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Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny

Religious Speeches Transcending Gender


Elizabeth W. McLaughlin

This book collection is a celebration of women who speak truth to power in the public square. A perfect fit for undergraduate students of rhetoric, gender, religion and history, Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny showcases the speech texts of 14 women addressing societal issues from the values of their religious beliefs and discourse communities. Between the tensions of the duty of gender roles and human destiny, these global voices representing different time periods and religions address the thematic issues of faith, society, education, reform, freedom and peacemaking. Written in clear, straightforward language, students will directly encounter the words and voices of leaders who strive to make the world better for all in the quest for human dignity. Each speaker seeks to forward the transcendent value of human freedom as reinforced by her explicit references to the divine. This collection is appropriate for 200-400 level undergraduate classes and offers a broad sampling of women who speak in the public square.

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What is a woman’s proper place in society? There are many competing narratives about this very question. Countries and cultures actively debate this question, and the answers, freedoms, and limits, are often influenced by religion. Controversies focus on who women are, their roles in society, the rights they have or are denied as citizens, and their rightful places in public and private life. Historically, religion can be an authority justifying a woman’s limited role, and it can also become the foundation for finding new freedoms.

This section explores these themes in three speeches given in the United States more than a century apart. These orators all seek to define a woman’s responsibilities within the larger cultural narrative context that men and women had separate spheres: men in the world and women at home. Is it the duty of women to stay at home, be wives and mothers, and to have their lives center around marriage, home, and hearth to take care of their men and raise moral children? Is it the duty of women to serve with the private “sphere” of the domestic life? Do wives and widows have rights to property, inheritance, voting, education, and legal status ← 39 | 40 → apart from their husbands? What civic responsibilities do women have to their nation? Are women human beings or simply the roles they play?

In the first speech, Clarina Howard Nichols brilliantly argues for women’s equality because of their divinely appointed duties as wives and...

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