Dana Rubin is a speechwriter based in New York. She has been a supporter of our Network for many years. She has recently brought out an anthology of American women’s speeches. In many ways Dana is carrying on the work started by the late Denise Graveline, who spoke at our early conferences. Denise edited a blog called The Eloquent Woman, which has been preserved for posterity.
Women have not been silent in history, but you’d hardly know it from the history books and speech anthologies.
That’s the realisation I came to some years ago when I began teaching public speaking. I would ask my students, which women speakers from history do you admire?
Who do you see as a role model? Which women’s speeches do you remember? Who can you quote?
The answer was almost always the same: silence.
Occasionally someone would mention Sojourner Truth, Emmeline Pankhurst, or Eleanor Roosevelt.
Maybe, Hillary, Michelle, or Oprah. But almost everyone could rattle off the names of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, RFK, and Ronald Reagan, aka “The Great Communicator.”
So where were all the women? At first I was angry — and then I got busy.
I started looking through old newspapers, journals, out-of-print books, and manuscripts, searching for historic speeches by women.
When I would find them, I would put them on the Speaking While Female Speech Bank, a free online resource that now has thousands of speeches by women from all over the world and across time.
And I’ve just published a new anthology of US women’s speeches, Speaking While Female: 75 Extraordinary Speeches by American Women.
It’s the first book to make the case that women in America have always been speaking in public, from pre-Colonial times to the present — even if they’re not in the history books. Women’s formidable speech and rhetorical firepower have changed the course of history.
As speechwriters, we should know the names Théroigne de Méricourt, Helene Lange, Nelly Roussel, Camilla Collett, Dolores Ibárruri, Bertha Lutz, and so many more. Because as speechwriters, when we overlook women’s voices in history, we short change ourselves. We deprive ourselves of a rich history that should inform and inspire our work.
That history belongs to us all.