Militant Citizenship
Rhetorical Strategies of the National Woman's Party, 1913-1920
Rhetoric - Women's Studies
6 x 9, 320 pp.
10 b&w photos. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 09/05/2011
Presidential Rhetoric and Political Communication
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978-1-60344-281-7
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2012 Marie Hochmuth Nichols Award, presented by National Communication Association

2012 Winifred Bryan Horner Outstanding Book Award- Honorable Mention, presented by the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

Militant Citizenship

Rhetorical Strategies of the National Woman's Party, 1913-1920

Belinda A. Stillion Southard

Between 1913 and 1920, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) waged a campaign to write women’s voting rights into the U.S. Constitution. Unlike the more moderate campaign strategies adopted by other woman suffrage organizations of the Progressive Era, the NWP remained committed to militant agitation—that is, holding political party leaders responsible for social change and doing so through nontraditional means of protest. Some of these militant strategies included heckling President Wilson, protesting silently outside the White House gates, and publicly burning his speeches in “Watch Fires.”

Such militancy resulted in institutional acts of social control including censorship, arrests, beatings, and force-feedings. And yet, by the end of the woman suffrage movement, the NWP had earned the endorsements of every major political party, as well as of prominent politicians (including Wilson), and had found its name splashed across the front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. One Times article even referred to the NWP as the “suffrage leaders.” Exploring the ways in which the militant NWP negotiated institutional opposition and secured such a prominent position in national politics drives the analysis offered in this manuscript.

In light of the NWP’s militant identity and its demonstrated political viability, Belinda A. Stillion Southard treats the party’s campaign for woman suffrage as an example of how a relatively powerless group of women constituted themselves as “national citizens” through rhetoric. To this end, she uses volumes of NWP discourse, including correspondence, photographs, protests, and publications, to situate the NWP in the historical and ideological forces of the period, particularly as they are inflected by meanings of nationalism, citizenship, and social activism. In addition to this project’s historical focus, this study features the critical concept of political mimesis to help explain the ways in which the NWP mimicked political rhetorics and rituals to simultaneously agitate and accommodate members of the political elite.

Taking root in Aristotle’s notion of mimesis as the process of representation and drawing upon more postmodern theories that link mimesis to identity-formation, this study demonstrates that the NWP’s mimetic strategies took multiple forms, including parody and appropriation. Through the rhetoric of political mimesis, the NWP militantly inserted itself into U.S. politics while it also earned the political legitimacy needed to assert women’s citizenship rights. Ultimately, the strength of political mimesis as a strategy of social change was demonstrated by the ways in which the NWP’s rhetoric circulated within national and international political discourse and solicited a response from political leaders, the U.S. news media, and NWP supporters.
 

BELINDA A. STILLION SOUTHARD is assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia in Athens.

 

What Readers Are Saying:

"This book invites readers to adopt a distinctive approach to the radical activism of what became the National Woman's Party by arguing that much of its impact came from its use of mimesis. Woman suffragists mimicked the inauguration parade with a suffrage parade, imitated the militancy of WWI with "silent sentinels" battling for their rights, and Wilson's "rhetorical presidency" by reaching out to the citizen directly through picketing the White House while displaying large banners and using a paid press bureau to ensure front page coverage of their public actions. They parodied the words of President Wlison to show the hypocrisy of a war for democracy when U.S. women were denied suffrage, and imitating others, they formed a third party and "held the party in power [Democrats]" responsible for failure to pass a suffrage amendment campaigned vigorously to defeat them."--Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Professor of Communication Studies, University of Minnesota


 “In her book, Militant Citizenship, Belinda Stillion Southard provides a new vision of National Woman's Party strategies that is certain to energize suffrage movement scholarship. The strengths of this study are immediately apparent in the introductory chapters as Stillion Southard deftly draws together the strands of the many events, organizations, movements, and personalities in the slow evolution of suffrage activism preceding the militancy of the progressive era. She clearly outlines the rhetorical task of the suffragists of the early twentieth century in their drive to take their rightful place as part of the national identity and to achieve a meaningful voice in the national dialogue.  Militant Citizenship is a groundbreaking study of political mimesis as practiced by the NWP in four key areas: their construction of such political rituals as the 1913 suffrage parade, their strategy of third-party politics, their confrontation with Woodrow Wilson's rhetorical presidency, and their adoption of internationalist arguments in support of women's full citizenship.  Intriguing, too, is Stillion Southard's clear-eyed view of the "expedient racism" of suffragist policy, an aspect that reveals the dark side of mimetic strategy and one that cost the movement in the final drive toward ratification. Stillion Southard has produced a well-argued study of depth and nuance that transforms our understanding of militancy, the National Woman's Party, and the broader strategy of political mimesis.”--Cheryl Jorgensen-Earp, Professor of Communication Studies, Lynchburg College


 “Belinda A. Stillion Southard’s account of feminist dissent in the early twentieth century seems especially timely. Southard’s study adds an important dimension to our appreciation of the more radical wing of woman suffrage movement not only through an analysis of the rhetoric of public addresses, but also through the interpretive lens of visual culture.”—Ruth Crocker, American Historical Review

"...Her analysis of the use of political mimesis is outstanding...Southard's substantial coverage of the NWP's influence on the worldwide woman's movement is a welcome addition to the historiography."--Heidi Osselaer, The Journal of Arizona History

"This text will be of interest to scholars engaged in examining rhetorics of protest and advocacy, feminist organizations' rhetorical resources, and presidential rhetoric. Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students considering archival research would benefit from treating Stillion Southard's capable case studies as analytic models. Perhaps most importantly, any reader feeling dismayed by contemporary disenfranchisement will close this book feeling a renewd sense of hope because of the author's compelling account of the ingenious, courageous, militant rhetoical labors that contributed to the passage and ratification of the sufferage amendment on August 20, 1919." — Rhetoric and Public Affairs

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