Reading and Writing the Social Swirls of The French Chef: Social Circulation and the Fan Mail of Julia Child

Introduction

In a letter dated July 27, 1962, Mrs. Thomas Myles of Wayland, Massachusetts addressed producers at WGBH, Boston’s public television station:

Last night I so enjoyed your new program The French Chef and this morning I really did successfully make a French omelet and have spent a good part of the day telling my friends about the program. They are all eagerly awaiting the next programs and asking me to show them how to do the omelette.1 (Myles to “Gentlemen”)

Written just one day after the pilot episode of The French Chef aired, this letter reveals the speed at which the culinary lessons of the now-famous Julia Child traveled into viewers’ homes. Child’s educational cooking show ran on nationwide public television stations for nearly a decade from 1963 to 1973, but, as evidenced by the lines above, it only took the first pilot to spark in Mrs. Thomas Myles the desire to cook as well as both an excited conversation among friends and an exigency to write.

The series of events in this letter illustrate “social circulation,” a concept Royster and Kirsch outline as a lens through which to examine women’s rhetorical practices across space and time in order to acknowledge “the conditions, impacts, and consequences of those practices more generatively” (24). Using the concept of social circulation to more generatively close-read the lines above, for example, allows us to examine what Royster and Kirsch might call the “overlapping social circles” in which Child both operated and influenced others and which led to viewers’ “changed rhetorical practices” (23). Through the existence of the letter itself, we witness a concrete example of such changed rhetorical practices that might not have come to fruition had it not been for Child’s performance on The French Chef. Moreover, by placing the letter into its wider social and historical circumstances, we bear witness to the ways in which Child’s own rhetorical performances moved—and moved others—across space and time. This one letter from her archival collection thus demonstrates the immediacy with which Julia Child impacted viewers’ social and rhetorical practices.

The social swirls of Child’s fan mail, which includes what Branch calls a “meteoric rise to food superstardom” (165), quite literally began with letters like the one above. To promote her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child had been invited to speak on I’ve Been Reading, a weekly book-review program produced by WGBH, in February 1962. Preferring to not be formally interviewed during the show, Child instead planned to perform a cooking demonstration and arrived on set with a copper bowl, a whisk, an apron, and a dozen eggs (Fitch 277; Spitz 12). The story goes that Child was so busy giving tips on how to cook a French omelet that she forgot to mention the title of her cookbook. The omission didn’t matter; in the weeks that followed, twenty-seven viewers wrote in to WGBH, many pleading, “Get that tall, loud woman back on television. We want to see more cooking!” (Prud’homme 39).

In his study of The French Chef series, film scholar Dana Polan claims that this group of letters praising Child’s performance on I’ve Been Reading was the “mere tip of the iceberg” (185). Polan further offers, in fact, that throughout Child’s decade-long success on the series, fans came to appreciate her pedagogy because they felt a sense of intimacy in her narrative, they loved her hands-on instruction, and they admired her “directness, naturalness, lack of guise, and spontaneity” (190-191). He hypothesizes that fans “felt that Child was offering something fresh in the often formulaic landscape of American television” (191). Indeed, Polan is right about both the content and the impact of those letters written to Child: starting with her television appearances on I’ve Been Reading and the three pilot episodes of The French Chef, fan letters played a significant role in Child’s rise to stardom. However, what those letters also do, as Mrs. Thomas Myles’ letter does, is reveal Child’s position as an influence in her viewers’ rhetorical exigency to write in the first place. While certainly those early fan letters are part of what jump-started Child’s career, by examining more closely the rhetorical nature of the letters, we see an even more complex version of her influences on fans. Though many of Child’s fan letters reveal that she influenced viewers in their kitchens, almost all letters reveal—just by their very existence—an exigency and an agency to write that began with Child herself.

As what Nan Johnson might call “artifacts of popular and material culture” that reveal “sources of historical evidence” (17), Julia Child’s fan letters offer a unique window into the ways in which her performed rhetorical practices on The French Chef directly influenced the rhetorical practices of her viewers. And through the lens of social circulation, fan letters from across Child’s career make viewers’ very private, domestic behaviors such as cooking, watching television, and writing—an act critical to this study—more wholly visible to a public audience. Child helped to turn viewers’ rhetorical exigencies into rhetorical action therefore situating those fans in a more complex network of her legendary career. My research thus invites that rhetorical action into the narrative by casting a wider lens through which to consider Julia Child, “a goddess of the people” (Derven), and her influence on American culture. Using Royster and Kirsch’s concept of social circulation, I position both fans and fan letters as part of a wider network of social and rhetorical activity.

“A Lucky Thing”: The Rise of Julia Child

Culinary legend Julia Child has been characterized by many as larger than life, in body and personality, and is well known for revolutionizing French cooking in America, most notably with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961, and on The French Chef, which ran on public television from 1963 to 1973 (Polan; Spitz; Shapiro; Fitch; Prud’homme). Child’s dabbling in French cuisine began in 1949 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu culinary school soon after moving to Paris with her husband, Paul. In 1951, Child met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, two Parisian women who were working on a cookbook for an American audience. Beck and Bertholle insisted on enlisting the help of their new American confidant, and after Child painstakingly tested the book’s recipes over and over until they were foolproof (My Life 253; Fitch 212), the three women published Mastering the Art of French Cooking in March 1961. After Child’s appearance on I’ve Been Reading, her status as a culinary celebrity exploded a few months later when the first three pilots of The French Chef debuted in July 1962. The show soon became a regular series, airing one new episode and its re-run each week, and within three years was broadcasting nationwide on 104 television stations. Fans across the nation were suddenly in awe of Julia Child—or just “Julia” as many of her fans expressed—and she became a household name almost overnight2 (Tomkins; Polan; Prud’homme).

Though Child often insisted that her rise to celebrity status began as “a lucky thing” (Hudgins 107) and “kind of a mistake” (“Larry King Live”), there were other historical and cultural factors at play. In the early 1960s, World War II had ended and Americans were enjoying somewhat of a travel boom. Travelers returned home from European countries “with their tastes broadened and sharpened” (Time staff). Americans’ increased travel was coupled by an influential addition to the White House kitchen staff: President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie hired a French chef by the name of René Verdon in 1961 (Fitch 279). By the time WGBH aired The French Chef pilots, America’s interest in “Frenchness” was already on the rise, and the reputation of French food was blossoming (Ferguson n.p.). Moreover, as Darra Goldstein and Corky White emphasize in a special issue of Gastronomica in 2005, “By opening a nation to a new range of gastronomic possibilities, [Child] truly changed the way Americans thought about food” (iii). Coincidentally, that initial, widespread popularity was only the beginning; as Anne Willan contends, Julia Child “only had to appear on screen once to become an instant star” (Women n.p.).

By challenging long-held gendered assumptions that it was men who cooked professionally and women who cooked in the home, Child’s influence also trickled into that era’s feminist movement. She would not have characterized herself as a feminist, but others claimed her as the “embodiment of feminist achievement and independence” because she “opened cooking for women” (Usher in Fitch 388). She recognized fully the discrimination women often experienced upon entering culinary professions, telling TV Guide in 1970, “…it wasn’t until I began thinking about it that I realized my field is closed to women! It’s very unfair. It’s absolutely restricted” (in Fitch 387). Child furthermore taught from the firm belief that anyone who wanted to enjoy cooking ought to have the permission to do so claiming, “We never talk about women cooking. It is PEOPLE who like to cook, and we don’t care who they are—race, color, sex, animals, ANYBODY” (in Fitch 387). At the time of Child’s rise to celebrity status, cooking often carried the connotation of a domestic practice performed in the home and was therefore separated from the feminist agenda (Hallows 37). Child, however, promoted cooking not as the categorical “drudgery of housework,” but as an antidote—as “something fun and creative” (Hollows 41). In this way, Child acknowledged cooking as a gendered activity at the same time that she aimed to separate cooking from women’s domestic work (Hallows 41). At the height of her career, Child was a revolutionary for anyone whose interests were cooking for the sake of fun. She ultimately became a role model for cooking as one of the pleasures of the kitchen, and as Boston chef Amanda Lydon offers, “What Child did is deconstruct this French, classical, rule-based cooking tradition and make it accessible as a source of pleasure at home” (in C. Lydon n.p.).

While the kitchen has remained a problematic site of gendered and domestic work (Hallows; Avakian and Haber; Fleitz; Inness), with her vision for a series of “programs on French cooking addressed to an intelligent, reasonably sophisticated audience which likes good food and cooking” (Child in Prud’homme 40), Child created an opportunity to shift the perspective by unapologetically encouraging a sense of enjoyment. Viewers tuned in to The French Chef because in it, and in Child, they saw the promotion of a lifestyle that “centered on the kitchen as a site of taste, culture, and fun” (Polan 136).

The Impact of Fans and Their Letters

To study the behavior of Julia Child’s fans is to envision the ways in which they, as members of an audience, operate as agents within a dynamic rhetorical situation; fans’ agency matters, in other words, and as Megan McIntyre might offer, it has always mattered (25). In 1992 when media scholar Henry Jenkins challenged fans’ perceived “subordinated position within the cultural hierarchy,” fans were finally assigned agency as active consumers who transform “watching television into a rich and complex participatory culture” (Poachers 23). Jenkins, in fact, positioned fans’ always already participation in larger cultural communities as contributing to “the construction and circulation of textual meanings” (Poachers 16-24). In highly nuanced ways, fans themselves ultimately produce culture by actively transforming personal reaction into social interaction. In turn, spectatorship becomes participation in that “consumption naturally sparks production” and “reading generates writing” (Jenkins, Fans 41). This interactive and reciprocal nature of fan behavior blurs the lines of consumption and production, illustrating a “dynamic duality” of reading and writing “whereby writers create readers and readers create writers” (Ede and Lunsford 169). And as a particular kind of fan activity that captures precise, contextual, and first-hand reactions, i.e., that moment of dynamic duality, fan letters provide an opportunity to witness a site of reception that at the same time displays evidence of production. Closely examining the social nature of fan letters, then, puts feminist rhetorical researchers in an exceptional position to be able to witness how ideas resonate, are expressed, and circulate (Royster and Kirsch 101).

Though reception scholars readily admit the difficulty in studying audiences empirically because of the inability to know for certain how their reactions play out (Toye 88; Kjeldsen 4), fans’ personal letters to those whom they admire or criticize offer a window for studying how consumers of media enter and participate in moments of interactivity (Simmons 455). Whether fans write to communicate with radio broadcasters (Simmons), with literary authors (Bates; Blair), with renowned artists (Grasso), or with the producers of Star Trek (Geraghty), the fan letter, as a particularly personal and contextual written performance (Henkin 118), exists as part of a wider network of socio-rhetorical activity. As Geraghty argues in his book characterizing “the epistolary of Star Trek” (11), the fan letter is a social practice that occurs within a community—a community networked with texts, participants, activities, and artifacts (Barton and Hall in Geraghty 11)—all of which contribute to how the community itself operates. That is to say, fan letters carry agency within the network of how communities and cultures are made and remade. In much the same way that fans’ letters to WGBH contributed to the success of Julia Child, for example, fan letters saved the cancellation of Star Trek, “the granddaddy” of media, not once but twice (Bacon-Smith 4). There is no doubt that fan letters and their writers have the power to impact broad cultural change (Reagin and Rubenstein para. 2.6) and it would be no exaggeration to say that they can change the course of history just as they did for Julia Child.

By composing and mailing letters back to Julia Child in response to her performances on The French Chef, viewers became “fans” in that they entered into that “rich and complex participatory culture” (Jenkins, Poachers 23). And by entering into that participatory culture, fans’ activity further constructed and circulated textual meaning. Child’s fans, in other words, made meaning from their viewing experiences—meaning which they then made clear in letters that were circulated back to Child. Within Child’s fan letters exist narratives that began in viewers’ homes, were translated into sentences and paragraphs, and traveled through space and time and into the hands of producers of The French Chef as well as Julia Child herself.3

Reading Julia Child’s Fan Mail Through Social Circulation

When The French Chef began its weekly run on WGBH in early 1963, producers soon discovered that “each installment of the show brought in a mass of fan mail” (Polan 185). Child and The French Chef production team felt it necessary to respond to nearly all letters, first because viewers had been encouraged to “write in for copies of recipes” but also because so many of the letters contained questions addressed directly to Child (Polan 185). Basic recipe requests were easy for the production team to answer but when viewers wrote in with specific questions about ingredients, about perfecting a culinary method, or about careers as chefs or restaurateurs, Child made an attempt to personally respond (Polan 186). Viewers’ questions and admiration continued to pour in at WGBH as well as other stations that had picked up the show, and eventually the number of letters Child received surpassed the number of personal responses she was able to write herself.4 As Dana Polan aptly speculates, Child “brought out something in viewers they felt they had to respond to” (190).

Encouraged by feminist historiographers Pat Bizzell and Nan Johnson who call for researchers to employ new methods and carve new pathways in their pursuit of the history of rhetoric,5 I offer fan letters from Child’s time on The French Chef as evidence of the expansive network within which she actively set, shaped, deployed—and greatly predisposed—”rhetorical trends and practices” (Royster and Kirsch 24) across a range of audience members. Specifically, the rhetorical lens of social circulation invites the feminist perspective of recognizing that “the social swirls within and across rhetorical arenas matter” (Royster and Kirsch 23-24). As social swirls that circulated into homes as exigencies and circulated out of homes as storied, rhetorical texts, fan mail written in response to Child’s performances matters a great deal. Until now, Child’s fan letters have existed as “remnants” of rhetorical activity that only lingered in the shadows (Sinor and Goggin in Royster and Kirsch 63)—they lingered first behind the scenes of her success and they linger now deep within her massive archival collection, rarely touched by scholars. They are indeed valuable pieces of ephemera, each of which helps us acknowledge and construct the even-more-widespread and complex network of Child’s rhetorical enterprise.

These letters that so many fans wrote to Child furthermore disrupt the public/private divide of where literacy occurs and how it travels. While the letters demonstrate writing in more intimate environments such as kitchens and living rooms, social circulation instead envisions the work of Child and her fans in interactive social spaces (Royster and Kirsch 24); as such, Child’s fan letters allow us to witness an influence that goes beyond the history typically represented through popular media or the less accessible spaces of her archival materials. The rhetorical activity of Child’s fans reveals a networked, socially inhabited space that allows us to broaden what counts as rhetorical performance (Johnson 15) and to more closely consider what complex relationships exist among rhetors, their tools, their texts, and their exigencies. Child’s letters additionally contextualize her viewers’ relationships with food in ways that reveal first-hand stories from more voices surrounding particular “food-related practices” (Goldthwaite 7). As Avakian and Haber would contend, women’s long association with food holds “untold stories” that “illuminate both women’s history and the history of food” (6). By pausing to look beyond what we know as “the Julia Child revolution” (McFeeley in Avakian and Haber 14), we can construct a network of fans who, through their storied interactions with Child herself, further inform a more inclusive historiography.

The letters that make up the dataset for this study come from the Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993, one of Child’s four archival collections housed at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America, which is part of the Ratcliffe Institute of Advanced Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The research I offer in this essay relies specifically on fan letters written in response to Child’s performances on The French Chef between July 1962 and July 1967. From a larger collection of Child’s fan mail that I reviewed,6 thirty-one letters include direct reference to the genre of the fan letter itself or to a literacy practice such as taking notes while watching The French Chef,7 two patterns which I explore through social circulation in the sections below.

“I’ve never written a fan letter before in my life”: Fan Letters and The Genre Function

Many letters written to Julia Child take on a curiously distinct discourse: of the thirty-one letters in this study, twenty-three include a meta-attention to the genre of the fan letter itself. A few writers simply acknowledge their letter as a fan letter; however, fifteen writers disclose that they have never written a fan letter or written to a television show, five writers offer some version of “This is not a fan letter,” and one set of writers, a couple from Madison, Wisconsin, call their note a “love letter.” These patterns may seem like peculiar ones but as fan mail scholars often point out, fans rather commonly offer commentary on the genre in which they write. Grasso found that fans writing to Georgia O’Keefe asserted a particular “reflective” position, often stating specific reasons for writing their fan letter in the first place (33). Bates similarly found that Willa Cather’s fans often employed a discourse that included declaring themselves as fans in the opening lines (para. 1.6). And fans of author Sinclair Lewis, according to Amy Blair’s analysis, portrayed a metacommentary whereby fans specifically attempted to reclassify their letters as “somehow different from a perceived typical fan letter” (145). This metacommentary on the genre of the fan letter within the fan letter likewise emerges as a common discourse across the fan mail of Julia Child.

With my aim to place fan mail into the widespread social nature of Julia Child’s influence on her fans, it is here that I make a different analytical move—a move related to the concept of genre itself—that helps to intentionally illustrate social circulation. As what Carolyn Miller might call everyday genres (155), fan letters play a key role in an ongoing social flux of rhetorical situations because they are themselves meant to be social. Analyzing the genre function of Child’s fan letters positions Child and her fans in a network of social interactions. We can then consider Child and her texts as well as her fans and their texts within what Royster and Kirsch call a “more fully textured” space (24), the “texture” of which might include what the fan letter itself makes possible. As Bawarshi offers, “…the genres we have available to us are integral to the ways we construct, respond to, and make sense of recurring situations” (42). For Child’s fans, then, exigencies came to life precisely because the fan letter was an interactive, textual option for communication. Namely, the genre itself helped to facilitate fans’ entry into the social ecology of the rhetorical situation. Furthermore, while Child’s own performances represented a particular disruption of the public/private divide by bringing home cooking into view via public television, Child’s fans, through their letters, performed a similar disruption. A desire or exigence to write “provides an occasion, and thus a form”—a form which manifests as the appropriate genre—“for making public our private versions of things” (Miller 158). Fans’ initially private exigencies, in other words, thus become wholly possible—and wholly visible—through the act of composing a fan letter. Through the lens of social circulation, Julia Child’s performances on The French Chef cultivated the grounds for viewers’ growing exigencies, while the fan letter itself, with its social function as a means to make contact and circulate conversation, enabled those viewers to act on the desire to interact with Child.

Though Child’s fans were certainly not the first to declare themselves as first-time fan letter writers, in the lines below patterns of self-disclosure allow us to witness her influence on fans’ entry into participatory culture as well as the rhetorical choices involved in doing so. Responding to the pilot episodes in 1962, Eleanor Poor Jones writes from Haverhill, MA: “I have never written a “fan” letter before this [but] I have sometimes thought of it” (Jones to Child). Audrey Stein from East Orange, NJ writes in August 1965: “I have never before written a fan letter but I just had to write to tell you how much I enjoy watching The French Chef” (Stein to Child). Writing from Burlingame, CA in September 1965, Mrs. James Finch writes: “This is the first time I have written about any television program – but this letter is a must” (Finch to Child). Rita Steele from Seattle writes in May 1966: “I’ve never written a fan letter in my life, but I cannot resist writing you…[what] you do in a half hour is a miracle” (Steele to Child). And Mrs. B. B. Phelps from Sherman Oaks, CA, also in May 1966, writes: “I’ve never written a “fan letter” before in my life, but I couldn’t resist writing to congratulate you [on] your Emmy award” (Phelps to Child). These lines reveal fans’ disclosure that they had never written within the genre, and the presence of the conjunction “but” points to Child’s performances as the exigence for rhetorical opportunity. As the socio-rhetorical function of a genre shapes our communicative goals, including why we have those goals and what purpose they serve (Bawarshi 23), the rhetorical function of the genre of “fan letter” enabled these fans—these writers—to write with the purpose of expressing admiration for the show or to extend congratulatory wishes.

Child’s fan letters illustrate a prime example of social circulation as a complex network of rhetorical actions which move and are shaped across space and time (Royster and Kirsch 98), and evidence therein suggests that Child’s own rhetorical activity is what often harnessed the occasion for these viewers to engage in the act of composing. One letter in particular reveals an especially rich example of the social and circulatory function of Child’s fan letters. In a letter to Child dated December 15, 1964, Catherine E. McKenna of Manhasset, NY writes:

My family has been laughing at me ever since I saw your television program for the first time this past Fall. I announced that I was going to write my first fan letter, and each week I have repeated it, only to be greeted by incredulous jeers. From this you may gather that I am not the type to write letters to strangers. However, I put myself in your place and decided that I would love to hear from an appreciative viewer if I were you. (McKenna to Child)

Here, the idea or intention behind writing a fan letter becomes what Bawarshi might call an “interpretive frame” where the function of a genre influences how discourse is read and understood (27). After thinking about and announcing her intention to write, the idea of the fan letter influenced how this fan interpreted her experience of watching The French Chef. Moreover, Catherine E. McKenna, first-time fan letter writer, understands how the fan letter itself is supposed to work on others; genre awareness allows her to envision the reception of her letter, and she rationalizes that Child might “love to hear from an appreciative viewer…” The genre of fan letter, in this instance, becomes endowed with a particular social meaning (Bawarshi 44)—meaning that causes the writer a bit of dissonance at the same time that it enables her to follow the course from exigence to invention to mediated personal communication with Julia Child.

We can likewise use the genre function to explore the context surrounding the fact that Catherine E. McKenna faced “incredulous jeers” upon expressing a desire to compose her fan letter. Her family’s jeers represent an entirely different perspective on the genre, and that perspective is not uncommon. With such lines as “Not given to writing fan letters…” (King to Child) or “Not a writer of fan letters…” (Davis to Child), Child’s fan mail also reveals a pattern of fan-letter denial. Two examples below offer further context:

I am not really a writer of fan letters; as a matter of fact, I think this might be my first, but I have been meaning for a long time to express my (and my husband’s) appreciation for your excellent and entertaining programs on “The French Chef.” (Robbins to Child)

I am not a fan letter writer by nature, but I feel compelled to let you know how very much our whole family enjoys your program – “The French Chef” on educational television. Neither am I much of a cook – but some of your simpler recipes have become Fuller favorites… (Fuller to Child)

These confessions are completely at odds with the genre’s function. The content of the letters classify them as fan letters, but the writers quite literally open by categorizing themselves as perhaps not the type to write. The letters suggest that writers were willing to engage in fan behavior—writing to a celebrity they admire—but perhaps didn’t want to be seen as “fanatical” or being out of touch with reality (Jenkins, Poachers 16-17). What this peculiar discourse helps us understand, nonetheless, is that though writers hint at the fan letter as something they wouldn’t normally pursue, their social action tells a different story. Miller helps us recognize, for example, that fans’ desire to fulfill their social motives through rhetorical action “invited” the use of fan letter discourse (162). It seems Child’s performances were somehow influential enough that these fans were willing to engage in this particular set of genre conventions despite their adverse notions of what it might mean to write a “fan letter.” Widening the perspective further, if we consider precisely what comes after the opening lines cited above—Robbins’ letter continues, “Several of my friends and I have become such devoted listeners that Tuesday evenings at 7 P.M. take on the character of very important meetings,” and Fuller’s letter continues, “My husband, who is fortunately for me, our real “chef” simply refuses to miss your program”—we witness the social circles that further populate Child’s social circulation. In other words, even letters composed by self-proclaimed non-fan-letter-writers reveal circulation beyond those writers as individuals; we also see the friends, families, and spouses who were likewise impacted by the ways in which Child functioned as a rhetorical agent.

The Material Culture of The French Chef

A second pattern emerging from fan mail sent to Julia Child during her time on The French Chef is related to the material literacy practices present in fans’ reception of Child’s television show. Here social circulation acts as a lens for witnessing how the materialities of cooking, eating, and learning, themselves inspired by Child’s characteristic pedagogy, then translate into particular literacy practices. Of the thirty-one letters studied, seventeen writers capture the ways in which certain literacy tools—tools such as pens, pencils, paper, and Child’s cookbook—facilitate their viewing of The French Chef. In the various examples below, the tools that fans mention in their letters play active roles in what Cydney Alexis calls “the material culture of writing,” a concept that acknowledges “the inner-workings of writers’ object-populated writing environments, or writing habitats” (84 emphasis in original). Alexis’ habitats of writing include the objects that “populate” the spaces where writing occurs (84), and those objects in writing environments are not just acted upon by writers; they are acted with by writers who position these literacy tools as equal actors (Brandt and Clinton 348; Barnett and Boyle 1). Moreover, including literacy tools in the network of rhetorical production stemming from Child’s own performances pushes beyond a more traditional way of studying a rhetor; invoking Sarah Hallenback, this perspective considers the rhetorical effects generated through “dispersed networks of women and men as well as material arrangements of space, time, and objects” (17). Assigning rhetorical agency to tools utilized by Child’s fans helps to answer the call by Royster and Kirsch to consider patterns of social circulation within rhetorical performances, including the specific communities and environmental conditions where the performances take place (104-105). For example, in lines such as this from Beth Satt written in April 1965, “We so enjoy your delightful T.V. lessons and learn good ideas and take notes” (Satt to Child emphasis added), we witness certain environmental conditions at the scene of literacy. By evidencing simultaneous acts of consumption and production, Child’s fan letters suggest what fans’ environmental conditions were like in the home and they reveal details about the different ways fans engaged with The French Chef.

Three letters in particular reveal a relationship that links the agency of specific literacy tools to a type of preparedness; each fan below associates the use of their tools with being “ready” to watch The French Chef:

Lawrence Schumann of Boston, MA opens his 1963 letter with: “Your delightful, “French Chef”, program at times causes me to have indigestion, simply because, if I get home late, I rush through dinner in order to be in a comfortable chair, with pad and pencil, ready for your eight o’clock program” (Schumann to R. Lockwood emphasis added).

Gretha Daniels of Cypress, NY opens her 1964 letter with: “I want to thank you for the many delightful hours you are giving us with French cooking […] and comes (sic) Wednesday, I am sitting with paper and pencil ready in front of our TV” (Daniels to Child emphasis added).

First-time fan-letter writer Jeanne Diamond of Portland, OR admits in 1965: “… I now look forward to your program every Monday evening with my book open and pencil ready” (Diamond to Child emphasis added).

The objects that populate fans’ viewing spaces—the comfortable chair, the pad and pencil, the paper, and the book—each take on an agency that enables fans to perform a type of literacy. Alexis posits that how one envisions what is possible “is likely tied to the goods one uses to perform and enact possibilities” (87), and here tools such as paper and pencils make possible viewers’ own performances as active producers of literacy. They too become part of Child’s network of “ever broadening circles of interaction” (Royster and Kirsch 101) because the tools themselves facilitate that interaction. Fan scholars might argue, too, that these tools specifically enable viewers to actively become fans. As Benjamin Woo offers in “A Pragmatics of Things: Materiality and Constraint in Fan Practices,” by surrounding themselves with particular material items or objects, fans “produce themselves as particular kinds of agents, as people who do certain kinds of things” (para. 1.4). In the excerpts above, everyday objects used in particular ways are what carry viewers into active participation and therefore into Child’s socially circulating network. Tools like the ones mentioned by fans are “active agents” that, through the notion of rhetorical ontology, “occasion and hold sway” in situations and ecologies (Barnett and Boyle 2-3). Namely, the tools themselves carry rhetorical agency that influences fans’ entry into the participatory culture of The French Chef, and in turn, they further populate the complex social and rhetorical ecology surrounding Julia Child.

The above excerpt from fan Jeanne Diamond’s letter captures another nuanced example of material literacy practices. She mentions looking forward to Monday evenings when she watches with not only “pencil ready” but also “book open.” The book in this case is Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And in the next line of Diamond’s letter, she offers: “It is so helpful to actually see how you prepare the recipe from the book” (Diamond to Child). Here, presence of Child’s cookbook, what Fleitz might categorize as a “significant cultural text” (2), allows this viewer to better interpret the televised lessons. Thus Mastering becomes a tool that allows fans to engage in a literacy practice in an even more textured way. The cookbook, in other words, takes on a type of agency within the network of literacy practices present in the social circulation of Julia Child; it becomes an instrument which makes certain acts of literacy—ways of learning and ways of writing—even more possible. As fans often cultivate methods for manipulating objects for particular purposes (Woo para. 2.10), fan Jeanne Diamond manipulates her use of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, perhaps first in the domestic space of the kitchen as cookbooks are usually intended, but also to better understand Child’s culinary pedagogy, which happens to play out visually on The French Chef.

Other stories in fans’ letters reveal the role that Mastering plays in their reception of The French Chef. In April 1966 John Fanelli of New York, NY declared:

I saw your program for the first time last week, and enjoyed it tremendously. All my friends’ advance reports were confirmed. Your presence, technique and pedagogy are to be commended…. As an owner of your French cookbook, I know that your taste and knowledge will inspire many viewers. (Fanelli to Child)

And Mrs. B.B. Phelps, first-time fan letter writer referenced above, raved in May 1966:

Your Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a treasure. I served “Veal Prince Orloff” to two dinner parties recently and my guests are still talking about it. […] A million thanks for giving me such incentive and inspiration – as I tell my friends just to watch you chop an onion is a real treat. (Phelps to Child)

For both fans, prior knowledge of the book, as well as prior use, influenced their interpretation and reception of Child’s The French Chef. To say it another way, Child’s cookbook mediated how these viewers watched—how they saw, interpreted, understood, and responded to—what Child did and said on her show. As a culinary tool, Mastering presumably aided readers in their kitchens (or other places where foodstuff was handled: the butcher, the market, the dining room); as a literacy tool, however, Child’s cookbook became an object through which viewers interpreted and understood her television pedagogy. And, as fan scholar Woo might clarify, as an object of fanhood itself, the book revealed what viewers could be capable of (para. 4.1): everyday home-cooks had the capacity to not only gain an agency (or even pleasure) in their own kitchens, but by using the cookbook to further understand The French Chef, they evolved into more active consumers of various media. They readied themselves, they took notes, they gathered their tools and their texts—and going by the very existence of the letters themselves—they then wrote fan letters to Julia Child in order to express their stories.

The expansion of social circulation as “social swirls” that circulate within rhetorical arenas (Royster and Kirsch 24) is further demonstrated within a letter sent to Child in December 1964. The letter itself illustrates not only the movement of rhetoric across space and time but also the role that Mastering played in the writer’s particular rhetorical choices. On letterhead of the Christina Community Center of Old Swedes, Inc., located in Wilmington, Delaware, Executive Director Charles I. Davis, Jr. writes:

Dear Miss Child:

Has it occurred to you that however your television showing is planned to stimulate, it could be a marvelous vicarious experience for any number of people?

I eagerly await it. It is entertaining, gets to the listener, the spoken content is marvelous, avoids what so many cookbooks do, squeeze all the juices out of the food, is also a program very much for the eye. Not a writer of fan letters, your program demands it.

Good holidays to you.

[A handwritten note follows the closing signature…] The day I planned to write this a copy of your beautiful book came for Christmas from dear friends in West Newton – AND they didn’t know my interest!!! (Davis to Child underline in original)

By acknowledging Child’s “television showing” as potentially reaching more people than the show had originally intended, this writer expresses his own stimulating viewing experience while simultaneously assuming an always already network of diverse fans. With the first line, he places Child right at the center of a complicated social web, presumably fostered by rhetorical moves performed on The French Chef. Moreover, though it’s clear from the commentary therein that Charles I. Davis, Jr.’s initial exigency pertained to the particular qualities he mentions in the second paragraph, it is in fact a material item—Child’s cookbook—that contributes to the rhetorical moves facilitated by the excitedly handwritten postscript at the end. Not just any gift would be relevant to mention in the postscript. As an active rhetorical agent itself, the cookbook takes on a very particular agency, or what Cydney Alexis might call a special power. Alexis reminds us that objects’ existence in the human conception are “a reflection of all of our tacit and latent experiences of them, which might explain the special power that gathers around them” (88 emphasis added). In this case, the special power surrounding the gift mentioned in the postscript reflects the meaning this viewer had attached to Child, to The French Chef, and—going by his excitedly handwritten account of receiving the gift—the meaning he might have already assigned to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as an object in itself.

A Celebrity Circulates

Almost six decades have passed since Child published Mastering the Art of French Cooking8 and appeared for the first time on public television. In that time, news outlets across the country have reviewed Child’s numerous books and television shows, biographers and relatives have narrativized her life, and scholars have theorized her cultivation of audience (Branch), her influence on Americans’ opinions of France (Ferguson), and the impact of The French Chef on American television (Polan). Even Gastronomica: The Journal of Food Studies dedicated an entire issue to Child in 2005 in order to deepen an “understanding of her place in American culture” (Goldstein and White iii). And some writers do address Child’s impact on fans: Dana Polan emphasized her ability to deliver lessons in a whole new way of life (3); great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, called it a “special sauce” that fans so admired (42); and chef and Manhattan cookbook store owner Nach Waxman suitably claimed, “she gave us pleasure in the act of rendering miracles with our pots and pans and knives and flames” (94). This multi-voiced, multi-layered historical contextualization led me to this study on the ways in which Julia Child’s television performances influenced the rhetorical and material literacy practices of her viewers. It is, however, critical for us to acknowledge that those viewers’ voices not only sit within the network of the social circulation of Julia Child, but with their twenty-seven letters in response to her demonstration on I’ve Been Reading, fans helped her establish that network in the first place. Undoubtedly, Child made viewers of culture into participatory agents of culture, and their textual contributions shaped the course of history. In Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food, Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson in fact credits Child’s “readers-turned-spectators” with making her into a legendary figure in the food world (106). As my findings similarly attest, those readers-turned-spectators-turned-writers penned their way into the complex rhetorical network that makes up the social circulation of Child. Through this lens, fans’ rhetorical literacy practices earn a spot in our rhetorical histories, and through my research in particular, fans themselves become part of the story, and the history, that surrounds Julia Child’s entire career.

Finally, while the letters discussed here reveal how Child’s television performances influenced the rhetorical activities of her fans throughout the 1960s, her ever-broadening influence on rhetorical discourse (along with an undying popularity) continues to circulate. The Julia Child Foundation’s podcast, Inside Julia’s Kitchen, offers interviews and profiles of food celebrities from across the globe and has recorded more than one-hundred episodes. In April 2020, PBS debuted Dishing with Julia in which contemporary celebrities “dish” about the impact Child’s legacy in The French Chef continues to carry. CNN, in conjunction with Sony Pictures and Child’s most noted biographers, is producing a documentary called “Julia,” which is meant to highlight how she “changed the way Americans think about” food, television, and women (“Sony Pictures Classics”). And even media giant HBO is contributing to the current “Julia Child” moment. An original HBO Max series will soon capture Child’s “trailblazing career” (Aubrey in Otterson) by highlighting her work on The French Chef during a time when public television, feminism, and “America’s cultural growth” were all on the rise (Pomranz).9 It has been nearly sixty years since those twenty-seven letters first came into Boston’s WGBH, yet Julia Child unquestionably continues to actively influence the discourse within American media and culture. As Patrick Healy, writing for Gastronomica in 2005, aptly offers, “In the end, Julia left us without fanfare or even a funeral, but she left an incredible legacy” (120). Child’s status continues to grow and spread, even today; however, that legacy acts as a reminder of what those fans started back in 1962. And surely new generations of fans will follow her well into the 2020s.

End Notes

  1. French spelling.   -return to text
  2. Writing for Gastronomica, Anne Willan (founder of the French culinary school, La Varenne), even claimed that Child “made history before it was written” (“Scrapbook” 81).   -return to text
  3. And consequently, those letters landed into the hands of archivists and researchers at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   -return to text
  4. Polan does not state when the production team began streamlining responses to Child’s fan mail; however, he notes that once the amount became too much for Child to manage on her own, other staff members at WGBH, including producer Ruth Lockwood, helped out (189). On occasion, if Child felt that a staff member’s original response lacked appropriate specificity, she followed up with her own reply (Polan 190).   -return to text
  5. See Pat Bizzell’s “Feminist Methods in the History of Research: What Difference Do They Make?” (5), and Nan Johnson’s, “Key Concept Statement: History” (15).   -return to text
  6. Between December 2016 and December 2017, I curated and coded a dataset of over 2,000 artifacts from Child’s archives for my dissertation research; artifacts included teaching menus, correspondence, television production scripts, manuscript revisions, and other ephemera. Research for this article in particular stemmed from my review of 144 total fan letters.   -return to text
  7. With the vast amount of total fan mail in Child’s archives, there are likely letters that fit into the categories I’m naming that I have not reviewed. Child’s fan mail spans two archival collections: the Papers of Julia Child includes all fan mail sent to Child between 1962 and 1992, and the Additional Papers of Julia Child: 1890-2004 includes fan letters sent to Child between 1972 and 2002. With forty years of fan mail present in Child’s archival collections, the dataset that I curated for this current project represents only a small number of her total letters.   -return to text
  8. Lauren Salkeld, Director of Outreach at The Julia Child Foundation, reported in an email to me that as of January 2020, Mastering the Art of French Cooking had sold 2.5 million copies.   -return to text
  9. In January 2021, Raina Falcon, Vice President of Publicity at HBO Max/Warner Media, provided me with the same logline for “Julia” that Pomranz cites in his article on Variety.com. The logline reads: “The series is inspired by Julia Child’s extraordinary life and her show The French Chef, which essentially invented food television. Through Julia and her singular can-do spirit, it explores an evolving time in American history – the emergence of a new social institution called public television, feminism and the women’s movement, the nature of celebrity, and America’s cultural growth.” At the time of this publication, an official announcement about the show’s premiere had not been released.   -return to text

Works Cited

  • Alexis, Cydney. “The Material Culture of Writing: Objects, Habitats, and Identities in Practice.” Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things, edited by Scot Barnett, Casey Boyle, Marilyn Cooper, and John Muckelbauer, University of Alabama Press, 2016, pp. 83-95.
  • Avakian, Arlene Voski, and Barbara Haber. “Feminist Food Studies: A Brief History.” Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food, edited by Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber, University of Massachusetts Press, 2005, pp. 1-26.
  • Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
  • Barnett, Scot, and Casey Boyle. “Introduction: Rhetorical Ontology, or, How to Do Things with Things.” Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things, edited by Scot Barnett, Casey Boyle, Marilyn Cooper, and John Muckelbauer, University of Alabama Press, 2016, pp 1-14.
  • Bates, Courtney. “The Fan Letter Correspondence of Willa Cather: Challenging the Divide Between Professional and Common Readers.” Transformative Works and Cultures, “Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Special Issue,” no. 6, 2011.
  • Bawarshi, Anis. Genre and The Invention of the Writer. Utah State University Press, 2003.
  • Bizzell, Patricia. “Feminist Methods in the History of Research: What Difference Do They Make?” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, 2000, pp. 5-17.
  • Blair, Amy. “Main Street Reading Main Street.” New Directions in American Reception Study, edited by Philip Goldstein and James L. Machor, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 139-158.
  • Branch, Erin. ““Taste Analytically”: Julia Child’s Rhetoric of Cultivation.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 2, 2015, pp. 164-184.
  • Brandt, Deborah, and Katie Clinton. “Limits of the Local: Expanding Perspectives on Literacy as a Social Practice.” Journal of Literacy Research, vol. 34, no. 3, 2002, pp. 337-356.
  • Child, Julia, with Alex Prud’homme. My Life In France. Anchor Books, 2006.
  • Daniels, Gretha. Letter to Julia Child. 22 Apr. 1964. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 356. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Davis, Charles. Letter to Julia Child. 23 Dec. 1964. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 356. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Derven, Daphne. “Pizza with Julia.” in “Scrapbook: Remembering Julia.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. 81-98.
  • Diamond, Jeanne. Letter to Julia Child. 9 Feb. 1965. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 357. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Ede, Lisa, and Andrea Lunsford. “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 35, no. 2, 1984, pp. 155-171.
  • Falcon, Raina [Warner Media, VP of Publicity]. “RE: Inquiry re: Julia Child special.” Received by Lindy Briggette, 7 Jan. 2021.
  • Fanelli, John. Letter to Julia Child. 10 Oct. 1966. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 358. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Ferguson, Kennan. “Mastering the Art of the Sensible: Julia Child, Nationalist.” Theory & Event, vol. 12, no. 2, 2009.
  • Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food. University of California Press, 2014.
  • Finch, Mrs. James. Letter to Julia Child. 23 Sept. 1965. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 357. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fitch, Noel Riley. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child. Anchor Books, 1999.
  • Fleitz, Elizabeth. “Cooking Codes: Cookbook Discourses as Women’s Rhetorical Practices.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-8.
  • Fuller, Joyce. Letter to Julia Child. 15 Aug. 1965. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 357. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Geraghty, Lincoln. Living with Star Trek: American Culture and The Star Trek Universe. I. B. Tauris, 2007.
  • Goldstein, Darra, and Corky White. “The Woman Behind the Icon.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. i-iii.
  • Goldthwaite, Melissa. “Preparation and Ingredients: An Introduction to Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics.” Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics, edited by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, Southern Illinois University Press, 2017, pp. 1-11.
  • Grasso, Linda. ““You are no stranger to me” Georgia O’Keefe’s Fan Mail.” Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History, vol. 5, no. 1, 2013, pp. 24-40.
  • Hallenback, Sarah. “Toward a Posthuman Perspective: Feminist Rhetorical Methodologies and Everyday Practices.” Advances in the History of Rhetoric, vol. 15, no. 1, 2012, pp. 9-27.
  • Hallows, Joanne. “The Feminist and the Cook: Julia Child, Betty Friedan and Domestic Femininity.” Gender and Consumption: Domestic Cultures and the Commercialization of Everyday Life, edited by Lydia Martens and Emma Casey, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, pp. 33-48.
  • Healy, Patrick. “In France with Julia.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. 114-120.
  • Henkin, David. The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America. University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Hudgins, Sharon. “A Conversation with Julia Child, Spring 1984.” [Originally published as “What’s Cooking with Julia Child” in Stars and Stripes, European Edition. 27 Sept. 1984.] Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. 104-108.
  • Inness, Sherrie. Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture. University of Iowa Press, 2001.
  • Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York University Press, 2006.
  • —. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
  • Johnson, Nan. “Key Concept Statement: History.” Peitho Journal, 25th Anniversary Issue, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 15-18.
  • Jones, Eleanor Poor. Letter to Julia Child. July 1962. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 353. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • King, Helen. Letter to Julia Child. 12 July. 1966. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 358. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Kjeldsen, Jens, E. “Audience Analysis and Reception Studies of Rhetoric.” Rhetorical Audience Studies and Reception of Rhetoric: Exploring Audiences Empirically, edited by Jens E. Kjelsdsen, Palgrave/MacMillan, 2018, pp. 1-51.
  • “Larry King Live: Julia Child Dispenses Her ‘Kitchen Wisdom.’” CNN Transcripts, 28 Dec. 2000, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0012/28/lkl.00.html. Accessed 14 June 2020.
  • Lydon, Christopher. “Julia Child and the Sex of Cooking.” Christopher Lydon Interviews, 16 Aug. 2004, https://blogs.harvard.edu/lydondev/2004/08/16/julia-child-and-the-sex-of-cooking/. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.
  • McIntyre, Megan. “Key Concept Statement: Agency Matters.” Peitho Journal, 25th Anniversary Issue, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 25-28.
  • McKenna, Catherine, E. Letter to Julia Child. 15 Dec. 1964. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 356. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Miller, Carolyn. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, no. 70, 1984, pp. 151-167.
  • Myles, Mrs. Thomas. Letter to “Gentlemen”. 27 July 1962. MS or TS [manuscript or typescript]. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 353. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Otterson, Joe. “Julia Child Series Ordered at HBO Max.” Variety, 14 Jan. 2021, https://variety.com/2021/tv/news/julia-child-series-hbo-max-1234885718/. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.
  • Phelps, Mrs. B. B. Letter to Julia Child. 25 May 1966. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 358. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Polan, Dana. Julia Child’s The French Chef. Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Pomranz, Mike. “A Julia Child TV Series is Coming to HBO Max.” Food & Wine, 15 Jan. 2021, https://www.foodandwine.com/news/julia-child-tv-series-hbo-max. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.
  • Prud’homme, Alex. The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act. Knopf, 2016.
  • Reagin, Nancy, and Anne Rubenstein. “I’m Buffy, and you’re history”: Putting Fan Studies Into History.” Transformative Works and Cultures, “Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Special Issue,” no. 6, 2011.
  • Robbins, Nina. Letter to Julia Child. 15 Jan. 1964. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 354. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.
  • Satt, Beth. Letter to Julia Child. 2 Apr. 1964. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 356. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Schumann, Lawrence. Letter to Ruth Lockwood (creator and series producer, The French Chef). 14 Mar. 1963. TS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 355. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Shapiro, Laura. Julia Child: A Life. Penguin Books, 2007.
  • Simmons, Charlene. “Dear Radio Broadcaster: Fan Mail as a Form of Perceived Interactivity.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 53, no. 3, 2009, pp. 444-459.
  • “Sony Pictures Classics Acquires Betsy West’s and Julie Cohen’s Upcoming Julia Child Documentary.” CNN Pressroom, 20 April 2020, https://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2020/04/20/sony-pictures-classics-acquires-betsy-west-and-julie-cohens-upcoming-julia-child-documentary/. Accessed 22 June 2020.
  • Spitz, Bob. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. Vintage Books, 2013.
  • Steele, Rita. Letter to Julia Child. 22 May 1966. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 358. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Stein, Audrey. Letter to Julia Child. 5 Aug. 1965. MS. Papers of Julia Child: 1925-1993. Box 26, folder 357. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • TIME Staff Writers. “Food: Everyone’s in the Kitchen.” TIME Magazine, 25 Nov. 1966, https://time.com/4230699/food-everyones-in-the-kitchen/. Accessed 25 May 2020.
  • Tomkins, Calvin. “Cooking with Julia Child.” New Yorker Magazine, 23 Dec. 1974, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/profiles/1974/12/73/good-cooking. Accessed 30 June 2020.
  • Toye, Richard. “Assessing Audience Reactions to Winston Churchill’s Speeches.” Rhetorical Audiences Studies and Reception of Rhetoric: Exploring Audiences Empirically, edited by Jens E. Kjelsdsen, Palgrave/MacMillan, 2018, pp. 85-107.
  • Waxman, Nach. “Rendering Miracles,” in “Scrapbook: Remembering Julia.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. 81-98.
  • Willan, Anne. “A Born Performer,” in “Scrapbook: Remembering Julia.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, 2005, pp. 81-98.
  • —. Women in the Kitchen: Twelve Essential Cookbook Writers Who Defined the Way We Eat, from 1661 to Today. iBooks ed., Scribner, 2020.
  • Woo, Benjamin. “A Pragmatics of Things: Materiality and Constraint in Fan Practices.” Transformative Works and Cultures, “Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom, Special Issue,” no. 16, 2014.

Tributes to Kate Ronald

Kate (Katharine J.) Ronald passed away unexpectedly October 27, 2020. In her 20 years at the University of Miami at Ohio, where she won the university’s highest teaching award, she was Roger and Joyce L. Howe Professor of English and Director of the Howe Writing Initiative. Before that she taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for over a decade and helped begin writing centers at both institutions. She directed over 50 dissertations and theses at Miami alone, not counting her other grad committee work as a reader or her advising at Nebraska, indicative of her generosity and reach in the field.

For those who didn’t know Kate personally, here’s just a glimpse of her essence from her lovely memorial:

Everybody who knew Kate knew what she loved and what she didn’t. She was never without an animal in her life, often several. In Miami, she kept goats and ducks and a donkey named after her niece Margaret. But it was the dogs that held her special regard. She said she was a connoisseur of the rat dog, but she loved them all. Sparky, her final canine friend, has been adopted and no doubt will continue to sport the special occasion outfits Kate delighted in his wearing.

She loved being a Southern girl, and she was a proud Kentuckian, which meant she was a superb cook and a perfect hostess. She was a rabid Cardinal fan and wouldn’t miss a basketball game. She loved red lipstick, great hats and any little inanimate object with feet. She loved justice and equality. She adored Bruce Springsteen.

As anyone who was lucky enough to know Kate can attest, it would be impossible to collect tributes that distinguish between the professional and personal, since Kate brilliantly and beautifully merged both. The tributes below come from colleagues and former graduate students who show with humor and poignancy how much so many gained about teaching, learning, and writing through her classes, her collaboration, but mostly through her friendship.

Following the tributes, we’ve included a reprint of Lisa Shaver’s “The Making of Available Means” from Peitho (vol 20.2, 2018) that draws on interviews with Kate and Joy Ritchie about the creation of the anthology. We’ve then included a bibliography of Kate’s work, and we are grateful to Ann S. Updike for providing this information

***

Meredith Love and Charlotte Hogg
A Common Heritage

We are writing this today as cousins. We are related, of course, through Joy Ritchie and the late Kate Ronald—Kate directed Meredith’s dissertation at Miami University, and her sister-in-collaboration, Joy Ritchie, directed Charlotte’s at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (with co-chair Amy Goodburn). And Kate had also been Charlotte’s teacher in an advanced composition course at University of Nebraska-Lincoln back in 1993. It was the discovery of this common heritage that made us feel comfortable with one another almost instantly when we met in 2006 on the first day of the summer WPA workshop in blazing hot Chattanooga, Tennessee. We became fast friends. This familiar connection generated an initial trust; we suspected that our lineage meant that we had similar views of teaching, a foundation in some of the same theories of writing, and an understanding of the necessity of supporting the work of other women in the field as well as a respect for the women that came before us.

Meredith:

Kate and I met in 1999, in the last century, as my children would say. When I began writing this piece, I thought I might focus my attention back to those days, on what she taught me about professional civility or how she shepherded me through the dissertation and interview phases of my graduate career. Instead, I find myself compelled to write about my relationship with Kate today and the relationship she has with my students through Available Means. Filled with the fitful, furious, assertive, and smart voices of women who transgressed boundaries and shocked the system, the names of the women in Available Means are often new to my undergraduate students. When I first started teaching the course, the cries to be heard, the demanding of a forum and a voice, and the calls for action made by the women in Available Means all felt past tense. It was all history. My students appreciated it and were inspired by it, but the exigencies were lost on them. My job was to help them see how these selections were consequential and how they might be useful to them.

In their “Introduction” to another book, Teaching Rhetorica, Ronald and Ritchie reflect upon the reclamation and recovery of women’s rhetorics and ask “[W]hat difference has this renaissance made in the field?” (2). They stress the importance of asking “So What?” (2) and turn to pragmatism and William James who stresses “looking toward last things, fruits, consequences, facts” (11).

So what? 

So the choices made by Kate and Joy have mattered. The consequences of these choices matter for my students today. 

A majority of my students come from a protestant Christian tradition, about 37% of the student body is African American, and many are first-generation college students. In 2021 my students see Available Means with different eyes. The rhetorical situations and the rhetoric employed are clearly relevant for them today and even serve as mentor texts, or mini master classes in how to discursively navigate their worlds. Here is how some of these voices have mattered.

How we are redeemed and enlarged by the mercy and grace of our sweet, kind and ever-loving mother Jesus; and of the properties of motherhood; but Jesus is our true mother…

Julian of Norwich (27)

Many of the students in my classroom are practicing Christians who have felt excluded or have been explicitly excluded by their churches. Julian of Norwich’s casting of Jesus as mother resonates in material ways for students who have walked away from institutions who wouldn’t consider them for leadership positions or for those who no longer have a place in institutions that their family has been a part of for generations. Reading and understanding the strategies of women rhetors like Julian of Norwich, Margaret Fell, and Dorothy Day are necessary for them; they amplify their own thoughts and their voices—whether spoken or unspoken.

Let me tell you a story. Let me tell you the story that is in no part fiction, the story of the female body taught to hate itself.

Dorothy Allison (449)

The rate at which women are murdered by men is consistently high in South Carolina, usually putting us in the top 10 in the country. When we read Dorothy Allison or Andrea Dworkin in our class, we are reading the lives of many of my students. No, they didn’t all grow up in poor, rural areas, nor have they necessarily been sexually assaulted themselves. But most have felt the heat of such a threat or the fear suffered by loved ones. The raw honesty and rage of women such as these are a comfort and a relief to these readers. They give them permission to be furious.

The lawlessness here described is not confined to one locality. In the past ten years over a thousand colored men, women and children have been butchered, murdered and burnt in all parts of the South.

Ida B. Wells (197)

Ida B. Wells is a true revelation for my students, and most are shocked that they have never heard of her. When Wells unrelentingly lists the different occasions upon which people were lynched in the late 19th century, when we hear their names and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, students hear “Black Lives Matter.” Discussing connections between then and now helps them to make their own cases, and, from Wells, they learn that logic and persuasion and passion can all work together and that these means are available to them now, today. 

There is so much to learn from Available Means. Students tell me that this is one of the only books they kept from their undergraduate coursework; others say that they still refer to it. This recovery work has been of consequence for my students and continues to be for me as well, as students work to uncover and discover these texts. And the texts help them to recover and form their own perspectives and courses of action as adults. They—we—are still learning the available means. 

Thank you, Kate for teaching us this through these women. And, as so many will share in these pages, thank you for living this work and demonstrating to us how to use words with honesty, force, and love. On behalf of my students and many, many others, thank you for giving us this very usable past to help us with this very unstable present.

Charlotte:

I wasn’t as close to Kate as the rest of the contributors here, and yet her impact on my life has been profound, as her presence has come at kairotic moments throughout my life. These culminated with Persuasive Acts, the follow up to Available Means I co-edited with Shari Stenberg. This text—its contents, my connection to it—is tethered to what I learned from Kate as an undergrad. When I took her Advanced Composition course in my last semester as an undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I felt a spark of bravery as a writer and, for my first time, possibility as a teacher. I have an awful memory, yet I remember the classroom in Andrews Hall, chairs in a circle, her sharing productivity gems before it was the thing to do, like how she would read while blow-drying her curly hair. She was charismatic and yet always made us feel that our writing—and the values we laid bare there—were the most important thing in the room.

I still have her syllabus and journal with her responses.

part of front page of Kate Ronald’s 1993 Advanced Composition syllabus
journal page with handwriting and Kate’s handwriting on the left margin, “All this advice is true, as is believing in yourself”

photos © Charlotte Hogg

I see in them now the feminist ethic and praxis Meredith describes from Available Means and her other scholarship. Even then, before I knew that rhet/comp was a field, I knew I wanted to be like her. I visited her office wondering what to do with my life; she told me about the field of rhetoric and composition, made a list of programs for me to apply to (this was before one could look them up online), and I applied to exactly that list and wound up at Oregon State, the perfect MA program for me. 

I had begun my PhD at UNL the same year she departed for Miami and somehow ended up on a panel with her at the first Feminisms and Rhetorics conference in 1997, where her response to my talk again influenced my trajectory. Years later, drafting an article, I found just what I needed in one of her lesser-known pieces: she just kept appearing to teach me. 

Then, in another serendipitous moment, she arrived on my campus as an external reviewer for our department, and I managed to nab the seat next to her at one of the dinners where we talked about teaching Available Means to undergraduates. We talked about just what Meredith describes:  how the pieces can feel both dated and immediate to students and about how a new anthology could speak to Available Means. Yet my teaching context differs from Meredith; at a predominantly white institution, the immediacy didn’t always come through to some students who could distance themselves with privilege and presentism. 

As Shari and I worked on Persuasive Acts, the follow up to Available Means, we knew our goal shouldn’t and couldn’t be to mimic or match Available Means but for its theories to inform us even as we worked to acknowledge that our positionalities were aligned with Kate and Joy as white feminists. Still:  the more we found new, urgent texts, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election, the more Available Means held up. In 2019, I was able to teach an undergraduate course that used both Available Means and selections from Persuasive Acts together, gathering the Treaty of 1851 quilts by Gina Adams, an activist speech by Tara Houska on the Dakota Access Pipeline with Cherokee Women from Available Means. Taking care to work against a monolithic Native voice or ethic, students were also able to see what Meredith relays—an urgency pulsing through the historical trajectory. From pairings such as these, our course developed what we came to call “rhetorics of representation,” about tactics rhetors employ to draw in audiences with differing lived experiences. Students came to this by describing the persuasive power of the texts despite many coming from spaces of privilege.     

I still use an adaptation of an assignment I had in Kate’s class nearly 30 years ago that centralizes student voices but asks them to contribute to a larger conversation. The introduction to Available Means is still the most definitive text I share with undergraduates and graduate students, which is not to say it can’t and shouldn’t be challenged—Kate and Joy wouldn’t want it any other way. 

I’ll confess that I’m drawn to the full circle story of being an undergrad of Kate’s and now a co-editor of Persuasive Acts, not because of its tidiness—I learned from Kate that tidy conclusions can say a whole lot of nothing—but because of the so what. I’ve always been a somewhat reluctant academic, but at every key moment in my trajectory Kate modeled an alternative through embodying the she theorized: unpretentious but whip smart, generous with guidance without taking over, and witty as hell. She’ll remain unmatched in these qualities but still made me—and, as you’ll see, so many others—strive to be the best teachers, researchers, and people we can be, which is what made her such an exemplar. 

***

Hepzibah Roskelly
Persona

Kate’s favorite movie line of all time, she would tell you, was from one of her favorite movies, The Godfather. “It’s not personal,” Michael Corleone says to his brother as he gets ready to murder the men responsible for wounding their father. “It’s strictly business.” The line and variations of it become a refrain in the movie. Even when a member of the “family” is taken away to be murdered for his betrayal of the Corleones, he acknowledges the code. “Tell Michael it was just business.”

The delicious irony of the line appealed to Kate’s sense of humor. If anything is, dying is personal. But the deeper truth of this Godfather theme struck her even more than its humor. It became a cornerstone of her thinking about her teaching and writing life. The attempt to divorce the personal from the professional is ludicrous and not only when someone’s life is literally at stake. People’s lives, the quality of them, truly are at stake when we teach reading and writing. Kate understood better than anybody I know that it was personal, this business of teaching and learning. 

I suspect that most of the writers who are contributing reflections to this issue will tell a Kate story or two as they describe her influence on them, both as professionals and as people. It’s hard to talk about her impact without talking about her persona: her liveliness, her genuine funniness, her generosity, her honesty. All those qualities  were in evidence in nearly every lecture or presentation she gave, in much of her writing, and in all her dealings with colleagues in her universities and in the field at large. 

She would like that. I think she’d see it as a mark of professional accomplishment—that her constant attempt to elevate and sustain experience and the individual in a culture that has often denied or disparaged both—has blossomed in the work of those she has touched. She used her self to teach and was rewarded by watching her students become stronger writers, braver speakers and more imaginative thinkers under her care. She knew them, she made them laugh, and she invited them to tell the truth because she told it.

It was the same with colleagues like me. A lot of years ago Kate and I stood together on a podium at CCCC to give our first talk as members of the profession, new assistant professors. We spoke about our work in the University of Louisville’s Writing Center. I’m sure it was her idea to share the podium and talk together like the friends we were. We interrupted each other and laughed while we spoke of the value of teaching challenging literature to beginning writers. As I remember it, most of the questions afterward, in fact, were about us rather than our topic. I might have thought that a weakness. But not Kate. She knew the personal was part of our topic and part of what she wanted to say to the profession.

Kate taught us—and continues to in the work of so many who’ve been influenced by her—to value experience and to use the personal in professional life. She always valued the human, and the humans she collaborated with and taught. She never forgot her own human-ness—foibles, strengths and beauties together—and she never forgot ours. We will always love her for it.

***

Joy Ritchie
So What? What Difference Does It Make?

When I heard that Kate had died I was driving from the Oregon Coast to my home in Portland, and I remembered an afternoon that Kate and I had spent at the coast after the first Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference organized by Lisa Ede at Oregon State. As we walked on the beach that September afternoon, pants’ legs rolled up to walk in the surf, then bought earrings at a little shop, we were also working on the proposal for Available Means. While mourning the loss of my friend, I am also reminded of the excitement and just plain fun that I experienced working with Kate, whether as coordinators of composition at the University of Nebraska, planning curriculum for first year writing and graduate seminars or, after she moved to Miami, sitting together at the computer in Oxford, taking breaks to feed her goats and mule or play with one of her scruffy dogs, all while writing the introduction to Available Means.

Kate stood out as a presence in any room. She radiated enthusiasm and commitment. She was the smartest, wittiest, most engaging storyteller, always with the right turn of phrase. Unafraid to push boundaries, she spoke back to authority. You could always expect an honest response from Kate. But when she delivered the truth it was with generosity and humility. I knew her as a rigorous teacher, caring mentor, and colleague. I watched undergraduate students light up as she encouraged them to try out a new approach to a text or reconsider their own writing from a new perspective. Over the past few weeks I’ve heard many of her former graduate students describe how Kate inspired them as scholars and as teachers while she also recognized the interwoven circumstances of their personal and academic lives. She pushed them beyond impasses in their dissertations and supported them as they faced illness or other crises.

Although it’s not possible to summarize or categorize Kate’s contributions, for me several constants are woven through all of them. Her holistic approach to teaching is not surprising because she understood her work as praxis, the interconnections among our teaching, research, academic, and personal lives. They coexist without the hierarchy that can undermine the vitality of our activities. She acted on her belief that theory and practice are reciprocal. We enact theory in our practice and our practice performs our theory. This understanding of praxis was connected to her feminist belief in collaboration, which she encouraged in research, teaching, and program leadership. Early in her time at the University of Nebraska as coordinator of composition and the writing center she created collaborative structures that allowed Ph.D. students to alternate as co-coordinators. She helped to initiate a monthly faculty and graduate student writing group and advocated for collaborative teaching. Kate understood the energy that develops through the sense of community that collaboration makes possible.

 “What difference does it make?” This was an overarching question that Kate posed as she guided both students’ undergraduate writing or dissertations. It also guided our explorations of women’s rhetorics and raised questions and unexpected possibilities about the expanded dimensions and fluidity of women’s rhetorics, including the urgency that often sparked women’s speaking and writing, and the innovative rhetorical methods and forms they employed. Her question, “What difference does it make?” also demands that we examine the uses we make of the emerging canon of women’s rhetoric beyond academic scholarship and professional advancement. And always, Kate asked herself as well as us how the question should guide our own writing, reading, pedagogy and civic action. Now, as we remember and honor Kate, we know without question that her dynamic presence enriched us, expanded our perspectives, and made an immense difference to us her friends, her colleagues, students, and to the institutions and society she served.

***

Connie Kendall Theado and Brenda M. Helmbrech
Begin Again

“We have begun this book many times,” Hepsie and Kate declare in the first line of the preface to their book Reason to Believe (1998, p. xi). “But its true beginning,” they write, “came in an attic” (p. xi). Fifteen words in and you’re hooked.

The two friends go on to tell the story of inscriptions purportedly written on a wall of the attic in the Old Manse, Emerson’s family home, and of a tour they’d taken before but decided to take one more time on a “magical Sunday” in Concord, Massachusetts (p. xi). This time, a kind guide, undoubtedly charmed by the pair, led them privately up the stairs to glimpse the attic wall where several inscriptions were indeed revealed, including one written by Emerson himself.

I visited this room and read the inscription of the souls gone before. RWE.

We have begun this book many times, they tell us. Not just a memorable lead sentence, it turns out, but insight on how life itself works.

Kate lived her life as the pragmatic romantic rhetorician she was, in a “spirit of readiness” (1998, p. 87) ever willing to rethink, reimagine, reevaluate, and revise. In other words, a disposition to begin again or, as William James might have put it, to keep the quest open. And as Kate so often showed us, if we’re very lucky, we can begin again in partnership with others who make our own life stories all the richer.

Gathering. A recurrent image in Joy and Kate’s introduction to their anthology Available Means; “always a woman’s metaphor,” they remind us (2001, p. xvi). These two friends taught us how to look for, listen for, women’s voices in familiar yet unseen places: “the kitchen, parlor, and nursery;” they write, “the garden; the church; the body” (p. xvii). As scholars following in Kate’s steps, we have been seeking out and gathering women’s voices ever since. Women speaking, women listening, women writing.

Aspasia, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Wollstonecraft, Adrienne Rich, Paula Allen Gunn, Audre Lorde, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: so many women who were left out of our early education (but of course they were quietly there; women always are). We are stronger because Kate and Joy did the hard work of bringing these voices into our consciousness, reacquainting us with our own history by teaching the work of strong and savvy women rhetoricians who, by now, we just need to call rhetoricians. Kate insisted on that. 

Kate also taught us that our roles as women in the academy were not always a given, so we’ve been making sure to (re)claim our voices in as many academic and public spaces as we can. Naming and knowing. Squaring our beliefs with our actions. In full awareness that the actions we take as feminist scholars and researchers and teachers—as rhetoricians—always speak back to and with the women who came before, a gathering of women’s voices, experiences, words, and ideas, speaking with a thunderous timbre to effect change in the world.

As we make space for women’s voices in department meetings, present our ideas at conferences, sit in circles with our students, and draw triangles on chalkboards, we channel Kate’s energy and force. Our ability and willingness to reflect—to simultaneously unsettle past assumptions and reimagine a future—makes this work possible.

It’s been months since we got the call. One dear friend, Brenda, gently delivering the impossible news of Kate’s passing to the other, Connie. Writing partners for this piece. As the early days and weeks passed, the circle of friends who received similar calls from their dear friends gently delivering the impossible news grew, like concentric circles made by a stone skipping over a lake’s surface.

Circles of different sizes but with a common center. Kate.

From one late afternoon phone call to a series of Zoom calls unfolding almost weekly. First, the smallest circle, our two closest graduate school pals, then a bit larger circle, ten former Howe Writing Initiative women, and finally the largest circle consisting of dozens of faculty, graduate students, friends, and family members from far and near.

Skipping stones: Louisville; Lincoln; Oxford; writing classrooms; writing centers; seminar rooms; conference daises; back to Louisville again. Concentric circles made exponential by all who learned from Kate and were carried forward, outward, on one of the many waves she inevitably created—same center, different radii.

There’s no such thing as a false start, Kate used to tell us, as we were restarting a dissertation chapter from scratch for the third time. All experience counts—in writing and in life. All text is useable text. Maybe not for this writing project but you never know. Save it. One day these words will find their use. And then, well then darlin’, she’d wink, you’ll be ready.

For now, just keep moving.
Begin again.

References:

  • Ritchie, J., & Ronald, K. (Eds.). (2001). Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Roskelly, H., & Ronald, K. (1998). Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing. SUNY Press.

***

Tom Pace
Kate’s Impact on Style

Kate always encouraged us as her students to remember that our first job as writing teachers was, above all, to teach writing. I think that is why she found style to be an important part of the writing process and an important consideration for teachers. The teaching of writing, Kate insisted, was the gravitational pull for what we did; no matter how far away from that gravitational center we got, she reminded us, we should always bring it back to the teaching of writing. In her essay, “Style: The Hidden Agenda,” an essay written with both students and teachers firmly in mind, Kate reminded us that, like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, we judge student writing by its style. And, the worst part?  We’re not telling them about this agenda, she declares, nor are we teaching students how to improve their style. In true Kate form, she then explains clearly and succinctly how and why writing teachers often neglect style and shows her student readers concrete, practical strategies for improving their writing style.

I love this essay. Over 20 years after first reading it as a PhD student at Miami, I often require my GAs to read it in the composition pedagogy seminar I teach, and I often ask my first-year writing students to read it, as well. Few essays exist that I ask both first-year students and graduate students to read; this is one of them. It is clear and accessible enough for beginning college writers to learn from, and it is relevant and complex enough for graduate teaching assistants to find useful for their classroom.

The study of style has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Since about the mid-2000s, scholars such as Paul Butler, T.R. Johnson, Star Medzarian Vanguri, Brian Ray, and others have reminded the field that style, to paraphrase a recent book on the subject, should be the center of the writing classroom. Interestingly, not many of us have formally cited Kate’s essay as an early first step toward that renaissance. But, every scholar in style I have talked with over the last decade or so has told me the importance of that essay in their early understanding of style. In 2017, at the Tampa CCCC, Paul Butler and I were having a drink at the hotel bar, when Kate strode over to say hello to me. I introduced her to Paul, an important voice in the recent style revival. Kate was absolutely delighted to meet Paul, and Paul was in awe of meeting Kate. After he learned of Kate’s passing, Paul emailed me to say, “Her scholarship was an inspiration to all of us who work on issues of style.” And he’s right. All of us who work in style and think about issues surrounding it are forever in her debt.

***

Jason Palmeri
The Rhetorical Abundance of Kate Ronald

I remember once sitting on the patio of a local pub with Kate Ronald. At some point, I opined to Kate that I focused my attention on “higher-order concerns” in writing rather than on the mere “sentence-level.” Kate stopped me, took a long drag on her cigarette, and then said something like this:  “Of course, higher-order concerns are important, but darlin…I do not know what we are teaching if we are not teaching the writing of sentences…if we are not teaching the choosing of words. We need to always be asking Berthoff’s question, ‘How does it change the meaning if I put it this way?’ We need to always be practicing Erasmus’ copia—inventing endless variations of sentences so that we can choose just the right one.” Kate changed me as a writing teacher that day. She helped me see that whether I was guiding students to consider a change of a single word or a more global shift of argument, I should always be inviting them to play with language — inspiring them to generate a copious collection of possible words and then choose the most persuasive and delightful ones for the kairotic moment.

For Kate, copia was more than a stylistic exercise. I think Kate loved the idea of copia because it encapsulated her radically inclusive and abundant way of living as a teacher, as a scholar, as a human being. For Kate, inventing new words was a profoundly feminist act. If the patriarchy had been built through words, then we damn well needed to invent a new language to defeat it. And, it was this search for a new language that drew Kate to the history of women’s rhetoric. When Kate first entered the field of rhetoric, she was confronted by an abundance of texts by men and a paucity of texts by women. The last time I visited Kate in Louisville she had recently unearthed her PhD candidacy exam in her files, and we talked about how few women had been on her list (I counted six). I realized then more than ever what a gift Kate had given us all when she chose to dedicate her scholarly and teaching career to recovering and amplifying the voices of women rhetors across time so that no other woman in the field would ever have to face such a patriarchal, exclusionary list again. With her transformative research and generous mentoring, Kate made the field of rhetoric more open, more joyful, more abundant.

Kate truly was copia incarnate. She didn’t just teach rhetorical abundance…she lived it. Kate always chose the perfect shoes for the occasion from her copious collection of footwear; she always offered her Derby party guests an elaborate selection of elegant hats to borrow (along with generous servings of Derby pie); she always knew how to choose just the right Springsteen track to get everyone dancing and singing along. And, as all her family, friends, students, and mentees know so well, Kate always chose just the right words to say whenever we passed a new milestone, whenever we faced a new challenge, whenever we felt like we just couldn’t go on. Kate Ronald—the wise, funny, and good woman speaking well—will live on through her powerful words that have transformed how so many of us teach, research, and live our lives

***

Lisa Blankenship
Ronald: Debriefing on a Life Well Lived

Profile of Kate Ronald smiling while watching Lisa Blankenship's wedding ceremony photo © Mike Peters, at my wedding on October 5, 2019

On October 11, 2020, my fiftieth birthday, Kate Ronald wrote me the last words I’d receive from her, inside her own book, Reason to Believe. I’d given her my own dog-eared copy ten years before, when I studied with her in the doctoral program at Miami University of Ohio, and asked if she’d consider giving it back to me, signed, one day. I had no idea when I got a package in the mail from her that day, only two weeks before she left us, how meaningful that note, and her act of returning the book, would be. She congratulated me on having recently earned tenure, and, in the most Kate-like of phrases, referred to me, as she had so many of her protégées over the years, as a “scholar/teacher.” 

Kate often referred to conversations about the latest political story or an event you’d both attended as “debriefings,” usually prolonged affairs involving multiple cigarettes and glasses of Sauvignon Blanc at her kitchen table, a local bar in Oxford, Ohio, or, after she retired, over the phone. I take this opportunity to debrief for a moment about Kate as a mentor, a friend, and a consummate rhetorician who reminds us never to separate theory from practice, our beliefs from our actions (and vice versa), or our scholarship from our teaching, and that, last but not least, every good thing and turn of phrase comes in threes, a nod to Aristotle. 

I’m not sure how even to begin to capture the force that is Katharine Ronald in a short statement like this. The things she loved so much in life—words—fall so very short right now. I have only a few names in my speed dial list on my phone: my spouse, my parents, my brother, and Kate—and I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to remove her. She was one of the most impressive minds I’ve known, the most brilliant person in most every room she was in, but to me she also was like family, someone who’d been there for me in the darkest moment of my life during the sudden death of my partner when I was her doctoral student. She knew the pain of losing a spouse; her husband Dennis had died several years earlier after a prolonged battle with leukemia. I’m numbed and hollowed out by her leaving us. It hardly seems possible that the events we’ll experience from now on will be moments she’ll miss and moments none of us can debrief with her about. It hardly seems possible this is a world without Kate in it.

Whether she was leading a graduate seminar, teaching first-year writing, or recalling the day’s news with you on the phone, she was, first and foremost, a student of rhetoric. Her love of learning, her razor-sharp wit, her joy-tinged-with-heartache were contagious; she made all of us smarter and the field much richer by being in our lives. In her own scholarly work, in her life as a teacher, and in her relationships, she embodied the romantic/pragmatic rhetoric she and Hepsie Roskelly espoused.

She gave us reason to believe.

***

Morris Young
Providing the Available Means: Teacher, Mentor, Friend

While I enjoyed the benefit of many great teachers in my life, including teachers of rhetoric and writing, I learned more from Kate Ronald about the history, teaching, and uses of rhetoric than I could imagine in the time we were colleagues at Miami University. But more than rhetoric, I learned from Kate how love, compassion, and strength shape our lives as scholars, teachers, and human beings.

In 1997, when I began my new position as an assistant professor at Miami University, I was probably too big for my britches as Kate might say. Michigan this, Michigan that. Ann Arbor this, Ann Arbor that. But I’m sure Kate knew that I was terrified as I had to navigate working with graduate students, needing to publish, and in general just feeling as if I was out of place in small-town, rural Ohio. Every now and then she’d give me a good poke to make sure I actually did the work rather than think I had it made. And then just as quickly, she’d flash that smile and let me know how important the work I was doing was and that I needed to be here.

Kate was not only an influence for who I became as a teacher and scholar but also provided the means for me to do so. When I had a question about my teaching (or more likely a problem), she was always there to talk through ideas, offer suggestions for activities, or to just tell me I was wrong and unreasonable or to assure me that the students were actually being a pain. But she also showed me how and why to develop relationships with students and colleagues to create the foundation for a lifetime of learning, collaboration, and conversation. Her scholarly partnerships with Joy Ritchie and Hephzibah Roskelly provided a model for LuMing Mao and me when we began our own project on Asian American rhetoric.

As a mentor, she helped me to understand the way institutions worked, especially in reaching out across disciplines and departments. I often watched in admiration as she talked easily with a faculty member from the School of Business, or laughed with the dean, or stood toe-to-toe with the provost. At conferences, I’d see her deliver a talk or ask a question, while always commanding the room but inviting the audience to join her in talking about ideas. And on all of these occasions, I saw a generosity of spirit, a razor-sharp mind, and an ability to bring people along in order to move toward a common cause, whether that was the pursuit of knowledge, the education of students, or helping people do their best work.

And as a friend she created a sense of community welcoming me not only as part of the Miami family but also the Oxford family. I remember fondly the Derby parties, the occasional fine dinner when we were both in Oxford during the holidays, and our time together in the English department among the best faculty and friends I have known. It’s been 14 years since I left Miami for Wisconsin, and several years since I last saw Kate, but I think about her often as I work with my own students, welcome new faculty to our department, and appreciate the importance of teachers, mentors, and friends in our lives. Kate believed in me and so many others, and I know that we do our best to live up to that belief, trust, and love to be the scholar-teachers she saw in all of us.

***

Mary Jean Corbett
21 December 2020

It seems fitting to be writing this on the morning of the winter solstice, the day that dawns latest and darkens earliest, as every day has felt a little darker to me since Kate Ronald left this world. For 20 years or more, Kate has been my colleague and friend, and even after her retirement from Miami in 2016, we maintained weekly contact by phone and traveled together to warm, sunny places where the days were long and time stretched out before us. I never thought for a moment there wouldn’t be more trips, more time, more talks, more friendship ahead. 

I’ve come to realize since her death that Kate was a mentor to me, as to so many others, although not in any formal way. Despite the fact that we worked in different fields and had different scholarly interests, and that we sometimes disagreed about who to hire or what to argue, Kate modeled for me how to work across such barriers. In her own practice—as a teacher, a graduate mentor, a rhetorician, an administrator—she emphasized finding common ground whenever possible, and she put the greater good, collaboratively agreed upon, ahead of any individual or programmatic interest. She was always warm and forgiving and generous, able to put slights or losses aside, not because she didn’t feel them acutely, but because holding on to them didn’t solve anything. She advocated and practiced forbearance.

In the longer run, what many of us will remember Kate for, though, is her style. From the perfect skirts to the fabulous shoes to the enormous collection of Derby hats, Kate was always dressy. (Among many other things large and small, she lamented the declining relevance of lipstick during the pandemic.) She could set a perfect table and turn out a perfect meal for any occasion. She picked out lovely presents and sent appropriate cards. These are perhaps old-school virtues that have fallen out of favor among those of a younger generation, like myself, and they may seem trivial, too trivial, to mention. But they help to define Kate’s style of being in the world, which was to be of the world—engaged by it, appreciative of it, eager to make it more just, more beautiful, more of a home for us all. Her love for language, literature, and rhetoric, and her belief in their saving power, rested on that same foundation.

***

Keith Rhodes
Sometimes It Felt I Could Fly

Some of my favorite memories of Kate Ronald surround our greatest failure. While she was directing my dissertation at U of Nebraska, several of our Thursday afternoon talks lit on our shared interest in the idea of the sublime, and the often unspoken role sublime experience plays in pivotal moments in our thoughts, careers, and lives. As a returning adult student, I focused on making it through the program as quickly as possible, so we did nothing more about the Sublime then. But once I had my first full-time job, as a Writing Program Administrator (something I slowly realized Kate had also been, but in a way that transcended the term—of course), we decided to give it a run. 

These were the early days of email and such—I was still mainly doing email and Telnet on a VAX terminal—so we actually sent drafts by mail. But once we felt that we were on track, we needed to arrange working together in person. I made the familiar 2-hour drive up to Lincoln for a long weekend with Kate and Dennis at their quaint, unique home. Kate and I worked together as intensely as we could manage, swallowing aspirin like candy to fend off the eye, head, and neck strain and compensate for sleeping so little.

I now recall few of the details of what we wrote, other than that we were using a pragmatist frame to make more sensible some of what we thought postmodern views of the Sublime had made needlessly opaque. It was rejected in that classic split: Reader 1 loved it, Reader 2 hated it (since Reader 2 was exactly the kind of postmodernist we wanted to reach, clearly we didn’t manage it—alas). I mostly recall marveling at how quickly and deeply Kate could read, watching her burn through what little of the material I had brought to her attention that she hadn’t already read. And it dawned on me that her fabulous mind was very much a part of that prodigious ability to read anything, of any difficulty, with a speed and a penetrating ease that entirely humbled someone who also had thought he was smart.

Along the way, we spun out examples of things that seemed sublime to us, eventually mostly landing on music. So in some sense to memorialize that work session, which remains one of the intellectual highlights of my life, I made a mixtape (yes, actually on cassette tape) of songs that I had found sublime in the ways we discussed. Again, memory fails, though I assume it was long on Joni Mitchell and October Project. To my surprise, she made one for me, too. It broke long before my tapedeck did, and I didn’t have the sense to keep the case as a record of the playlist. But when I heard she had died, in her memory I played, now on YouTube, the surprise hit of them all: Randy Travis’ “Look Heart. No Hands.” And my heart ached.

***

Cristy Beemer
For Life

I need to share what I’m sure Kate would have wanted me to say: Kate Ronald was gorgeous, sexy, had great pins, and everyone loved her. She was a relentless flirt, a talented storyteller, and the most fiercely loyal friend you could ever have. 

I shall deliberately avoid all awkward and untrue mothering metaphors in respect to our feminist scholarship in a field that has certainly suffered from “feminization,” as Kate, along with her lifelong friend and writing partner, Hephzibah Roskelly, wrote about. Kate even balked when someone would refer to her as her dog’s mother. “I am not her mother; she’s my girlfriend,” Kate would beam as she snuggled Ranger or Sparky. Kate was not a mother figure to me, but she gave me my life. She showed me what a life in this field looks like, and how to navigate it with generosity and grace.

Kate said, “When you take on a grad student, you take them on for life.” She meant, of course, that she would always be there to advise—that mentoring doesn’t stop on graduation day. More than lifelong career advice, Kate’s deeper meaning was that a good mentor is there for her students’ lives, and all that entails, not just their careers.

Back in 2011, when I called Kate to tell her that I had breast cancer, it was a hard call. Only a handful of years prior, Kate bravely faced her beloved husband Dennis’ leukemia. I could hear her pause, take a long drag of her Salem Light on the other end of the phone and then grouse in her Kentucky way, “Damn, Cristy. Now you’re a member of the damn cancer community.” I was hurtling head-first into the steepest learning curve I would ever experience, and there was Kate to make me laugh and see it for what it was. Through her “affectionate interpretation,” Jane Addams’ term that Kate embraced in her work, I was able to see that I was entering a unique rhetorical space that deserved my attention and study. The very next thing Kate uttered was, “Immediately stop your tenure clock.” That was Kate—understanding, pragmatic, and always vigilantly and protectively advising me—not just in the work, but in my life.

Kate always pushed her students to answer the “So what?” question in their writing. It can be hard to hear “So what?” in response to one’s work, but Kate was a truth-teller. If you’ve been on the receiving end of a well-deserved “So what?” you probably also heard shortly after, “Darlin, are you mad at me?” Kate’s particularly charming, self-effacing rhetorical style always carried the burden and graciously gave the spotlight to another, and was just one of her most readily available means of persuasion. She asked the tough questions, but never shamed anyone. And under her mentorship, I found the answer to the “So what?” question in my work and my life—love. She loved us for life, and I will love her for the rest of mine.

***

LuMing Mao
Memories of a Dear Friend

Since the sudden passing of Kate Ronald, I have been both feeling my loss and counting my blessings. I have lost a dear friend, someone I have known for two decades. Meanwhile, I have also been pinching myself for my good fortune to have known Kate, to have learned from her, and to have been able to turn to her for support, advice, and love. I very much want to celebrate this good fortune and what Kate means to me and to all those whose lives she has touched.

Kate was a teacher in every sense of the word. She taught us feminist rhetoric and American pragmatism through a rhetorical lens. She modeled for us what it means to be a teacher of writing and to have a student-centered classroom. She mentored every graduate student whom she met. The moving and inspiring stories about her mentorship were legion, and as the inaugural Howe Professor of Writing from her arrival at Miami until her retirement in Spring 2016, her leadership for and contributions to the teaching of writing across the university and beyond legendary.

Kate was one of my closest friends and trusted advisors. Whenever I ran into any difficulties, big or small, Kate was among the first individuals I would turn to for advice and support. She never failed to tell me what she thought to be the right course of action to take, often punctuated with some of her more colorful witticisms that I came to enjoy and even imitate. As our friendship grew, I would sometimes find an excuse to either seek her out in person or get on the phone with her just in order to listen to her, to hear her optimism for the future or her disdain for pettiness or demagoguery. Her phronesis, her warmth, her ethic of care were both inspiring and instrumental to me. What I came to appreciate the most, over time, was how Kate taught me, on both the professional and personal front, to branch out, to think outside the box, and to explore the fullest potential life can offer. Thanks to Kate, I am now a better thinker, a decent dancer, and a more discerning shopper in selecting shoes to put on or clothes to wear, outfits appropriate for different occasions and befitting a heterosexual Chinese American.

In one sense, Kate has left me—much too early, much too soon. But in another sense, I know Kate will never leave me. Her friendship and her wise counsel over the years will forever serve as my font of inspiration and as my source for care, compassion, and community. I will always cherish her unwavering commitment to and boundless generosity for others, especially those who are less privileged and underrepresented. Kate lives on both in our memories and in the lives we lead on this Planet Earth.

***

Lisa Shaver
So Much Passion, So Much Love

“Where is the love?” That was one of the first written comments I received from Kate Ronald when I was a graduate student. Eighteen years later, I cannot remember the writing or text to which it was directed, but I still remember that comment. Even then, I think Kate was trying to tell me that academia is a passion-filled pursuit, or at least it should be. In that regard, those words encapsulate Kate Ronald as a teacher, scholar, mentor, and friend.

One of many wonderful Kateisms is, “When you agree to direct a graduate student’s dissertation, you take them on for life,” and she did. She counseled me through my exams, my dissertation, my job search, and my first book. She also encouraged me through the ups and downs of academic life. Indeed, I am occasionally reminded of another Kateism, “Academia will break your heart.” Like Kate, if you are willing to put your heart out there, if you are passionate about your teaching, students, and colleagues; if you are passionate about our discipline, the beauty of words, the facility to use words, and the justice words can bring about, your heart will be broken. But it will also be filled.

When I was about to begin my first tenure-track job, I asked Kate if she had any advice. Without hesitating, she said, “Love your students.” Kate believed that students do their best writing when they write about subjects they are passionate about, for someone who cares. I am especially reminded of these words amid the pandemic when kindness, understanding, and truly seeing our students as individuals with lives and struggles, may be our most important pedagogy.

In writing, “The Making of Available Means,” I drew on interviews with Kate and Joy Ritchie to share the story behind their foundational anthology of women’s rhetorics. At one point, I refer to the anthology as a “labor of love.” Beyond countless hours of their time, Kate and Joy spent their own money, and Kate even recruited her late husband Dennis to read drafts out loud as part of the proofreading process. Kate and Joy ardently believed that our field needed an accessible anthology of women’s rhetorics. The result was a text that has informed so many of us and our students about our rich, diverse, rhetorical legacy, as well as foundational questions that continue to guide our research and our own labors of love.

Shortly after Kate died, I listened again to a phone message she left me in the spring. “I’m so damn proud of you,” she said after I was promoted to full professor. In recent years, our conversations had shifted away from academia to politics, travel, basketball, and dogs. And every conversation ended with Kate saying, “I love you, darlin.” As a teacher, mentor, and friend, Kate did take me on for life, and throughout her life she showed me the answer to that initial question, where is the love. 

Review of Lives, Letters, and Quilts: Women and Everyday Rhetorics of Resistance

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. Lives, Letters, and Quilts: Women and Everyday Rhetorics of Resistance. University of Alabama Press, 2019. 232 pp.

 

As I finish this review in late 2020, the electoral college has officially named Joe Biden the President of the United States. When Vanessa Kraemer Sohan was working on her project, Donald Trump had just been elected. The past four years has offered a soap opera complete with outsized characters whose antics are repeated and circulated on the national stage. In this era of hyperbole, a book on “the courage of ordinary Americans” is a welcome reprieve.

Lives, Letters, and Quilts dips into three very different moments in time and place: 1930s Oregon, 1860s Civil War America, Gee’s Bend Alabama in the early 2000s (though the quiltmakers’ art exists from the 1800s), and 1940 in South Dakota (one artifact). Sohan narrows in on specific figures that served as background characters of larger historical moments, but she argues that they employ “everyday rhetorics” when “faced with “a desperate problem” (146). For Sohan, they “[respond] heroically without resorting to heroic measures” (146). The book begins with the Townsendites, a group advocated for “old age pensions” after the Great Depression. Sohan zeroes in onone particular chapter president Pearl S. Burkhalter. Following this discussion is a chapter on the ministry of Eliza P. Gurney and, especially, her correspondence with President Lincoln during and after the Civil War. The Gee Bend Quiltmakers round out her case studies with a more contemporary group that found recognition in the “high art” community during the 20th century, though African American women have been practicing this art since the beginning of slavery.

Sohan takes up an old question about women rhetors: “where were the spaces in which women chose/were permitted to speak?” While the work is grounded in feminist rhetorical theory, Sohan primarily investigates the question via theories focused on textual composition. While both “recontextualization” and “translingualism” have been used in various fields, Sohan is interested in the ways they help us think about literacy, language, and writing practices especially as methods for “adopting more democratic and descriptive approaches to language and modal practices…” (9). While scholars of translingualism/transmodalism, that she most often cites, are concerned about the ways college students creatively adapt “across languages and modes,” Sohan is “interested in how composers outside university contexts, and across history, engage in such work—albeit by using more obviously monolingual resources—and how they adapt to and change the system as a result” (15). To take up this challenge, Sohan explores an Oregonian woman in the 1930s who joined the Townsend Movement, a Quaker minister in the mid-1800s attempting to influence the course of the Civil War, and the Gee’s Bend quilters, African American women in Alabama who have been creating quilts for generations as both a functional material good and a form of resistant art and some Townsendites that also used quilting to do rhetorical work.

Chapter 1: The Pen as Sword: The Townsend Letter-Writing Campaigns and the Case of Pearl Burkhalter

The historical analysis of both the Townsendites and Pearl S. Burkhalter, in particular, is the strongest case study in the book. Sohan first outlines the Townsend Movement started by Francis Everett Townsend’s 1933 letter to a California newspaper arguing for a sales tax to fund a pension for citizens over 60 that becomes “the Townsend Plan” and spawns populist “clubs” across the country. She then focuses on one member, Pearl S. Burkhalter. Sohan’s careful discussion of the Townsend Movement as a counter to FDR’s New Deal and social security system, offers an overview of an important movement in the history of American governmental policy and populism that is particularly noteworthy considering current populist movements. Sohan focuses, not on the founder, but on one particularly enthusiastic female member, who eventually becomes a chapter president in Oregon City, Oregon. Sohan scours the archival treasure left by Burkhalter, a prolific writer, to produce a detailed study of her unique rhetorical choices. For her members, Burkhalter models an aggressive letter writing style, though she, herself, did not follow the polite, conservative models provided by the national leadership. This lively and compelling history offers a glimpse at a woman attempting to simultaneously embrace politically conservative and gendered norms and her desire for power beyond those norms.

Chapter 2: With Pen and Prayer: The Life and Ministry of Eliza P. Gurney

Sohan’s discussion of Eliza P. Gurney, a Quaker minister, who engaged with President Lincoln presents a slight twist on previous scholarship on this woman rhetor. Unlike Burkhalter, some scholarship has been written about Gurney’s letters and work (one of her letters was in Lincoln’s pocket when he was shot). This chapter attempts to reject characterizations of Gurney as simply a “‘pious, loveable old Quaker woman’” (71) and demonstrate the subtle ways Gurney both strategically used Quaker rhetorical practices and parted from them to claim the right to speak beyond prescribed parameters. Sohan argues that Gurney was particularly adept at seizing kairotic moments and finding ways to personally relate to prominent figures like Lincoln as a way to gain influence. Following a strong tradition of scholarship on women rhetors who use religion as an avenue to gain public agency, Sohan’s discussion adds another example to this list.

Chapter 3: “The Needle as the Pen”: Recontextualizing the Discourse of Quilts and Quiltmaking”

In the final short case study, Sohan turns from letter writing to the quilt making of the Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, especially Mensie Lee Pettway and Annie Mae Young. Following a look at the difficulties the Gee’s Bend quilters faced once white audiences began viewing and critiquing their work as “high art,” she concludes with quilts made by members of various Townsend clubs in the 1930’s and highlights their very different motives. To make the jump from text to quilt (pen to needle), Sohan employs Elaine Richardson’s argument that quilts are “African American female literacy practice” (118). It is well documented that quilting is an important material rhetoric, especially for women, and a rhetorical form that has simultaneously served as household staple, art, protest, memory and memorial. Quilt making is, unmistakably, a vital node in feminist rhetorical study. While Sohan’s chapter offers a reminder of the value of the rhetoric of quilting, the transition from the introductory theory is less seamless than in the first two chapters.

There is a long and complex history of scholarship on resistance (variously named activism, civil disobedience, social movements, and protest) that can be found in rhetorical studies, communication studies, political and social science (among other fields). Sohan comes at the study of resistance, specifically “everyday resistance” from composition and writing studies (which, of course, is influenced by these other fields) that brings a pedagogical, teacher/student dynamic to this study. While it made the shift to quilting a bit rocky, it did offer an angle on resistance that highlights the everyday acts of folks existing within organized systems, systems that do not always respect or even acknowledge the different experiences and language practices they bring to the table, much in the same ways students must work within institutions of higher learning. This is a choice that also allows Sohan to focus on writing.

Sohan’s conclusion points readers toward more traditional activist scholarship (like Pezzullo and Striphas, Feigenbaum, and Kynard) and provides an attention to the daily, slow, thoughtful work of resistance. As Sarah Ahmed recently encouraged in Living a Feminist Life, feminism is “homework,” a way of living infused in all of our daily acts (7). The readers of Peitho are all familiar with the recovery work that launched feminist rhetorical studies. This work reimagined the narrative of the history of rhetoric to include prominent, public women in the canon. I see Sohan’s work as part of Recovery 2.0. In this next phase, we see/have seen scholarship on rhetoric from “the kitchen, parlor, and nursery; the garden; the church; the body” as Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald acknowledged in 2001 in Available Means (xvii). As Sohan asserts, not everyone can or wants to be a traditional, public hero. We owe the election of Joe Biden to the women and men, and let’s be honest, mostly Black women, who did the everyday work to cajole, humor, force, argue folks to registration tables, to the polls. The rhetors we choose to study and teach begin to create a canon cementing ideas about who makes change and how. What might it look like to focus on artifacts from a small town PTA that made a significant policy change rather than the Department of Education? What methods can we use to assess the strategies of quiet leaders who don’t make the headlines but spent 30 years shifting policies and ideas about race and gender and class one human at a time: ethnography, film? What does it mean for our careers to study folks who made change, but changes we mourn or disagree with? I look forward to more scholarship on these everyday creative efforts.

Works Cited

  1. Ahmed, Sarah. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017.
  2. Ritchie, Joy and Kate Ronald. Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

From Isolated Stories to a Collective: Speaking Out About Misogyny in English Departments

There is always something unsaid and yet to be said, always someone struggling to find the words and the will to tell her story. Every day each of us invents the world and the self who meets that world, opens up or closes down space for others within that. Silence is forever being broken, and then like waves lapping over the footprints, the sandcastles and washed-up shells and seaweed, silence rises again.

Rebecca Solnit, “A Short History of Silence”

 

It’s not gonna get better if we’re quiet. We’re just gonna die quietly.

Interview participant

This article theorizes one aspect of the initial results of a qualitative empirical study of the ways women in U.S. college and university English departments experience misogyny and the effects of that misogyny on their personal and professional lives. While it may not come as a surprise that so many of us who work in English departments work in environments saturated with misogyny, what will come as a surprise, I think, is that there are women willing to talk about their experiences with misogyny, and that their willingness stems largely from a desire to reach those women who are not yet able to tell their stories. This might be surprising because English departments market themselves as spaces of equality and diversity, as dedicated to inclusivity and social justice, as committed to rooting out injustices like misogyny via such means as socially just, feminist, and critical pedagogies. We are some of the very people who teach students to recognize and fight back against social injustices like misogyny, so to acknowledge that it is happening among us faculty is to acknowledge, on some level, a failure. It is to acknowledge a failure on the part of the culture of academia broadly and English departments specifically, to recognize and to resist the norms of patriarchy among ourselves.1 Women’s desires to tell their stories of misogyny in English departments might be surprising, too, because patriarchy has taught us to self-police. One of the most important findings in what follows is that some women who shared their stories with me recognized the extent to which they pre-screened what they were about to tell me based on a metric they had internalized about what counts as misogyny. We saw a similar phenomenon in Gutierrez, et. al’s Presumed Incompetent; as Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. Gonzalez note in their introduction, many women declined to publish their stories in the collection because they “felt that their experiences, though personally challenging, had been relatively benign in comparison to friends and colleagues in other departments and at other institutions” (13). In what follows, we will see that telling a story of misogyny in an English department is not uncomplicated; for many, the process involves first overcoming the belief that what happened to us is just part of the way things work or even our own fault.

Though more extensive results from this study will be published at a future date, the data examined here are related primarily to the decision women in the study made to speak to me; in other words, because speaking about misogyny in a space like U.S. college and university English departments is considered in itself fraught, and because misogyny is what Kate Manne calls a “self-masking phenomenon”—“trying to draw attention to the phenomenon is liable to give rise to more of it” (xix)—the fact that thirty-nine women decided to speak to me about their experiences deserves consideration in its own right. I argue in what follows that it is the power of storytelling to challenge patriarchal norms in the crucial work of coalition building that persuades women to break the silence misogyny imposes. Indeed, the very fact that the stories themselves refuse to enact the work of care—the very work that women are obligated under patriarchy to perform—places their tellers at greater risk of more misogyny. Pointing to misogyny begets misogyny. The stories women told me refuse the norms of patriarchy. One of those norms is to remain silent. The very act of telling carries within it an understanding of the contingency of the telling, of the fact that another world exists in which this story is not told.

In the era of #MeToo and Kavanaugh, we in English departments, and writing studies especially, are just beginning to publicly share our stories of sexual harassment and bullying. Until very recently, we had more stories of bullying than we had of sexual harassment, and we still have incredibly few stories of misogyny that do not fall under the category of sexual harassment. In the last decade or so, scholars in the humanities and social sciences have begun asking questions about what constitutes a bully culture (Twale and De Luca) and how we might understand the causes of and learn ways to prevent bullying (Twale). In English Studies specifically, Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila address the culture of silence that surrounds bullying in the academy and frame such abuse as a social justice issue as they examine the intricacies of bullying in writing programs. Importantly, Elder and Davila address the issue of riskiness in the introduction to their collection when they write, “When we issued the CFP for this collection, we were struck by how many people contacted us directly to thank us for taking on this work and often to express regret at not being able to contribute, given the possibility for retribution on their campuses” (4). Because of the large number of people who felt they could not contribute for fear of retaliation, Elder and Davila take the extraordinary step of including a blank chapter at the end of the collection, entitled “’I Can’t Afford to Lose My Job’: A Chapter Dedicated to All Those Who Found It Too Risky to Contribute.” The chapter is authored by Anonymous and the entire content of the chapter is “We reserve this space for them” (190).

In Sexual Harassment and Cultural Change in Writing Studies, Patricia Freitag Ericsson argues that it is our job “to make trouble for those who carry and spread this toxic disease” (viii), and she points out that “despite this field’s concern about a variety of social issues, a similar concern about sexual harassment has been sorely missing” (6). In her introduction to Composition Studies 2018 Where We Are section focused on #MeToo and academia, Laura Micciche characterizes the pieces to follow as

infuriating and depressing; we need them. We need more of them. Those of us who have been in the field of rhetoric and composition for a while now know stories of serial harassers whose careers flourish unfettered. We’ve heard stories passed discreetly among friends at conferences and in hallways. Yet the number of submissions we received for this section didn’t break double digits, and the majority of submissions came from those with the least power in our field: graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty. Few addressed peer-to-peer violence and harassment, an open secret in the field (and in academia more widely).

In that Where We Are section, seven women share their stories of gendered violence, and only one, Anne Sicari, addresses the issue of peer-to-peer violence when she writes, “we need to reflect on our everyday practices, on how we treat our colleagues and students, and ways in which we perpetuate patriarchal ideologies regularly, without much thought” (201). Katelyn Lusher articulates what I imagine many of us once felt when she writes, “When I began grad school, I had a somewhat utopian belief that most professors were so ‘woke’ they couldn’t possibly subscribe to the misogyny I had felt in so many workplaces. What I quickly learned was that barely disguised sexism and harassment are as much a part of academia as conferences, publishing, and happy hours that go far into the night” (199). We are talking, as a field, about sexual harassment and bullying, but not about misogyny more generally, and when we talk about sexual harassment, we primarily talk about it in terms of breaches of the teacher/mentor and student relationship. I join these scholars to ask why we’re not sharing stories about misogyny more broadly between peers—faculty-to-faculty and graduate student-to-graduate student. 

This work matters because in our field, there is not a single scholarly consideration of women’s experiences of misogyny understood as the systematic punishment of women for not caring enough, for not giving enough; that is what this work contributes. Misogyny in English departments is not more important or more egregious than misogyny in other sites, but it warrants its own examination largely because we are supposed to know better.

But first we must have a better grasp of misogyny.

Misogyny: Enforcing Patriarchal Norms

I want to be explicit about how I am defining misogyny, and the best way for me to do that is to draw from the work that animates and motivates this work: Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. The commonplace understanding many people have of misogyny is as a psychological characteristic of individual people, usually men, who hate women—all women—simply because they are women. The problem with this naïve conception of misogyny is that it centers the experiences of the individual agent rather than the target of misogyny and it makes identifying misogyny all but impossible, as any individual man can point to the women in his life and claim to love them, thus negating the label of misogynist. This is an old story. Rather, the new story that Manne tells in her crucial work is that misogyny “ought to be understood as the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance” (33). To my mind, the most significant features of Manne’s theorization of misogyny are the following:

  1. In contrast to the naïve conception of misogyny, which targets women “because they are women in a man’s mind, where that man is a misogynist,” misogyny “primarily targets women because they are women in a man’s world (i.e., a historically patriarchal one, among other things).” (64).
  2. Because misogyny is systemic and political, the best way to understand it is to examine women’s experiences of misogyny: “when it comes to misogyny, we can focus on the hostility women face in navigating the social world, rather than the hostility men…may or may not feel in their encounters with certain women—as a matter of deep psychological explanations, or indeed whatsoever” (59).
  3. Misogyny is differentiated from sexism by a matter of degree. Where sexism discriminates “between men and women, typically by alleging sex differences beyond what is known or could be known,” misogyny “will typically differentiate between good women and bad women and punishes the latter” (79). Where sexism should be understood as the “justificatory branch of a patriarchal order” (79), misogyny should be understood primarily as the ‘law enforcement’ branch of a patriarchal order, which has the overall function of policing and enforcing its governing norms and expectations” (78).
  4. Those primary governing norms and expectations of patriarchy have to do with obligation on the part of women and entitlement on the part of men. Women are obligated to give and men are entitled to take, to receive. She is obligated to give feminine-coded goods and services such as attention, affection, care, moral support, admiration, loyalty, and respect. He is entitled to take these and to receive masculine-coded goods such as “leadership, authority, influence, money, and other forms of power, as well as social status, prestige, rank, and the markers thereof. Then there are the less tangible facets of social ‘face,’ pride, reputation, or standing, and the relevant absences—for example, the freedom from shame and lack of public humiliation, which are more or less universally desired but only some people feel entitled to” (113). The norms, then, are: Don’t ask for or take the kind of thing you’re meant to be giving, either to him or to society(emphasis added; 112) and Don’t ask for or try to take masculine-coded perks and privileges, at least as long as he desires them(emphasis added; 113).
  5. Should a woman violate these patriarchal norms—by failing to care enough, by failing to be attentive enough, by seeking attention for herself—misogyny will punish her with any number of down-girl moves: “to generalize, adults are insultingly likened to children, people to animals or even to objects. As well as infantilizing and belittling, there’s ridiculing, humiliating, mocking, slurring, vilifying, demonizing, as well as sexualizing or, alternatively desexualizing, silencing, shunning, blaming, patronizing, condescending, and other forms of treatment that are dismissive and disparaging in specific social contexts. Then there is violence and threatening behavior: including ‘punching down’—that is, deferred or displaced aggression” (68).
  6. Because misogyny is a self-masking phenomenon, “a misogynist social environment may but need not be the product of individual agents’ bigotry.” Rather, Manne explains that people may be responding, unknowingly, to their internal discomfort with the flouting of norms. “For some people, feminism in particular has profoundly disrupted their sense of the social order. The hostility they display to women who disrupt or pose a threat to gendered social hierarchies, say, is compatible with their being egalitarians in the abstract. They may nevertheless perceive powerful women who do not wield their power in service of men’s interests as abrasive and threatening. For that reason among others, a misogynist social environment may be partly the result of more or less well-intentioned people acting out of disavowed emotions, or exhibiting flashes of aggression that are not consciously experienced” (61). A misogynist social environment may flourish, in other words, in spaces like academia, where so many of us consider ourselves egalitarian but are also committed to gendered social hierarchies in ways we may not even be conscious of.
  7. Finally, because misogyny is the law enforcement wing of patriarchy, policing and punishing women who violate norms of giving and taking, misogyny is not restricted to men punishing women. Women who benefit from patriarchy will work to reinforce its norms as openly—or as covertly—as men.

Misogyny is perhaps best understood metaphorically this way: “like a shock collar used to keep dogs behind an invisible fence, misogyny, [Manne] argues, aims to keep women—those who are well trained as well as those who are unruly—in line” (Penaluma). One of the effects of Manne’s conception of misogyny is that we who examine its workings in different environments do not have to understand what motivates the people who do and say the things we characterize as misogynistic. What matters, instead, is that women are experiencing hostility for their violation of patriarchal norms that we would claim, when given the opportunity, are gendered and problematic. Yet we enforce them, knowingly or not. And we enforce them at the expense of creating working environments that value the contributions of all of their members, a goal I imagine many of our department mission statements reference in one form or another.

Methodology: Building a Collective

In the summer of 2019, I conducted thirty-nine interviews with women2 employed in English departments in colleges and universities in the United States. My goal in these interviews was to understand women’s experiences of misogyny in their departments, the effects of such misogyny on their work and personal lives, and the ways such a focus on women’s experiences of misogyny—as opposed to the usual focus on the psychology of misognyists themselves—might help those of us working in English departments specifically and the academy more generally see more clearly the way our everyday interactions reinforce patriarchal norms of obligation and entitlement. Of the thirty-nine women I interviewed, ten were doctoral students, five were assistant professors, eight were associate professors, eight were full professors, seven were non-tenure-track instructors, and one was an emerita professor. Twenty-two women identified their subfield as rhetoric and composition or writing studies, six as literature, six as creative writing, two as children’s literature, two as linguistics, and one as English and theater. Four women taught in a community college, ten in R-1 Doctoral universities, twenty in R-2 Doctoral universities, four in Baccalaureate colleges, and one in a HBCU.3 The average age of interviewees was 43. I did not ask interviewees to identify their race or ethnicity, though I did ask them to reflect on the extent to which they believed their race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and/or religion contributed to their experiences of misogyny in their departments. 

All participation in the study was voluntary and confidential; though I know participants’ names, the nature of this research demands that participants’ names and institutions be kept confidential. The data I examine in this article comes from participants’ responses to one question: “What made you want to be a part of this project and tell your stories?” Part of the reason I asked this question was that I learned from some friends before I began my research that they would have had a hard time conceptualizing their own experiences as misogyny even though by my definition, the experiences they shared with me certainly count as misogyny. But for the friends who shared these stories, their experiences didn’t seem extreme enough. There is a story we tell ourselves about misogyny: in order for an experience to count as misogyny, it must be extreme. How we define extreme, of course, is another story, but my friends’ comments called to mind Roxane Gay’s conception of “calloused empathy.” Having persuaded herself that being gang-raped at twelve years old wasn’t “that bad,” Gay explains that such a belief allowed her to “break my trauma into something more manageable, into something I could carry with me instead of allowing the magnitude of it to destroy me.” But there was another effect of persuading herself that her experience was not that bad:

Buying into the notion of not that bad made me incredibly hard on myself for not “getting over it” fast enough as the years passed and I was still carrying so much hurt, so many memories. Buying into this notion made me numb to bad experiences that weren’t as bad as the worst stories I heard. For years, I fostered wildly unrealistic expectations of the kinds of experiences worthy of suffering until very little was worthy of suffering. The surfaces of my empathy became calloused. (x)

I asked participants why they wanted to tell their stories in part because I wanted to understand the extent to which they, too, understood misogyny to encapsulate only extreme harassment and abuse. When we refrain from telling stories that we believe aren’t extreme enough, or are not that bad, we are doing a kind of caretaking work in that we are protecting men from having to understand the consequences of their actions. One of the masculine-coded goods patriarchy provides men, according to Manne, is freedom from feeling shame or humiliation (113), and by not sharing our stories, we ensure that those responsible for our experiences never need to know about our pain. They are protected.

But I asked that question also because I wanted to test my earlier theorizing of precarious narratives. In We Find Ourselves in Other People’s Stories, I draw on Judith Butler’s concept of precarious life and on Arthur Frank’s insight that “stories are formed from other stories” (“Tricksters” 186) to propose that all narratives are precarious because their “circulation relies fundamentally on social and political conditions, [their] structures and themes must be supported by what is outside itself. These are the narrative resources upon which we draw when we tell the stories of our lives” (emphasis in original 29-30). Narrative resources are the necessary plotlines, character types, cultural scripts, and so on, that we all draw upon when we tell any kind of story; we can see with this concept that narratives are socially dependent, “needing support from other people and other narratives lest they collapse” (29). Narratives, like lives, are differentially precarious. A narrative becomes particularly precarious when its support is in question; a narrative becomes more precarious when others do not tell the same kind of story or when others question the truth value of one’s story. If a precarious narrative requires support, requires propping up, then others sharing similar stories expands the possible narrative resources from which to create and share additional stories. As I write in We Find Ourselves

If access to stories offers opportunities to figure out who we are and who we can become because the stories we create for ourselves are dependent on those narrative resources, recognizing that narratives are precarious should encourage us to tell the stories that challenge dominant cultural scripts. Thus, telling stories is important not just because it is empowering or because it provides an opportunity for silenced voices to be heard or because it helps us develop form from chaos but because our stories and others’ stories are interdependent. They work together to help us figure out who we can be. (30)

And now, a few years later, I would add to this that our stories’ and others’ stories’ interdependence means that sharing a story of misogyny in the academic workplace makes it possible for others to share more stories of misogyny in the academic workplace. Stories create possibility. They tell us what happened but they also allow us to understand differently, in different terms and with different means of selection and evaluation (Frank, Letting 46) what is real, what is possible, what is “worth doing or best avoided” (Frank, Letting 3). 

The more stories told about misogyny in English departments, the less precarious each individual story becomes. From individual, isolated stories, we build a collective, and that collective becomes a rich site of narrative resources from which future storytellers can draw. Though each individual woman I spoke with told her stories only to me, she knew I was talking with others, and she knew that her story would join together with the stories of other women to form a collective, a collective that would accomplish significant social and rhetorical work that her story alone could not do. And it is this social and rhetorical work that, I argue, persuaded many of the women to push past the self-monitoring to tell their stories. 

In the rest of this article, I draw on women’s responses to the final question of my interviews4 to identify the kinds of precariousness women’s stories of misogyny are subjected to. I begin with Arthur Frank’s concept of narrative habitus as a way to bolster the concept of precarious narratives by arguing that the stories that are not part of our narrative habitus are more precarious and need more social support. I show how this narrative habitus that we all possess to some degree or another persuaded women in my interview project to share their experiences with me in order to contribute to a collective of stories. This collective challenges patriarchy’s demand that women care for men’s needs and shifts the focus to women’s needs instead. It is thus likely to be subject to more misogyny. I believe that many of the women I spoke with understood this from the start. I point then to three anticipated punishments interviewees articulated; my doing so demonstrates that our narrative habitus has developed with a tacit understanding of how misogyny functions. While the stories women told me are about punishment, their very telling was constrained by their tellers’ anticipation of being punished for telling.

Storytelling about misogyny in a patriarchy is never as simple as just telling; the very telling itself is constrained by the norms of patriarchy. When these norms are challenged, misogyny awaits to shock women back into place.

Narrative Habitus and the Powers of Storytelling

In Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology, Arthur W. Frank describes a narrative habitus as “a repertoire of stories that a person at least recognizes and that a group shares.” I want to highlight two characteristics of narrative habitus here. First, Frank writes that narrative habitus “is the feel for what story makes a good follow-up to a previous story, what story fits which occasion; who wants to hear what story when. A person’s narrative habitus enables knowing how to react when a story is told, according to what kind of story it is. Complementary to that competence, narrative habitus enables prediction of how others will react to a story that might be told” (53). Another way of saying this is that a person’s narrative habitus encompasses her body of narrative resources and that those resources inform our understanding of how a story will perform rhetorically. Narrative habitus is about anticipation. A second characteristic of narrative habitus that is relevant to this work is that “narrative habitus predisposes a sense of the right and fitting resolution toward which a half-told story should progress; it is the feel for what kind of narrative move leads to what next kind of move” (54). Frank continues, “People’s sense of how plots will probably go reflects and generates their everyday common sense of which actions lead to which consequences, whether in stories or in life. People’s habitus of expected plot completions is nothing less than their sense of life’s possibilities” (54). We know how so many stories will go. We have developed a finely tuned narrative habitus based on years of living in a patriarchy, so we know that when we begin to tell a story in which we have experienced some form of misogyny, we will be subject to some form of victim-blaming. We will be punished. We will be subject to further misogyny. Our stories, before we even share them, are precarious from the start.

But our narrative habitus tells us that there are powers to storytelling. We know, because we have experienced it before, how stories change us, how they shape and reshape our belief systems, how they function rhetorically to direct and redirect our attention. Of the social nature of storytelling, Frank writes,

Stories connect people into collectivities, and they coordinate actions among people who share the expectation that life will unfold according to certain plots. The selves and collectivities animated by stories then animate further stories: revising old stories and creating new ones—though whether any story is ever truly new is always contestable. Stories and humans work together, in symbiotic dependency, creating the social that comprises all human relationships, collectivities, mutual dependencies, and exclusions. (Letting, emphasis in original; 15)

Women knew they were involved in building a collective, one whose individual stories would be used to animate further stories, “revising old stories and creating new ones.” They knew that the work they were doing was part of something larger that had the power to do what only stories can do.5

One of the powers of storytelling that participants pointed to was simply the sheer breaking of the silence that has surrounded misogyny in English departments. One participant told me, “It is so frustrating to be part of a program that I love that performs inclusivity and yet does not always live up to inclusivity and in some cases flat out rewards misogyny and racism and all of the other isms. It is exhausting. So anything we can try to do to shine light on these practices I think has got to be good and helpful. It will be painful but it needs to happen.” Similarly, another participant said, “I think that the only way to stop this is to first acknowledge that it happens, so I feel like we have to share our stories and I feel like even one story, even if you don’t think it’s extreme, is important to share.” 

Related to the need to simply get the stories on record was the recognition that stories accomplish the important rhetorical work of letting others know that they are not alone. This message came up a number of times as a benefit of sharing stories of misogyny in the workplace. One woman noted, “I think it’s important to identify the sheer number of women who experience these issues and let other women know that they aren’t alone so that they might feel inclined to step forward and tell their stories.” This woman understands that one power of storytelling is that it begets further storytelling; one of the healing powers of knowing you’re not alone is that you may feel safe enough to share your own story. Another woman said, “I feel like saying, you can be in these awful, awful departments, but just leaving sometimes is best. Often I find that misogyny is like a toxic, abusive relationship—they want to hold you there. I want other people to know they’re not alone.” Both of these women’s recognition of the power of knowing you’re not alone is echoed in this participant’s words: “It’s like, when you’ve gone through this stuff, you think, who can do anything else to me, and if my story makes someone else go, that’s exactly what’s happening to me, then that’s great. Because we’ve got to get the stories out.”

I have long understood that one of the most important effects of storytelling is that it makes readers and listeners feel less alone, but it had been a long time since I had stopped to think about just what was so awful about feeling alone. Having been caught up in hearing so many women’s stories while working on this project, I had stopped feeling alone with my own experiences of misogyny, and I had momentarily forgotten how isolating my own experiences had felt for so long. Three women specifically shared with me their feelings of just needing to share their stories with someone—me—because they had felt so isolated during the experiences they described. One participant explained that her reasons for talking with me were multiple: “Part of it is because I know that I’m not the only person experiencing this stuff but the other part is that right now I don’t have anyone I can tell, you know?” Another participant recognized that being part of this project means that she is not alone: “I guess also to be part of something that acknowledges that I’m not alone. I think what’s scariest about this is how isolated it made me feel.” A third woman told me this:

I’ve wanted to tell people about this experience just because I felt so isolated and alone walking through this by myself. I just needed to tell somebody what happened. And I think sometimes people think, well, you’re just being too sensitive. The scope and gravity of it, at the end of the day, the scope and gravity of what can happen to people because of it, I just needed somebody to know. I will say, though, that I almost canceled fourteen times. I’ve been sweating this. I’m supposed to be able to handle this. Other people—it didn’t seem to upset them that I was going through this, so I should just be able to accept this. It makes me weak because I can’t.

Looking around your own department and seeing that others are not affected by the pain you are feeling, that others are not affected by misogyny in the same ways you are, can be incredibly isolating, and we all know that a sense of belonging is a crucial human need. One can hear, too, in this participant’s words, the internalized shaming as she characterizes herself as someone who should be able to handle the misogyny her department subjected her to once she became chair.

Related to participants’ desire for others to know they are not alone is their desire to help others avoid the kind of misogyny they’ve had to experience. One participant said, “I want to participate to show that it’s not just sexual harassment…. I wanted to talk about how a lot of the messages I’ve gotten have been couched in protection: ‘I care about you as a colleague, so I’m encouraging you to do this rather than that.’… In my experience of reading accounts like this, if I had been a graduate student and read an article like this, I think it would have been nice.” Another participant put her desire more directly: “There are moments when I look back at my history where something I have said has triggered an actual action and a change in somebody’s life for the better and that is what I am trying to do here.” Similarly, a third participant told me, “I also really, really want to believe that if you talk it can help people…. I want to believe that talking can help and I’m tired of it having to be me whispering to my undergrads, don’t take this professor, he treats women differently. I want it to be something more legitimate. I hope that this can help. I hope the right people read it and take it to heart.” 

Finally, one woman’s reasons for participating in this project pointed to the effects of our not sharing our stories with each other and with students:

It’s something that we have to be aware of and I do think that women in departments are constantly—at least I and my colleagues are—wanting to be supportive of students but at the same time, especially with female students, we want them to have a tough skin and the people who come to English departments are the people who are often looking for ways to talk about things that have happened to them. They want to do it in a way that captures their emotions, they want to be angry, they want to learn to express things, but they are constantly worried about the perception and evaluation of that work. We have a lot of creative writers and a lot of the involved students on our campus are that way—they feel inclined to write confessionally but they also don’t want to be considered reactionary and finding that balance is so hard for them especially. They’re twenty years old.

Our conversation continued, and we talked about her point that so many students come to English departments because they want to tell their stories, and it often becomes clear to them that we aren’t telling our stories. Asking our students to write their stories but refusing to share our own stories sends the message that we believe in the power of storytelling for them but not for us. As another participant said, “The graduate students can’t talk about it because they’re in such a terribly vulnerable position and they know if we aren’t talking about it, that we’re hiding something because they’re experiencing it and they don’t know why we’re hiding it.” Perhaps they do know why we’re hiding it; indeed, my data suggests that many graduate students are well aware of the ways patriarchy works to push all women down.

Additional Social Supports

In addition to the powers of storytelling, interviewees pointed to two other reasons for their willingness to share their stories with me. Recall that all narratives are precarious, that they require support from the social and cultural world, and that the more social and cultural support they receive, the less precarious they become. Participants pointed to two kinds of social support they felt for their storytelling: their own positioning as women who were in a safe space in their academic careers and a feeling of trust in me, their interviewer.

First, participants pointed to their own positions as women who were no longer precarious in terms of age or status in the university.6 One doctoral student told me that she felt comfortable sharing her story with me because “I’m in a very good place in my life where I’m able to reflect on this. I’m in a loving and supportive program. I’m not necessarily sure I would have come forward in my negative Master’s program experience.” Similarly, another participant pointed to her sense that she was in a good place: “I was thinking, for the most part, I have it okay. I’ve heard horror stories and the fact that I have an amazing department chair who lets me do the work I want to do and who helps me feel valued and the fact that she’s a woman helps with that. I know I could have it a lot worse. I’ll just put it that way.” One can hear, in this participant’s characterization of her chair as letting her do the work she wants to do, an understanding not only that that is not always the case in other programs, but also that women in academia do not have the default ability to do the work we want to do.

For other women, there was the sense that it took years to develop the kind of temerity that is required to be able to tell the stories they shared with me. “I’m at a point in my life that I think I have garnered enough strength and authority that I have a responsibility to be more vocal because I’m recognizing that I’m safer than I’ve ever been, particularly having just been promoted to full professor so if full professors can’t talk then, my god, who can?” one woman told me. Similarly, another participant shared with me that part of her reason for talking with me was job security:

Part of it is that I’m tenured and I have separated myself emotionally from the institution enough because the institution is so messed up that I do my work, I work hard, but I’m not working for [the institution]. I’m working for the students and I’m working as a researcher but I’m trying to keep my distance from other things. Partly it’s my power and partly I’ve been talking with people about this, especially at [my institution], with graduate students, for thirteen years now and I don’t see that it’s getting much better.

And then there was the woman who pointed to both job security and age when she told me, “I’m tenured and I’m over forty. And I’m done…. You’ve got to be a certain sort of pissed off and a certain sort of secure…. In graduate school, I probably would’ve been like, what are these women complaining about, and now I’m like, I have many complaints! Listen to my complaints!” Age factors importantly in one’s willingness to speak about mistreatment; the older one gets, it seems, the less willing one is to accept misogyny as simply part of how academia works. Finally, the length of time one has been experiencing misogyny in one’s department figures importantly in these women’s decisions to tell their stories; while one woman has been talking with others at her institution about these issues for thirteen years, another is just “done.” As another participant said to me, “Silence equals death. Sometimes we may not feel like we can talk and sometimes we can’t but when we get strong enough…. It’s not gonna get better if we’re quiet. We’re just gonna die quietly.”

Second, many women I spoke with trusted their audience. About a quarter of the women I spoke with were people I knew personally or professionally, and it turns out that my ethos or my reputation in the field was one of the reasons some of the participants felt comfortable sharing their stories with me.7 As one woman put it, she understood me as an outlet where “you’re not gonna be seen as someone who’s complaining. You’re not gonna be seen as someone who instigated it or that it’s your fault. Even though that’s the way we’re made to feel. I was definitely made to feel like I had acted inappropriately and this was my punishment for it.”

One participant told me she felt a “duty of care” to participate in the project because she had always had positive interactions with me. Another said that I seemed like “a real person, someone who is safe,” and that sentiment is echoed in how others characterized the ways they believed I would treat their data. “I’ll say on a personal level, I know you and I know you’re a good, qualified researcher and I trust that you would be responsible with my data and that kind of thing, so that of course makes me feel less worried about something getting out.” Another participant told me that she decided to participate because “I’ve known you so long and I know the honesty with which you’ll handle the project, so it’s wanting to participate in a project with someone whose scholarship I admire and value.” Another woman noted that she believed that “What I had to say would be used effectively and that I didn’t feel in danger. I have to say, if I just saw this from somebody that I didn’t know, I may not have done it because I would be scared that it wouldn’t be confidential or that they might identify me and I could get in trouble.” We hear the threat in these statements, the idea that a different researcher might not treat their words confidentially and they might, thus, be subjected to misogynistic punishment for having shared their stories. 

Anticipated Punishments

Manne points to a number of what she calls down-girl moves that often follow a woman breaking the norms of obligation and entitlement; she writes:

Girls and women may be down-ranked or deprived relative to more or less anything that people typically value—material goods, social status, moral reputation, and intellectual credentials, among other realms of human achievement, esteem, pride, and so on. This may happen in numerous ways: condescending, mansplaining, moralizing, blaming, punishing, silencing, lampooning, satirizing, sexualizing, belittling, caricaturizing, exploiting, erasing, and evincing pointed indifference.

Any one of these moves acts as a shock collar, shocking a woman back into place when she has strayed beyond her station. For the women I spoke with, a narrative habitus that suggests how others will respond to their stories of misogyny in English departments led to their identifying three anticipated punishments that they nevertheless risked in order to share their experiences with me. I outline these anticipated punishments in this section to emphasize the bravery and strength of the women I spoke with, and also to reinforce that telling stories is not the simple sharing of experiences. It requires forethought and risk, a savvy narrative habitus and an understanding that sharing stories toward greater awareness is only the first step toward change.

It is commonplace knowledge that those who speak out against abuse are treated just as harshly as, if not worse than, those who do the abusing in the first place. The experiences of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford are among the most glaringly obvious examples of this. Rebecca Solnit, in her essay, “A Short History of Silence,” points to this phenomenon:

One disturbing aspect of abuse and harassment is the idea that it’s not the crime that’s the betrayal but the testimony about the crime. You’re not supposed to tell. Abusers often assume this privilege that demands the silence of the abused, that a nonreciprocal protection be in place. Others often impose it as well, portraying the victims as choosing to ruin a career or a family, as though the assailant did not make that choice himself. (40)

Even more to the point than Solnit, though, is David Graeber in his essay, “The Bully’s Pulpit.” In working through the reasons why grade school kids stand by passively in the face of bullying, Graeber notes that one reason may be that they have “caught on to how adult authority operates and mistakenly assume the same logic applies to interactions with their peers.” Graeber continues, “The fates of the Mannings and the Snowdens of the world are high-profile advertisements for a cardinal rule of American culture: while abusing authority may be bad, openly pointing out that someone is abusing authority is much worse—and merits the severest punishment.” We know this story. It is part of our narrative habitus.

The first of these anticipated punishments is being labeled a gossip.8 Recall what Micciche writes in Composition Studies’ Where We Are Section: that gossip serves as a kind of protection among colleagues. She writes, “We’ve heard stories passed discreetly among friends at conferences and in hallways” (11). One interview participant told me, toward the end of our conversation, “I am concerned because as women we’re told our whole lives that what we do is gossip and I am a tattler. I still am a tattler. That’s a way of self-protection that the patriarchy is always trying to steal from us.” That nobody wants to be understood as a gossip is evident from the many sayings we have about those who gossip: snitches get stitches; you never look good trying to make someone else look bad; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. What all of these sayings share in common is the belief that it’s the words themselves, rather than the actions they are describing, that are the problem when one person tells another about a third person’s wrongdoing. Characterizing testimony about misogyny as gossip minimizes that testimony in ways that harm the speaker because she is understood to possess little self-control. In addition, the person who is the subject of the so-called gossip becomes the victim of gossip as a kind of aggression, the result often being that sympathy may flow directly to the perpetrators of misogyny rather than to the victims in an example of what Manne has coined “himpathy.” 

Women are disciplined very early to believe that what they are doing when they complain is not legitimate but rather gossiping or tattling. As one participant put it, “A lot of times self-regulation is something that women learn. It’s very insert-Foucault stage left. We learn it and then we monitor ourselves.” As a result, there’s a kind of pre-screening we go through even before we get to the point of complaint, a pre-screening that finds us editing out what we consider to be less egregious instances of misogyny. As another participant put it, “When I thought about, do I have any experiences, they all sounded really small, so I also felt like my experiences weren’t big enough or extreme enough to warrant being named misogynistic, but I also know better than that and when I started making my list and I thought about the totality of what those experiences looked like, I realized they were pretty big.” Another interviewee noted, when relaying a story about a specific person in her department, “This is where I feel like I’m just airing grievances,” a strong indication that she is accustomed to monitoring what she says for their likelihood of making her out to be a gossip.

Women recognize what happens to their words when they are characterized as “just gossips,” as evidenced by this interview participant, who said,

I appreciated being able to have the platform to tell the story, but I also want to think more about what it means for us to be told that we can’t—that we’ll be seen as just gossips or—I think the word that keeps coming up is retaliation and so I think in academia just like in lots of fields and businesses there’s this expectation that you’ll maintain this façade that everything is fine, that no one’s racist, that no one’s sexist, or any of those things.

This woman understands that being labeled a gossip has a rhetorical function, and that that function is to dismiss our testimony. Gossip, as James C. Scott notes, “almost by definition, has no identifiable author,” and its goal is typically “to ruin the reputation of some identifiable person or persons” (142). When women who testify to misogyny understand that they are at risk of being dismissed as mere gossips, they understand that they are seen as aiming to ruin individual men’s reputations rather than testifying to a systemic problem. They also understand that their own reputations are at stake, and it is here that we can see being characterized as a gossip as a down-girl move. Women know they are risking being down-ranked in terms of social status and moral reputation when they speak out about abuse.

But—need it be said?—women who testify to misogyny in their workplaces are not gossips. They are not tattletales. One woman told me that the very existence of this study gave her hope; she said, “I really appreciate that you’re doing this work….Just reading the description of your study made me feel validated, even if I never talked to you because I thought, this is a real thing. I’m not floundering in this void. Other people see that this is happening. So that was very important.” Other people see that this is happening. When we are made to believe that we are just gossips, we are also made to believe that what we are saying is not true, that it is not being witnessed by others. Being labeled a gossip is a form of gaslighting.

A second anticipated punishment identified by interviewees is being perceived as ungrateful for their hard-won jobs in a difficult academic job market.9 This is particularly difficult because, as Manne suggests, women are obligated to deliver feminine-coded goods such as gratitude and not to seem entitled to masculine-coded perks like security and respect. At a time when the value of the Humanities, generally, and English studies specifically, is questioned regularly both inside and outside of academia, the silencing of women can be expected to proceed apace. As one interviewee put it to me,

To basically say, “This is how it is,” even at a moment when we’re supposed to say, “Oh don’t say anything bad about English departments because they’ll cut us,” is exactly the kind of move that’s important because there are a lot of people all over the country who are working in these situations and who think they have to be—they have to not stand up because they may lose their job or they think they have to not stand up because their college will be closed otherwise, so I think there’s also this way in which, particularly in times of tight budgets, we’ve been pressed not to complain or not identify the things that actually keep us from being successful in our jobs.

I responded to her by saying, “Of all times, this would be a time when you would stay silent, when the humanities are in crisis, and so just sort of put your head down, do your work, hope that we can get the majors up and just continue to accept the misogynistic treatment and be happy you have a job.” Her response to me:

Be happy you have a job. I think this goes back to perpetrating these kinds of systems further into the future. That’s what you’re modeling for students: we don’t stand up for things because we want to protect our jobs. We’re in some way also raising generations of students who kind of think pretending nothing’s happening is the way to go. It’s almost like counter the mission of the humanities. You want to raise critical thinkers, but you just say, “Oh, don’t think about this. Don’t think about that. Think about that little thing that’s important here.”

There is so much to appreciate in this participant’s commentary on what it means to speak the truth in a time when doing so might be interpreted by others as ingratitude for the jobs we hold; I’ll highlight two significant points. First, I think her point about now being the exact time to point to the problems with misogyny, because the climate surrounding the humanities for so long has been austere, suggests that some of those who were willing to talk with me were willing to push past the narrative that to be grateful for one’s job is also to grin and bear misogyny in the workplace. Second, there is perhaps no phrase more ubiquitous in the humanities than critical thinking, but we do not often stop and articulate the appropriate objects of that critical thought; this interviewee’s point about our raising students to think about this little thing over here, but not this, not these crucially significant issues affecting us in the workplace, draws attention to the limits of our alleged critical thinking pedagogies.

Another participant who described harrowing experiences in her department said, “I don’t think people realize that getting a tenure-track position in the humanities is like winning the lottery…. I have to remember that for some people this would be a gift.” Even as she has just finished telling me about experiences that were scary and isolating, this participant told me, “I feel a lot of guilt for being dissatisfied. I try to talk myself out of feeling badly because other people would want [this job].” One can almost hear her reconciling the warring parts of her mind as she talks to me. She wants to tell me about her experiences; she doesn’t want to be seen as ungrateful, so she tries to talk herself out of feeling bad. This is one effect of the powerful narrative of a tight humanities job market; our narrative habitus helps us predict how the story will go.

Finally, the punishment anticipated by more women than any other,10 the end that our narrative habitus fills in for us when we imagine telling our stories of misogyny in our academic workplaces, is retaliation.11

Two doctoral students point indirectly to the possibility of retaliation, one when she says, “With two Title IX cases in the past year and a half, there’s not really a lot I can say that’s going to hurt me because I’ve said so many things,” and the other when she reflects on the possibility of not being able to have a career in the field. She says, “There’s also sort of being in this position where I no longer care that, like, it sounds horrible, if for some reason, I couldn’t have this career anymore, I would just move on because it’s been horrible anyway, and I would just find a way to carry on with my life.” Both students recognize that there is the possibility for others to hurt them, to damage their reputations or careers, but at the same time, both mitigate that understanding by contrasting it with either past or future scenarios in which they have or will survive academia.

Told from the start that all names and identifying information would be kept confidential as part of the research process, participants took comfort in the protection of anonymity. The discourse of retaliation is strong in this participant’s response: “This is anonymous too so it’s not like it’s going to affect me and I found out about it through my department, so I don’t feel like if they found out I participated there would be repercussions. I’m probably never going to apply for another leadership position after three times being shot down, at least not until I do some other stuff first, so I’m happy with my position. I like the job I have. I don’t feel like there will be repercussions for me doing this.” One gets the sense that this participant anticipates being found out, being caught, and having the protection of having learned about the project via someone in the department. Learning of the project via a department listserv is much less illicit, in other words, than learning of the project via social media. The listserv seems to sanction the project and sanction the storytelling.

Another participant interprets the anonymity of the project a bit differently. She says, “The maddening thing here is that there’s not anything any of us can actually do about it. I’m not even using his name here. And if I did, with the gender dynamic, the reality is that I’m the one who would be on the hot seat for being such a bitch to call so-and-so out.” As we saw above, another participant makes a similar point when she notes that “we’ll be seen as gossips or—I think the word that keeps coming up is retaliation” for naming a particular person at a particular place who is engaging in misogynistic behaviors. Recall that she said, “I think in academia just like in lots of fields and businesses there’s this expectation that you’ll maintain this façade that everything is fine, that no one’s racist, that no one’s sexist, or any of those things.” Maintaining that façade functions as a kind of protection against retaliation.

Sara Ahmed writes that “we are often encouraged to think of our careers as having an exteriority, as what you have to care for in order to have somewhere to go,” and the same participant who pointed to the need for a façade that “everything is fine,” told me that she knew if she talked with anybody outside her department about what was happening, she risked the stability of that career.

If I were to tell anyone outside my department, would that negatively impact my getting tenure if I stayed, would it negatively impact my ability to move up at this school? It just always felt like I was stepping out on that ledge, and I was going to hurt myself. I think I’ve been wondering more what it is we’re really protecting by doing that. I think by the time I left the last place, I had thought, do I care enough about being in this field and doing this very specific job that I would stay in a place where this was happening? Would I rather just leave if I can’t find a job somewhere else? I think that’s one of the consequences—how many women leave instead of dealing with it.

The potential for retaliation in the form of down-girl moves such as silencing, punishing, deprivation of advancement, diminished career prospects—all of these were understood in advance by many of the women I interviewed. All of these function for so many women—those who have stories but who chose not to talk with me—as prolepsis; they are, in Leigh Gilmore’s words, “a threat that prevents women from testifying” (7). They are the ending we anticipate.12

Toward a Collective

In Down Girl, Manne explains that even a woman’s belief that her story should be heard is subject to the norms of patriarchy, that such a sense of entitlement is a masculine-coded good that women should not seek. In a chapter devoted to parsing what it means to claim victimhood, Manne writes that,

if you claim victimhood, more or less explicitly, chances are (a) you’re not automatically being given what you need, in terms of sympathy and redress for moral injuries; and (b) you’re claiming to be entitled to the same, in ways that will be more salient for those not deemed to be so entitled, historically, but rather obligated to ensure that others entitlements are satisfied. (230)

When it is a woman claiming such entitlement, “it may stand out not because she’s claiming more than her due but because we’re not used to women claiming their due in these contexts. Women are rather expected to provide an audience for dominant men’s victim narratives, providing moral care, listening, sympathy, and soothing” (231). After sharing the story of D’Arcee Neal, a disabled Black gay man whose distressing experience on an airplane elicited not sympathy but aggression from public commenters, Manne notes that “drawing attention to one’s moral injuries in a public forum does not seem an especially good way to attract sympathetic attention, as a subordinate group member” (236). But perhaps sympathetic attention is not the goal, she writes. Rather, following Regina Ricci, Manne argues that “drawing attention to the ways in which one has been wronged as a subordinate group member may sometimes be the best, or even the only viable, way to foster solidarity with other people in a similar position” (238-9). Manne writes, and I agree, based on my experience interviewing these thirty-nine women, that “there is also significant value in the social support itself, as well as the prospect of enhanced pattern recognition” (239). This is what I am hoping will happen here, with this project, and this is what many of my interview participants seemed to understand already. It is not easy to tell stories about being the victim of misogyny in a workplace culture that is, on the surface, committed to inclusion and social justice. Indeed, telling these stories in a context in which misogyny has to operate under the radar carries more risk because that telling threatens, always, to expose our own failure.  

We live with a cultural narrative about what it means to be a victim; one is understood as passive and weak rather than agentive and strong. But Manne offers another way of thinking about what women are doing when they share stories of victimhood; she writes that, “One may be able to expose the people who made one a victim as bullies and aggressors, even if this cannot be relied on to redirect the usual flow of sympathy, which tends—like heat—to rise up the social hierarchy” (248). In this context, to expose our peers as those who have made us victims, though, is, as I mentioned earlier, to admit to a collective failure, thus raising the stakes of speaking out.

And the stakes, as I’ve demonstrated here, are high. The stakes are more misogyny, and women’s narrative habitus tells them this. We know this ahead of time. As one interviewee told me, “It’s pretty clear that many people are not going to tell their stories because other people are telling them not to. I know that just from my experience. I’m sure it’s happening. I’ve been told not to talk over and over and over.” Paradoxically, we possess a narrative habitus that tells us that stories about misogyny in English departments are precarious at the same time that we know that such stories are as common as dirt. They’re everywhere. People just aren’t telling them in print. Because to tell them is to break the norm that tells us that we are meant to be giving care to others, not asking for care for ourselves. Interestingly, though the stories women told me in the summer of 2019 did not do the work of caring for men and are thus subject to misogyny by the lights of patriarchy, they did do the work of caring—for women. As one woman said, “I’m sure there’s someone else questioning, well, what does this mean and how does this work and am I wrong, am I crazy?” Sharing their stories does both: it demonstrates care for the self and care for others. In sharing their stories, women contributed to a collective from which other women will soon be able to draw strength.

Some of that strength undoubtedly will come from the vulnerability my interviewees show. To return, here at the end, to where I began, I want to remind readers that it takes strength to push past the internalized misogyny so many of us have found ourselves experiencing. One woman told me, “I feel like I am kind of slowly acquiescing to that shock collar. I no longer want to have ideas at meetings. I sit in meetings and I’m so quiet. I just try to barrel through them.” And another woman told me about how she finds herself gaslighting herself about the things she’s experienced even though she knows better: “Even now, speaking to somebody that I know completely understands where I’m coming from, I find myself changing the situation from, I got fucked over in a program that wasn’t ready to actually take care of me to, this is my fault because this is a situation I created.” Telling stories of misogyny in English departments is just the first step; the next step is for others to hear them and do something about them. Because as empowering as building a collective is, as one woman told me, “I do still have little moments of being scared.”

Endnotes

  1.  I want to be clear that, as a member of said academy and as a member of an English department, I am complicit in misogyny. I am working to become more aware of the ways I differentiate between good women and bad women based on the extent to which they conform to the norms of patriarchy. And I am becoming more aware of the ways I try to conform so as to avoid the punishments that are likely to follow. This work began in my own experiences of misogyny, but it doesn’t end there; it stretched to include and try to understand the experiences of others who have had similar experiences.
  2.  Participants in the project included both cis and trans women. The call for participants asked for people who identified as women and who had experienced misogyny in English departments.
  3. While I am using the new Carnegie classification system to designate the R-1 and R-2 Doctoral universities and the Baccalaureate colleges, I believe it’s important to maintain the designations of community colleges and HBCU, as identified by interview participants.
  4.  In analyzing the data for this article, I separated out the responses to this final question and examined them separately from the rest of the interview data to determine what, if any, patterns emerged. I then categorized them based on codes such as gossip, job guilt, retaliation, and storytelling.
  5. Twenty-two of thirty-nine women pointed to the powers of storytelling as the reason they wanted to share their stories with me and, by extension, you.
  6.  Eight of thirty-nine women pointed to their own status or place in the university as a reason for being willing to speak with me.
  7. Seven of thirty-nine women named knowing me or knowing of my work as a reason for feeling comfortable talking with me.
  8.  Six of thirty-nine women pointed to being labeled a gossip as a means of feeling silenced.
  9. Three of thirty-nine women anticipated being perceived as ungrateful for their jobs as a means of being silenced.
  10. Eight of thirty-nine women mentioned a fear of retaliation for sharing their stories with me.
  11. We also see this fear of retaliation in the silences of Presumed Incompetent. As Harris and Gonzalez write, “a significant number of women decided not to contribute to the anthology for fear of retaliation. They believed they would be penalized for airing their home institution’s dirty laundry in public, and they were not prepared to become pariahs” (11).
  12. One might wonder why, if participants knew ahead of time that their names would be kept confidential, they would be worried about retaliation. This is a rational question. Retaliation is not a rational fear. What I mean by this is that we have been conditioned by patriarchy to believe that if we violate a patriarchal norm, we will be punished. Though names are not attached to the stories women told in this case, such ingrained fear is not so easily assuaged. I am here to tell you that women were afraid of retaliation and I think that this suggests that patriarchy remains remarkably successful in keeping that fear alive in women despite assurances from a researcher. That women went ahead and told their stories is testament to their selflessness and care for other women.

Works Cited

  1. Ahmed, Sara. “Warnings.” Feminist Killjoys, 3 December, 2018.
  2. Elder, Cristyn L., and Bethany Davila, Ed. Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace. Logan: Utah State UP, 2019.
  3. Ericsson, Patricia Freitag, Ed. Sexual Harassment and Cultural Change in Writing Studies. Fort Collins, CO: The WAC Clearinghouse, 2020.
  4. Frank, Arthur W. Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  5. —. “Tricksters and Truth Tellers: Narrating Illness in an Age of Authenticity and Appropriation.” Literature and Medicine 28.2 (2009): 185-199.
  6. Gay, Roxane. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018.
  7. Gilmore, Leigh. Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives. New York: Columbia UP, 2017.
  8. Graeber, David. “The Bully’s Pulpit: On the Elementary Structure of Domination.” The Baffler 28 (July 2015).
  9. Harris, Angela P, and Carmen G. Gonzalez. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Ed. Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2012. 1-14.
  10. Lusher, Katelyn. “Academic Spaces and Grad Student Harassment.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 198-199.
  11. Manne, Kate. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. New York: Oxford UP, 2018.
  12. Micciche, Laura. “From the Editor.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 10-11.
  13. Penaluna, Regan. “Kate Manne: The Shock Collar That Is Misogyny.” Guernica 7 Feb. 2018.
  14. Robillard, Amy E. We Find Ourselves in Other People’s Stories: On Narrative Collapse and a Lifetime Search for Story. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  15. Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990.
  16. Sicari, Anna. “Centering the Conversation: Patriarchy, Academic Culture, and #MeToo.” Composition Studies 46.2 (2018): 200-202.
  17. Solnit, Rebecca. “A Short History of Silence.” The Mother of All Questions. Chicago: Haymarket, 2017: 17-66.
  18. Twale, Darla J. Understanding and Preventing Faculty-on-Faculty Bullying. New York: Routledge, 2017.
  19. Twale, Darla J., and Barbara M. De Luca, Ed. Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

“On Display Eight Hours a Day”: Gendering and Racializing Clerical Work During the Early Cold War

Just Between Office Girls (JBOG), a chatty bi-monthly pamphlet for the clerical worker, promised loads of advice for women laboring in offices in the 1950s and 1960s. It warned young workers of the “green-eyed monster” of jealousy. It offered meal planning and finance tips for the figure conscious worker on a budget. There were also exercise moves, oodles of fashion advice, and the ever-present warning not to be “that girl” who gossiped or showed up late and hungover. These short, cartoon-illustrated pamphlets were certainly not the first professional advice manuals for women. Yet, they circulated during a remarkable reshaping of the American labor force and economy. While dominant narratives insist that in the wake of World War II, the return of GIs pushed women out of factory jobs, the reality was far more complex. In fact, many women stayed employed due to both economic necessity and choice (Kessler-Harris, Out to Work 286-7). Yet, scholars have tended to focus on women war workers in our narrative of women’s employment in the mid-twentieth century. Moreover, the focus on large labor unions, in part because they left historic records, has also skewed the sample of workers under historians’ purview (see, e.g. Cobble, Dishing; Flexner; Foner; Gabin; Kessler-Harris).

Clerical work is one of the most gender-segregated industries of all and has been an archetypal female job for almost a century (England and Boyer 307). Discourses surrounding clerical work have sedimented over the course of the twentieth century and circulate archetypes of “office wives” or “sexy secretaries.” To that end, clerical work provides an often-overlooked arena for exploring the rhetorical lives of women workers in the United States during the early Cold War. As the U.S. reverted to a peacetime economy and women negotiated increasing pressure to return home to mother, I ask, in line with Sarah Hallenbeck and Michelle Smith, how was women’s relationship to work framed? 

To answer that question, this essay explores the rhetorical processes that gender and racialize work. I analyze “work-related rhetorics” of socialization in the form of training manuals, which introduce workers to effective ways of doing their jobs and navigating their workplaces. Socialization discourses shape workers’ attitudes and perceptions of how to operate in organizational cultures (van Maanen and Schein 2). As Hallenbeck and Smith note, work training is an important element in women’s rhetorical lives (206). They urge rhetoricians to move beyond looking at how women develop agency in the workplace to identify themes in how gender and work are continually co-constructed (202). Building on their insights, then, I do not assume that clerical work is “women’s work,” but instead that it, like all work, is “historically situated, rhetorically constructed, [and] materially contingent” (Hallenbeck and Smith 201; see also Gold and Enoch). Scholars have identified several topoi that serve as rhetorical mechanisms for gendering work. As Jessica Enoch notes, constructions of place can accomplish this. The public, she explains, often genders professions by bringing them closer or farther away from the space of the home and from specific types of domestic work (184; see also Jack 286). In addition, time is a rhetorical practice that genders work, stipulating when and for how long tasks can be performed (Jack 286-288). Hallenbeck and Smith identify duty, education, and technology as recurring threads in the gendering of work (203). Yet, these topoi do not adequately explain clerical work during the Cold War. 

In this essay, I explore the disciplining of female clerical workers in Just Between Office Girls between the mid-1950s and early 1970s. I identify constitutive rhetoric, a care work frame, and embodiment as rhetorical processes that constructed clerical work in this historical moment. All three of these rhetorics were filtered through the gendered and racialized geopolitics of the Cold War and the civil rights movement. Through consistent messaging that feminized clerical work, the pamphlets constituted a relatively passive labor force of white women disinclined to organize or protest and primed to consume. These messages served U.S. political interests during the Cold War by figuring white women as agents of racial capitalism. I offer this analysis with the goal of moving beyond understanding how labor organizers use rhetoric to reshape working conditions to exploring how rhetoric positions labor itself within hierarchies of social value. 

This case also identifies the performance of work and its rhetorical representation as a geopolitical struggle over citizenship, consumption, gender, and labor organizing during the Cold War. Just Between Office Girls branded clerical work as a safe, middle-class option for young, white women seeking income for consumption while waiting to marry. As they became interpellated into racial capitalism, white women were simultaneously subjugated according to gender and agents of white supremacy. By accepting their dictated role as white female consumer/workers, they may have perpetuated the exclusion of women of color from the workplace. Framing clerical work as safe and middle-class allowed writers to trumpet the progress of (white) women, encourage them to pursue appropriate feminine interests (fashion and beauty) while protecting the office as a sphere for masculine risk and innovation, key Cold War battles. Paradoxically, then, the pamphlets served to make women at home in the office.

Just Between Office Girls represents one of a number of bi-monthly publications that circulated to offices across the country. Published by the Bureau of Business Practice, a renaming of the National Foreman’s Institute, this publishing company produced training manuals for industrial supervision before expanding its offerings to clerical work (“Finding Aid”). Throughout its long history, the Bureau of Business Practice’s clerical publications included the Better Secretaries series and Just Between Office Girls. The publication archive, held at the University of Maryland’s Special Collections, does not include circulation or print-run data. Nonetheless, the collection’s holdings illustrate the shifting nature of clerical work. For instance, Just Between Office Girls, which ended its print run in 1973, became the Office Guide for Working Women, a similar pamphlet, published from 1973 through 1976. The Office Guide for Working Women morphed into the Office Guide in 1976 and was published until around 1994. The Creative Secretary’s Letter began publication in 1992 and lasted at least until 1999. The names of these guides provide one clue as to the changing nature and perceptions of the clerical workforce, but also identify an industry-leader in clerical publications and a meaningful source for rhetorical analysis. As the pamphlets have not been digitized, I spent six days in special collections sifting through print copies. I comprehensively looked through each file in the Bureau of Business Practice archive containing clerical work pamphlets from 1958 to 1999, assuming that examining the whole run would better allow me to see patterns and changes over time in structure, tone, and general rhetorical strategies. As I skimmed, I took notes and photographs of articles that particularly described the duties of clerical work and outlined discipline for failing to perform them effectively. I then combed over my photographs and identified themes in how the pamphlets portrayed workers’ lifestyles, their work, and the office itself. I eventually consolidated my themes into the three primary strategies laid out here.

From here, I next explore the changing landscape of work during the early Cold War and its attendant geopolitical pressures. I then analyze the publications. I identify three themes that I take in turn: constituting a collective identity, framing work as care, and embodying femininity. The conclusion explores the implications for discourses of work and labor organizing.

Working Women and Washing Machines

Dominant cultural discourses socialize workers alongside training manuals. And these discourses have long associated clerical work with women. Even though what “women’s work” means has changed throughout history, that clerical work is women’s work was a stable and enduring idea throughout the twentieth century (England and Boyer 307). As organizations grew more complex after the Civil War, the need for clerical workers exploded (England and Boyer 311). Being able to pay women workers less was a bonus. The opening of educational opportunities to women ensured that the feminization of this work was largely completed by 1930 (Davies 5, 51). Compared to other women joining the waged labor force at the turn of the twentieth century, clerical workers were more likely to be white and native-born (England and Boyer 312; Davies 74), a demographic reality that fed the perception of clerical work as a suitable occupation before marriage. In fact, many argued that clerical work was effective training for a woman’s duties as a wife and mother (Davies 81; England and Boyer 313). As a result, clerical work’s link to respectable femininity solidified. Of course, the respectability of this labor also racialized it as white.

While Rosie the Riveter emerged as the archetype of women at work during World War II, clerical work could also be a patriotic calling. Public service posters encouraged women to be stenographers and file clerks in supporting the war effort (England and Boyer 318). Women workers were nothing new, and in fact 75 percent of women workers had labored for wages before the war began (Kessler-Harris, Out to Work 276). WWII merely continued the trajectory of women entering the workforce. Of course, as women flooded into factories and offices, their acceptance as war workers depended upon the absence of men. Wartime did not undermine the idea of separate spheres for women’s and men’s work. Instead, men’s work and women’s traits momentarily aligned. Donning their overalls and tying up their hair in scarves, women poured into factories, being told that if they could bake cakes, they could load shells into bombers. By revaluing the alleged delicacy of the female body, wartime industry put their nimble fingers to work (Jack 290-1). Wartime propaganda almost exclusively targeted white women. When Black women were encouraged to serve the war effort, it was in laundry, cafeterias, and as domestic workers. Even during the war, then, Black women “were supposed to form a behind-the-scenes cadre of support workers for gainfully employed white wives” (Jones 237). This rhetorical maneuvering on the part of wartime employers, however, combined with the lack of attention to women’s issues on the part of newly powerful labor unions, allowed notions of the female worker/citizen to be easily eclipsed after the war. 

The idea that women willingly left wartime positions to return home is an oversimplification of a variety of historical forces, including union opposition to female work along with compelling economic need to stay in the workforce. The number of American women in the paid labor force did drop by about 2 million from 1944 to 1946, but it never again sank to prewar levels (Foner 395). While some women voluntarily left wartime positions, quit rates were highest in the lowest-paid jobs. Women were more frequently laid off or forced out of jobs where they had made the biggest gains—heavy industry (Kessler-Harris, Out to Work 286-7). The war did not change the traditional division of labor by race, and tactics used to force white women out of the workforce were levied even harder against Black women (Jones 253-6). Moreover, public sentiment did not support women staying in the workplace, and less than one-third of women interviewed thought their sex should be treated equally with men when applying for jobs (Kessler-Harris, Out to Work 298-9).  

Despite this, the 1950s saw more women entering the workforce and more of them opting to work full time. This was in part due to the changing social landscape. Americans married younger, stayed together longer, and had more children than their European counterparts (May 3). As new, white families flooded into the suburbs, consumer aspirations climbed in the form of appliances, cars, and even saving for children’s college. Keeping up with the Joneses required many women to work, and women were almost thirty percent of the labor force in 1950 and 35 percent of it by 1965 (Kessler-Harris, Out to Work 301). Paradoxically, in this landscape, employment for married women was discouraged, but female consumption was hailed. As a result, as historian Elaine Tyler May writes, “It was unfortunate if a wife had to hold a job, on the other hand, it was considered far worse if the family was unable to purchase what were believed to be necessities for the home” (159). Women, then, went to work so that they could fulfill their role as consumers. The incessant promotion of capitalism undergirded what historian Lizabeth Cohen calls a “consumers’ republic,” “an economy, culture, and politics built around the promises of mass consumption” (7). Thus, if women had to work, clerical work was attractive as an accepted female role despite far lower salaries than in wartime heavy industry (England and Boyer 322). By 1960s, one-third of all wage-earning women worked in the clerical field (Kessler-Harris, Out to Work 303). Race imbricated gender in work opportunity, of course. Black women had always been seen as working bodies, so there was no ambivalence greeting their workforce participation. If white women moved into clerical fields, in the 1950s and 1960s, Black women worked in institutional or household service. In fact, by 1950, sixty percent of Black working women were in service roles such as cleaning (Jones 234-5). It would take the slow implementation and enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for Black women to start moving into clerical fields (Jones 301-2). 

Despite the move into what could be considered more socially sanctioned roles, backlash accompanied white women into the office. Ferdinand Lundberg and Marynia F. Farnham published Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, in response to their concerns about the postwar labor market and shifting gender norms. Working outside of the home, they insisted, was a call from “masculine strivings” (235). Indeed, “the more importance outside work assumes, the more are the masculine components of women’s nature enhanced and encouraged” (235). Framing femininity as a moral and familial obligation, Lundberg and Farnham’s arguments, while not universally supported, circulated broadly through the public sphere, earning refutation in Betty Friedan’s 1963 Feminine Mystique

Anxieties about women at work were significant not only to trade unions and lonely husbands, though. Gender was a weapon in the Cold War, and by the early 1950s, the United States had slipped seamlessly into battle with the Soviet Union. Propaganda extolled the American housewife in opposition to the Soviet working woman. Capitalism was all the more desirable because it gave white women time and commodities to pursue fulfillment as mothers and wives. Communism allegedly erased femininity, enslaving men and women equally to the Soviet state. Foreign correspondents proposed answers to the question “Why Russian Women Work like Men,” and described Russian women as “stolid” and “dowdy,” laboring as engineers, construction workers, and bus drivers because there were not enough Russian men to fill these jobs (Samuels 22). 

The Cold War struggle over the role of women even reached the highest levels. When then-vice president Richard Nixon traveled to Moscow in 1959 to visit the American National Exhibition, he touted not American technologies of war, but American technologies of domesticity. In “the Kitchen Debate,” Nixon emphasized how capitalism enabled the United States to ease American housewives’ burdens. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev snapped in reply, “We do not have the capitalist attitude toward women” (qtd. in May 21). Consumer choices, most often exercised by white women keeping house, became proxy for political freedoms championed by the American government. Without access to the booming suburbs and new shopping centers, however, Black Americans’ consumer choices were severely curtailed (Cohen 406-8).

The Cold War had a mixed impact on Black women. Anti-communism decimated the most progressive labor unions, including ones that had the best records on gender and racial equality (Jones 264). At the same time, racial prejudice and segregation in the Jim Crow South was a weak point in U.S. Cold War posturing, given that the Soviet Union was seen as a place of racial equality. As historian Mary Dudziak shows, the need to appear to be making progress on civil rights opened limited avenues for Black integration in the United States. Transnationally, the United States expanded its military presence across Asia in the name of promoting democracy and preventing communism’s spread. As Denise Cruz, Grace M. Cho, and Lisa Yoneyama explain, these imperialist projects had direct impacts on women of color across the globe. Thus, the centering of white femininity in Just Between Office Girls supported U.S. aims for global security and racial capitalism. While JBOG primarily centered the U.S.-Soviet conflict and a binary view of race, these ideas had broad, transnational resonance. 

In sum, then, the combination of exhortations to consume coexisted with praise for traditional gender roles. Economic pressure, however, sent women to work or provided strong incentive for them to remain in the workforce after the war. Thus, deep, gendered ambivalence greeted white women workers in the 1940s and 1950s alongside racialized discrimination that left Black women with scant employment opportunities. How did these gendered and racialized pressures frame the discussion of work itself? The next section begins an analysis of the Bureau of Business Practice pamphlets. 

Office Girls Unite: Constituting Collective Identities

Who was the “office girl”? Just Between Office Girls constituted her as young, white, unmarried, and defined in relation to the men around her. The pamphlets, then, used constitutive rhetoric to co-construct gender, race, and work. In Maurice Charland’s original iteration of the theory, constitutive rhetoric is the tool by which audiences come into being. Constitutive rhetoric paradoxically creates an audience and endows it with certain characteristics while simultaneously assuming such an audience already exists to be addressed (Charland 137). JBOG drew working women into this collectivity by homogenizing their identities while at the same time offering them entry to the Cold War consumers’ republic. 

Primarily, the pamphlets address working women as “girls,” as emphasized in the series title. Moreover, the address “office girls” identifies the audience with their work. It literally places them in their workplace. This address suffuses the pamphlets. Rarely are workers referred to as “women” or even “young women.” This rhetorical choice built the pamphlets’ overall chatty tone. More importantly, though, it sidestepped the controversial question surrounding whether married women should work. In referring to the audience as “girls,” the implication was that clerical workers were young women working until marriage compelled them to stop. As we have seen, society sanctioned unmarried women workers far more than married women or mothers in the workforce, especially in the 1950s. The term also had racial implications, emphasizing the whiteness of the intended audience. While white women may have seen the address as an attempt to build a casual community of young workers, for Black women, the term may have echoed language from the centuries of chattel slavery which indicated that Black women did not deserve being called “miss” and were too servile to be adult (Green).

The pamphlets also created this young audience of pre-marriage women and thus, acceptable workers, by crafting a chatty tone. The title constitutes the authors as members of the workers’ peer group, but perhaps with more experience. “Just between office girls” implied co-workers swapping tips among themselves. Moreover, most articles were written informally in the second person, addressed to “you.” “In a quandary about your fall and winter wardrobe?” asked a 1958 article. “Are you wondering whether you can buy anything without having it go out of style ten minutes after you walk out of the store? We don’t blame you” (“Let Sanity Follow Sack”). Such a tone built familiarity and good will between the reader and writer and presented the tips as an older sister looking out for her younger sister’s well-being. Likewise, advice about on time arrivals and general respect for others indicated that the writers believed that most of the women in their audience were beginning their first office jobs. A reliance on anecdotes, most obviously made up, also supported the chatty tone, as did the perpetuation of archetypes as discipline to office etiquette. Issues from the 1950s, for instance, included boxes entitled “I’m the gal” and then provided some “what not to dos.” “I’m the gal who really gets around,” proclaimed one example. “My phone rings all day long, and everyone in the office knows they’re calls for dates…And every morning I let ‘em all know what a big time I had the night before.” Not only did this perpetuate middle-class standards of sexual propriety; it also created a separate work sphere to which women had to be socialized to not let their personal lives interfere.

Other cues in the stories supported the idea that this group of women was composed of pre-marriage workers. One article entitled “Memo: from the Boss” explicitly described Anne, who was leaving her job to be married. In the short story, her boss gave her a memo thanking her for her hard work and diligence throughout the years. “It was, she tells us, the best farewell present he could have given her.” Sanctioning the behavior of leaving work to be married, the story also undermined Anne’s identity as a professional by suggesting that appreciation was effective compensation for years of hard work. 

Another characteristic of the working girl, as per JBOG, was her role as a consumer. Again, because she was largely figured as young and unmarried, she was presumed to have at least modest income to spend. “We’re being wooed!” declared the August 10, 1959, issue. “Downtown stores no longer assume that women customers are necessarily full-time housekeepers. They know that many of them toil in nearby offices and factories, accounting for a great deal of shopping during lunch hours and after work. Accordingly, competition for the Office Girl dollar is brisk!” (“We’re Being Wooed”). JBOG was one avenue for women to learn about places to spend or invest their hard-earned dollars. Articles highlighted beauty and diet trends, recommended books on self-improvement, and provided decorating tips. While JBOG did not feature conventional advertisements, pamphlets did occasionally highlight new products. “If your [legs] are in need of a shape-up, here’s a new fun way to exercise them. Wear Scholl Exercise Sandals. All you have to do is start walking. They do all the work,” a 1969 article explained. It then detailed how these new sandals worked the legs and could be personalized (“A Sandal that Works While you Play”). JBOG assumed working women were naturally interested in fashion and beauty products. The admonishments to consume beauty products sometimes explicitly appeared amidst Cold War geopolitics. A 1960 article entitled “What, no Borsch Bath?” extolled “Thank heavens for the corner drugstore! Without it, we might have to fall back on the beauty treatments suggested by a commentator on a Moscow home hour radio broadcast. He advised listeners to banish dry hair by dousing it with sour milk, to banish greasy skin by slapping on a mixture of grated cucumber and vodka.” Articles like this subtly nudged single women to consume not just as part of their office duties, but also their duties as American citizens. The “corner drugstore” was a celebration of the choice of consumer products available to women in the capitalist United States. But this identity as consumer also racialized the office girl as white by assuming access to a bevy of products and childlessness as she consumed to fulfill her own desires. 

It was not until the mid 1960s that married women appeared as office girls. A March 15, 1965, article entitled “Memo from a Working Wife,” started the shift to seeing “married working girls” as a staple of offices. In fact, as the article pointed out, over half of the female labor force was married. The article provided advice for balancing the responsibilities of housekeeping, childcare, and waged labor. Expecting male resistance was one of the article’s points. “Men in general still feel woman’s place is in the home. We’ve got to accept this, and not be angered by their frequent failure to take our ‘careers’ seriously. Be glad they let us work.” Articles like this naturalized male resistance and trivialized women’s career aspirations with quotation marks. As the 1960s progressed, more articles appeared with tips about balancing child (and husband) care with a full-time job, but they were relatively rare, indicating a continued constitution of clerical workers as young and unmarried, an image that stabilized feminine identity while celebrating consumerism.  

JBOG also assumed that its audience was white, an assumption largely borne out by demographic data. Because clerical workers were often the faces of organizations, deep-seated racism prevented women of color from being hired until after the Civil Rights Act, and they did not approach parity with white women in offices until the 1970s (England and Boyer 326; Jones 302). Race or diversity are not mentioned until 1970, when an article entitled “Foot-in-Mouth Disease” appeared with the goal of helping working women be more tactful when “communicating with Negroes.” Diversity took backseat to efficiency and pleasantness when training office workers. Only when being able to communicate across diversity became an important office skill did it warrant inclusion. Of course, assuming office workers would need training in communicating this way also shores up the idea that these women were imagined white. Constituting a white audience allowed JBOG to bypass uncomfortable issues of workplace discrimination while using labor as an avenue for consumerism. Houses in the suburbs and consumption of goods were largely not open to Black Americans, and in the early 1950s, far more Black women were working as domestic servants than in offices. Comfortable, consuming, and glamorous women were far more effective in fighting the Cold War than meaningful conversations about race relations (see Dudziak).   

All in all, JBOG encouraged women to be proud of their collective identity as clerical workers and as women. Pamphlets frequently celebrated women’s accomplishments and encouraged working women to be proud of the general progress that their sex had made, admonishments that would have been far more credible for a white audience. The December 10, 1958, issue crowed, “How times have changed! Forty years ago, American women were not allowed to vote…If you don’t think women have come a long way, just take a look at a few facts for 1958. Women now have the say-so in spending 80% of all the family income. They are the beneficiaries of 80% of all trust funds. They own 70% of all the voting stock in corporations” (“It’s a Woman’s World”). While this focus on the economic reinforced women’s roles as consumers, the tone made clear that a generic sense of progress was worthy of collective celebration. The communal celebration would have been far more compelling to white women than to Black women, as many Black women could not say in 1958 that they could easily cast ballots. 

Taken together, the construction of the working woman in these pamphlets was overwhelmingly white, single, young, and inexperienced. As Michelle Smith notes, work-related rhetoric often seeks continuity—to make work not contradict femininity or marriage (187). So, too, did JBOG stabilize a female identity that made work continuous with feminine consumption patterns and with the general narrative of white, female domesticity that the United States used as a weapon in the Cold War. These workers were laboring until marriage and taking pleasure in the consumer goods U.S. capitalism made available to them. 

“The Care and Feeding of Bosses”: Performing Clerical Duties

So, what was a working woman to do? Being an effective secretary entailed building a host of skills. JBOG framed many of these as care work and emotional labor—the kinds of work that women were assumed to want to do naturally. Much as educational leaders regendered nineteenth-century schools into places for female teachers to nurture students instead of for male disciplinarians to mete out punishment (Enoch 52), so too did JBOG domesticate the work clerical workers did. Yet, pamphlets encouraged clerical workers to do invisible and uncompensated labor and did not recommend that they seek appropriate payment for it.

JBOG shared tips for typing, filing, writing business correspondence, and phone etiquette. Each issue had grammar challenges and vocabulary building quizzes to sharpen these skills. Yet, far more column ink was dedicated to interpersonal issues in the office. Indeed, dealing with the boss was one area where clerical workers needed to marshal their caring energies. In encouraging office workers to approach the boss with a gentle hand, they actively curried favor toward him (and it was always a him). Articles asked office workers to recognize that “You two have so much in common, you and the old so-and-so.” This 1958 cover article told a story of a secretary getting scolded for misspelling a word and feeling “hurt, anger, and self-pity” while the boss retreated to his office feeling badly for speaking so harshly (“You and the Old So-and-So”). Bosses appeared as sensitive and needing care from clerical workers. One short 1959 article entitled “Care and Feeding of Bosses Department,” provided tips that included not bringing up problems at the very beginning or end of the workday and attempting to solve problems before taking them to the boss. Thus, even in their most creative and valuable roles, clerical workers, as per this framing, performed care work. Women catered to the needs of male authority figures. 

Yet, this care work was professionalized in an extreme fashion. No office worker could ever perfect her role because the job entailed giving one’s all and going above and beyond. Part of this gendered advice included trying to anticipate the boss’s every need. The way JBOG talked about this element of clerical work sounded like housework. “Do some little extra jobs, and you’ll be extra valuable,” a March 15, 1964, article advised. It recommended airing out the boss’s office, dusting, straightening his desk, sharpening his pencils, and checking to see if his plants needed watering. “To do all this, you should beat your boss to work—which he’ll also appreciate” (“An Extra Touch”). Once again, appreciation was the compensation for extra labor, undoubtedly not spelled out in any official job description. JBOG assumed that working women would naturally find joy in doing this care work and see the boss’s appreciation as compensation enough. 

Caring could be taken too far if it slipped into flirting. As one reader wrote to the “What Would You Do?” column answering a letter about attracting “office wolves,” “From the cradle, the female is taught how to attract the male. In the office, this urge must be formed into a congenial and helpful attitude of service.” The reader then went on to encourage the advice seeker to make sure clothes were “well fitting but not too tight or short” and to avoid “‘flirty’ eyes or ‘suggestive’ inflections in voice.” Here, then, allegedly natural feminine tendencies toward flirting were channeled into gendered care work in the office and strictly disciplined before they became sexual. Fulfilling the office wife stereotype required creating an atmosphere of support and help. Thus, femininity had to be tamed to effectively dwell in the office. While sexual harassment of clerical workers was a significant problem and one that prompted some of the earliest organization attempts (Segrave), Black and white women would have experienced the disciplining of their sexuality in very different ways given the hypersexualization of Black women (Collins).

The duties of a clerical worker also required emotional labor that was deeply gendered. For instance, JBOG identified them as responsible for the overall emotional tone of the office. In the June 10, 1959, issue, readers met Sally who often felt like “an unappreciated slave.” Yet, the article admonished that “She isn’t aware of what her buoyant ‘good morning’ does to others, and how her warm smile gives a lift to even the biggest sourpuss.” “She’s Controller of the Office Atmosphere,” the article concluded, in capital letters. Another article, “The Great Stone Face,” admonished women to smile. “Too bad she doesn’t realize what a smile could mean to those around her…and to her own well-being. There’s nothing that takes so little effort, and pays off so well.” Thus, working women needed to perform gendered care work to lift the spirits of the office, regardless of their internal feelings. 

Emotional labor also became an area for discipline. When women acted too much like the boss, they undermined the emotional tone the office needed. While stories often extolled women’s value to their bosses and to the office, they were also continually reminded that they were not the boss and that their power was limited. Pamphlets emphasized that humility and feminine sweetness were office girls’ most valuable skills. One story, in the August 10, 1958, issue told the story of Gwen, who worked for Mr. Howard. When a print job came back messy Mr. Howard told her to handle it. After storming over to the print office and demanding a re-do, Gwen got her comeuppance. “Listen, kid,” the printer said, “even if I had goofed completely—that’s no way to tell me. You may work for Howard, but you’re not Howard. So don’t go around giving orders like a big shot. You’ll just make people mad, and what’s the point when you can get things done faster by being your own sweet self?” he asked. Gwen smiled through her tears and admitted that the printer was right. The story was aptly named “Embarrassment: It’s the price we pay for some lessons.”

Another facet of emotional labor that the working woman was to master was charm and sophistication. She was, as JBOG made clear, expected to be charming and sophisticated, but not too sophisticated, which might threaten the men. The general charm of the office girl required knowledge of current events. A December 15, 1963, article entitled “Are you a Sophisticate?” recommended reading a good newspaper regularly, reading a weekly news magazine, reading at minimum two books a month, looking at the world around one, and listening sharply for new ideas. “You’ll become a person others want to know better,” it emphasized. Working women were also expected to be “in the know” about the companies for which they worked, including what product or service was their biggest seller and the names of top officers. Thus, effectively performing charm and sophistication required resource expenditure to subscribe to newspapers and magazines and time outside of work to read them. Intangible and ephemeral factors like charm, however, could also provide an excuse for racial discrimination (Jones 304). 

The emotional labor of office work did not just involve caring for men and doing continual domestic work. It also required controlling one’s attitude toward the job, which could be monotonous. In a 1961 front-page article, JBOG introduced Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the husband-and-wife theater team. When asked “if they didn’t get bored during their long-run plays,” they instead said that they were never quite satisfied and continually tried to improve. “Monotony, then, has no place in their scheme of things. They say the same lines, move about the stage pretty much as they did the night before. But they don’t see a dreary sameness to their job” (“Another Day”). The implication was clear: working women were to see their jobs as opportunities for perfection. The analogical reasoning—comparing clerical work to acting—emphasized that performance was a duty. Many other articles admonished women not to be in too much of a rush to advance their careers. “Prove that you can do your present job as well as it can possibly be done, blindfolded and with one hand tied behind you. With efficiency, energy, and a pleasant attitude,” advised one article (“Good Luck–It’s a Giant Step”). Thus, rather than encourage capable women to push their boundaries, JBOG counseled patience, complacency, and a positive attitude. 

The power of a positive attitude was a common theme, encouraging women to wholeheartedly throw themselves into their work. “The Five O’clock Girls” were a foil for discipline and emphasized the importance of going above and beyond. “They’re the girls who leave at the stroke of five—and until then stay busy looking for an excuse not to work” (“The “Five O’clock Girls”). “So many girls try to do the minimum amount of work necessary to keep a job. They seem to set a goal that says ‘This is the amount of work I’m doing for the amount of money I’m getting paid.’ And they don’t do an iota more. In fact, sometimes it seems they spend more time and energy planning how to get out of work…than would have been necessary to have actually done the job,” bemoaned a January 1968 issue (“‘Don’t Work Too Hard…’”). A 1968 column advised women to look for the possibilities in their current job. “You probably don’t hate your job, but you may have lost interest. If this is your problem, why not do something about it?” It then advised perfecting the tasks, diving into the affairs of the firm, and even being nicer to co-workers so more stimulating interactions would occur at the office (“Bored?”). Thus, JBOG made clear that being a clerical worker required initiative and hard work. It required a drive to perfect small tasks without seeing them as monotonous. But such articles also fed the idea that work was for women without kids and family obligations because they should be staying late and coming in early. Indeed, the chatty tone hid the fact this advice asked women to do extra work for which they were likely not compensated. 

There was a fine line between taking initiative and aggression, as a November 1970 issue noted. Comparing clerical work to being pushy at a dance, the article concluded, “Guess which girl is going to get ahead faster. The girl who knows the difference between being enterprising and being aggressive, naturally” (“Initiative vs. Aggression”). Once again using argument by analogy, JBOG situated the duties of office work well within a feminine realm of experience. Thus, as always, feminine traits were to be on display in the office. Anticipating the needs of the boss and going above and beyond one’s stated job duties still required a light, feminine touch.

In sum, then, the duties of the clerical worker were clearly spelled out in JBOG. She was to master filing, typing, have a pleasant phone voice, and generally perform care work in the office. One of her main duties was exhausting emotional labor: she was to keep the office mood upbeat and overcome her own boredom. The office guides also emphasized the need to take initiative, anticipate needs, and always perfect one’s work. This counsel disciplined clerical workers to accept their roles without pushing for raises and promotions and to know their place as valuable, but circumscribed, employees. In its description of the duties, JBOG gendered clerical work as deeply feminine, often through analogical reasoning. It assumed that care and domestic work would be naturally appealing to women who would do it with a sense of pride instead of a desire for compensation. The next section considers embodiment in clerical work.

What Not to Wear to Work: Femininity and Fashion

The office pamphlets were unequivocal on the role of fashion in the office. Utilizing what Risa Applegarth calls “embodied epideictic,” the manuals codified the labor of femininity as another uncompensated component of clerical work. Embodied epideictic refers to “textual depictions of embodied behavior that invite or articulate an attitude of praise or blame” (Applegarth 130).  So often did JBOG provide diet advice, fashion tips, and beauty tutorials that these became parts of the job. It is also clear that JBOG operated from a racialized standard of beauty, prizing thinness, modest yet fashionable dress, and “natural” makeup.

JBOG framed a neat and pleasant office wardrobe as both an obligation and a transaction. It was something the office girl owed to her boss. “Your boss supplies you with a typewriter, files, and office machines. But there’s one important piece of office equipment he expects you to supply in return—an efficient, well-balanced office wardrobe,” noted one 1964 column, framing the wardrobe as an exchange between the boss and clerical worker (“It’s Your Money: Dress for the Job”). Clothes were equipment for doing the job effectively—as important as typewriters, this analogy averred. Indeed, JBOG often relied on comparisons to make feminine habits seem like common-sense parts of the job.

Despite the fact that wardrobing was an essential facet of the job, JBOG emphasized that an office wardrobe need not be expensive. As a result, JBOG accepted the low pay of clerical work and instead of encouraging women to ask for raises, it taught them to economize and bargain hunt. Even stories that emphasized the significance of fashion and being well dressed took pains to note that fashion sense was more a matter of taste than money. “Far more credit is due the woman who, with a limited clothes allowance, always creates the impression that she is well-dressed. Her appearance speaks for her own good taste, her own knowledge of value, and her own sense of what to wear and when to wear it,” proclaimed a cover article on the October 10, 1958, issue (“On Being Well-Dressed”). This reminded women that being well-dressed was a duty, insinuated taste to be an innate feminine characteristic, and prevented women from complaining that their meager salaries inhibited their ability to be fashionable. A 1960 article featuring Sally, “the perfect office girl,” described her as someone who “doesn’t spend much on clothes, but she’s always neat and dresses in good taste. The gentleness and kindness that shine from her eyes give her a beauty that’s rare these days” (“The Perfect Office Girl”). Other articles advised women to buy a few expensive basics and then provided details on what could be picked up at “bargain basements” without looking too cheap (“It’s Your Money: Dress for the Job”). Fashion sense even became proxy for striving and effectiveness. One 1960 article advised “the girls who wear mid or high heels are usually the ones who want to improve and do a little better job each day. The girls who wear flats are usually the ones who don’t care—about their job or their appearance” (“Get off the Ground”). The epideictic messages were clear—neat, fashionable women deserved praise. 

JBOG also served up fashionable blame. It was rife with stories of working women who had been fired for appearing sloppy at work. One article from 1960 told of a worker who was a whiz at filing and efficient at work but was soon let go by her firm. The boss explained, “when she came for her interview, she was wearing a simple office dress. That was the first and last time I saw her look like a lady. From her first day on the job to the day I fired her, she wore sloppy sweaters and skirts and loafers, or shirts and skirts—not always clean—and a couple of times she came in wearing socks.” This boss noted that the secretaries in his office were “on display for clients and other visitors” (“Hired…and fired”). Articles like these echoed the idea that there was something ephemeral about a perfect clerical worker, and if sloppy dress could get one dismissed from a job, a snappy wardrobe became a duty like filing and typing. In fact, in this case, it was more important than being good at clerical tasks. The wardrobe also had to be appropriately feminine because, as the boss in this story emphasized, he needed the working woman to “look like a lady.” Thus, appropriately embodied clerical work behaviors were innately feminine. 

Illustrations in JBOG supported these themes. The “I’m the gal…” boxes from the 1950s included images of women putting on makeup at their desk or appearing sloppy, with socks falling down their legs or wrinkled skirts. While most articles did not include pictures, each pamphlet had at least one cartoon. When shown in their daily duties in these cartoons, secretaries wore blouses, knee-length pencil skirts, and heels. They always had white skin and fashionable, bobbed or curled hair. When cartoons poked fun at secretaries and presented them as clearly unqualified, dress often paralleled cartoon text. Unqualified secretaries showed up in cartoons at personnel desks in low-cut dresses and flashy jackets, as in an October 30, 1962, issue.

Alongside the idea that taste was an innate feminine trait came hints that pursuing appropriate office fashion and femininity was, in fact, work. It required self-reflection and analysis. For instance, one article advised women to “Be yourself. But don’t be ridiculous.” Not being ridiculous, it seems, required that office women “analyze your own face and body type. Then look the new styles over and choose those that do the most for you.” “You’re not Jackie Kennedy [or] Liz Taylor,” this 1963 article admonished (“Two’s a Crowd”). The office guides emphasized that being a good secretary was not just about innate beauty “No woman is looking as well as she could unless she’s well groomed,” an article called “Are you Making the Most of What You’ve Got?” explained. One 1966 article entitled “Plain Jane—or Lazy Jane,” noted that “We owe it to ourselves and to those around us to develop whatever attributes we have, and to make the most of them.” In short, consciously or not, the office guides encouraged women to do uncompensated labor in striving to be on trend with fashion and beauty but still office appropriate. And in hinting that these behaviors were labor, JBOG made them an area for discipline and possible dismissal. 

JBOG also took an epideictic approach to specific trends. The popularity of miniskirts in the 1960s prompted many columns warning women away from the style and urging them to select more timeless fashions instead (“Short Skirts Present Tall Problems”). A 1966 issue even told of working women in New York City who refused to sit down on the subway because their skirts were so short, they invited unwanted leers (“Skirting the Issue”). The pantsuit appeared in 1964, wherein it was roundly dismissed as “belong[ing] in the country—miles away from an office” (“Paris in the Office”). By 1970, many personnel directors had given their clerical workers permission to wear them as long as they took the same care they did with dresses (“The Midi”). “Before you decide the pantsuit is for you take a good look in a full-length mirror. Be sure you have the shape to wear pants to the office,” recommended another article (“More on Pantsuits”). Thus, as trends evolved, the message of JBOG stayed the same: the working woman must assess her strengths and select a feminine outfit that accentuated them appropriately. She must always embody tasteful femininity. 

As a side effect of the focus on femininity, JBOG naturalized difference between men and women. Articles continually reminded women that they were not men and suffered from many weaknesses. The January 10, 1960, issue told women that they were absent from work twice as often as men. After listing the various causes, the article then detailed how to beat the most common culprits. Feminine gossiping was often cause for discipline as a number of articles reminded women to use caution when disclosing information. A 1962 article entitled “What Men Expect,” noted that “women, more than men, permit clashing temperaments and personalities to create unpleasant situations completely out of proportion to reality; situations which demand solutions from some poor, bedeviled male boss. Women also have an ugly habit of worming confidences out of one another and then spreading malicious gossip.” The January 25, 1960, issue, for instance, noted “The wise girl keeps her mouth shut about other people’s business” (“What Not to Say”). The implication was that women always loved to talk and gossip. Thus, along with requiring embodied femininity through fashion and grooming, JBOG emphasized differences between men and women, which reified the idea that clerical work must be done by women.   

In sum, effective office work required a performance of embodied femininity through fashion and beauty habits that were deeply racialized. The implications were severe. Women were expected to spend resources and time performing this work outside of normal compensation structures. And for Black women, already earning the lowest wages, the work would have been both more extensive and more expensive as they fashioned their bodies to meet white, middle-class standards. Something else lurked in this embodied rhetoric, though. As historian Kathleen Barry shows in her study of flight attendants, throughout much of the twentieth-century, flight attendants were expected to perform a sexual availability based in glamour. Yet, in performing these duties in a seemingly natural fashion, women effectively undermined their claims to be actual workers with the right to organize for higher wages and better working conditions (121). In doing their jobs, they were performing gender, not labor. So, too, with clerical workers as the role was naturalized as female. The concluding section identifies other implications for this work-related rhetoric.

The Cold War Comes Home: Conclusions

This essay has examined socialization discourses geared toward clerical workers in the United States from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. The pamphlets analyzed here sidestepped controversy over working women by hailing a primarily unmarried, white, and always female work force. They also framed clerical work as a work of care, catering to mercurial and sensitive bosses and made performing racialized femininity a key component of the job as they extolled uncompensated labor in the form of wardrobing and beauty rituals. In sum, this essay pushes past rhetoric’s traditional focus on the rhetoric of labor organizing to explore how labor itself gets gendered.

Accordingly, this essay identifies the significance of how the public talks about labor to understanding how work is valued and compensated. Historically, work deemed to be “women’s work” has been degraded and underpaid (Cohen and Huffman 443). And, without a doubt, JBOG constituted clerical work as (white) women’s work and made gendered traits and behaviors endemic to effectively doing the job. Moreover, the pamphlets defined beauty routines and fashion consumption as obligations for clerical workers. Ambiguous, gender-based work is often not seen as work at all and never compensated (Wichroski 34). In casting a certain charm and look as part of the job, the pamphlets also provided cover for discrimination as largely white personnel managers sought people who met their standards of appropriate attractiveness, disadvantaging qualified Black women seeking to move into clerical work from service fields (Jones 305). Only the 1964 Civil Rights Act would begin to change this. In short, JBOG obfuscated what actually counted as work and made clear that doing uncompensated labor was required. Doing so protected visions of clerical work as a white, middle-class occupation and perhaps made women unlikely to see themselves as workers with a potential buy-in for labor organizing. 

Likewise, though they encouraged bargain hunting, these pamphlets made clear that consumption was a part of the job as well. As a result, women’s identities as consumers seemed to overshadow their identities as workers even as they further racialized the job as white. Such a way of framing clerical work corresponded with Cold War discursive needs to praise female consumption and downplay work. As a result, here work and gender intertwined in the context of geopolitical struggle. Encouraging women to follow the dictates of the pamphlets not only served bosses seeking cheap productivity but also a government waging a propaganda war with the Soviet Union, where women worked in factories and at stereotypically male jobs given the lack of Russian men available to do these jobs. 

JBOG served capitalist aims on another level, too. Despite the fact that the pamphlets cultivated a chatty relationship between the authors and readers, JBOG did little to build relationships among clerical workers themselves. While it counseled mutual respect, warned about gossip, and encouraged clerical workers to welcome newcomers, it never provided collective solutions to office problems. Instead, individual striving, prepared and careful conversations with the boss, and going above and beyond were the keys to success. In its individualism, it rhetorically confirmed the arguments of major unions that women were uninterested in and too hard to organize (Feldberg 151). Of course, low pay and the fact that many were in the workforce temporarily did make women hard to unionize. Moreover, clerical workers were geographically separated in different offices, an extra challenge, especially as the need for large typing and filing pools waned (Feldberg 158; Ladd-Taylor 467). Large unions like the AFL-CIO did not bang down doors to organize clerical workers and often demurred when women asked them to send in organizers. This was partially because men benefited from gendered divisions of labor as jobs coded masculine garnered higher wages and more respect (Cobble, “A Spontaneous” 39; Kessler-Harris, “Where Are” 97). Rhetorically, then, JBOG encouraged women to find power in femininity and patience, not in sisterhood or organization. Moreover, in making white women agents of racial capitalism, JBOG also perpetuated the exclusion of women of color from the office. 

Despite these messages, in the mid- to late 1970s, groups seeking unionization of clerical workers sprang up to resist. These women were motivated to increase their wages, but also to demand respect for their profession and to change some of the most outmoded gendered elements (Cobble, “A Spontaneous” 31; Foner 480; Windham 154). They also sought more specific job descriptions to professionalize the work. By the 1980s, groups like 9to5 transformed notions of what bosses could fairly ask clerical workers to do. Clerical work groups in the 1980s could not solve all problems and the gains were mostly won by private, corporate secretaries and not the lower-paid women in typing pools, who were far more likely to be women of color (Cobble, “A Spontaneous” 32). As the 1980s ended, about sixteen percent of clerical workers were unionized, comparable to the U.S. population as a whole, although the overall decline of unionization in the private sector that began in the 1950s continued (Cobble, “A Spontaneous” 33). In line with the professionalization of the field, JBOG softened its gendered language, becoming Office Guide for Working Women in 1973 and just Office Guide by 1976. Yet, even the Office Guide assumed clerical work was a feminine endeavor as the beauty, exercise, and fashion tips remained. The Guide continued to preach moderation, dismissing “militant feminism” in the office as a “big problem” in 1975 (“What Would You Do?”) Yet, it did continue to adapt, shifting away from beauty tips by the 1980s and even recognizing in 1984 that most clerical workers bristled at being called “girl” (“‘My Girl’ Won’t Do”).

As Kyla Schuller explains, rhetorics such as the ones in JBOG continue a long trajectory of seeing femininity as tied to whiteness, rhetoric that justified abusing the labor of women of color (qtd. in Arjini). Of course, the weaponizing of white femininity is not confined to history as can be seen in the wake of protests to support Black lives. On a material level, while some laws now exist to protect equal access to work, women of color are still clustered in the lowest paying jobs in the U.S. workforce. Data unequivocally shows women of color continue to be paid less than white women and white men (Gould, Schieder, and Geier). Clerical work represents just one scene where the rhetorical entwining of femininity and whiteness has lasting consequences.

Works Cited

  1. “A Sandal That Works While You Play.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 17, no. 12, June 1969.
  2. “An Extra Touch.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 12, no. 5, Mar. 1964.
  3. “Another Day.” Just Between Office Girls, June 1961.
  4. Applegarth, Risa. “Bodies of Praise: Epideictic Figures in the Independent Woman.” Women at Work: Rhetorics of Gender and Labor, edited by David Gold and Jessica Enoch, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019, pp. 130–43.
  5. “Are You a Sophisticate?” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 11, no. 23, Dec. 1963.
  6. “Are You Making the Most of What You’ve Got?” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 9, no. 22, Nov. 1961.
  7. Arjini, Nawal. “The Trouble With White Women: An Interview With Kyla Schuller.” The Nation, Nov. 2018.
  8. Barry, Kathleen M. “‘Too Glamorous to Be Considered Workers’: Flight Attendants and Pink-Collar Activism in Mid-Twentieth-Century America.” Labor, vol. 3, no. 3, Sept. 2006, pp. 119–38. doi:10.1215/15476715-2006-008.
  9. “Bored?” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 16, no. 23, Nov. 1968.
  10. “Care and Feeding of Bosses Department.” Just Between Office Girls, Feb. 1959.
  11. Charland, Maurice. “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 73, no. 2, 1987, pp. 133–50. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1080/00335638709383799.
  12. Cho, Grace M. Haunting the Korean Diaspora. University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
  13. Cobble, Dorothy Sue. Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century. University of Illinois Press, 1991.
  14. —. “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s.” International Labor and Working-Class History, vol. 56, Oct. 1999, pp. 23–44. doi:10.1017/S0147547999002823.
  15. Cohen, Lizabeth. A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. Vintage, 2008.
  16. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge, 2005.
  17. Cruz, Denise. Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina. Duke University Press Books, 2012.
  18. Davies, Margery. Woman’s Place Is At The Typewriter. Temple University Press, 1984.
  19. “Don’t Work Too Hard…” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 16, no. 2, Jan. 1968.
  20. Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Revised edition, Princeton University Press, 2011.
  21. “Embarrassment: It’s the Price We Pay for Some Lessons.” Just Between Office Girls, Aug. 1958.
  22. England, Kim, and Kate Boyer. “Women’s Work: The Feminization and Shifting Meanings of Clerical Work.” Journal of Social History, vol. 43, no. 2, 2009, pp. 307–40. doi:10.1353/jsh.0.0284.
  23. Enoch, Jessica. Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work. Southern Illinois University Press, 2019.
  24. “Everybody Likes Sally…But Sally.” Just Between Office Girls, June 1959.
  25. Feldberg, Roslyn L. “‘Union Fever’: Organizing Among Clerical Workers, 1900–1930.” Workers’ Struggles, Past and Present, edited by James Green, Temple University Press, 1983, pp. 151–67. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/j.ctv6mtdnm.13.
  26. Finding Aid: Bureau of Business Practice. 11 June 2007. University of Maryland Libraries/MITH.
  27. Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Revised Edition, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1976.
  28. Foner, Philip S. Women and the American Labor Movement: From the First Trade Unions to the Present. The Free Press, 1982.
  29. “Foot-in-Mouth Disease.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 18, no. 13, July 1970.
  30. Gabin, Nancy Felice. Feminism in the Labor Movement: Women and the United Auto Workers, 1935-1975. Cornell University Press, 1990.
  31. “Get Off the Ground.” Just Between Office Girls, Mar. 1960.
  32. Gold, David, and Jessica Enoch, editors. Women at Work: Rhetorics of Gender and Labor. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.
  33. “Good Luck—It’s a Giant Step.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 10, no. 13, July 1962.
  34. Gould, Elise, et al. “What Is the Gender Pay Gap and Is It Real?Economic Policy Institute. Accessed 8 Jan. 2021.
  35. Green, Nadege. “Black Women On Being Called ‘Girl’ In The Workplace.” WUSF Public Media, 16 May 2017.
  36. Hallenbeck, Sarah, and Michelle Smith. “Mapping Topoi in the Rhetorical Gendering of Work.” Peitho, vol. 17, no. 2, 2015, pp. 200–25.
  37. Henle, Faye. “It’s Your Money: Dress for the Job.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 12, no. 17, Sept. 1964.
  38. “Hired…and Fired.” Just Between Office Girls, Feb. 1960.
  39. “I’m the Gal.” Just Between Office Girls, Dec. 1958.
  40. “Initiative vs. Aggression.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 18, no. 21, Nov. 1970.
  41. “It’s a Woman’s World.” Just Between Office Girls, Dec. 1958.
  42. Jack, Jordynn. “Acts of Institution: Embodying Feminist Rhetorical Methodologies in Space and Time.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 28, no. 3, 2009, pp. 285–303. doi:10.1080/07350190902958909.
  43. Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present. Basic Books, 2009.
  44. Kessler-Harris, Alice. Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. Oxford University Press, 1982.
  45. —. “Where Are the Organized Women Workers?” Feminist Studies, vol. 3, no. 1/2, 1975, pp. 92–110. doi:10.2307/3518958.
  46. Ladd-Taylor, Molly. “Women Workers and the Yale Strike.” Feminist Studies, vol. 11, no. 3, 1985, pp. 465–90. doi:10.2307/3180113.
  47. “Let Sanity Follow Sack.” Just Between Office Girls, Sept. 1958.
  48. Lundberg, Ferdinand, and Marynia Foot Farnham. Modern Woman: The Lost Sex. Harper & Brothers, 1947.
  49. May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. Revised Edition. Basic Books, 2008.
  50. “Memo from a Working Wife.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 13, no. 5, Mar. 1965.
  51. “Memo: From the Boss.” Just Between Office Girls, May 1958.
  52. “More on Pantsuits.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 18, no. 24, Dec. 1970.
  53. “‘My Girl’ Won’t Do.” Office Guide, vol. 32, no. 1, Jan. 1984.
  54. “On Being Well-Dressed.” Just Between Office Girls, Oct. 1958.
  55. “Paris in the Office.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 12, no. 20, Oct. 1964.
  56. Philip N. Cohen, and Matt L. Huffman. “Individuals, Jobs, and Labor Markets: The Devaluation of Women’s Work.” American Sociological Review, vol. 68, no. 3, 2003, pp. 443–63.
  57. “Plain Jane-or Lazy Jane?” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 14, no. 17, Sept. 1966.
  58. “Post-Holiday Doldrums?” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 1966.
  59. Samuels, Gertrude. “Why Russian Women Work like Men.” New York Times Magazine, 2 Nov. 1958.
  60. Segrave, Kerry. The Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace, 1600 to 1993. Reprint Edition, McFarland, 2013.
  61. “Short Skirts Present Tall Problems.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 16, no. 12, June 1968.
  62. “Skirting the Issue.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 14, no. 7, Apr. 1966.
  63. Smith, Michelle. “In Rosie’s Shadow: World War II Recruitment Rhetoric and Women’s Work in Public Memory.” Women at Work: Rhetorics of Gender and Labor, edited by David Gold and Jessica Enoch, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019, pp. 186–208.
  64. “The Five O’clock Girls.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 12, no. 20, Oct. 1964.
  65. “The Great Stone Face.” Just Between Office Girls, Oct. 1960.
  66. “The Midi.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 18, no. 22, Nov. 1970.
  67. “The Perfect Office Girl.” Just Between Office Girls, May 1960.
  68. “Two’s a Crowd.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 11, no. 15, Aug. 1963.
  69. Van Maanen, John, and Edgar H. Schein. “Toward a Theory of Organizational Socialization.” Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 1, 1979, pp. 209–64.
  70. “We’re Being Wooed.” Just Between Office Girls, Aug. 1959.
  71. “What Men Expect.” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 10, no. 24, Dec. 1962.
  72. “What, No Borsch Bath?” Just Between Office Girls, Apr. 1960.
  73. “What Not to Say.” Just Between Office Girls, Jan. 1960.
  74. “What Would You Do?” Just Between Office Girls, vol. 13, no. 4, Feb. 1965.
  75. “—.” Office Guide for Working Women, vol. 23, no. 10, May 1975.
  76. “Why We Stay Away.” Just Between Office Girls, Jan. 1960.
  77. Wichroski, Mary Anne. “The Secretary: Invisible Labor in the Workworld of Women.” Human Organization, vol. 53, no. 1, 1994, pp. 33–41. doi:10.17730/humo.53.1.a1205g53j7334631.
  78. Windham, Lane. Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide. Reprint edition, The University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
  79. Yoneyama, Lisa. Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes. Duke University Press, 2016.
  80. “You and the Old So-and-So.” Just Between Office Girls, Apr. 1958.

Justice for All: The Womanist Labor Rhetoric of Nannie Helen Burroughs

We are not less honorable if we are servants.
Fidelity to duty rather than the grade of one’s occupation is the true measure of character

Nannie Helen Burroughs (“The Colored Woman and Her Relations to the Domestic Service Problem” 326)

African American clubwoman and educator Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961) was a significant labor leader and rhetorician. Burroughs was at the beginning of her labor organizing career when she delivered her speech “The Colored Woman and Her Relations to the Domestic Service Problem” in Atlanta, Georgia in 1902.1 She spoke to the Negro Young People’s Christian Congress, an audience of mainly Black educators, about domestic service reform and her plans to fight for equal pay and respect for African American2 women laborers. We argue that following her speech, Burroughs developed and employed a labor rhetoric that led to the formation of a historic labor union for African American domestic workers in 1921, the National Association of Wage Earners (NAWE). 

Burroughs’s rhetoric was both unique and effective. It was based on womanist inclusivity and solidarity and ignited an organization that expanded the traditional labor union organizing model in significant ways. According to the premier womanist scholar Layli Maparyan (formerly Layli Phillips), womanism is a “social change perspective that is rooted in Black women’s and other women of color’s everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces” (xx). Grassroots organizers have employed womanist values of egalitarianism to fight against injustices that impact disenfranchised communities. In this article, we trace how Burroughs put her womanist labor rhetoric into action to establish the first African American women’s labor union in the United States in her effort to dismantle systemic racial, class, and gender inequalities that disproportionately impacted African American women in the US labor economy.

Burroughs established the National Training School for Women and Girls (NTS) in 1909, with the support of the Woman’s Convention of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), to provide a vocational and classical education for Black women so that they could pursue whatever career they desired. With a keen sense of the racial, class, and gender inequities in the labor sector, Burroughs knew that Black girls who entered her school would most easily find employment as maids no matter the level and quality of education that they received. Her curriculum, nonetheless, reflected her ambitious goal of charting pathways for Black women to enter professions that had been designated for European immigrant and native-born white women. Her school offered courses in domestic science, dressmaking, tailoring, music, language, Black history, poultry raising, missionary and social service work (“Training school to open”). Burroughs insisted on the importance of establishing a course of education to elevate the status of domestic work even in her earliest years of serving as secretary of the Woman’s Convention in Kentucky. Burroughs’s largest project, however, was elevating Black women’s status in the labor sector by professionalizing and dignifying domestic work through labor unionization and the domestic science curriculum at her school.   

Her labor rhetoric complicated the tradition of unionization in two unique and important ways. Firstly, she asserted the need for federal union rights for all laborers. It was not until the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 that the US government created a standard of collective bargaining to prevent industrial workers (barring both agricultural and domestic) from being exploited on the job (“National Labor Relations Act”). The NAWE was thereby fourteen years ahead of its time. Secondly, there were no unions available for Black women in the early twentieth century, nor had there been any prior. While Burroughs did not reach her unionization benchmark, she struck a match for a national Black women’s labor movement through her strategic writings that inspired her organizing one of the largest untapped labor markets. 

To be clear, historians have contested the idea that the NAWE (1921) was a labor union because it was not recognized as such by the federal government.3 We argue it is important to read the term “union” rhetorically through both Burroughs’s writings and practices to develop a new framework for making visible Black women’s labor organizing that is rendered invisible by the racial and gender politics of the archive and labor union practices.  Labor organizations and unions such as the AFL-CIO, primarily led by white male industrial workers, refused to integrate African American women’s national labor agenda into their own labor causes. A textual analysis of Burroughs’s writings charts her historic labor project beyond the politics of race and gender that shape historical memory, and creates a pathway for recognizing the NAWE as a labor union. We argue that the NAWE operated like a union, as many organizations do, long before accorded legal rights.

The womanist labor rhetoric of Burroughs was based on a philosophy that working-class Black women have power and deserve respect in their workplaces in the form of living wages and safe working conditions to be attained through member driven unionization. This rhetoric includes the development of a class consciousness that demands a critical analysis of wealth, poverty and social mobility. In this article, we trace how Burroughs put her rhetoric into praxis through her writing and grassroots organizing to form the first national Black women’s labor union of the twentieth century. The texts feature three main themes Burroughs addressed throughout her labor rhetoric. She believed a women’s labor collective (womanist principle of solidarity) would lead to social, political, and economic rights for Black women resulting in liberation from racial, class and gender inequities for the entire Black community.  We examine how Burroughs employed her audacious, progressive, and forward-thinking labor rhetoric through an analysis of three major texts: “The Colored Woman and Her Relations to the Domestic Service Problem” (1902), “Divide Vote or Go to Socialists” (1919) and “My Dear Friend” (1921).

There is still more work to be done to unveil the significance of the NAWE and Burroughs’s rhetoric for labor organizing today. The labor rhetoric of Nannie Helen Burroughs led to organizing workers not based on status, but within the same shared goal of justice for all. The project of unveiling Burroughs’s shadowed legacy of unionization has its challenges. In addition to the limitations of the archive, some of the NAWE records were destroyed due to a fire at its headquarters in 1926. Despite these challenges, we see Burroughs’s writings as providing a critical lens into the significant history of the organization. Her overarching goal was to address the struggles of Black women domestic workers in ways that would liberate the entire Black community from social, political, and economic oppression.

The Woman’s Words: Burroughs’s Womanist Principles

Black and white photograph of Nannie Helen Burroughs circa early 1900s. Burroughs is facing the camera but not looking directly at it. She is wearing a long sleeved dress, heart-shaped necklace, and floral headpiece.

Fig. 1. Photograph of Nannie Helen Burroughs circa 1900 and 1920. © Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Burroughs recognized the need for a labor organization that firmly advocated for working-class Black women in an era of racial segregation and the absence of laws to protect Black women from labor exploitation. As a daughter and granddaughter of domestic workers,4 professionalizing domestic work and instilling pride in work was crucial to Burroughs. In her speech,“The Colored Woman and her Relations to the Domestic Service Problem,” Burroughs employed womanist principles to inspire the audience to recognize the importance of domestic service reform, “Negro women can bring dignity to service life, respect and trust to themselves and honor to the race” (329). The changes Burroughs sought were guided on the principle that African American women deserved fairness and equality at work.  Her address to the audience was guided by her womanist belief that women were the social and economic anchors of the community because domestic workers were a large workforce in the Black community and were the pillars of community organizations, schools, and churches. Women (working in solidarity with men) were thereby most capable of uplifting the race and guiding the Black community to empowerment. 

Burroughs began her speech by deconstructing the negative stigma associated with domestic service, making the argument that domestic workers and their labors were especially critical to the progress of the Black race. According to Burroughs, the labor issues confronting domestic workers were critical to all African Americans regardless of gender, occupation or class status, and those issues could be remedied through domestic science education. As she proclaimed, “The training of Negro women is absolutely necessary, not only for their own salvation and the salvation of the race, but because the hour in which we live demands it” (Burroughs 325). Her strategy of foregrounding the importance of domestic workers in a Black liberation movement was to deconstruct the negative connotations associated with domestic service.  Household employment was a labor niche that carried the racial stigma of slavery, even in some early twentieth century Black communities. She considered it significant to dismantle this stigma in order to achieve her goal of galvanizing community support for a labor movement that centered domestic workers. In her words, “When the nobility of labor is magnified, and those who do labor are respected more because of their real worth to the race, we will find a lot less number trying to escape the brand servant girl” (Burroughs 326). She offered three concrete solutions for elevating the status of domestic work in the eyes of employers: domestic science training, fair wages, and vacation time (Burroughs 329).

Burroughs put the womanist principle of community solidarity into practice not only in the speech, but through her strategic delivery of it. Her decision to travel, deliver and publish “The Colored Woman and her Relations to the Domestic Service Problem” in Atlanta, Georgia, with the Young People’s Christian Congress, reflected her belief that domestic service reform impacted a national audience, even future generational leaders. The more African Americans who did not work in household employment were educated about domestic workers’ struggles, the closer the entire community would come to forming a strong moral and political alliance across class lines for Black liberation. The Congress, speech and eventual publication share the same vision of timeliness: the question of African Americans’ freedom from the lingering chains of both slavery and Jim and Jane Crow segregation had to be answered to achieve justice for all. Burroughs traveled often, spoke at meetings, and published with the intention to reach a national Black audience and convince them to join her in fighting for justice for all through labor rights for Black women.  

“We have lived on promises”: Towards a More Radical Womanist Labor Vision

(Burroughs, “Divide the Vote or Go to Socialists”)

Burroughs’s polemic 1919 letter to the Baltimore African American editor entitled “Divide Vote or Go to Socialists” was one of the most radical articulations of her labor rhetoric.5 While Burroughs could not legally vote (Black women in DC would be disenfranchised past 1920), by articulating that she had a vote, she demonstrated the political significance of Black women’s labor at the ballot box. Burroughs vowed to educate Black people, become more politically active, and work with Socialists to create a more just future for African Americans. She claimed that if the major political parties continued paying lip service then joining the Socialist party was the only option for African Americans “Until the two great political parties… declare themselves on the Suffrage, Labor and Lynching questions, the Negro should go to the Socialist party that has already declared itself for exact justice and equality and opportunity for all” (Burroughs, “Divide Vote or Go to Socialists”). Burroughs publicly exposed both the Republican and Democratic parties for their failure to fully address three key issues to African Americans: labor exploitation, lynching, and discrimination against women, citing the power of the African American female vote. 

As she declared to the paper’s African American readership: “We are going to stand for anything that is 100% American and oppose everything that is less” (Burroughs, “Divide Vote or Go to Socialist”). Burroughs’s urging African Americans to leave the party that liberated them from the institution of slavery (because it no longer served them politically) was an expansion of her other political work, which suggested the socio-political unity of Blacks based on Baptist principals of conservative fellowship. According to her, political parties had not taken Black economic interests seriously even though they relied on their votes. Therefore, Burroughs saw socialism as the salvation for African Americans because of its emphasis on equality in the labor economy. “Divide the Vote or Go to the Socialists” is where Burroughs demonstrated her radical ideas prior to her work at the NAWE. If whites were not going to join in solidarity for African American liberation, then African Americans would have to seek their own practical and hands-on solutions.

During the same year that “Divide Vote or Go to Socialists” was published, Burroughs  and her colleagues, Mary Church Terrell and Elizabeth Haynes Ross, attempted to organize with the National Trade Union League of America at the inaugural International Congress of Working Women (ICWW) meeting to forge a labor alliance between Black and white women laborers. They discovered that white labor organizations supporting socialist ideals lacked an analysis of class inequalities at the intersections of race and gender. The ICWW was uninterested in taking up the specific concerns of working-class Black women and they declined the opportunity to create a cross-racial partnership with them (“First Convention of International Conference of Working Women”). 

The ICWW meeting convened in Washington D.C with two hundred women in attendance, primarily white-Europeans and white Americans, to discuss strategies for combating the exploitation of women laborers across the world. Burroughs and her colleagues believed that this mass convening of working women in Washington D.C. was a critical opportunity for Black women to develop international alliances with white women labor organizations. They authored a petition including statistics and a detailed analysis of the labor exploitation of Black women laborers in the US economy, primarily highlighting the working conditions of Black domestic workers, “We, a group of Negro women, representing those two millions of Negro woman wage-earners, respectfully ask for your active cooperation in organizing the Negro women workers of the United States into unions…” (“First Convention of International Conference of Working Women”). The ICWW leaders rebuffed the petition. As labor historian Lara Vapnek argued, the ICWW prioritized their class and racial alliances rather than gender alliances by not forming a partnership with African American women (Vapnek 166).  The ICWW proceeded with an international conference without a focus on equal labor rights for women of all races and ignoring the working conditions of African American women detailed in the petition. Afterwards, Burroughs immediately began planning a labor union for Black women because no white labor organization in the early twentieth century was willing to join her cause.

NAWE’s Inception: “The hour has come for colored women in America to get together”

(Burroughs, “My Dear Friend”)

After failed attempts to unionize with white women, Burroughs formed a labor union for all Black women, with an emphasis on achieving domestic workers’ rights and the highest bargaining chip of all: a walk out by a single union. A strike is a collective decision as a last resort when all methods of collective bargaining at the table have been employed by the membership and are regulated by the NLRB (“The Right to Strike”). According to the NAWE Constitution, members had the right to strike if they were not granted stable employment, living wages, vacation time, death benefits and safe working conditions (“Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers”). Her call for a strike was especially daring because strikes or work stoppages provoke fear in employers who misunderstand the purpose of strikes in a labor movement, which is why strikes within floor to ceiling unions are uncommon.6 It was a bold strategy for African American domestic workers who could have easily been arrested for not showing up to work because of Jim and Jane Crow laws. By calling for solidarity and cooperation of all Black workers across gender and occupation, Burroughs was ahead of her time. Coalition politics rooted in solidarity were just beginning and weakened by the Taft Hartley Act of 1947, which federally banned solidarity-based strikes (“Taft Hartley Act of 1947”). Her approach was effective in creating not only a Black women’s labor union, but one that expanded the traditional labor union organizing model through coalition. Rather than solely galvanizing workers within the same occupation for labor rights, Burroughs and the NAWE organizers recruited workers from a variety of working-class and middle-class occupations to advocate for domestic service reform. 

Burroughs expressed her deepened womanist commitment to creating a Black women’s labor collective in her March 21, 1921, open letter entitled “My Dear Friend” published in the Washington Bee, an African American newspaper based in Washington D.C. that had covered Burroughs’s activist work since her teen years. The call for NAWE membership was a national woman centered communal one of inclusivity in the United States from every field. Burroughs took a personable approach to inspiring audiences to come together for a common purpose by beginning the letter in first person.  She reminded the readership of their shared union vision, exigency for a labor union by stating: “We want to enlist 10,000 women in the National Association of Wage Earners, who in turn will enlist another 10,000. We want women from every walk of life” (Burroughs, “My Dear Friend”). The use of armed service terminology alongside the specific numbers indicates her determination that this is not an optional call; it is a call to defend the rights of Black women everywhere. 

Burroughs saw herself as part of the women’s collective that she sought to create because never considered herself divided from working-class Black women. In the letter, Burroughs tied her belief in the power of women’s labor organizing to her racial uplift goals. According to her, the NAWE could improve the working and living conditions of the entire Black community by achieving nine goals for domestic workers (enclosed at the bottom of the letter). As Burroughs detailed, NAWE organizers collected dues; documented grievances; trained and placed employees; advocated for labor rights legislation; provided safe housing; started a uniform co-operative run for and by Black women; and opened a local office for community events and meetings (“My Dear Friend”).  

Within her letter, Burroughs simultaneously subverted and reasserted the classist and elitist philosophy of racial uplift. She argued both middle class and working-class women could uplift the Black race together through the womanist principle of women’s solidarity. According to Burroughs, middle-class and working-class Black women were social equals who contributed tremendous value to the Black women’s labor movement. She declared, “The women who are backing this organization are not misfits and failures, but are successful in the particular lines” (“My Dear Friend.”) In this sentence, she reframes the divisive language used to create class boundaries between Black women along employment lines. She called for both working-class and middle-class women to join the NAWE. “We want women from every walk of life– cooks and clerks, field hands and parlor maids, teachers and laundresses, dressmakers and charwomen, beauty culturists and factory workers, boarding housekeepers and training nurses business women and the army of unclassified toilers North, South, East and West” (Burroughs, “My Dear Friend”). Through her roll call of women from a variety of professions and regions, Burroughs made it clear that her purpose was to invite all women to the bargaining table. 

Black women laborers who had a deep understanding of achieving solidarity through racial pride and empowerment were central to Burroughs’s vision for racial uplift and community empowerment. She also believed that Black women of all creeds, colors, and levels of education could succeed in achieving labor rights without the full acceptance of white society. Thus, the fate of the Black community was in the hands of Black laboring women, and not the white community. The ethos underlying her push for Black women’s solidarity across class, region, and occupation was like that of formally recognized labor unions: an injury to one is an injury to all. At the end of the “My Dear Friend” letter, Burroughs reinforces and inserts herself into the power behind Black women’s collective solidarity organizing when she states that the women of the NAWE move in unison, that “they all want to climb together” (“My Dear Friend”). In closing, Burroughs ends with a note on her faith and belief in the Black community to recruit women workers to the NAWE. “They need your help, and they believe they are going to get it” (“My Dear Friend”). While a distinctly women’s labor union, the NAWE also welcomed Black male allies. Her closing is non-gendered, thereby, making sure that she employed the womanist principle of solidarity through welcoming the participation of both women and men in the membership drive. The expansive gender membership of the NAWE, which included barbers, insurance agents, pastors, and male professors, suggests that Burroughs sought to build a mass labor movement across gender and class status among Black laborers in the private and public spheres (“Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers”).  

Shortly after “My Dear Friend” was published, Burroughs spoke at the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, advertised as President of the NTS and NAWE, again proving her labor rhetoric had a national strategy (“Nannie Helen Burroughs at First Baptist Church”). Using both of her titles within the publication and no title of the speech itself, the author of the article documents Burroughs’s ethos within the lecture circuit as a community leader. Burroughs implemented womanist grassroots organizing principles within her own community of Washington D.C. first and moved outwards nationally to work towards her membership benchmarks by announcing the NAWE’s launch in three African American based publications. Burroughs nine points, located in the NAWE Constitution, were re-printed in 1924 by Competitor, Crisis and Opportunity, African American themed national publications released by Negro Press, National Association of Colored People (NAACP) and National Urban League (“Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers”). Her reasoning was to tie her national association headquarters to other national organizations of Black audiences to reach a diversity of backgrounds.

The inclusion and naming of both local and national community organizers such as Sadie T. Henson, Maggie L. Walker and Mary McLeod Bethune in the NAWE leadership publications was rhetorically strategic. Burroughs was interested in recruiting women from a wide range of Black organizations to join the NAWE, demonstrating her effective use of the womanist ethos of inclusivity and egalitarianism. Henson, community organizer and former truant officer in Washington D.C., is cited as the district president and Walker is cited as treasurer (“Home Plans to Train Colored Domestics: National Association Opens Model Headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue–Is Unionized by Women”; “Wage Earners”). Walker served as the treasurer of the NAWE and was the first Black woman president of a “penny” save bank (“Home Plans to Train Colored Domestics: National Association Opens Model Headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue–Is Unionized by Women”; “St. Luke Herald”). Walker advocated for mutual aid and death benefits for the sick and terminally ill through the Independent Order of St. Luke, influencing NAWE policies on death benefits. Like Burroughs, Bethune ran a school for Black women and girls in Florida. Both women believed education was tied to organizing Black women workers across the U.S.  

The intention of the dual leadership of Burroughs and Bethune through these organizations was to unite working- and middle-class Black women for the purposes of national Black labor solidarity. This race and class-based organizing through the NAWE was an extension of Burroughs’s initial 1902 labor vision. Her friend and colleague Mary McLeod Bethune was an active collaborator in the NAWE tying broader unionization and education of Black workers to her own political work in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Despite the NACW’s role as an unbiased advocate, Bethune used her position as President of the NACW to support the NAWE. As she explained, “That we most heartily endorse the work of the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Commission on Interracial Co-operation, the National Wage Earners’ Association among Women, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and all National Organizations whose purpose is to uplift” (4). Bethune believed that the NAWE should be led by women in coalition with other Black male labor organizations such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters united together with the shared goal of better working conditions for African Americans. 

The coverage on Burroughs twice in The Connecticut Labor News (1921-1925) shows her labor rhetoric was effective, because it resonated even with the mainly white male union activist audience. Each piece paraphrases Burroughs’s nine points and states that her primary purpose for establishing the NAWE was to establish a living wage for three million Black women workers. “House Servants Organize Union for Own Protection” was published in March 1924 with a subheading “Open Headquarters in Washington and Elect Officers; May soon Apply for Charter in A.F.L.” The Connecticut Labor News acknowledges that Black women workers in the United States faced marginalization into lower paying positions, exploitation in their workplaces and that unionization was the way to produce good workers. Since the paper was produced by white union activists, they were surprised that wages were not the first of Burroughs’s nine points (“House Servants Organize Union for Own Protection”). The goal of good workers, stable and permanent employment with safe housing and fair pay were intertwined, reiterating that Burroughs believed the dignity of Black women workers was at the root of all her nine points. Burroughs stated:

Negro women wage earners are the only large unprotected labor group in America. Unorganized labor will be exploited and mistreated. An organized labor group gets fairer wages, better living conditions, greater respect and economic justice. Then, too, join a labor organization that functions properly, develops in the workers greater skill and general efficiency, pride of occupation and improvement in general conduct. The latter improvements are as important as the former considerations.

(“House Servants Organize Union for Own Protection”)

After failing to acquire a charter with the A.F.L. due to its sexist, racist and classist perspective on workers, and seeking the support of other Socialists sympathizers, Burroughs again spoke to The Connecticut Labor News in October 1924. In “Union for Negro Women Workers [sic] Gaining Ground” Burroughs takes ownership for the independence of the NAWE and how African American women are setting the example for broad-based unionization across the United States:

Our women have had no standing with the AFL or NWTU League. Nothing has been done to improve the conditions of the Negro working woman. We must therefore, paddle our own canoe. A few colored women some months ago discussed the situation seriously and decided not to stop until we have organized all Negro working women into a labor union. The NAWE Inc. is the outcome of this conference.

(“Union for Negro Women Workers [sic] Gaining Ground”)

The article ends by citing the NAWE’s gains of between five and ten thousand members (“Union for Negro Women Workers [sic] Gaining Ground”). Clearly, Burroughs was building membership of the NAWE through her broad-based publications not only with Black audiences. At the core of her publications was her labor rhetoric rooted in womanist solidarity and inclusivity for all workers. As she believed, until the most marginalized at the intersections of race, class and gender are free, no one is.

Weathered black and white photo of the National Association of Wage Earners headquarters, a large multistory brick building with trees planted in front. The photo appears to be taking during winter.

Fig. 2. Headquarters National Association of Wage Earners, 1115 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.© Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The NAWE flourished for a few more years, despite the Depression, debt, and a fire at the National Trade School for Women and Girls. Advertisements in the Evening Star for job placement (1924-1928) and accounting (1928-1931) shows the NAWE was still working for equity, seeking workers to represent and promoting their organizing efforts (see Appendix). The advertisements in the Evening Star targeted readers of the general D.C. newspaper rather than Black themed publications, because of the growing number of Black women laborers who were both seeking employment and housing in the city. Due to the constraints of the Depression, Burroughs founded another Black labor initiative called the Cooperative Industries in 1934. The industry was a mainly self-sustaining Black operation where workers accepted the communal and business responsibility for the welfare of their members by selling their profits and investing them back into their communities (“Cooperation Theory Tested in Colonies”). 

While there are no publications directly quoting Burroughs about the cooperative, we see an expansion of her womanist labor rhetoric through her promotion of women’s entrepreneurship through a self-sustaining cooperative in the D.C. Black community. Many women who worked for the cooperative were unemployed domestic workers who wanted to labor outside of household employment. Workers at the cooperative provided services for Black and white D.C. communities as seamstresses, laundresses, bakers, cooks, nurses and clerks staffing a grocery store, with plans for a credit union, shoe repair shop and a broom factory (“Cooperation Theory Tested in Colonies”). Burroughs and the cooperative sought to control the process and products of their labor in a world that denied Black domestic workers the legal opportunities to file for unemployment benefits or Social Security.

Reviving Black Women’s Labor Organizing History

In 2020, Burroughs would be disappointed that her vision still has not fully come into fruition. Domestic workers are prevented from unionizing due to restrictive provisions in the NLRA stating that they do not qualify as employees and do not deserve federal labor rights.7 They were granted a provision under the 1976 Fair Labor Standards Act to receive a minimum wage,8 yet it did not hold employers legally responsible for paying them one (U.S. Congress, United States Code: Labor-Management Relations, 29 U.S.C. §§ 141-197). While we are a long way away from transforming household employment, Burroughs’s writings and labor organizing history are good places to start for envisioning and moving towards a collective women’s labor movement.

The NAWE effectively became a union even in defiance of a society that refused it the proper recognition. Burroughs and NAWE members organized along the same principles as a union, with the same foundational belief in the dignity of workers and their labor. As a co-founding organizer, Burroughs challenged dominant white hegemonic society through her writings and praxis. By advocating for full labor rights for Black women at work, Burroughs dispelled the stereotype of domestic workers as the lovingly submissive Mammy.9 She also created a labor organizing space for African American women in a society that was unwilling to accept them as skilled workers who deserved a living wage. Burroughs invoked and built an association that expressed the collective will of thousands of Black women and aspired to do so much more. 

The labor organizing work of Burroughs has been buried in the annals of history10 due to racism, sexism and anti-Black labor organizing bias. The NAWE records should be more widely discussed and the organization’s history should be upheld as an example to strive towards rather than one to forget. The Black women workers in Washington D.C. (plus the male and female domestic and agricultural workers from the NAWE’s 23 other chapters across the United States) would encounter barriers to achieving full labor rights today. In fact, many low-wage women workers in labor unions in the twenty-first century still do not have the majority of Burroughs’s nine points outlined in her “My Dear Friend” letter.

Labor rights are human rights, and a labor rhetoric demands visibility. Burroughs’s vision for the NAWE, rooted in the womanist principles of community, equality, and solidarity, propelled the association’s leaders to draw from women’s extensive community networks to recruit a wide-ranging union membership. Burroughs lit the match for transformative labor organizing through her effective rhetoric that inspired people to find common ground across their class, age, and regional differences. It is now up to all laboring women and their allies to continue fanning that flame in the movement for labor rights.

Endnotes

  1. This speech was re-published by education and religious scholar Kelisha M. Graves in Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900–1959 (27-31). Graves’s purpose in re-publishing is to emphasize the timeliness of Burroughs and emphasize her contribution to theology.
  2.  We alternate between Black and African American for stylistic variety.
  3. The National Labor Relations (or Wagner Act) was not passed until 1935 (“National Labor Relations Act”). For a union to achieve recognition a community of interest signs authorization cards indicating a showing of interest, holds an election and elects a union by the member majority before it gains both state and federal certification (“National Labor Relations Act”).
  4.  Burroughs is cited as a janitor earlier in her career (Graves xxv).
  5.  See Graves for an edited and updated version (97-98).
  6.  Few strikes had occurred among domestic workers except for the 1881 washerwoman’s strike in Atlanta, Georgia.  Tera Hunter argues “Washing Amazons and Organized Protests” Black washerwomen were ready to give up their family income for respect at work prioritizing solidarity over division through punishment of scabs and a targeted media strategy (75-78; 91).
  7.  See Juan F. Perea, “The Echoes of Slavery: Recognizing the Racist Origins of the NLRA” for a reading on the discriminatory implications to the employee provision of the NLRA.
  8.  Domestic workers grassroots organizing began in New York with the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (“Department of Labor”). Similar bills to supply additional rights at work for domestic workers have passed in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington.
  9.  See Hortense J. Spillers “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” for a reading on African American women, language and tropes.
  10. There is evidence in Burroughs NAWE supplementary texts in Box 308 at the Library Congress: “My Dear Co-Worker” (1921) and “The Way to Make Money” (1921) of a deep organizing model (“Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers”). If Burroughs released these papers, there might have been a greater understanding of her labor rhetoric.

Appendix

Works Cited

  • Anonymous. “A Union Would Enroll Colored Domestics.” The Washington Post. November 18, 1924.
  • Bethune, Mary McLeod. “Program, Fifteenth Biennial Meeting. National Association of Colored Women,” August 1-6, 1926, The National Notes, vol. 28, no. 10, July-August 1926, pp. 1-4.
  • Burroughs, Nannie. “Divide Vote or Go to Socialists.” August 22, 1919. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988), p. 4.
  • —. “The Colored Woman and Her Relation to the Domestic Problem.” The United Negro: his problems and his progress Containing the Addresses and Proceedings of The Negro Young People’s Christian Congress, edited by John W. E. Bowen and I. Garland Penn, Luther Publishing Company, Atlanta, 1902, pp. 324-329.
  • Burroughs, Nannie Helen. “My Dear Friend.” The National Association of Wage Earners, Incorporated, Washington Tribune, March 26, 1921, pp.1-3.
  • —. MS. “National Association of Wage Earners.” Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers. Box 308, Folder. Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
  • —. “National Association of Wage Earners.” Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers. Box 309, Folder 1. Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
  • Burroughs, Nannie Helen, and Kelisha B. Graves. Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900-1959. University of Notre Dame Press, 2019.
  • Burroughs, Nannie Helen, and Elmer Anderson Carter, editor. “A Rather Inspiring Meeting.” Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, vol. 1-2, 1969, p. 382-383. National Urban League.
  • Department of Labor, New York State. Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.
  • “Employment Ads.” Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 24 Sept. 1928. Page 32. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  • “First Convention of International Conference of Working Women.” Washington, D.C., International Federation of Working Women Records, Schlesinger Library, Folder 3.
  • “Headquarters National Association of Wage Earners, Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.” Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
  • “Home Plans to Train Colored Domestics: National Association Opens Model Headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue–Is Unionized by Women.” The Washington Post. November 10, 1924.
  • “House Servants Organize Union for Own Protection.” The Connecticut Labor News. (New Haven, Conn.), 29 March 1924. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  • Hunter, Tera. To ‘Joy My Freedom’: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • “National Association of Wage Earners: Nannie Helen Burroughs.” Competitor. June 1921.
  • National Labor Relations Board. “National Labor Relations Act.” NLRB.
  • —. “The Right to Strike.” NLRB.
  • —. “What We Do.” NLRB.
  • “Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers.” The Library of Congress.
  • Perea, Juan F. “The Echoes of Slavery: Recognizing the Racist Origins of the Agricultural and Domestic Worker Exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act.” Ohio State Law Journal, 2011. pp. 95-138.
  • Phillips, Layli. The Womanist Reader. Routledge, 2006.
  • Richmond Planet, vol. XLI, no. 26 (Richmond, Va.), 17 May 1924. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  • “St. Luke Herald.” National Park Service, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. vol. XXI, no. 37. 30, December 1922. MAWA 4482.
  • “Training School to Open: Negro Women to be Taught to be Domestics.” Evening Star, vol. 137. (Washington, D.C.), 17 Oct. 1909. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  • United States Code: Labor-Management Relations, 29 U.S.C. §§ 141-197. 1976. Periodical. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
  • U.S. Department of Labor.” Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), U.S. Department of Labor.
  • “Untitled.” Opportunity, vol. 2, no. 24, December 1924, p. 383. 1 page.
  • Vapnek, Lara. “The 1919 International Congress of Working Women: Transnational Debates on the ‘Woman Worker.'” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 26 no. 1, 2014, pp. 160-184. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jowh.2014.0015.
  • “Wage Earners.” Washington Bee. April 7, 1917. vol. XXXVII, no. 45.
  • Weinberg, Sylvia. “Cooperation Theory Tested in Colonies.” The Sunday Star, no. 1710 (Washington, D.C.), 26 Dec. 1937. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  • “When Truth Gets a Hearing.” Ruth Wright Hayre Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, 1930. Temple University Libraries.

Works by Kate Ronald

Ronald’s works were compiled by Ann S. Updike as part of Charlotte Hogg and Meredith Love’s tribute. Works are listed in reverse chronological order.

Books

  • Teaching Rhetorica: Theory, Pedagogy, Practice. Boynton-Cook, 2005. Co-edited with Joy Ritchie.
  • Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. With Joy Ritchie.
  • Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. With Hephzibah Roskelly. Honorable Mention, Ross Winterowd Prize for Best Book in Rhetoric and Composition for 1998.
  • Farther Along: Transforming Dichotomies in Rhetoric and Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann/Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1990. With Hephzibah Roskelly.

Articles and Chapters

  • “Philanthropy as Interpretation, not Charity: Jane Addams’ Civic Housekeeping as Another Response to the Progressive Era.” Invited response to Francis Ranney, “A Case Study in Difference: Fabricating a Feminine Self in a Man-Made Era.” Feminist Rhetorical Resilience, eds. Elizabeth A. Flynn, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady. Utah State University Press, 2012. 174-177.
  • “Talking the Talk/Walking the Walk:  The Path of Feminist Rhetorics.” Foreword, Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics: Landmark Essays and Controversies, eds. Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen J. Ryan. Parlor Press, 2010. ix-x.
  • “‘Where Else Should Feminist Rhetoricians Be?’ Leading a WAC Initiative in a School of Business.” Performing Feminism and Administration in Rhetoric and Composition Studies, eds. Krista Ratcliffe and Rebecca Rickly. Utah State University Press, 2010. 159-171. With Cristy Beemer and Lisa Shaver.
  • “Foreword.” Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies, eds. Eileen Schell and K.J. Rawson. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. ix-xii.
  • “Rhetoric and the Teaching of Composition.” The Present State of Scholarship in the History of Rhetoric: A Twenty-first Century Guide, eds. Lynee Lewis Gaillet and Winifred Bryan Horner. U of Missouri Press, 2010. 212-213; 234-235. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Literacy on the Margins of Power and Prestige: Louisa May Alcott’s Pragmatic Rhetoric.” Women and Literacy: Local and Global Inquiries for a New Century, eds. Peter Mortensen and Beth Daniell. Routledge, 2007. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Pedagogy and Public Engagement: The Uses of Women’s Rhetorics.” Rhetorical Woman, eds. Hildy Miller and Lillian Bridwell-Bowles. U of Alabama P, 2005: 206-228. With Joy Ritchie.
  • “Mothers, Spinsters, Othermothers: New Models for Women Mentors and Their Students.” Reinterpreting the Dissertation in Composition and Rhetoric: Reimagining the Discipline, eds. Nancy Welch, et. al. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann, 2003: 55-66. With Joy Ritchie and Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Embodied Voice:  Peter Elbow’s Physical Rhetoric.” Writing with Elbow, eds. Pat Belanoff, Sheryl Fontaine, Marcia Dickson, and Charles Moran. Utah State University Press, 2002: 210-223. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Learning to Take it Personally: The Ethics of Collaborative Writing.” Personal Effects: The Social Character of Scholarly Writing, eds. Deborah H. Holdstein and David Bleich. Utah State University Press, 2002: 253-267. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Untested Feasibility: Imagining the Pragmatic Possibility of Paulo Freire.” College English 63 (May 2001): 612-632. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “‘Befriending’ Other Teachers: Communities of Teaching and the Ethos of Curricular Leadership.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 1 (Spring 2001): 317-327.
  • “Coming to Composition, or, A Collaborative Metanarrative of Professional Life.” Composition Studies 28 (2000): 59-79. With Dale Jacobs.
  • “From Transparency toward Expertise: Writing-Across-the-Curriculum as a Site for New Collaborations in Organizational, Faculty, and Instructional Development.” To Improve the Academy, Fall 2000. With Phil Cottell and Serena Hansen.
  • Review of Joseph Petraglia’s Reality By Design: The Rhetoric and Technology of Authenticity in Education (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998), Journal of Advanced Composition 19.4 (1999): 747-754.
  • “How to Tell a True Teaching Story.” Review essay of Wendy Bishop, Teaching Lives: Essays and Stories (Utah State UP, 1997), Teaching College English and English Education: Reflective Stories, eds. H.T. McCracken, Richard L. Larson, with Judith Entes. National Council of Teachers of English, 1998; and Narration as Knowledge: Tales of the Teaching Life (Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1997), ed. Joseph F. Trimmer.College English 2.62 (November 1999): 255-264.
  • “Riding Long Coattails, Subverting Tradition: Why and How Feminists Should Teach Rhetoric(s).” Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, eds. Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. Modern Language Association, 1998: 217-238. With Joy Ritchie.
  • “Teaching Locally, Thinking Globally: Intersecting Contexts for the Introductory Composition Theory And Practice Course.” Composition Studies, 23 (Fall 1995): 59-66. With Joy Ritchie and Robert Brooke.
  • “What’s the Use of Stories that Aren’t True? A Composition Teacher Reads Creative Writing.”Teaching Writing Creatively, ed. David Starkey. Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1998: 1-14. First appeared in Carolina English Teacher, 1995/1996: 33-43. Issue republished nationally by NCTE, 1996.
  • “Literate Life Stories: Researching Our Lives as Writers and Readers,” Teacher Research, 1 (Fall 1993): 87-104. With Margrethe Ahlschwede, Susan Anderson, Rick Evans, Amy Ribble, and Joy Ritchie.
  • “Style: The Hidden Agenda in Composition Classrooms.” The Subject is Writing, ed. Wendy Bishop, Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1993: 53-70. Reprint. 1998.
  • Review of The Writing Center: New Directions, eds. Ray Wallace and Jeanne Simpson (Garland, 1991), Focuses (Summer 1991): 75-77.
  • Review of Marilyn Sternglass’s The Presence of Thought: Introspective Accounts of Reading and Writing (Norwood, 1988), Journal of Advanced Composition, 11 (1991): 224-226.
  • “Personal and Public Authority in Discourse: Beyond Subjective/Objective Dichotomies.” Farther Along: 25-40.
  • “Ann Berthoff’s Dialectic: Theory and Applications,” Issues in Writing, 1 (1989): 150-165.
  • “Another Competing Theory of Process: The Student’s.” Journal of Advanced Composition, 9 (1989): 83-97. With Jon Volkmer.
  • “On the Outside Looking In: Students’ Analysis of Academic and Professional Discourse Communities,” Rhetoric Review, 7 (1988): 130-147.
  • “Survival of the Fittest: Ten Years in a Basic Writing Program,” Journal of Basic Writing, 7 (1988): 13-30. Ed. Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “The Politics of Teaching Professional Writing,” Journal of Advanced Composition, 7 (1987): 23-3. Reprinted in Landmark Essays in Advanced Composition, ed. Gary Olson. Hermagoras Press, 1996.
  • “The Self and the Other in the Process of Composing: Implications for Integrating the Acts of Reading and Writing.” Convergences: Essays on the Connections Between Reading, Writing, and Literacy, ed. Bruce Petersen. NCTE, 1986: 231-246
  • “Listening as an Act of Composing.” Journal of Basic Writing, 5, (1986): 28-40. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Expressive Writing: Exercises in a New Progymnasmata.” Journal of Teaching Writing, 4 (1985): 31-53. With Joseph J. Comprone.

Reprint of “The Making of Available Means,” an Anthology by Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald

The following is a reprinted article from Peitho Journal 20.2, 2018, pp. 198-211. You can view the original article here.

I say that even later someone will remember me.

-Sappho

Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald’s introduction to Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s), begins with these words from Sappho. Because of their anthology, which brings together rhetorical texts by 70 women stretching from 410 B.C.E. to 1999, Ronald and Ritchie will be remembered as women who helped introduce many current scholars and teachers, and many of their students to numerous women rhetors and the burgeoning field of women’s rhetoric. Ronald’s retirement in 2016,1 and Shari Stenberg and Charlotte Hogg’s current effort to create an updated collection of women’s rhetoric(s) in their forthcoming anthology Women’s Rhetorical Acts: Writing, Making, and Speaking in the 21st Century provides the perfect moment to reflect on the making of Available Means.2 I have known Kate Ronald since 2002. She taught the first women’s rhetoric course I took, she directed my dissertation, and she has remained a valuable mentor and a cherished friend. Consequently, I have heard bits and pieces of the Available Means story. In this essay, I draw on interviews with Ritchie and Ronald to share that story in order to provide historical context for this widely-used anthology, which was part of a comprehensive collaborative effort that included navigating a male-dominated department, building a composition program, and broadening conceptualizations of rhetorical history. Ultimately, this essay attempts to capture an important early moment in our field as well as the fraught and often messy process of anthologizing. It even gleans a few sage teaching suggestions from the collection’s creators.

Since its publication in 2001, Available Means has become a foundational text in women’s rhetoric. It is repeatedly cited in histories of the field, countless manuscripts, and in innumerable conference presentations. It is the second best-selling book, behind Jacqueline Jones Royster’s Traces of a Stream,3 out of the almost 80 titles in University of Pittsburgh’s Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture, and it continues to be one of the most widely used texts for teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in women’s rhetoric, rhetorical history, and first-year writing.

Available Means has been an invaluable contribution to the field for so many reasons, but especially for the story of how it came about. Colleagues at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), Ronald and Ritchie first began working together in a composition colloquium where faculty shared writing projects in progress. However, their true collaboration began when Ronald asked Ritchie to serve as co-coordinator of composition with her. “It was a teaching and administrative collaboration before it was a research and scholarly collaboration,” explains Ritchie.4 Yet, from the very beginning, “We knew we had to be allies.” “There was strength in numbers; even if the numbers were two,” adds Ronald. In 1984, Ronald and Robert Brooke were the first two hires in Rhetoric and Composition at UNL, and Ritchie, who transitioned to a tenure-track faculty position in 1987, was the third. Both Ritchie and Ronald acknowledge that it was daunting to speak out in the heavily literature- and male-dominated English Department. Administering together gave them the ability to talk to each other about decisions, problematize, and try out ideas before they went public. This was especially important because they did not have the authority most Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) have today. “We had a lot of responsibility, but no real authority,” explains Ronald.

Their administrative collaboration was both practical and philosophical. “It grew out of the sense that the production of knowledge is always collaborative,” observes Ritchie. It also provided a form of mentoring. While Ritchie had chaired a high school English Department, she had no writing program administrative experience; so, the collaboration provided her with valuable training. She says Ronald also had the foresight to know that someone else should be prepared to assume that role. In fact, Ronald and Ritchie employed a similar collaborative model when they hired two graduate student associate coordinators. One student focused on the Writing Center, and the other focused on working with new graduate teaching assistants, and they too could collaborate and learn from each other.

One reason for Ritchie and Ronald’s success as collaborators was their different strengths and perspectives. Ronald grounded her approach to teaching composition in classical and modern rhetorical theory and history. Ritchie had been a high school teacher, taught literature, and was a women’s studies faculty member, and her approach to teaching composition was influenced by Ann Berthoff, Peter Elbow, and Andrea Lunsford. “We came with slightly different perspectives but with the same commitment to teaching and feminism, and that set up our collaboration for years to come,” says Ritchie. Another reason for their successful collaboration was their genuine friendship and openness. Ritchie explains that they did not separate their professional and personal lives. “At the same time that we talked about TA assignments or how to combat incoming creative writers’ skepticism toward teaching composition, we were also talking about our mothers, our children, food, or lamenting that ‘I need to get my hair colored,’ or ‘I don’t have anything new to wear to 4C’s,’” she smiles. “We really liked each other,” adds Ronald, “we admired each other, and we made each other laugh.”

This mutual respect and collaborative spirit also extended to their classrooms. The germ for Available Means came about in 1994 when Ritchie sat in on Ronald’s graduate history of rhetoric seminar. Ronald was using the standard texts, which included few women, and both Ronald and Ritchie were struck by female students’ urgent and persistent question, “Where are the women?” As a result, they wrote a proposal for a graduate course titled, “The Rhetoric of Women Writers.” However, Ronald says they soon learned that teaching women’s rhetoric was a “scramble to find things. It required searching, Xeroxing and sometimes making random choices.” “There was no online,” adds Ritchie, who resorted to putting books on reserve in the library and even keeping books in a box outside of her office (“Cultivating”). At that time, there were few women’s anthologies available, and early collections such as Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s Man Cannot Speak for Her: Key Texts of the Early Feminists (1989) and Shirley Wilson Logan’s With Pen and Voice: A Critical Anthology of African-American Women (1995) had a specific focus. For this class, Ritchie and Ronald wanted to include women’s rhetorical practices across a broad spectrum of contexts.

Fortunately, UNL was a pioneer in composition and rhetoric and women’s studies. UNL was committed to the National Writing Project, which aligned the English Department with K-12 teachers. Dudley Bailey, the former chair of UNL’s English Department was one of the founders of 4 Cs, and UNL made an early commitment to composition and rhetoric. UNL also had one of the first women’s studies programs in the country. “So, there were a lot of forces that came together making this the right time to do this work,” says Ritchie. Nonetheless, both Ritchie and Ronald acknowledge the struggle they initially faced interjecting their own voices into department discussions as well as interjecting women’s voices into department courses. In that sense, Ronald stresses that Available Means emerged out of their praxis, “especially if you think of praxis as the whole context of teaching, research, your life as a colleague in a department, and your personal convictions that teaching an all-male rhetorical canon was absurd.”

In the ‘80s, Ronald and Ritchie were two of ten female professors in an English Department of more than sixty. “It was not a welcoming climate for women even though two of the women were full professors, and quite formidable,” says Ronald. “We used to meet before faculty meetings to literally plan how to talk—to say something, anything, instead of staying silent in meetings.” During meetings, Ronald remembers that they encouraged each other with glimpses and nods. Years later, Ritchie would become department chair, but early on they struggled to assert their own voices at the same time that they fought to include women’s voices into the rhetorical tradition. “I had not studied women’s rhetoric, and when we taught rhetoric, we taught classical rhetoric and theorists like Burke,” says Ronald. “We didn’t teach women.” When the first edition of Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg’s Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present came out in 1990, it had just a few women. Ronald says this reflects the debate at the time, which centered around the concern, “‘if you include her, that means you have to leave out him, and you can’t do that.’”

Barbara DiBernard, who taught literature and directed UNL’s Women’s Studies program, championed that debate at UNL. Ronald explains that every semester when book orders were due in the English Department, “there would be a memo in your mailbox from Barbara asking, ‘How many women authors are you including in your course?’ Of course, she was scoffed at by most of the men who said, ‘are you kidding me, there are no women in the canon.’” According to Ronald, there was one exception at Nebraska, the Willa Cather course. Cather was a UNL alum and winner of the 1922 Pulitzer Prize. Yet, DiBernard kept pushing to get more women’s texts into the classroom, and her efforts inspired Ritchie and Ronald. In fact, her name appears on the dedication page of Available Means.

Capturing a Critical Moment in the Field

They were also guided by scholars such as Lunsford, Lisa Ede, Cheryl Glenn, Logan, Royster, Susan Jarratt, and many more women who were trying to redress the silences around women in the rhetorical canon. Ritchie points to Lunsford’s call in Reclaiming Rhetorica asking scholars to interrupt, to listen, and to work collaboratively5 (“Cultivating”). Indeed, the conception and publication of Available Means came about as the field of women’s rhetoric was emerging and rapidly expanding. In 1995, in addition to Logan’s anthology, scholarly collections such as Catherine Hobbs’s Nineteenth-Century Women Learn to Write, and Lunsford’s Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the History of Rhetoric appeared on the landscape. Other foundational texts included Krista Ratcliffe’s Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, and Adrienne Rich (1995), Anne Gere’s Intimate Practices: Literacy and Cultural Work in U.S. Women’s Clubs, 1880-1920 (1997), Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance (1997), Carol Mattingly’s Well-Tempered Women: NineteenthCentury Temperance Rhetoric (1998), Christine Mason Sutherland and Rebecca Sutcliffe’s The Changing Tradition: Women in the History of Rhetoric (1999) and Royster’s Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women (2000). Available Means was also bolstered by discussions at the first biennial Feminism and Rhetorics Conference6 in 1997 where Ronald and Ritchie presented a paper, “Available Means/Necessary Acts: Reading Women’s Rhetorical Practices as Theory and Teaching Women’s Rhetorical Theory as Action.” They later published part of this paper in their essay, “Riding Long Coattails, Subverting Tradition: The Tricky Business of Feminists Teaching Rhetoric(s),” which “explores the tangled relations among feminist theory, feminist pedagogy, the canon of rhetoric, and emergent women’s rhetorics” (218).

With their collection, Ritchie and Ronald contributed to this burgeoning field by expanding the definitions of rhetorical theory and its history. They didn’t want to limit the anthology to women writing about writing or rhetorical theory. “We wanted to bridge that divide between theory and practice—to see practice as theory and theory as practice,” Ritchie explains. “We also wanted to argue that rhetorical history is not linear and fixed, but fluid and multiple” (“Cultivating”). Additionally, they wanted to explore some new and unrecognized contexts that women were writing out of and speaking to. “Women were writing from their own lives and locations such as the kitchen, the nursery, the bedroom, the garden, as well as the science lab, academy, courts, and even from the often denigrated and reviled women’s bodily experience,” explains Ritchie (“Cultivating”). They also wanted to show women’s strategies, which included opening up silences, interrupting the status quo, arguing from the personal, arguing from anger, but also using dialogue and conversation. “In other words, we wanted to see women making rhetoric come alive and thereby posit new and often innovative means,” says Ritchie (“Cultivating”). As they explain in their introduction to the collection, their choice of title, Available Means, “reflects our desire to locate women squarely within rhetoric but also to acknowledge that their presence demands that rhetoric be reconceived” (xvii).

Not only does Available Means introduce 70 women as rhetoricians, Ronald and Ritchie’s introduction to the collection and their introduction to each of these women and their texts, teaches students how to read, examine, understand, and appreciate women’s rhetoric. “I would say the introduction is written for scholars and the introductions to each text are directed at students,” says Ronald. “We’re really talking to the field in the introduction in a lot of ways.” While they knew the anthology would be used in graduate courses, because the need existed, they also wanted it to be used in undergraduate courses. However, Ronald stresses, “when we conceived this text it was many years before an undergraduate major in writing and rhetoric was even a glimmer in our eyes. The only undergraduate classes we taught were first-year composition.” The fact that Available Means is used in undergraduate rhetoric courses and even undergraduate women’s rhetoric courses today is a testament to field’s amazing growth and the text’s contribution and continued value. Certainly, anyone who has used Available Means will acknowledge that it is an easy text to put into undergraduate students’ hands because the collection’s introduction offers foundational questions for a course, and the introductions to each woman rhetor provides helpful historical context and rhetorical framing.

While the process of putting together the anthology was difficult, Ronald says choosing which 70 women to include was the greatest challenge. “At first, we wanted to include everything,” Ritchie laughs. Space limitations imposed difficult choices. There were also pieces they could not get permission for and pieces where the writer or agent never responded to their requests. For instance, Ronald laments that they could not get permission from Mary Daly, and texts by Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, and Anita Hill were eliminated in the final stages because of space limitations. Having to excerpt texts also created problems. “It created issues of context and integrity,” says Ritchie. “There were pieces where we thought an excerpt won’t do this work justice.”

Before they faced those difficult choices, Ritchie and Ronald devoted a lot of time to gathering. “We both were aware of texts that we wanted to use that we found important as rhetorical texts from our teaching and from our own general reading,” explains Ritchie. They also mined work by Lunsford and Lisa Ede, Jarratt, Glenn, and other scholars as they started making lists. Ronald says, “We felt some obligation to chronology. We didn’t want to skip whole centuries.” Indeed, while some things were clear from the beginning others emerged alongside the project. For instance, Ritchie says, “We knew we needed a diversity of voices and perspectives. We couldn’t confine ourselves to the standard of pieces that would be in Bizzell and Herzberg—works that traditionally defined rhetorical theory and practice.” At the same time, they chose texts that show women using traditional rhetorical practices and theories and forging new ones.

The act of gathering was also full of discoveries. Ronald was delighted to find Hortensia and while she knew who Anna Julia Cooper was, she had never read her writing. Merle Woo and Nomy Lamm were two other women she did not know. Ritchie also notes how discovering one set of writers illuminated parallels with other writers. “Putting Audre Lorde alongside Quaker Margaret Fell or Ida B. Wells alongside Ruth Bader Ginsburg created dialogues that could enrich our study of women’s rhetoric,” she says (“Cultivating”). Certainly, that is one of Available Means’ greatest contributions; it demonstrates the different way we perceive women’s rhetoric when we are able to read women alongside other women instead of reading them inserted in anthologies overwhelmingly dominated by men. Prior to that, students might find a woman in an anthology every few hundreds of years. Ritchie explains, “We wanted to expose and problematize the whole conception of a few extraordinary women” (“Cultivating”). They chose texts that would bring to light material differences among women—sexuality, physicality, race, religion, nationality, etc. “We also chose texts that might unsettle us and unsettle our students,” says Ritchie (“Cultivating”).

Teaching with Available Means

Ronald acknowledges that Nomy Lamm’s “It’s a Big Fat Revolution” and “The Combahee River Collective Statement” were hard texts for her to teach. However, she stresses that it’s good for teachers to use texts they find unsettling. “Then you are actually reading with your students rather than telling them what the text means, or trying to cheerlead them into thinking this is a great text, which we all do,” observes Ronald. “That’s how we get our hearts broken in the classroom, because students don’t always love what we love.” For Ritchie, who describes herself as “a very secular person,” she says incorporating the rhetoric of religious women was both daunting and enlightening. Women like Margaret Fell and Dorothy Day stretched her perception of women’s rhetoric. Ritchie also says that Minnie Bruce Pratt’s “Gender Quiz,” which explored transgender and gender fluidity in the mid-90’s, was important for her at the time.

Both Ronald and Ritchie point to Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure as imperative, but demanding. “I thought that was a crucial text in so many ways,” says Ritchie, “but I always held my breath a little and needed a little courage when I assigned it, especially in undergraduate classes.” In the text, Allison addresses issues of class, sexual assault, and sexuality. “It’s just such a painful text,” remarks Ritchie. “It challenged my students, and it also challenged me to think about how I can help students approach a text like this.” Whether it’s religion, sexuality, social class, “you want to help students identify their own assumptions,” she explains. “I remember saying to students, ‘As you read this think about why you are reacting a certain way, where is your response coming from, is there something in your background that has shaped this response?’”

In addition to texts that might challenge students, they also chose texts for Available Means that allowed them and their students to pursue epistemological questions: How is knowledge produced? What counts as evidence? What counts as truth? “Questions that are of enormous importance right now,” Ritchie asserts. Ronald says she almost always assigned Toni Morrison’s “Nobel Lecture in Literature,” because no matter the era, her class could apply it to the political rhetoric going on around them. To illustrate this, Ronald points to an excerpt:

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties, replacing them with menace and subjugations. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. (Morrison 419)

Like so many of the texts in Available Means, Morrison’s words are timeless, and continue to speak to students.

Indeed, Ronald stresses, “It’s the women in the collection that have made the anthology important and successful.” However, both Ritchie and Ronald are reluctant to name favorites. With coaxing, Ritchie admitted that Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde stand out to her. “Those pieces especially, helped me see where my own commitments lay.” In addition to reiterating Morrison’s powerful message about ethics of language, Ronald says she cannot read the end of Alice Walker’s “The Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” without crying. “But if I had to choose one,” she says, “it is Anna Julia Cooper’s ‘The Higher Education of Women.’ There is a feminine side and a masculine side. And it acknowledges a culture that has been raised by all men. I think it is brilliant, and just a beautiful, beautiful piece.”

In hindsight, Jane Addams and Ann Berthoff are two omissions Ronald regrets. To this day, she also laments that they did not discover and include Bathsua Makin, who in 1673 published, “An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewoman in Religion, Manners, Arts and Tongues With An Answer to the Objections Against This Way of Education.” In her chapter, “Feminist Perspective on the History of Rhetoric,” in the Sage Handbook for Rhetorical Studies, Ronald points to Makin as she cautions the field from becoming too self-congratulatory. In this tract, Makin includes a long catalog of women rhetors that scholars in our field have only recently recovered. Consequently, Ronald concludes, “We’re recovering what was lost, found, and then lost again” (149). Offering Makin as a cautionary tale, Ronald suggests that recovery and even publication of women’s rhetoric is not sufficient. Women’s rhetoric(s) must be taught.

Consequently, one of the most crucial measures of the texts in Available Means is how they work in the classroom. Ronald says she often began her women’s rhetoric courses with Hortensia’s “Speech to the Triumvirs,” Queen Elizabeth’s “To the Troops at Tilbury,” and “Cherokee Women Address Their Nation.” Because each of these texts demonstrate audience challenges that women face and women’s efforts to invoke ethos, “they immediately show students, particularly undergraduates, that it is different to speak as a woman,” says Ronald. In her personal copy of Available Means, she lists all the classes where she has assigned each text. Ida B. Wells, Terry Tempest Williams, bell hooks, and Andrea Dworkin are some of the texts she frequently used.

Ronald believes Wells’ “Lynch Law in All its Phases” is the perfect text to study audience and logical appeal. “There is hardly any emotional appeal there and she rarely speaks of herself,” she explains. “By employing logical appeals relentlessly, Wells is assuming that her audience is good men who clearly don’t know about the lynchings, because if they did they would do something about it.” Ronald used Williams “The Clan of One-Breasted Women” to show the blending of personal and public appeals that is so common in women’s rhetoric. She notes how Williams moves seamlessly back and forth from her own family’s experience with breast cancer to disquisitions on nuclear weapons. And she used hooks “Homeplace” to help students see how rhetorical theory comes from rhetorical action. “Particularly for women, rhetorical theory comes from physical embodied experience,” says Ronald.

Initially, Ronald worried about putting Andrea Dworkin’s “I Want a 24 Hour Truce During Which There is Not Rape” in the anthology. “Not because I didn’t think she was dead right,” she says, “but because students might think she was so shrill. However, I found it is the perfect essay to teach audience, ethics, and ethos.” Ronald has also used Susan B. Anthony’s The United States of America v. Susan B. Anthony to demonstrate stasis theory, and she has used Zora Neal Hurston’s “Crazy for this Democracy” to illustrate women’s use of humor. “The text is so funny, so my classes talked about whether it’s ok for women to be funny,” explains Ronald. She also found that some texts work better with graduate students than undergraduates and vice versa.

In her teaching with Available Means, Ritchie was continually struck by the way students found essays or writers that really spoke to them and their situation. “It’s amazing to think that Hortensia inspires students today. That’s the marvel and fun—the myriad connections and cross currents.” Nonetheless, Ritchie admits that it was sometimes a challenge to get students to move beyond reactions and ask the appropriate questions such as: What definition of woman was the writer working from? What traditions, laws, or norms were they working out of, or resisting? What were their methods and available means? What did they seek to accomplish? “While I want students to discuss the impact of the pieces on their life, I also want them to approach the pieces rhetorically,” stresses Ritchie.

Similarly, Ronald continually asked students: What’s the rhetorical situation? Who is speaking to whom? What is their argument? How are they making it? What are the syllogisms? What are the enthymemes? What are the appeals? What kind of style are they using—high, low, medium? “I didn’t want students to come away from this text simply with a sense of awe about these women—‘weren’t they brave, weren’t they incredible?’ Yes,” says Ronald, “but what can we learn from them, how did they manage to do what they’re doing, and how might you deploy a similar kind of strategy?”

In the same way they hoped that their collection would change their students, Ronald and Ritchie admitted that the collection changed them and their teaching. Ritchie began assigning papers connected to action research. Students in her classes did outreach projects, some volunteered in the Women’s Studies Center, she even had a student do an ethnography at a battered women’s shelter. “That was really different for my teaching,” says Ritchie, “but I wanted to encourage students to take the next step and put what they were reading and learning into practice some way. I wanted them to understand that they could be active rhetoricians themselves. I think it’s Minnie Bruce Pratt who says, we have to ‘give theory flesh and breath.’”7

Ronald says that working on Available Means led her to be more conscientious about asking “what am I missing?” In terms of her teaching, she says the collection has taught her “how identity is inherent in the rhetorical situation and rhetoric is always about uncertainty and power.” She notes that Gloria Steinem’s essay “Supremacy Crimes” is especially effective in showing this. In this 1999 essay, Steinem wrote, “I think we begin to see that our national self-examination is ignoring something fundamental, precisely because it’s like the air we breathe: the white male factor, the middle-class and heterosexual one, and the promise of superiority it carries” (494). Given the murders of African American men and women, President Trump’s election, and the current political climate, Ronald stresses how Steinem’s text still speaks to us today.

Often Ronald used Available Means in her first-year writing courses. “There is no exigence like that of being a woman,” she asserts. “I mean if you want to teach rhetoric there is no better way to teach it than to consider how you persuade the powerful when you have no power.” Furthermore, she says, “Teaching women’s rhetoric teaches the rhetorical context and the rhetorical triangle in stark, stark ways that first-year writers get immediately. Instead of using a JFK speech, it is much more effective to use Angelina Grimké. Plus, they don’t consider women rhetors, and dammit, they should!”

A Labor of Love

One of the most telling facets of the making of Available Means are the logistics, which underscores that the anthology was a labor of love. Ritchie and Ronald admit there are many trials to putting together an anthology. Ronald says their process in the mid-to-late ‘90s “almost seems like the middle ages today.” “We photocopied, photocopied, and photocopied,” explains Ritchie. And after Ronald accepted a position at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, they began shipping pages back and forth between Nebraska and Ohio. “We had a copy of every text (70 plus), and a grid that we laid out indicating who would write the introduction, whether we had obtained the permission, what the fee was, whether we had paid it, who paid it, and so on,” explains Ritchie. Indeed, payment for copyrights was no small matter; the cost totaled a daunting ten thousand dollars. While they received some funding assistance from the UNL and Miami University, Ronald and Ritchie paid most of it themselves; that’s how much they believed in the project. According to Ronald, Alice Walker’s piece was the most expensive, but she promises that’s not why reading it always brings her to tears.

Ronald and Ritchie are quick to acknowledge that compiling the anthology was a collaborative effort not only between themselves, but also with the women writers included in the collection, women scholars across the country, and librarians, who were invaluable in helping them track down first appearances, first editions, and copyright holders for obscure volumes. They also involved their students. Some graduate students helped with head notes, undergraduates helped gather bibliographic information. And everyone helped proofread, especially Ronald’s late husband, Dennis. Ronald explains that all the primary texts that appear in the collection were scanned, and while that was better than typing everything, the unreliability of scanners at the time meant everything had to be closely proofread. In fact, Ronald’s husband read the entire book out loud with her—over 500 pages of copy—to compare the manuscript with the original text including punctuation. For several months, Ronald says their talk around the house was punctuated.

“Quotation mark, have you let the dogs out, comma, Dear, question mark, quotation mark.
Quotation mark, Kate, comma that was a delicious dinner, exclamation point, quotation mark.”

Despite their best efforts, in the back of her personal copy of Available Means, Ronald has a running list of errors. She regrets that the publisher did not allow them to do a second edition around 2004 or 2005. “That was a real disappointment,” she says. “We would have corrected the errors and switched out some pieces.”

While Ritchie and Ronald never had the opportunity to update the collection, Charlotte Hogg and Shari Stenberg have decided to continue the work by putting together a new anthology of women’s rhetoric(s). Both have a direct lineage to Available Means. Hogg was in one of Ronald’s undergraduate courses at UNL, and she was also in one of Ritchie’s early Rhetoric of Women Writers graduate courses for which Available Means was initially envisioned. And in 2007, when Stenberg joined Ritchie as a colleague at UNL, Ritchie invited her to begin teaching the Rhetoric of Women Writers course.

Describing the need for a new collection, Hogg explains, “While an explosion of theoretical, methodological, and historiographic texts in the field of women’s rhetoric have been published since the turn of the century, there still isn’t another book like Available Means with primary works grounded in context and history with a rhetorical focus” (“Creating”). She believes that a new anthology is especially needed in undergraduate courses filled with students who are about the same age as Available Means and immersed in new literacy practices. Some of the exigencies Stenberg and Hogg point to that are driving the need for a new collection include third wave or new feminisms; new means of persuasion; globalization, transnationalism, and climate change; and questions about what constitutes woman or gender fluidity. Hogg and Stenberg anticipate that Women’s Rhetorical Acts will highlight up to 40 contemporary female rhetors, including well-known voices such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hillary Clinton, Melissa Harris-Perry, Marjane Satrapi, Lindy West, as well as voices less known—or even unknown—such as the Stanford rape victim and “Riverbend,” the anonymous Baghdad Blog author. In a time when more platforms and media include more voices, Stenberg and Hogg consider the rhetorical work from blogs, podcasts, or YouTube that has in one way been an equalizer and in another demonstrated the kind of rhetorical resilience against exclusion that women have faced for centuries.

Ronald and Ritchie are delighted that Hogg and Stenberg are continuing the project. Moreover, they believe this new anthology needs to be guided by the next generation of scholars. Of course, it is a generation of scholars who grew out of the flourishing field of women’s rhetoric that Ritchie and Ronald’s anthology has helped cultivate. Inspired by students’ persistent question, “Where are the women?” Available Means helped make it possible to teach women’s rhetoric courses. Along with the substantial work of other scholars in women’s rhetoric, Available Means has also contributed to the reconception of rhetorical history; thus, paying homage to Sappho’s words.

Endnotes

  1. Ritchie previously retired in 2010.
  2. I am grateful to Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald, who allowed me to interview them. They even took the time to search old files to answer some of my questions. I want to thank Charlotte Hogg and Shari Stenberg for their assistance. After working on this essay, I am especially grateful for their efforts create a new anthology. I also want to thank Jess Enoch, one of my Peitho reviewers, and Jane Greer and Liz Tasker Davis, my wonderful writing group, who read drafts of this essay and offered several helpful suggestions.
  3. Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.
  4. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Ritchie and Ronald were drawn from telephone interviews.
  5. See Andrea A. Lunsford’s “On ReClaiming Rhetorica” in Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995: 3-8.
  6. The biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference is sponsored Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, which was organized in 1989 as the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.
  7. See Minnie Bruce Pratt’s “Gender Quiz” in Available Means pg. 434.

Works Cited

  • Hogg, Charlotte. “Creating Change: Furthering Available Means across Generations.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Oregon Convention Center. 16 March 2017. Conference Presentation.
  • Lunsford, Andrea A. “On Reclaiming Rhetorica.” In Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995: 3-8. Print.
  • Morrison, Toni. “The Nobel Lecture in Literature.” (1993) In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, 417-423. Print.
  • Pratt, Minnie Bruce. “Gender Quiz.” (1995) In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2001. 425-34. Print.
  • Ritchie, Joy. “Cultivating Capacities: Anthologizing to Theorize an Emerging Field.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Oregon Convention Center. 16 March 2017. Conference Presentation
  • —. Telephone interview. 21 Feb. 2017; 13 Nov. 2017.
  • Ritchie, Joy and Kate Ronald. “Introduction: A Gathering of Rhetorics.” In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. xv-xxxi. Print.
  • —. “Riding Long Coattails, Subverting Tradition: The Tricky Business of Feminists Teaching Rhetoric(s).” In Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words. Eds. Susan Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. New York: MLA, 1998. 217-38. Print.
  • Ronald, Kate. “Feminist Perspectives on the History of Rhetoric.” In Sage Handbook of Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Andrea Lunsford, Kirt Wilson, and Rosa Eberly. London: GBR Sage Publications, 2008. 139-152. Print
  • —. Telephone interview. 29 Sept. 2016; 30 Nov. 2017.
  • Steinem, Gloria. “Supremacy Crimes.” (1999) In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. 491-494.
  • Stenberg, Shari. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Creating Change: Transversing Gender and Geography.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Oregon Convention Center. 16 March 2017. Conference Presentation.

Review of Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity

Flynn, Elizabeth A. and Tiffany Bourelle, eds. Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity. The Ohio State University Press, 2018. 286 pp.

The three words that subtitle the collection of essays in Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity (Flynn and Bourelle, eds.) actually describe the origin of this very book review. As a forty-eight-year-old first year Ph.D. grad student, my professors advised me to write a few book reviews to beef up my CV that lists the lone literary analysis I wrote twenty-three years ago.1 Choosing this book as my very first book review turned out to be a serendipitous one since I am beginning a new journey and I am looking for connection, inspiration, and place (space) in my professional career. In this collection of fifteen thematically linked narratives grounded by an illuminating preface and informative introduction, I travelled the journeys these professional women took/are taking as rhetors, teachers, activists, creators, and renegades and fortunately found myself in these stories. Flynn and Bourelle’s collection of essays could be a kind of an introductory primer for new scholars of rhetoric and composition who, like me, can relate to the personal and surprising beginnings and transcendental movements in the various paths of life. While reading these narratives, I recognized and related to the fears, the risks, the choices, the mentors, and the euphoric moments when everything just clicks: the explosive kairotic stillnesses in time that motivate us to keep going. Like all of these women, I have made choices that have given me great fulfillment, yet I still want more: more writing, more collaboration, more experience, more research, more learning, more change, more chances to make choices, and more moments of serendipity.

“Feminist Rhetorical Resilience”

Editors Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle are two forces of nature who have created, collaborated, resisted and changed the field of rhetoric and composition. Notably, Flynn co-authored with Patricia Sotirin and Ann Brady Feminist Rhetorical Resilience, the text that inspired this new essay collection, and Bourelle has “designed and currently runs eComp, a fully-online program that utilizes a multimodal pedagogy, helping distance education students acquire twenty first century literacies” (245).

As chance would have it, I am in the middle of a transcendental unit with my accelerated English III and AP Lang students that includes the reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God. The chances, choices, and serendipitous moments in Janie Starks’ journey of self-discovery align with those narratives in Women’s Professional Lives. Hurston writes, “Now, Women forget all the things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. So the beginning of this was a woman” (1). Each woman in this collection of narratives recalls the expectations and challenges as times in which their core selves battled for individuality and as their dreams changed into their truths. And given choices, chances and serendipity, these women “act[ed] accordingly.”

In their introduction to the text, editors Flynn and Bourelle remind the reader of the center argument from Feminist Rhetorical Resilience: “feminist conception of resilience is best seen not as fundamentally psychological but as rhetorical, relational, and contextual” (Introduction). Incorporating the “metaphors feminist rhetoricians have used recently to describe the present-day and historical situation of marginalized groups,” Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady claim “like borderlands, streams, silence, listening, geographies, advocacy, motion, and walking and talking, resilience resonates with concerns about feminist agency and rhetorical action in the face of pernicious social and material forces” (“Introduction”). Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition develops this concept as the authors explore metis and fifteen journeywomen act in the “intersection of agency and accidental sagacity” (5). These travelers have been “unusually resilient,” have “exhibited considerable agency, especially in taking risks and have made decisions in serendipitous ways and at kairotic moments” (15). Like Janie Starks in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the women in these essays chronicle transcendental movements of the individual rhetor/scholar/teacher and her intimate relationships to place and others as she journeys to within and for herself. 

“Metaphors [and] Feminist Rhetoricians”

A central image of a pear tree for the metaphor of creation weaves through Hurston’s novel as the protagonist Janie searches for her own voice. Hurston writes, “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (8). Words and images are kin that center themselves in the study and practice of rhetoric and composition. Writers Malea Powell, Shirley Rose, Libby Falk Jones, and Suellyn Duffey contribute moving essays to Women’s Professional Lives in Composition and Rhetoric that also incorporate powerful metaphors of creation to frame their stories. In “Word by Word, Bead by Bead: Making a Scholarly Life” Malea Powell begins with “this story is a making, a tracing of relations, a beadwork of choices, of words, stitched around and through an accumulation of stories, anchored with poetry, shot through with chance” (124). As she instructs us in the making of her art, she “construct[s] a beadwork story-sculpture for how [she] became the scholar” she is (128). In her assertive tone she advises the reader to not be “afraid of what happens between asking and listening. Don’t be afraid to take a chance, to listen, to practice, to tell (136). Similarly creative, Shirley Rose‘s “What I Learned about Teaching, Administration, and Scholarship from Singing with the Scottsdale Chorus” reflects upon lessons both learned and remembered through becoming a member of the competitive Chorus. Through her creation of song and the development of her voice as it enhances the voices of others, Rose transcends the boundaries between student and teacher, follower and leader, seeker and finder. Poet Libby Falk Jones presents her essay woven with stanzas of poetry, “words and image” (74) that offer a “continuous and a discontinuous” narrative “speak[ing] to the new identity” she creates (84). She provides two poems in her essay that lay bare the emotions and snapshots of intersectionality in her life and she “defines [her]self as poet and photographer. In yet another artistic expression, Suellynn Duffey embraces “kinesthetic elegance” and claims that “we, as women in rhetoric and composition, move with a different choreography through dances that show diverse ways in which one can ‘make it’” (105). As a student of dance, “physical realms…. A sort of bodily experience in the mind” is both a “metaphorical abstraction” and “an embodied reality” of her life (89). Narrative is a form of art and metaphors, analogies, and connections are strong ways to speak to audience. Art both shapes and reflects life providing both aspiration and validation. These feminist rhetoricians and Hurston’s Janie, and writers Powell, Rose, Jones, and Duffey see incorporate these artistic expressions that begin as seeds but develop into branches, expand, and flourish. 

“Exhibiting Considerable Agency”

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie’s life was managed first by Nanny, then by her husbands Logan Killicks and Joe Starks and the town of Eatonville, and finally, by the racial inequality of pre-civil rights era America. Similarly, each essayist in Flynn and Bourelle’s collection describes expectations from families, from societies, and from circumstances that curse? bless? her to follow paths that required choices and action. The women exhibited considerable agency in battling the barriers they faced personally and professionally. Lisa Ede’s “desire” to collaborate with Andrea Lunsford was “challenged” by university departments as “shocking—even dangerous” (22). Lynn Z. Bloom’s marriage “defied [her] parent’s expectations” and her choice to have children were “defiant rebuttals to the stand advice for 60’s women, which equated maternity with professional suicide” (61). Jacqueline Rhodes was a “transient student, physically speaking, living in [her] own poverty in order to escape her families.” Rhodes continues: “those multiple paths, too, served as queer ways…queer time…was ‘unscripted’…by any conventions of straight temporality. It was disorderly and strange, the ‘constantly diminishing future’ indeed hovering like a storm cloud” (145). Irene Papoulis exposes her anxiety and struggles with shame in her career in the academic world as her essay “explore[s] how the social realities of the field of composition fueled her status anxiety” (204). Natasha N. Jones was “aware of and, almost immediately confronted with the stereotypes about black, single mothers and the challenges that [she] would face because of the gendered and racialized perceptions that are entrenched in our society” (222). Iklim Goksel’s emigration from Turkey and her study of ethnography to “give voice to women’s non-Western forms of linguistic and cultural rhetorical choices” employ the term “kismet” that “does not represent a ready-made world but rather entails a remaking that suggests inquiry, capability, resilience, choice, chance and serendipity” (192). Linda Adler-Kassner‘s “threshold concepts of writing studies” and her incorporation of Timmermans’s definition of “troublesome knowledge” are “central for growth and contribute to a sort of resilience through which growth can occur” (110). These women exercise resilience in the face of their obstacles in that they do not resign, but again, “act accordingly.” In Hurston’s novel, Janie’s resilience to have the faith to act on her dream is called upon when she meets Tea Cake after years of living a silent life. Tea Cake acts as mentor to hear Janie speak, telling her “Have de nerve tuh say whut you mean” (Hurston 109). Like Janie, Flynn and Bourelle also acknowledge the mentors who influenced them to take agency of their voices. Other mentors and influence came for Papoulis with Peter Elbow, and Susan Miller guided Duffey, Rhodes, and Ede. Every essayist regards influential texts that mentored her in her career, such as Jack Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives for Rhodes, and “Technologies of Serendipity” by Paul Fyfe for Bourelle. Families, high school teachers, spouses, and groups of other women act as mentors supporting these women as they acknowledge the journey to discover self does not have to be a lonely one. After starts and stops and other branches in the road, these women, like Janie, ultimately find the power of their individual voice.

“…Like Borderlands, Streams, Silence, Listening, Geographies…”

Malea Powell writes “as human beings, we are all intimately connected to the land… you live in a geography, a particular space writing on a place, a body of land. …our lives happen on the land, in places practiced into spaces of discovery, of rhetoricity…” (136). The collection of essays does not name a higher power or mention religion, but the reverence for serendipity is clear, and often, inspiration is taken from nature and place. Bloom calls her life a “garden of serendipities” (59) and Bourelle looks to the “aspen trees that line the Rio Grande beginning to turn yellow and orange” (173) before beginning her recollections. Flynn cultivates gardens on her home farm and both Anne Ruggles Gere and Duffey describe hiking in the mountains. Bloom “listens to the lingua franca flutes, guitars, and the throbbing drums carried high on the western wind” (70). Many of the writers feel a connection to their universities and students and augment the culture of these places. In their retellings, the writers urge the reader to recognize those moments in order to be open to taking the chances provided. Serendipity can happen in times of great joy or despair. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie and the others “seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were questioning God” (160). After the devastation from the hurricane and events after that irreparably change Janie’s life, Janie returns home with a ‘package of garden seed that Tea Cake had bought to plant” (191). The writers in this collection also began with the stuff of possibility, often faced events that irreparably changed their lives, but still they drew upon their resilience and embarked on journeys to nourish their “packet of seeds.” In their personal lives they created families, in their professional lives they also created “democratic classrooms,” and writing groups, such as Gere’s Puget Sound Writing, and Beth L. Hewett’s OWI and GSOLE. Like Hurston’s pear tree that gives and receives, these women create and re-create themselves often in and around a constellation of others. These women teach, encourage, direct, research, engage, and challenge their audiences with their application of individual voice and purpose.

“Rhetorical, Relational, and Contextual”

The intention of the book is to provide guidance both professionally and personally since, as many of the essays describe, the two areas of life are inextricably entwined. I referred to it as an introductory primer for rhetoric and composition, but it is also transcendental primer for someone like me. Like Janie, I have a dream that has become my truth and prompted me to “act accordingly.” Like Lisa Ede’s and Iklim Goksel’s transition between academic disciplines, I am an English teacher transitioning from American Literature into a new space of rhetoric and composition. The narratives in this collection remind me of my resilience and validate my choices. My story is not without metaphor, agency, and space. I have navigated the waters of public high school education in Mississippi with the serendipitous fortune of teaching at a school where I have a voice. Encouraged by the narratives of these women, I can bravely blend my literary past with the new horizon presented in the discipline of rhetoric and composition. From these women, I am equipped with a reading list to expand my knowledge and bolster my teaching style such as “Border Crossings: Intersection of Rhetoric and Feminism” (Ede, Glenn, Lunsford), or A Writer Teaches Writing (Murray). As a reader/student, I learned new terms of this field such as “ethnography,” “queer theory,” andanti-modernist feminism.” I can hear myself in the singing in the constellation of these women’s voices here, in my own space, in my own classroom. Like Janie and these feminist rhetoricians, I search for more chances and hope to change rhetorically, relationally, and contextually. Women’s Professional Lives paints the journeys and the ultimate, profound kairiotic moments where “old thoughts [come] in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them” (Hurston 32). I choose to live and love this journey since, like them and Janie, I am not “finished thinking and feeling” but will “pull in [my] horizon like a great fish net” (Hurston 192). Illustrating the “feminist perspective of resilience” that is “rhetorical, relational, and contextual,” Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition breathes with the lives of choices and chance. It offers the reader—regardless of the path she is now onthe power to recognize her own resilience and the faith in the agency of serendipity.

Endnote

  1. Keane-Temple, Rebecca. “The Sounds of Sanctuary: Horace Benbow’s Consciousness.” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 3, Special Issue: William Faulkner, 1997, pp. 445-450.

Works Cited

  1. Flynn, Elizabeth, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady, Eds. “Introduction.” Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. Utah State University Press, 2012. 
  2. Halberstam, J. Jack. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York UP, 2005.
  3. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial, 2006.

 

Kathleen Ethel Welch Article Award Winners

The Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award was created in honor of the Coalition’s first president and co-founder, Kathleen E. Welch, whose immeasurable impact on the organization continues today. The award is presented biennially in odd years for refereed work published in Peitho journal to recognize outstanding scholarship and research in the areas of feminist pedagogy, practice, history, and theory. This year’s judges had the honor of reading and rating excellent articles from seven issues of the journal—volumes 21.2 through 23.1. These articles presented diverse approaches to feminist and historical scholarship, pushing the boundaries of both field and discipline, and many of them reflected collaborative authorship.

While we would normally confer awards at our Action Hour event on the Wednesday evening prior to CCCC, this year we rely on virtual conferral and social media. Thus, on behalf of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award Committee, I am pleased to announce this year’s award recipients and honorable mentions: Ana Milena Ribero and Sonia C. Arellano (award recipients); Patricia Fancher, Gesa Kirsch, and Alison Williams (honorable mention); and GPat Patterson and Leland Spencer (honorable mention).

************

Ana Milena Ribero, recipient of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award for “Advocating Comadrismo: A Feminist Mentoring Approach for Latinas in Rhetoric and Composition,” Volume 21.2. Dr. Ribero is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oregon State University.

Sonia C. Arellano, recipient of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award for “Advocating Comadrismo: A Feminist Mentoring Approach for Latinas in Rhetoric and Composition,” Volume 21.2. Dr. Arellano is Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida.

This year’s Article Award committee felt that Ribero and Arellano’s call to rethink the whole discourse around mentoring is salient. Their article absolutely fulfills one of the Coalition’s principal missions: to attend to the education and mentoring of feminist faculty and graduate students in scholarship, research methods, praxis, and the politics of the profession. One judge wrote the following of this winning piece:

This article gives timely attention to the discipline and to the important, understudied area of feminist Latina rhetorical strategies of mentorship.

Another judge concurred:

In offering comadrismo as a mentoring model, Ribero and Arellano successfully elide the dichotomy between assimilationist and resistant approaches to professionalization. They elegantly describe how comadrismo can speak back to the white hegemonic norms that have underscored many mentoring practices while also transforming the structured mentoring relationship into a site for institutional critique. Furthermore, the dialogic nature of their article demonstrates comadrismo as an embodied practice.

************

Patricia Fancher, honorable mention for “Feminist Practices in Digital Humanities Research: Visualizing Women Physician’s Networks of Solidarity, Struggle, and Exclusion,” Volume 22.2. Dr. Fancher is Faculty in the Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Gesa Kirsch, honorable mention for “Feminist Practices in Digital Humanities Research: Visualizing Women Physician’s Networks of Solidarity, Struggle, and Exclusion,” Volume 22.2. Dr. Kirsch is Professor of Rhetoric and Composition and Director of the Writing Center at Soka University.

Alison Williams, honorable mention for “Feminist Practices in Digital Humanities Research: Visualizing Women Physician’s Networks of Solidarity, Struggle, and Exclusion,” Volume 22.2. Professor Williams is Faculty in the Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

While this article did not win the 2021 award, this year’s judges appreciated the authors’ creative approach to historiographic recovery of women physicians through the visualization of solidarity networks and citational politics. Judges particularly admired the care with which the authors demonstrate “naming” as a simultaneous inclusive and exclusive practice. Their article absolutely fulfills one of the Coalition’s principal missions: the advancement of feminist research and pedagogy across histories, locales, identities, materialities, and media. One judge wrote the following:

This article demonstrates an excellent research design and thoughtful consideration of the idea of feminist community. Furthermore, it has broad implications for future research.

Another judge concurred:

Not only is this article sophisticated in argument and clear in scope, it also reflects several approaches to feminist scholarship that readers of Peitho have come to value: it reflects the historical, the digital, and the critical—particularly in revealing with honest sensitivity the egregious limits of certain kinds of feminist solidarity movements.

************

GPat Patterson, honorable mention for “Toward Trans Rhetorical Agency: A Critical Analysis of Trans Topics in Rhetoric and Composition and Communication Scholarship,” Volume 22.4. Dr. Patterson is Assistant Professor of English and LGBT Studies Coordinator at Kent State University Tuscarawas.

Leland G. Spencer, honorable mention for “Toward Trans Rhetorical Agency: A Critical Analysis of Trans Topics in Rhetoric and Composition and Communication Scholarship,” Volume 22.4. Dr. Spencer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies, and affiliate faculty in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Miami University.

While this article did not win the 2021 award, this year’s judges felt that Patterson and Spencer made several critical pathways more visible for conducting research on trans subjects and/or into trans topics. One judge wrote the following:

This extensively well-researched article prompted generative discussion and prompted considerations of how the literature review is in itself a feminist genre, one that demonstrates tireless labor and acts as a welcome to future scholars and a gift to current researchers. This article will no doubt chart the course of future research in Trans Rhetorical work and in the field, broadly construed.

Another judge concurred:

Patterson and Spencer actively reconsider how different forms of materiality—literature, visual media, genre, reviews (like itself), etc., as well as pedagogy—can help contribute to a reconfiguring of trans* agency beyond simply undoing and replacing. They propose methods that can help us regenerate conversations around representations rooted in time—contemporary and not—and explain why/how these require evaluations that do more than switching out paradigms. Ultimately, they help us question how to reconfigure the way we understand and support spaces for trans* realities, voices, and representation that are relevant in shaping current and future scholarship.

************

Please join us in congratulating these scholars and teachers on their work. We look forward to your nominations and applications for the several awards still upcoming this year!

Tarez Samra Graban
Immediate Past-President
Awards Chair 2020–2022

and members of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award Committee
Rachel Jurasevich
Kimberly R. Lacey
Jolivette Mecenas
Nancy Myers
Kate Pantelides