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Winter 2003, pages 35-64

A Sphere Of Noble Action: Gender, Rhetoric, And Influence At A Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts State Normal School

Abstract: This essay explores the rhetorical education of nineteenth-century women attending the Westfield State Normal School, the second public and first co-educational normal school in the United States. Archival research reveals that Westfield developed a program of rhetorical study that aimed to prepare both men and women to use oral and written persuasive discourse in their work as teachers. Westfield justified its progressive curriculum by arguing that advanced study in rhetoric would help future teachers to foster learning, win respect, and achieve meaningful moral influence among their pupils. While traditional gender ideologies at times complicated the efforts of female students to master oral and written persuasive discourse, Westfield's faculty and students remained committed throughout the century to the idea that study in rhetoric would aid the future teacher in cultivating a powerful public voice.

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