Chapter 1 of Regendering Delivery—“Readers and Rhetors: Schoolgirl’s Formal Elocutionary Instruction”—Lindal Buchanan

In this chapter, Buchanon demonstrates how the site of education can be a useful topoi for tracing gender’s influence on delivery–the fifth rhetorical canon. In all the chapters of this text, Buchanan illustrates that delivery is grounded in social context and is, in fact, contingent on an individual or group’s social environment. In this chapter, specifically, Buchanan shows that education in the late 18th and early 19th century played a significant role in shaping women’s participation in public speaking. Buchanan begins the chapter by demystifying the notion that women lacked formal training in public speaking, which is often equated with women’s lack of participation in civic discourse. Buchanan argues that, actually schoolgirls in the late 18th and 19th centuries were educated in elocution and civic discourse through reading classes, in which they practiced oral reading and received elocution instruction from various kinds of readers. Reading aloud from readers that were directed to male, female, and mixed audiences gave schoolgirls opportunity to practice delivery by attending to their voice, gestures, and expressions. Buchanan argues that women’s education in elocution eventually increased their rhetorical performance in public settings so much, in fact, that an educational backlash occurred. This backlash “led to the truncation of the elocutionary coverage and oratorical contents of school readers likely to be consumed by a female audience, an attempt to restrict women’s eloquence to the private sphere by limiting their knowledge of the arts of oral expression” (13).

Buchanan traces literacy instruction in US Northeast schools during the colonial period and explains that not only was ones education determined by gender but also by class. While wealthy, male boys attended second tier schools where they received a classical education, boys “destined” for careers in specific trades and crafts as well as girls attended first tier schools, which focused on basic English literacy and numeracy skills (13). Gender determined what subject were taught; while wealthy boys were taught to read and write, girls were taught to read and sew(14).

In the late 18th century, elocution became part of reading instruction under the influence of the British elocutionary movement, which was sparked in response to a crisis in poor pulpit oratory that was thought to derive from poor reading instruction(15). The rationale behind this movement was that if you can read well, you can speak well, (which in contemporary US education seems to have been transformed to the notion that if you can read well, you can write well.) 18th century readers, thus, utilized elocutionary pedagogy under the belief that reading instruction, with a particular emphasis on its oral delivery, would lead to strong oratory (16).

Buchanan compares and contrasts three landmark readers published in the 18th century that prove the readers were aware of girls’ presence in the classroom and directed elocutionary instruction at them. In Webster’ reader, for instance, women’s domestic place and role in the nation was emphasized through the female characters in the selected prose. Playing off the Republican Motherhood, women’s domestic purpose was to instill civic, moral, patriotism in their children and families. In Bingham’s reader, girls were introduced to contemporary debates over women’s education and to civic rhetoric, both of which illustrated the power of public oratory even though the reader did not advocate for female students to use elocution outside the home. Moving away from the focus on patriotism, Murray’s reader focused on morality, religion, and proper conduct in its prose sections while the elocution instructional section taught elocutionary techniques and strategies that became useful in the parlor and eventually the platform. These three texts provide several insights into US schoolgirls’ rhetorical education:
1.) young female students were perceived as consumers
2.) instruction in elocution was directed specifically at girls
3.) young females were offered rationales for their education
4.) young girls were introduced to oratory and civic rhetoric
5.) therefore, girls received “real” opportunities in rhetorical education(25-26).

This opportunity, according to Buchanan did not last, however, as a trend in decreasing instruction on elocution became apparent in 19th century readers directed specifically at girls.

With the rise of industrialization, antebellum working class women began to work outside the home, which gave women exigency to defy social norms of womanhood in public, yet white women in the middle to upper classes bought into the cult of true womanhood, adopted a new feminine ideal, and constrained those opportunities. Moreso, while women were still provided with elocutionary knowledge through some readers and thus had the rhetorical and elocutionary competence to challenge gender norms in public, women’s speech stayed in private spaces in a large part because many readers encouraged women to learn elocution simply as a means for social respectability to be used in the private sphere and portrayed female characters who spoke in public in a negative light. Also, many readers directly aimed at women curtailed elocutionary instruction, especially actio. Thus, while women learned to read aloud well, they were excluded from learning how to use their bodies in oratorical performance, which in turn constrained their ability to speak persuasively in public settings.

Buchanan claims the exclusion of actio and diminishing of elocution instruction resulted from the rise of female orators in evangelical, legislative, and other public realms, which caused conservatives to deem rhetorical education for women a “contagious disease.” Although antebellum’s rhetorical performance stayed in the parlor to some extent, Buchanan ends this chapter by pointing out that many female rhetors fortunately found their way to the platform….


This chapter did some of the work I believe we all wanted Carr, Carr, and Schultz to do—namely to attend to politics of representation in 19th century readers. Although Buchanan does not really attend to issues of race and or ability in this chapter, she does illustrate how readers represented 18th and 19th century women and makes an argument as to how these representations affected women’s rhetorical education and rhetorical opportunities. (She also, of course, makes an argument about how the content or lack of content I should say affected women’s rhetorical education and opportunities to speak in public.) I am interested in the role that argument plays in this chapter as well as the rest of the book, which leads me to ask: What role does argument play in social history? What risks does Buchanan take by making explicit arguments in this social history?

Related, Buchanan begins this chapter by dispelling the myth that women lacked formal training in public speaking, which is often equated with women’s lack of participation in civic discourse. She begins most, if not all, of her other chapters in a similar fashion. I found this repeated practice effective; she is clearly attempting to revise our notions of rhetorical history by attending to the social forces and cultural networks surrounding 19th century female rhetors. By dispelling certain myths and regendering delivery in each chapter, she thus weaves together a coherent argument throughout the entire book. The back cover describes this structure and rhetorical study as a “bold” project because in a sense she challenges the histories that other scholars have produced before her. I am curious as to how this book would be reviewed by social historians. Going back to a smart question Jannell asked earlier in semester, is this text a revisionary history or a social history? Both? What is difference again???

Lastly, I really admire how Buchanan carved out a space for her scholarship and opens doors, as Zosha notes, for similar revisionary projects. Her focus on delivery makes me wonder about historical non-discursive forms of delivery employed by 19th century US women. A nice extension of this work would be to investigate how 19th century social, cultural, and political forces necessitated/engendered/constrained non-discursive delivery practices/genres by female rhetors. This research would help us better understand how gender impacted delivery and complicate the rhetorical canon which privileges discursive, public rhetorics. It would also create a new topoi or at least expand the fourth topoi of genre from which explore the nexus of gender, power, and rhetoric.

Speaking of genre, genre analysis seems as if it might be a very useful methodology for social history…..



Filed under cultural rhetorics exam

6 responses to “Chapter 1 of Regendering Delivery—“Readers and Rhetors: Schoolgirl’s Formal Elocutionary Instruction”—Lindal Buchanan

  1. zstuckey

    thanks griester. Re: Your comment around how argument is used in social history–interesting that we haven’t used the word “argument” until now in relation to histories. do we consider histories to be absent of logic? the logic of a history lies in a negotiation between analysis and narrative (S.P. McDonald). But there is less of a sense that histories are trying to “prove” something and more of a sense that artifacts speak for themselves.

    Buchanan does in fact weave a strong, main claim throughout the 5 chapters. The only weakness I can see in terms of logic or coherency is in the fact that as she privileges delivery as socially situated she in effect neglects actio/corporeal aspects. Yes, she does talk about how, for example, Willard strategically gazes down at the book, but what other ways does Buchanan account for the corporeal parts of her theory–perhaps this is just an area that beckons for more research.

  2. legries

    What I was thinking about was how delivery is enacted in non-discursive material rhetorics produced by women in the 1th century. However, I am glad you raise the question of how Buchanan attends or fails to attend to corporeal delivery strategies. I think silence plays a huge role, which is an ironic strategy to combat the “mandatory” public silencing that Jannell wonders about in her blog. I also think sitting down, staying off the platform after 7 months of pregnancy, standing up at certain moments were rhetorical gestures that in and of themselves were part of their delivery. I think dress and appearence probably played a big role, but I know Carol Mattingly analyzed dress and appearence of 19th century women as rhetorical performances, so maybe Buchanan felt that her audience already understood how dress was part of 19th century female rhetors’ delivery….

    By the way, at the Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) conference, I saw a scholar speak about about how writing bicyles was a rhetorical act peformed by women in the 19th century. Could riding bicycles be included in the 5th canon??

  3. bjbailie

    I agree with L that silence and the choosing when and where to appear during or after pregnancy were corporeal gestures that were part of these rhetors’ deliveries. Still, it seems you, Z, want a more demonstrative display of how these larger social concerns were manifested in specific onstage performances by specific speakers. Doesn’t this go beyond the intention and scope of the book that Buchanan outlines in the introduction?


  4. Hey all – I think your interests/inquires point us back to the ways in which Buchanan explores the networks – of people supporting the rhetors, of factors defining the rhetors, of the layers of collaborations determining the rhetorics, etc.
    My question, in light of your ideas and Buchanan’s suggestions, is – how do we determine/isolate/receive the objects/subjects of delivery? Surely we don’t mean to suggest that rhetorics are discursive or not, corporeal or not…?? What if we took Buchanan’s idea of networked rhetors/collaborations/deliveries and asked about the networks – not just of people and forces but concepts and available rhetorical means – that bring gradation to such categories? In fact – what if social histories of rhetoric took up this kind of intentional liminality? While I really enjoy the insights Buchanan brings to delivery and gender – I wonder how this project might have culminated differently if it wasn’t driven by categorical ideas about/inquires into canons, defined categories, etc……?

  5. I’m really stuck on this notion of how revisionary histories and social histories are different. I’m glad you brought it up. In the second chapter, she frames her argument in response to Connors’ claims about 19th century womens’ illuctionary practices and their role in altering the curriculum of higher ed once they had access to attend. B extends his ideas about the relationship between curricular change in college and the entrance of women. She also challenges Connors’ definition of academic platforms recognizing that his description negates histories of women, as well as oversimplifies the relationship between gender, power and delivery on academic, specifically, college platforms. If we were to consider this a revisionary history, would we say that she’s revising Connors’ highly circulated text? Do we then claim Connors’ version of history as a master narrative? I guess what I’m getting at is the question: is the difference between revisionary history and social history a matter of including or not including a self-reflexive acknowledgment of whose version of history that you’re responding to? At the same time, aren’t all social histories in response to other histories?

  6. Eileen E. Schell

    I think both revisionary and social histories can contain self-reflexiveness. I don’t think that is the dividing line between the two. One could argue all histories respond to histories, which can lead to a circular argument, I suppose. As I’ve said before, social history is a terminology coming out of the field of history to describe a particular approach to history that is about challenging a dominant view of history focused on kings, battles, governments, famous people. That’s a boiled down version, but as we discussed earlier, social history investigates everyday people in their contexts and lives and in relation to their societies and the social and economic forces surrounding them. Social history has taken inspiration from Marxism/historical materialism. In our field, we’ve tended to use the term revisionary history, but I would argue that Buchanan is creating a social history of sorts. Would she call it that? My guess is she’d say she’s doing a feminist history or revisionary history. I think of Connors as doing more of a disciplinary history. He talks in his book of all of us sitting around the fire sharing stories.

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