “Silence the Artist” speech, Grayce Uyehara’s moral tongue-lashing on the internment of Japanese Americans, and Oprah Winfrey’s “Time’s Up” Oscar acceptance speech on sexual abuse.
This superbly curated collection of women’s speeches serves as a reminder that American women have been a powerful but oft overlooked part of the national public speaking circuit. Their words are as relevant and timeless today as they were then, with a connecting thread to modern movements of feminism, civil rights, ERA and #MeToo.
This is a must-have for every history classroom, library, and bookshelf.