“Finding Place to Speak: Sarah Winnemucca’s Rhetorical Practices in Disciplinary Spaces”
Rosalyn Collings Eves, Southern Utah University
A rich body of scholarship lays out the influence of Sarah Winnemucca’s social place on her discursive strategies but overlooks the influence of Winnemucca’s physical place on her rhetorical practices. This essay engages with current theories of rhetoric and space to argue that physical places and the discourses that shape them are critical to Winnemucca’s rhetorical choices and the ultimate success of her rhetoric. Focusing on Winnemucca’s rhetorical practices within the disciplinary spaces of the reservation and the military fort, Eves explores how each site both constrains and enables Winnemucca’s rhetorical choices and assesses how her strategies in each space represent a search for shared rhetorical space—physical or cultural ground that provides the basis for identification with her audience—that enables her to make a persuasive argument on behalf of herself and the Northern Paiutes. While Winnemucca was equally eloquent in both reservations and military sites, the success of her rhetoric was determined by the nature of the place in which she performed. Disciplinary sites like reservations severely curtailed her options for rhetorical intervention because her role as an interpreter placed her in an ambiguous position relative to the Paiutes and the Indian agents who employed her. Winnemucca’s rhetoric was more successful within military circles because her familiarity with military culture allowed her to draw on situationally appropriate genres and to craft logical appeals that linked her persuasive aims with military goals.
Approaches to Recovering Early Women
Conference presentations from recent Legacy-sponsored panels
- “States of Recollection: How Seventeenth-Century Women Thought about Recovery and the Atlantic World”
Tamara Harvey, George Mason University
Ursula de Jesus, an Afro-Peruvian mystic who entered the Convent of Santa Clara in Lima as a donada after her manumission from slavery at the age of 40, was famous in her own time and venerated for centuries after, though almost entirely neglected by scholars until the twenty-first century. Her diary, first transcribed and published by Nancy van Deusen in 2004, is an ideal object of recovery because of its sensational account of purgatory and convent life alike from a marginalized point of view. This article explores how Ursula was herself an agent of recovery, pairing visions of lost souls in purgatory, many of whom beg to be remembered, with the insights of a subject aware of Lima’s place in the colonial enterprises of Spain from a perspective that is attuned to African, Indian, Spanish, and Spanish creole navigation of both worldly and spiritual worlds. As mysticism meets the “new world” in Ursula’s vision, she may be understood as participating in the invention of discovery, laying the groundwork for more modern acts of recovery.
- “Looking for Stories of Inarticulate Women”
Ava Chamberlain, Wright State University
This essay considers a common barrier to the study of women in early America, the fact that most left behind few, if any, traditional texts. This “textlessness” blocks direct access to the lived experience of ordinary women of the past and so impedes many traditional forms of study, such as biography. Some textless women, however, occupy locations that permit indirect access, if approached with the appropriate method. Using the example of Elizabeth Tuttle, the paternal grandmother of the puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, this essay explores the potential of this methodology, commonly called “microhistory.” This method can give voice to inarticulate women like Tuttle, who are located in literate cultures and occupy anomalous places on the margins of larger, well-documented stories. Nothing can fully compensate for the absence of texts, but her example suggests that textlessness is not an insurmountable barrier to the study of some ordinary women’s lives.
- “Interpretive Challenges Posed by the Gendered Performances of Early American Female Criminals”
Amelia C. Lewis, Auburn University
In 1701, 21-year old Esther Rodgers was executed for the crime of infanticide. This essay examines the execution narrative that followed her death. Execution narratives and the female criminals who inspired them raise questions about how we read these types of non-traditional texts in the context of a greater cultural narrative. I argue that these complex cultural productions require a different type of interpretation. Execution narratives tend to be complex due to the amalgamation of voices that went into creating them, the publication history of this type of text, and the position of a female criminal in her society. A focus on the performative moments in Rodgers’s text reveals gaps in our knowledge but also provides greater interpretive possibilities for execution narratives. A fuller understanding of the process of the gendered performance of criminality and the subversions of power between those in control and those legally not gives us a better understanding of gendered power and social relations in eighteenth-century America.
- “Phillis Wheatley on Friendship”
Tara Bynum, Towson University
This essay looks at the very possibility of friendship in the lives of two black women: famed poet Phillis Wheatley and Obour Tanner, slave to the Tanner family of Newport, Rhode Island. Only a handful of Wheatley’s letters to Tanner remain—from 1772 to 1779. Wheatley’s letters mark a kind of ordinary living: illness, death, travel, or the passage of time. Not only does each letter—with its quotidian lists and accounts of geography and transition—document what happens, but Wheatley’s letters also evidence that which is decidedly human between these two women—namely, the satisfaction of a desire to listen and be heard, to love and be loved. When Wheatley shares her love of God or the death of her mistress, she reveals the deep down pleasure that comes from living, loving, and sharing with her friend. Together, Wheatley and Tanner create a community that places at its center a Christian God whose ability to love, create, and author their lives inspires this epistolary space of mutual language and exchange. Where these two are gathered—in the word and across time and space—the pleasure of worship and friendship is realized. Wheatley’s last letter leaves more questions than answers. The existing archive can’t tell us whether Wheatley’s health improves or if Tanner responds; it hides their ending. What Wheatley leaves instead of answers shares a friendship in spite of a time, revolution, or enslavement that invites us to look into the very fact of pleasure in the lives of these eighteenth-century American women.
- “‘Memorials of Exemplary Women Are Peculiarly Interesting’: Female Biography in Early National America”
Lucia McMahon, William Paterson University
To address new directions in the study of women and gender in early America, this article explores how emerging forms of female biography functioned in the literary public sphere between 1780 and 1820, an era defined as a watershed moment in women’s educational and literary achievements. The early national period was characterized by a burgeoning interest in the life stories of various women, as scores of individual and collective biographies were published in a variety of formats. By providing biographical sketches of “worthy women” from the past and present, authors such as Susanna Rowson sought to create what we might call a “usable past” of female accomplishment. Although these biographical representations often enforced notions of sexual difference and prescribed gender roles, female biography also explored and celebrated the possibilities of a learned life. In the process, such works helped to reinvent notions of what constituted a worthy life, providing models of inspiration and emulation to young women. In their various forms, works of female biography offer insights into how early national Americans envisioned women’s intellect, ambition, and identity during a pivotal era in cultural and literary productions.
Forum: A Riff, A Call, and A Response
Edited by P. Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware
This forum offers a variety of responses to P. Gabrielle Foreman’s essay from Legacy 30.2 (2013), “A Riff, A Call, and A Response: Reframing the Problem That Led to Our Being Tokens in Ethnic and Gender Studies; or, Where Are We Going Anyway and with Whom Will We Travel?”
- “Better a Bloody Shovel Than Ambivalence”
Joycelyn Moody, University of Texas – San Antonio
- “Do You Have Any Skin in the Game?”
Kimberly Blockett, Penn State University, Brandywine
- “Out of the Kitchen of the House of Fiction”
M. Giulia Fabi, University of Ferrara
- “Twenty-First-Century African American Literary Studies as Movement”
Herman Beavers, University of Pennsylvania
- “Race and the Mind/Body Problem”
Katherine Clay Bassard, Virginia Commonwealth University
- “Whiteness Visible”
John Ernest, University of Delaware
Mary Dwinell Chellis Lund (1826-1891)
Larisa Asaeli, Texas Christian University
Mary Dwinell Chellis Lund (1826-1891) was a life-long advocate of social reforms to improve women’s lives and holds a preeminent position in American fiction for her writings on temperance, the most popular reform cause for postbellum women. Chellis published at least fifty books and innumerable articles for children and adults between 1860 and 1891. Some of her most notable novels include Old Sunapee (1860), Bill Drock’s Investment (1869), Good Work (1873), Our Homes (1881), and Old Benches with New Props (1891). Chellis’s subject matter drew on her diverse life experiences: teaching school in Lowell, Massachusetts and Newport, New Hampshire; working for temperance reform with local and national organizations; petitioning the state legislature for woman’s suffrage; advocating Sunday School attendance; and serving on the Woman’s Board of Missions. Her motivations for writing and promoting reform were to share her own evangelical beliefs while encouraging women’s roles and rights as equal members of society. Recovering her biographical experiences growing up in Lowell among evangelical Christians and teaching public school helps to illuminate the contexts that informed and shaped her writing. This information also helps us better understand her political engagement, significant to contemporary readers for having burgeoned long before women’s full enfranchisement in 1920.
Excerpt from “Drinking Jack” (1881)
Mary Dwinell Chellis
Introduction: “Investing in Literature: Ernestine Rose and the Harlem Branch Public Library of the 1920s”
Barbara Hochman, Ben-Gurion University
In 1920 Ernestine Rose, a young white reformer, became head librarian at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library, convinced that access to books would lead to professional, intellectual, and artistic achievements for African Americans. Buoyed by her belief in the power of literacy, Rose was head librarian for 22 years. As a champion of integration, she hired four library assistants of color, including Nella Larsen Imes, soon to be one of the most promising novelists of the Harlem Renaissance. Rose had a major impact on her branch library, the local population, the public library movement, and Harlem Renaissance writers, and deserves more attention than she has received.
Rose’s essay, “Serving New York’s Black City,” describes a vibrant intellectual community of library-users in Harlem. Celebrating African American autonomy and intellectual curiosity, Rose challenges common assumptions about black imitativeness by emphasizing the agency implicit in black reading practices. Rose believed that the library could promote mutual understanding between races, yet this belief was only partly justified. She herself did not fully grasp the obstacles that black readers faced, or the mixed messages inscribed in the very books available in the library. The extravagant promises attached to literacy in the 1920s did not acknowledge the ways that race, class, and gender might hamper the acquisition of cultural capital. “Serving New York’s Black City” represents Rose’s activist convictions at their peak while disclosing the stubborn entrenchment of racialized assumptions within her progressivist commitments.
“Serving New York’s Black City”
A special anniversary forum in celebration of Nina Baym’s Woman’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870; Frances Smith Foster’s Written By Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746-1892; and Shirley Samuels’s The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in 19th-Century America.
- Featuring contributions by Marianne Noble (American University), Elizabeth Stockton (Southwestern University), Duncan Faherty (CUNY Graduate Center), John Ernest (University of Delaware), Xiomara Santamarina (University of Michigan), Elizabeth Cali (University of Texas – San Antonio), Glenn Hendler (Fordham University), María Carla Sánchez (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), and Jennifer Travis (St. John’s University)
“Childish Things”: A Review of Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights; Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century; and Courtney Weikle-Mills, Imaginary Citizens: Child Readers and the Limits of American Independence 1640-1868
Anna Mae Duane, University of Connecticut
Philosophies of Sex: Critical Essays on The Hermaphrodite edited by Renée Bergland and Gary Williams
Heather Barrett, Boston University
E. D. E. N. Southworth: Recovering a Nineteenth-Century Popular Novelist by Melissa Homestead and Pamela Washington
Carl Ostrowski, Middle Tennessee State University
To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave: American Poetry and the Civil War by Faith Barrett
Christa Vogelius, University of Michigan
The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Stoddard edited by Jennifer Putzi and Elizabeth Stockton
Nicole Livengood, Marietta College
Domestic Subjects: Gender, Citizenship, and Law in Native American Literature by Beth Piatote
Cari Carpenter, West Virginia University