Congressional Widowhood and Gubernatorial Surrogacy: A Rhetorical History of Women's Distinct Paths to Public Office
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More than fifty women have ascended to elective office through a matrimonial connection; the current study is a rhetorical history of these ties to office. Specifically, this study explores the rhetorical leadership of six female candidates who assumed office via one of two matrimonial paths--gubernatorial surrogacy and congressional widowhood--between 1920 and 1968, a period often referred to as the "doldrums" of the women's rights movement. By examining the public discourse created by and about these female candidates and officeholders, the study explores how these women used the rhetorical resources available within their historical context to expand their capacity to act publicly. Drawing upon and stretching the cultural constructions of maternal authority and spousal duty, these leaders rhetorically established, employed, and expanded matrimonial paths to office. Their public discourse not only served to justify their candidacies, it also had important implications for women's history, female equality, and gender ideology. To that end, this study explores the ways in which these rhetorical performances helped advance the cause of female equality and opportunity during the doldrums. It accounts for the ways in which the candidates and officeholders studied helped women make progress electorally, moved the nation closer to the ideals of representative democracy, and contributed to our "public vocabulary" regarding women and institutional power. This project emphasizes the ways that, through the exercise of their rhetorical agency, these women helped create powerful justifications for female campaigning and office holding while helping to shape notions of femininity in ways that facilitated greater female agency, opportunity, and public activity.