Carol Mattingly’s Well-Tempered Women

I didn’t know much about 19th century temperance rhetoric as of this morning. Now I know a bit more. This book, from 1998, is an engaging rhetorical study of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the documents (oh, how I like archival work!) and rhetoric that accompanied it – a tactical and savvy set of manuevers that is linked, but also quite separate, from the more well-known women’s suffrage movement. Francis Willard, in particular, comes off as a rhetorical genius in Mattingly’s treatment.

In brief, the women of the WCTU decided to concentrate on ethical appeals first, as they were often facing an audience that judged them before they opened their mouths and didn’t care to let them speak in the firrst place. They would stress their “womanliness” in dress and Christian manner, tie their temperance efforts to ‘duty’ by noting they were protecting families and children by speaking, and subordinate or deny connections to the more radical women’s rights movement of Stanton and Anthony. It was a long-term strategy, but it seemed to work; it was much harder to argue against women who were for all appearances and claims, acting out of unselfish and pious desperation (Pentacostal spirit, really) rather than challenging gender norms. And yet the prohibition amendment was immediately followed by suffrage. There were some serious missteps along the way, of course – poorly addressed racial tensions, for one, and a rapidly aging membership.

I wonder. The United States was on the forefront of women’s suffrage, but it was not the first country of any size to give (or, rather, to restore) to women the right to vote, save in certain states for temporary periods. That honor goes to New Zealand in 1893. I wonder, thinking solely in terms of effect, if Kate Sheppard’s rhetoric was even more successful than that of Willard’s.

After a brief search, I don’t see any mention of a rhetorical study focused on her – it would make an interesting parallel, as Sheppard’s movement also seemed to attain its suffrage goals through initial support of temperance, fueled by religious conviction. There must have been communication and collaboration with Willard on some level – did rhetorical strategies also pass over? Mattingly describes an impressive array of pedagogical materials the WCTU produced for helping women find their voice in the movement.

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