Women as Public Lecturers

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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This Note discusses the emergence of lecturing as a public event and women's involvement on the lecturing circuit.


Lecturing and Lyceums Generally

For additional information on the emergence of popular lecturing as a public event in the 1840s and lecturing as “an act in the construction of a professional or intellectual career,” see Donald M Scott, The Popular Lecture and the Creation of a Public in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America, 66 J. AM. HIST. 791, 793 (1980). See also Scott, The Profession That Vanished: Public Lecturing in Mid-Nineteenth Century America, in Professions and Professional Ideology in America (Gerald Gerson ed., 1983) (explaining the rise and decline of lecturing as a profession). Scott discusses how the new lecturer profession gave rise to another occupation, Lyceum manager. A Lyceums manager would book speakers to appear in towns large enough to support a season and help make travel or other arrangements.

J. Matthew Gallman, America's Joan of Arc: The Life of Anna Elizabeth Dickinson: The Story of a Remarkable Woman (2006) describes the post-war rise of the Lyceums and of James Redpath, the founder of the Lyceum movement at 66. Redpath was Dickinson’s impresario and he also served clients such as Mark Twin, Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, and many other well-known figures. See also Charles F. Horner, The Life of James Redpath and the Development of the Modern Lyceum (1926). In Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America (2008), John McKivigan recounts Redpath's varied activities which included colonizing Haiti, supporting John Brown, and running his much more successful Lyceum bureau. Major J.B. Pond, Eccentricities of Genius: Memories of Famous Men and Women of the Platform and Stage (1900) is a delightful contemporary look at public lecturing. Pond has a separate section on “women lecturers and singers”, which covers the lecturing careers of Susan Anthony, Anna Dickinson, Lucy Stone, Mary Livermore and Julia Ward Howe.

Robert Ingersoll

The best known public orator in the late nineteenth century was Robert Ingersoll-Marilla Ricker’s mentor (see Bibliographic Note: Women Lawyers History). Despite the fact that he was a free-thinker in religion, indeed the leader of the movement, Ingersoll drew huge audiences. He spoke primarily on the clash of religion and science, but also talked about women’s rights, civil rights for freedmen, and other literary and historical subjects. In the days before radio and moving pictures he was said to have been heard and seen by more Americans than any other man in America. See generally, Frank Smith, Robert G. Ingersoll: A Life (1990).

Women Lecturers

The right to speak publicly was directly related to the full citizenship and political equality that women sought in the nineteenth century, beginning formally with Seneca Falls in 1848. See e.g. Susan Zaeske, “ ‘The Promiscuous Audience’ Controversy and the Emergence of the Early Woman’s Rights Movement,” 81 Quarterly J. of Speech 191 (1995). Women lecturers often got their start, as Laura Gordon did, as Spiritualist trance speakers who gave voice to deceased figures. They came into their own as speakers on abolition such as Anna Dickinson, the Grimke sisters, Lucy Stone and Susan Anthony. To their orations against slavery, some of the women lecturers added their own lack of liberty. On women lecturers in the nineteenth century, see KARLYN KOHRS CAMPBELL, 1 MAN CANNOT SPEAK FOR HER: A CRITICAL STUDY OF EARLY FEMINIST RHETORIC (1989); II WOMEN PUBLIC SPEAKERS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1800-1925: A BIOCRITICAL SOURCEBOOK (Karlyn Kohrs Campbell ed., 1993); NAN JOHNSON, GENDER AND RHETORICAL SPACE IN AMERICAN LIFE 1866-1910 (2002) is particularly interesting on the general omission from the “canon” of even the most famous women speakers, including for instance, Anna Dickinson, Elizaeth Cady Stanton, Frances Williard and Mary Livermore. 160-171. She credits Doris G. Yoakum with “the first substantial attempt in twentieth-century historical scholarship to restore to the canon of American oratory a record of the achievement of inluential nineteenth century women speakers…” at 3, 171. Yoakum’s article appeared in “Women’s Introduction the American Platform” in A HISTORY AND CRITICISM OF AMERICAN PUBLIC ADDRESS (William Norwood Brigance, ed. 1943). By the mid -80’s when Clara Foltz did her nationwide touring, there were a number of women on the platform, though their sex was still a point of comment. Nineteenth century lecturers divided roughly into those that spoke mainly on a “cause” and those who focused more on entertainment or general education. Clara Foltz combined both modes, though she usually worked in mention of women's rights. Looking back on her lecturing career, Foltz wrote that: "I have spoken from the platform upon great themes, never omitting to mention woman suffrage straight." Foltz to Clara Colby, June 26, 1908 (Colby papers; Huntington Library). Like all the lecturers on the circuit, Foltz hoped to make money as well as converts. LORI D. GINZBURG, ELIZABETH CADY STANTON (2009) at 142-144 tells of the substantial sums Stanton was able to make as a lecturer in the early 1870s.

Vivid contemporary accounts of lecturing in the nineteenth century are WARREN CHASE, FORTY YEARS ON THE SPIRITUAL ROSTRUM (1888) and MARY LIVERMORE, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (1897). (Foltz knew both these lecturers; Chase lived in San Jose in 1879-1880 and Mary Livermore lectured there and was entertained by Sarah Knox Goodrich, Struggles, May, 1916.)Chase and Livermore tell funny and harrowing stories of their travel experiences and relate that they stayed mostly in private homes rather than hotels. JILL NORGREN, BELVA LOCKWOOD, at 143-54, describes Lockwood’s platform experience over the eight years she took it up after the 1884 Presidential campaign, citing both Frances Willard and Elizabeth Stanton on the difficulties of travel and making arrangements.

Foltz's First Lecturing Tour

On her initial lecturing tour in 1885, recounted in Chapter Two, Foltz had an agent to precede her, rent halls, alert the newspapers and organize sponsors. Frank Stechan was a theater manager in San Francisco who hoped ultimately to go into the “Lyceum” business, booking a stable of speakers into places large enough to have a lecture season. She and Stechan parted ways in Chicago, however, and Foltz signed up with the Slayton Lyceum Bureau, Belva Lockwood’s agent. Abigail Duniway reported these developments and added that Stechan had mishandled Foltz’s Portland lectures. Letter from Foltz to Duniway, N.Northwest, Feb. 1886. Henry Slayton was a lawyer, a lieutenant in a black regiment in the civil war, and an educator. His Lyceum was widely thought to be the first and best in the west. CHICAGO AND ITS DISTINGUISHED CITIZENS, (David Ward Wood, ed), (1881). He had many distinguished clients including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony.

Anna Dickinson

The career of Anna Dickinson (described in Chapter 2) showed the financial possibilities of the lecture circuit. Dubbed “The Joan of Arc of the Unionist Cause,” she had been a major abolitionist speaker before and during the War. Afterwards, Dickinson became a celebrity on the Lyceum circuit (as well as a paid political orator) where she spoke on a variety of subjects, including women’s and freedmen’s rights. Though Foltz apparently did not ever meet Dickinson, she probably read her memoir, A RAGGED REGISTER (OF PEOPLE, PLACES AND OPINIONS) (1879)with its many wryly told stories of unreceptive and rude audiences. For awhile, Dickenson averaged 150 lectures, and as much as $20,000 (about $330,000 in modern times) a season. GALLMAN, at 66. See also JAMES HARVEY YOUNG, NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN (Anna Dickinson entry) 1980). Gallman described the 1888 campaign, Dickinson’s last on the political oratory circuit. She ended up suing the Republican Party for failing to pay her according to her contract. Id. at 173-177. See also GIRAUD CHESTER, EMBATTLED MAIDEN: THE LIFE OF ANNA DICKINSON (1951).

Kate Field

Perhaps the woman lecturer most on a par with Ingersoll for drawing large audiences was Kate Field. GARY SCHARNHORST, KATE FIELD: THE MANY LIVES OF A NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN JOURNALIST (2008) is a full and readable biography of Field. Field’s San Diego visit, in which she and Foltz spent time together (see chapter 2) is described at 189-194, but does not mention Foltz. See David Baldwin, Kate Field Entry in, NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN. For a vivid contemporary account of Field, see LILIAN WHITING, KATE FIELD: A RECORD (1899).

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