Women Public Speakers
Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
As an itinerant preacher and lecturer, Frank built upon the experiences of many other nineteenth-century female orators. Women had long found their efforts to speak in the public realm thwarted by legal, political, and cultural barriers. They could not speak up in court to sue, bear witness, or make contracts; they could not take part in politics; they were denied the education necessary for many professions; and convention dictated that their lives should be confined to the private sphere.
Nevertheless, individual women had always braved the odds to make their voices heard, and in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the number of female public speakers rose significantly, as female abolitionists, members of philanthropic societies, temperance workers, and advocates of women's rights took to the rostrum and pressed for change. In many cases, women used traditional ideas about women's character to justify their breaches of "women's sphere." As keepers of the domestic hearth, they argued, women had the authority to act as nurturing mothers to society in general; similarly, their reputations as guardians of the nation's morality legitimated their public criticisms of society's vices. By the mid-nineteenth century, a significant number of women were speaking openly in public settings and putting forth their arguments in print.
Nineteenth-century female orators were a diverse group. Frank was only one of many who lectured regularly for years and traveled the nation on a well-established lecture circuit; some of these women, including Frank, even employed managers to negotiate their speaking engagements and organize their schedules. Many other women were active only briefly and were known only by their local communities. Some supported themselves on their earnings, while others took in nothing. Following in the footsteps of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Sojourner Truth, Ernestine Rose, and many others, Frank was treading a path that, while still far from the norm for the female sex, had been well-marked before her.
- Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993).