Friday, June 24, 2011

The quest to find women's speeches: 23 Famous Speech Fridays

Some readers think that the Famous Speech Friday series was created to inspire, teach history, or offer an excuse for speech analysis. But in fact the series, and its predecessors – like our top women speakers series – are really here for just one reason. Speaking coaches, speechwriters, and would-be speakers keep writing to me asking where they can find famous speeches by women. And after working to compile these series, I have a few ideas about why they're having so much trouble.

For starters, throughout our history women have been silenced for long stretches of time. As early as the marketplaces in ancient Greece and as recently as last time a man told a woman she talks too much, we are historically in the habit of preventing women from speaking in public. So for many of the time periods I research, women speakers are rare. There are exceptions during these time periods – like Susan B. Anthony, for example--but they are few and far between, and their lives are made more difficult for bucking the trend. I'd love to bring you a speech by Florence Nightingale, for example, but there aren't any I can find; like her contemporaries, she believed public speaking to be improper for a woman.

The other stumbling block: Few records of women's speeches are available, whether in written, audio or video formats. In a few precious cases, dedicated historians and librarians make some speeches by women available, although these archives and women's studies research are losing funding and not able to keep up. But try entering “famous speeches” in YouTube, or checking the list of top political speeches compiled by political scientists, and it’s tough to find a woman. I've had inquirers ask whether I know of any famous women speakers other than, or more recent than, Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Jordan, who are often the only two women on such lists. So we're not recording, saving or uploading women's speeches as much as men's, and we seem not to be tagging them as famous. And don't start me on the great women's speeches that can't be embedded or shared--that's why you don't see me writing about actress Nikki James's great Tony Awards acceptance speech, because the Tony Awards won't let me share it here. Conference organizers, please publish records of talks by men and women.

We're just six months into the most recent series, Famous Speech Friday. We've got a great collection started, and it's clear to me that there are lots of good speeches to bring forward. Here's a catalog of all our Famous Speech Friday posts so far, and please leave your suggestions for new entries in the comments!

Coretta Scott King's "10 Commandments on Vietnam"

Ursula K. Leguin's "Left-handed commencement address"

Hillary Clinton's concession speech

Sheila Widnall on women in engineering

Barbara Jordan's Democratic Convention keynote

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Declaration of Human Rights

Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King

Helen Keller: "Strike Against War" and "I am not dumb now"

Betty Friedan's call for a women's strike

Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" lectures

Lady Bird Johnson's 1964 whistlestop tour

Reps. Jackie Speier and Gwen Moore on abortion and family planning services

Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 acceptance speech

Sojourner Truth "Ain't I a Woman?"

Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring"

Elizabeth II tribute to Princess Diana

Clara Barton's Andersonville testimony

Susan B. Anthony's "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?"


Phyllis Rodriguez & Aicha el-Wafi on 9/11 forgiveness


Margaret Sanger, The Children's Era

Rose Schneiderman on the Triangle Fire

Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement address

Aimee Semple McPherson's speech in a speakeasy


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