Praising Girls: The Epideictic Rhetoric of Young Women, 1895-1930
Wood, Henrietta Rix
Metadata[+] Show full item record
At the turn of the twentieth century, young women began to see themselves and to been seen as a distinct social group for the first time in the history of the United States. This recognition was fostered by historical factors ranging from the expansion of secondary education to new conceptions of adolescence. In response, adults reacted by alternately idealizing and demonizing girls, whom they often viewed as emblems that signified the best and worst of American culture. Despite these adult impositions and interventions, some young women began to define their collective identities through school-sponsored publications. The texts of these schoolgirls can be construed as epideictic rhetoric, a form of persuasive discourse historically associated with prominent men delivering speeches of praise and blame that construct community. Using print as a podium, girls at four diverse secondary schools in the Kansas City area performed epideictic rhetoric that celebrated their status as progressive young women. As these girls claimed the right to represent themselves, they challenged notions about their abilities and aspirations. Affluent white girls represented themselves as dedicated scholars, athletes, and public performers preparing to attend college and pursue different paths than their Victorian-era mothers. Native American and African American girls forged racial pride and solidarity in an era that vilified Indians and people of color. Middle-class white girls promoted unity among a student body fragmented by factions. Emulating the practices of nineteenth-century women who presented epideictic discourse in published writing, girls exercised rhetorical agency through the art, editorials, essays, and creative writing that they produced for high school literary magazines, yearbooks, and newspapers. In the process of praising themselves, girls of this period altered views of young women and encourage the re-conceptualization of epideictic rhetoric as the means by which marginalized groups can promote common agendas—a consequence that has significant contemporary ramifications.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Amplifying the identity of "New Girls" at Miss Barstow's School, 1901-1920 -- Persuading diverse epideictic audiences: Native American girls at the Haskell Institute, 1987-1924 -- Glossing (over) historical realities to imagine community: African American Girls at Lincoln High School, 1915-1930 -- Girls creating consubstantiality at Central High School, 1895-1925