INVENTING AND DELIVERING THE WOMAN CITIZEN: SUSAN B. ANTHONY’S EXTEMPORANEOUS SPEAKING AS A PERFORMANCE OF CITIZENSHIP IN SERVICE OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE
Styer, Meridith Irene
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Susan B. Anthony became the face of the woman suffrage movement as she traveled across the country speaking and organizing. Anthony began speaking extemporaneously in 1857 and embraced the conversational and immediate performance that remained her dominant practice through her public career. This project examines how Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking functioned as a performance of citizenship in service of her arguments for women’s rights and woman suffrage during three periods of the nineteenth century. My research suggests both theoretical and methodological challenges of studying nineteenth-century extemporaneous rhetoric. I also discuss the problems associated with extemporaneous speaking in a movement for social change and engage the theoretical bounds of how citizenship can be performed rhetorically when liberal and republican citizenship status are denied based on an individual’s identity. The first period includes Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking within the social and religious upheaval of the Burned-over District of Upstate New York before and during the Civil War (1849-1864). My analysis suggests that Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking used a millennial and prophetic invention and delivery that derived from what I call the genre of Burned-over District rhetorical culture. Drawing upon this tradition allowed Anthony to speak persuasively to Burned-over District audiences but rendered her message inaccessible to the policy makers in Albany and Washington D.C. The second case examines Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking during Reconstruction (1865-1874). Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking functioned as a performance of citizenship that both constituted women as equal citizens and provided the impetus for national-level politicians and state legislatures to codify the cultural assumptions of male-gendered citizenship into policy language that excluded women from democratic citizenship rights. The third case examines how Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking functioned as a performance of “character citizenship” during the final years of her professional career in the context of the Gilded Age (1875-1906). Character citizenship manifested in that era as a way to define who was or could be a good American through the lens of gendered, middle-class, white, Protestant values. Anthony’s extemporaneous speaking functioned to frame her as a laudable woman of character who was a respectable authority on the topic of woman suffrage.