Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

8/1/2004 - 6/30/2005

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Rhetorical Theory by Women before 1900

FAIN: FA-50026-04

Jane Donawerth
University of Maryland, College Park (College Park, MD 20742-5141)

This project explores rhetorical theory by women between 1700 and 1900 in France, Britain, and the United States. Rather than a totalizing history, this study examines moments of women's history where several theorized a certain kind of communication: conversation, defenses of women preaching, conduct book rhetoric, sentimental elocution, and composition textbooks. While gender constraints deterimine that women through most of this period take conversation rather than oratory as a model for all discourse, at the end of this period, women's interest in exercises for students depends on the moment when they entered the market, rather than on gender roles. Women's theories anticipate current interest in the collaborative nature of composition.

Associated Products

Shakespeare and the Sixteenth-Century Study of Language (Book)
Title: Shakespeare and the Sixteenth-Century Study of Language
Author: Donawerth, Jane L.
Year: 1984
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat entry
Publisher: Illinois: University of Illinois Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780252010385

Conversational Rhetoric: The Rise and Fall of a Women's Tradition, 1600-1900 (Book)
Title: Conversational Rhetoric: The Rise and Fall of a Women's Tradition, 1600-1900
Author: Donawerth, Jane L.
Abstract: Much of the scholarly exchange regarding the history of women in rhetoric has emphasized women’s rhetorical practices. Here Jane Donawerth traces the historical development of rhetorical theory by women for women, studying the moments when women produced theory about the arts of communication in alternative genres—humanist treatises and dialogues, defenses of women’s preaching, conduct books, and elocution handbooks. She examines the relationship between communication and gender and between theory and pedagogy and argues that women constructed a theory of rhetoric based on conversation, not public speaking, as a model for all discourse. Donawerth traces the development of women’s rhetorical theory through the voices of English and American women (and one much-translated French woman) over three centuries. She demonstrates how they cultivated theories of rhetoric centered on conversation that faded once women began writing composition textbooks for mixed-gender audiences in the latter part of the 19th century. She examines the theories in dialogues and defenses of women’s education; in conduct books; in defenses of women’s preaching, nd in elocution handbooks. In each genre, Donawerth explores facets of women’s rhetorical theory, such as the recognition of the gendered nature of communication in conduct books, the incorporation of the language of women’s rights in the defenses of women’s preaching, and the adaptation of sentimental culture to the cultivation of women’s bodies as tools of communication in elocution books. Rather than a linear history, the book covers a broad range of women’s rhetorical theory in the Anglo-American world and places them in their social, rhetorical, and gendered historical contexts. This study adds women’s rhetorical theory to the rhetorical tradition, advances our understanding of women’s theories and their use of rhetoric, and offers a paradigm for analyzing the differences between men’s and women’s rhetoric from 1600 to 1900.
Year: 2012
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat entry
Publisher: Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780809330270
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes