AT THE INTERSECTION OF UTOPIA AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE: THE SPATIAL-RHETORICAL NEGOTIATIONS OF 19TH-CENTURY WOMEN

Open Access
Author:
Smith, Michelle C
Graduate Program:
English
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
May 12, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Cheryl Jean Glenn, Dissertation Advisor
  • Cheryl Jean Glenn, Committee Chair
  • John L Selzer, Committee Member
  • Hester Maureen Blum, Committee Member
  • Melissa Wright, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • intentional communities
  • gender
  • space
  • rhetoric
  • public
Abstract:
The primary goal of this dissertation is to understand the role of space in women’s participation in 19th-century intentional communities and publics. Through their participation in 19th-century utopian experiments, my subjects were exposed to unconventional ideas about space, gender, labor, and community. Like many other participants in such communities, my subjects also formed rhetorical alliances with larger American communities concerned with business, politics, and social norms. The project follows these rhetorical trajectories from utopian space to the public sphere, guided by my overarching question: how does space affect the rhetorical alliances of 19th-century women? Following the theoretical and methodological orientation in Chapter Two, I go on to examine three female rhetors, drawing from their published writings and speeches and archival sources within their communities or pertaining to the women themselves. Chapter Three explores the infamous Frances Wright. Wright’s initial utopian reading of America prompted an aggressive campaign for abolition via an interracial communal experiment in Tennessee. After the community’s failure, Wright went on to become a leader in the freethought movement, employing spatial strategies such as relocating to New York and repurposing a church into a “Hall of Science” to promote the movement. Chapter Four, in contrast, examines my most obscure subject: Gertrude Rapp. Rapp lived her entire life within the German pietist Harmony Society. Rapp’s letters, circulated among a network of silk-growers, facilitated her participation in the burgeoning silk industry of mid 19th-century America. By situating the Harmony Society at the forefront of the “silk cause,” Rapp positioned her non-normative community as an integral part of America. Chapter Five explores the rhetoric of Abby Morton Diaz, who spent several years in the Transcendental Brook Farm. The community’s theories of space and labor were applied unevenly to the men and women of Brook Farm, belying gender hypocrisies that Diaz would expose in her writings about domestic space. Later in life, Diaz worked within a Boston women’s club to create urban space for cross-class relationships among women. In my final chapter, I consider some “Lessons from Intentional Communities,” lessons central to the study of rhetoric as a spatial practice.