“Who's Afraid” of Prances Wright?

in A Nation of Speechifiers

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780226180199
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226180212 | DOI:
“Who's Afraid” of Prances Wright?

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  • History of the Americas


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In 1818, a radical English reformer by the name of Frances Wright arrived in the United States, where she quickly established a reputation as an excellent and tireless public speaker. Wright delivered speeches containing radical messages about women's place in society, education for the working classes, and the stifling effects of the Christian church on American society and culture. However, she earned the ire of many newspaper editors, who relentlessly attacked her with ad hominem insults. The intense focus on Wright's gender came to stand in for, and ultimately to obscure, the debate over the nature of American society and legitimate public opinion. This chapter explores how contentious and fraught was the definition of the American public, as evidenced by the battle between Wright's oratory and the editors' printed opinion. In particular, it comments on the furor in the newspapers over Wright's 1829 public lecture tour. It also repositions gender and grotesque images of Wright as only one aspect of a complex debate about appropriate modes of public interaction between speakers, writers, and their reading and listening audiences.

Keywords: Frances Wright; United States; speeches; newspaper editors; gender; public opinion; oratory; speakers; writers; public lecture

Chapter.  12793 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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