Catholic Women’s Rhetoric in the United States: Antecedents and Analyses

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Elizabethada Wright, University of Minnesota Duluth
contact email: 





Proposed Book

Catholic Women’s Rhetoric in the United States: Antecedents and Analyses

Editors: Christina Pinkston and Elizabethada A. Wright



As Kathleen Sprows Cummings comments in her book New Women of the Old Faith, scholars of feminism tend to ignore Catholic women as subjects of study because the scholars believe women within the Catholic Church do not have much agency, let alone power (2-3). Yet, the feminist rhetorical scholarship that has blossomed in the past few decades has begun to explore the discourse of these women. Led by prominent rhetoricians such as Carol Mattingly and Nan Johnson, this important work focuses on the education provided by Catholic sisters in the United States, an education that was far more significant than many other examinations of American rhetorical history acknowledge.

Increasingly, rhetoricians have been considering how Catholicism has influenced our discipline.  For example, Cinthia Gannett and John Brereton’s Traditions of Eloquence traces Jesuit effects on rhetoric, and the founding of the International Society for the Study of Jesuit Rhetoric continues this study of Catholic men’s influence on our discipline. While there is increasing interest in men’s Catholic rhetoric, the interest in Catholic women’s rhetoric is far behind despite the influence of Catholic women on society and education. For example, as various scholars (Coburn and Smith, Mahoney) observe, in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, more women attended secondary schools in the United States than did men, mostly because of the religious Sisters’ schools for young women (162). Additionally, within the women serving within United States Congress, twenty percent are Catholic—including Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While the influence of Catholicism may be negligible, the dearth of study within this field leaves only assumptions.

This book works to extend their scholarship of scholars such as Mattingly and Johnson by examining the enormous impact Catholic Women Religious have had on rhetorical education within the United States and how many lay Catholic women used these lessons and examples to negotiate the limitations of the patriarchal Church to create a unique feminist rhetoric.

This collection aims to extend this scholarship and to draw the field’s attention to the rhetoric of Catholic women, not as a marginal subject of interest, but as a central means of understanding how women (in especially marginalized positions) utilize their available means to advance the world.

We invite abstracts for chapters to include in the volume’s proposal. Questions of interest within this volume might include:

  • How do tenets of Catholicism limit or enable women’s discourse?
  • How have intersections of race, class, and ethnicity functioned to shape the rhetoric of Catholic women?
  • How might communities of women religious, both cloistered and uncloistered, have enabled rhetorical collaboration?
  • What theories of rhetorical pedagogy were developed in schools run by Catholic women?
  • How did Catholic schools run by women adapt pedagogical theories developed by male Catholic religious (e.g., Jesuits and Christian Brothers) for their students’ needs?
  • How did Catholic women’s responses to nineteenth- and twentieth century antipapist bias differ from Catholic men’s?
  • Did and/or how did nineteenth- and twentieth-century Catholic schools run by women that educated Native Americans differ from non-Catholic schools for Native Americans?
  • How did nineteenth-century American orders of Catholic women religious for African American women negotiate within a primarily white religion?
  • How do Catholic women discuss issues of sexuality within an often misogynist religion?
  • How implicated were Catholic women (especially religious orders) within the institution of slavery?
  • How did Catholic women utilize ethos within the Civil Rights, Anti-War, Anti-Nuclear, or other Movements?
  • How have groups of lay and religious women worked together to develop effective forms of rhetoric?
  • How can scholars develop histories of Catholic women’s rhetoric when archives contain so little that credits women?
  • Where and how have Catholic men gained credit for rhetorical theories or discourses developed by Catholic women?
  • How did students in Catholic schools run by women negotiate abusive situations?
  • How did and do Catholic women negotiate the patriarchy’s limits on their rhetoric?


Under the subject heading “Proposal for CWR,” please send a 200-250 word abstract, a short vita, and your contact information to Elizabethada Wright by December 15, 2019.


Work Cited


Barnette, Sean. “Hospitality as Kenosis: Dorothy Day’s Voluntary Poverty.” Rethinking Ethos: A Feminist Ecological Approach to Ethos. Ed. Kathleen J. Ryan, Nancy Myers, and Rebecca Jones. SIUP, 2016.

Braude, Ann. “Review of Anne M. Boyland’s The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1794-1840.” Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 1 (2005): 183-184. EBSCOhost, DOI:10.1353/cat.2005.0091.

Coburn, Carol K., and Martha Smith. Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and Daily Life, 1836-1920. University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Cummings, Kathleen Sprows.  New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era. University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Gannett, Cinthia, and John Brereton. Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies. Fordham UP, 2016.

Johnson, Nan. “Rhetorical Education at Catholic Colleges for Women in Ohio: 1925-1940.” Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy and Politics. Ed. Cheryl Glenn and Roxanne Mountford. SIUP, 2017. 214-229.

Mahoney, Kathleen A. “American Catholic Colleges for Women: Historical Origins.” Catholic Women’s College in America. Ed. Tracy Schier and Cynthia Russett.  Johns Hopkins UP, 2002. 25-54

Mattingly, Carol. Secret Habits: Catholic Literacy Education for Women in the Early Nineteenth Century. SIUP, 2016

Tonn, Mari Boor. “‘From the Eye to the Soul’: Industrial Labor's Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones and the Rhetorics of Display.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 3, 2011, pp. 231–249.,