“I immediately discredit her when a pretty woman speaks on these shows,” surprisingly said my college-bound nineteen year old son this morning while watching a Sunday morning political show. I wasn’t watching, but I could hear one female voice among a chorus of men and she was complaining about something going on in the country. I told Ian he had a “beauty bias” but he didn’t engage me. I’m an optimist, so I’m optimistic that a few years in college will help Ian’s views evolve. Especially since he’ll be attending Oberlin College, where Lucy Stone was the first woman ever to graduate. She was one of the early women speakers who gained a wide audience for her speeches on equality. None other than Susan B. Anthony considered Stone “more eloquent than any other mortal woman speaker.”
I’m thoroughly enjoying several books by Robert T. Oliver a prolific former head of the PSU speech communication department. I was delighted this morning when I got to page 438 if his 566 page tome, The History of Public Speaking in America and read the heading “Women Take the Platform.” I wasn’t sure he would include early women speakers. He wrote: “It was on a Fourth of July, 1828, that the first recorded public speech by a woman was delivered int he United States, by a Scottish immigrant educator, Frances Wright, in the communist community she had founded in New Harmony, Indiana.” Oliver traced the beginnings of women’s oratory in the United States, noting that “the first American-born woman to speak out publicly again these [women’s] conditions–and also for the abolition of slavery–was a Negress, Mrs. Frances Maria W. Stewart.” He then traced the steps of the Grimke sisters and the efforts ten years later of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Robert Oliver admits that the women’s suffragist movement “had many beginnings, rooted in many personalities.” I contend that these early women were indeed the pioneers who paved the way for the women who ran for president and will continue to do so.
It includes pioneers for Woman’s Suffrage: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and an unknown future activist, who remains uncarved. Who will she be? The rest of this summer and fall I will be polling women students about their feelings about women and the United States presidency. So stay tuned. Though I can think of a few contemporary women who have already taken up the cause of the suffragist movement and deserve to be carved into this statue, perhaps the one who breaks that ultimate glass ceiling, the United State presidency, will give the artist work to do.