Friday, October 31, 2014

17 famous speeches by British women in The Eloquent Woman Index

In my keynote speech to the UK Speechwriters Guild in 2013, I noted that the Guardian chose just three speeches by women in its list of 100 great speeches of the 20th century. The most recent was Margaret Thatcher's 1976 "Iron Lady" speech--suggesting, by omission, that it's been a long time since a British woman's given a good speech. Let me set the record straight: There are plenty of great and famous speeches by British women, and this collection of 17 speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index features nearly a dozen delivered since Thatcher's speech took place. I've got the three that made the Guardian's list, and 14 more--and that just scratches the surface.

This eclectic collection ranges from monarchs and MPs to authors, athletes and activists. Each post includes text of the speeches by these eloquent Englishwomen, along with video or audio--where available--and what you can learn from their famous speeches. I list them here in chronological order:
  1. Queen Elizabeth I's speech to the troops at Tilbury, the oldest speech in the Index, is a great example of women's words being co-opted. Of the three surviving versions, all published later by men, chances are good that none of them reflects what she said.
  2. Emmeline Pankhurst's "Freedom or Death" speech was given in the U.S., where the militant suffragette came to avoid another imprisonment and raise funds. She lays out the stakes, as she saw them, in the fight for votes for women.
  3. Nancy Astor's maiden speech in Parliament was a first for the nation. In speaking as the first woman member of Parliament, her voice stood out for many reasons, not least her distinctive tone and humor. She's the lone American in this group, an adopted daughter of England.
  4. The Virginia Woolf lectures that became "A Room of One's Own" were probably difficult to hear, and spent a lot of time suggesting that the speaker was trying to meet the expectations of her audience. But the argument she advanced--that women need income and privacy if they are to create art--still resonates.
  5. Novelist Dorothy Sayers's lecture on the "lost tools of learning" at Oxford was a return to her roots, and to the university that didn't give her a degree until well after she'd earned it. (At the time, it wasn't the custom to grant degrees to women, even if they'd done the work.) She made the case for returning to a classical education in post-World War II England.
  6. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" speech earned her that nickname, warning that Britain needed to increase its Cold War defense against a possible Soviet attack. It was the Soviets that dubbed her the "Iron Lady" after she delivered this speech.
  7. Queen Elizabeth II's tribute to Princess Diana was the monarch's first live television address, a smart move in reaching a mourning nation and world. In this post, we also include the queen's very first speech, given as a teenager on live radio in World War II, as a bookend to the modern speech.
  8. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the apes" is a speech she gives to get audiences excited about saving apes and other wildlife. The primatologist known for living amongst the apes now spends about 300 days a year traveling and giving speeches to advance her work.
  9. Elisabeth Murdoch's speech to the UK television industry started right in by taking the industry to task for not inviting more women to speak in this prestigious annual lecture, and didn't mince words the rest of the speech, either.
  10. Tilda Swinton's "David Bowie Is..." speech put the award-winning actress in the role of Number One Fan at the opening of a museum retrospective on musician David Bowie's style.
  11. British Olympic cyclist Nicole Cook's retirement speech did not let her go gentle into that good night. Instead, she took the sport to task for its lack of funding and support for women cyclists.
  12. Sue Austin's "most mobile person" TEDMED talk had the audience rethinking what it means to be in a cage, whether that meant mental or physical limits. Her underwater dives in a wheelchair furthered the definition as she described what it felt like to get past the cage and move.
  13. Caroline Criado-Perez spoke about talking back to cyber bullies rather than being silenced by them, and used the harsh words of her attackers in her speech to make them part of the record. She's the woman who was threatened and harrassed online after her successful campaign to get a woman other than the Queen on British currency.
  14. Tanni Grey-Thompson's "shout a bit louder" on disability was a tribute speech by a current Member of Parliament to a deceased one who'd served as an important role model to her and other people with disabilities. In the process, she speaks movingly about living with society's attitudes toward people with disabilities.
  15. Classics scholar Mary Beard spoke about the "public voice of women" and took us from the first time in recorded history that a man told a woman to shut up--The Odyssey--to the present day, looking at how we see and hear (or don't) the voices of women.
  16. Home Secretary Theresa May took the British Police Federation to task in a 2014 speech that left her audience in stunned silence. This speech had a forceful job to do, pushing forward police reforms in the wake of more than a dozen scandals and investigations. After it, she surged high in the polls.
  17. Penny Mordaunt's loyal address in Parliament replied to the Queen's opening of the 2014 sessions...and represented the first time in more than a half-century that a woman had been asked to do the honors. After this speech, she was asked to join the government in a senior role. This ceremonial speech indicates she has a bright speaking future ahead.
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