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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Katherine Summers said...

Nikki James and her Tony can be viewed here:

Speaking, of the Tonys, I'd love to hear your take on Alice Ripley's acceptance speech for "Next to Normal" a couple of years ago--I have zero recollection of what she said, just how LOUD she spoke.

I would also be interested in seeing speeches by political spouses--Michelle Obama is kind of a gimme, but I've never seen anything by Laura Bush, for instance. I think it would be interested to see any such woman (as they are often women) speaking as a both a surrogate and a loving wife while balancing (at least in modern times) her own agency.

Other fascinating women that come to mind would be Madeline Albright, Condoleeza Rice, Francis Perkins, and Shirley Chisholm. Part of me would also be interested in hearing a man speaking well about women, as it seems to be so rarely done, although this blog may not be the place for that. And what about someone like Dana Perino, who may not have given many formal, scripted speeches but (at least as White House Press Secretary) spoke publicly, on TV, and on the record constantly?

Heather Stubbs said...

I don't know if you'd find any speeches by her, but Nellie McClung was an outspoken Canadian feminist, politician and social activist. 1873-1951. She was instrumental in getting women in Canada accepted as "persons" in 1927, clearing the way for women to enter politics.

eloquentwoman said...

Katherine and Heather, thanks for those suggestions--some are on the list and I'll add the rest. Great ideas!

For the record, speeches by men -- especially about issues related to women, but not exclusively -- are certainly well within this blog's scope.

And finally, my reference to the Tony acceptance speech was not to suggest that there are no copies available. But my preference is to use copyrighted material appropriately, and every version of the speech in question that has been put on YouTube has been removed later. The authoritative version can't be embedded--and my preference is to show video here where you can see it in context.

Thanks again for all the good ideas and your continued interest!