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Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny

Religious Speeches Transcending Gender

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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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Reform

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While many speeches in this book argue for change and social reform—in education, voting, abolition, property rights for women, and others—this section focuses on one reforming movement of special merit: prohibition. This social reform serves as an informative case study for women’s voices, motivated by religious values, that resulted in change. This case highlights what women can accomplish—even with limited social rights. Grounding this national debate on the social issues of alcohol sales is the idea of True Womanhood, the notion that women, as wives and mothers, were morally superior to their worldly men because they as women served as guardians of the home. Much of the rhetoric of this time echoed this belief as a woman’s primary authority to speak. And speak, they did. This argument seems archaic in our modern context, but at the time, this perceived moral authority as “citizen-mothers” fueled the drives for abolition, suffrage, reform for prostitution and laws to raise the age of consent, as well as prohibition.

In 1913, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, with almost 250,000 members, inspired hundreds of members and other supporters to march on Washington, D.C.—just like many reform movements of ← 99 | 100 → today—demanding an amendment banning the sales of alcohol in the United States. Although they succeeded in law, they ultimately failed to change human hearts and behavior.

After the successful ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, this social reform largely...

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