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Composing Legacies

Testimonial Rhetoric in Nineteenth-Century Composition


Christopher Carter and Russel K. Durst

In 2015, Professor Emerita Lucille M. Schultz donated to the University of Cincinnati her set of composition materials gathered from fifteen libraries and collections around the country. With 350 entries ranging from 1785 to 1916, the collection includes picture books for early primary schools, grammar textbooks, student writing, and advanced rhetoric textbooks for undergraduates. The documents afford a thrilling glimpse into nineteenth-century ways of thinking and teaching, highlighting practices we would today identify as prewriting, collaborative invention, freewriting, and object-oriented pedagogy. Composing Legacies relates these pedagogies to expressions of social class, nationalism, and public engagement that run throughout the Victorian era and the Gilded Age. Early chapters show how writing and grammar handbooks aimed to reproduce social hierarchies; later ones show how textbook authors aimed to mitigate lecture-style pedagogy with attention to student backgrounds, personal interests, economic aspirations, and presumed audiences. Often, those authors demonstrated a pronounced interest in national unity, but not without exception. Little-known Confederate textbooks took the ideology of unity to be a form of Northern aggression, promoting the maintenance of state and local traditions through their classroom exercises and sample passages. Composition scholars who see the nineteenth-century as a period of skills-and-drills teaching, devoid of explicit political concern, will find surprises in the archival texts’ testimonies about national crises and civic participation. Those scholars will also find that the “social turn” in writing and rhetoric, however recent as a historical framework, has been underway for more than two hundred years.
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Chapter Five Elizabeth Spalding: Fellow-Worker in Composition (Kathleen Spada)


kathleen spada

Elizabeth Hill Spalding served as head of the English department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where she taught secondary English for eleven years at the turn of the twentieth century. She graduated from Vassar, a women’s college founded in 1861, which quickly “gained a reputation for intellectual rigor that led to the founding of the first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at a women’s college,” for which Spalding was selected. As I will demonstrate in this chapter, Spalding epitomized the identity of the Vassar grad “recognized as a ‘breed apart’ for their independence of thought” (About). She married in 1888 and had a child shortly thereafter, but, unlike many women of the time, did not sacrifice her professional life. As a result, she was a successful teacher, lecturer, and author. It is not surprising, then, that she was in favor of woman’s suffrage and active in a number of women’s organizations, not the least of which was the Library League (newly formed in 1904). There is a pattern evident in this brief biography (Woman’s Who’s Who) where Spalding emerges as a progressive educator. As such, she was an excellent fit for the Pratt Institute.

The institute was founded by industrialist Charles Pratt in Brooklyn, New York at the end of the nineteenth century. Often described as a “self-made” man, Pratt had been successful in business despite the fact that he was not college educated. He felt an enormous sense of obligation to...

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