Finding Our Giants

When I was in high school, I read the book Hyperspace by Michio Kaku. It was my first introduction to string theory, but also my first introduction to the mathematician Ramanujan. As a young child in India, Ramanujan re-developed modern mathematics from scratch. He wrote to professors in England, sharing his proofs, but most of them did not respond, finding that he was sending proofs that were already widely known. One man did respond, and brought Ramanujan to England.

Ramanujan died before the age of 35. And, in reading Hyperspace, I remember the sense of grief imbued in that story. If only he had not had to spend so much time doing work that others had already done. If only he had not been ignored for so long. If only he lived longer, just imagine what he could have accomplished!

When I read of women whose writings have survived to us from antiquity or even more recently than that, there is no such sense. No one seems to mourn all the girls who never had an opportunity to learn to read and write. No one brings up the rare woman who did fight for and gain a voice and shakes their head with sorrow at the possibility lost. If only she had not had to fight so hard just to learn. If only she had been given a platform for her ideas. If only she had not died so young in childbirth!

In the experience of myself and some of my classmates, "feminism" has become a dirty word. It is as if when a woman says to a man, "I am a feminist," the man might hear any number of things. He could hear those words, but he could also hear, "you are a rapist," or "I hate men," or even simply "you are doing something wrong." When one person is privileged, it is difficult for them to hear about or understand that others are not.

I know that I grew up with many privileges, but a penis wasn't one of them. I know I can't entirely blame my lack of self-confidence on that, but I have also experienced having my ideas ignored until they are repeated by a man. I have been cat-called and groped. Would I be a different person if I hadn't been?

At my undergraduate program at St. John's College, there were fairly even numbers of men and women students, though the tutors skewed more male. And men and women both spoke in classes. But I always had trouble speaking up. And I can't help but wonder if I might have been able to speak more if I had been in an all female class. Would that have helped my confidence? I didn't know, when I began, how to argue and put forth my point, and especially how to take someone arguing back aggressively. And yes, the more aggressive speakers tended to be overly self-confident males, speaking as if they were speaking not opinion but truth.

I learned how to function in that environment by adapting myself to it, and I can't help but wonder whether that program might have benefited from adapting itself to me. If, perhaps, by actively seeking out women writers - even if they were not part of the traditional canon on which the program is based - they might have demonstrated that even I, a woman, had a place in rhetoric.

In what may be one of the world's first recorded humble-brags, Isaac Newton is credited with saying, "If I have seen further it is from standing on the shoulders of giants."

I believe that the point of this course, Women Writers, and the anthology, Available Means, is to unearth that trace of female rhetoric that has always existed, whether or not it was acknowledged in the traditional Western Canon. Because if we are to move forward, to find ways to communicate the goals of feminism without ostracizing half our audience, to find a way to see further... then we must first find our giants.


Although I read many of Plato's dialogues at St. John's College, I had not read Menexenus, in which Aspasia of Miletus is named as a teacher of Socrates. Much of the dialogue consists of a recitation by Socrates of what he calls a speech he overheard from Aspasia.

In Available Means, a portion of the preceding dialogue between Socrates and Menexenus is cut, as is a portion of the speech itself. The translation is by a man, and an old translation. I would guess that because the words recorded are technically from Socrates and the rhetoric in some ways standard for the day, that the editors of the anthology did not want to use a more modern translation or even commission one from a woman. The translation used is available for free online through Project Gutenberg.

In the words of the introduction to the excerpt, the selection "was written by a man, reporting the words of another man, who is reporting yet another man's words but claiming that the words were written by a woman--Aspasia of Miletus" (1). I would add that those words were filtered through yet another man in the act of translation, which is something that had not occurred to the instructor.

Having translated portions of Homer and Plato from Ancient Greek, I know that translators do not always agree. Translation is an art, not a science. Shades of meaning in both the origin and target languages can be lost in translation. A bias towards poetry can produce translations worthy of ridicule (cough Fagles' Oddyssey cough). I had another translation of Menexenus handy, and found that it was quite different in execution though the sentiment was close to the same.

During the second class session, we spent much of our time discussing the introduction to the anthology, however at the end of the class period, the instructor brought up a few ideas regarding it, which I looked upon skeptically. To her, the fact that Aspasia refers to the earth as a mother is a significant rhetorical breakthrough, a feminist slant in a time when women were only a small step above slaves. To me, the Ancient Greek word for earth is female, and, in Greek Mythology, the Earth is the Mother of creation. There is nothing at all radical about calling the land a mother, nor even referring to the city of Athens as a mother, especially considering that its patron god was Athena.

It is not so much the content of the speech, which is called a standard of its type, but the fact that it is attributed to a woman that is important. It is one of the few records that remain from antiquity of a woman rhetor. Instead of seeing her words, we get only a reflection, or a fossil, the impression that she left behind. What kind of information do we usually glean from fossils? Not the life of a person or the body of a creature, but simply the bones - an idea of structure and a proof of existence.

Perhaps that is why the editors chose not to include the entirety of the speech, or spring for a woman translator. The fact of Aspasia is far more important than the words that Plato reports Socrates reproducing for the ears of Menexenus.

Julian of Norwich

It seems unfair that rhetoric and writing were so limited in the centuries between Plato and Julian of Norwich that when we search for women rhetors, we can find only a few to fill the gap of over a millennium. How can there even be said to be a tradition of women's rhetoric with gaps like that? It seems like an exercise in futility, trying to trace women through recorded history.

It is odd to me that the same institution that seems to be a large component of the suppression of women, the church, also gave a very few women the opportunity to take some control of their lives. The very structure of the church allowed them, if they were determined, convinced that god was speaking to them, to claim the rights of a religious. Indeed, the church provided a way for these women to claim the need to speak by divine right.

Unlike Aspasia's non-feminist calling the earth a mother, Julian's naming of Jesus as mother is revolutionary and uncommon. Against the patriarchal view of God the Father, Julian's visions in Revelations of Divine Love showed her a more whole version of God, encompassing both male and female, as would seem only logical for a perfect God. And if God were triune, then each piece must partake of both the male and the female, the generative and the creative.

Julian uses logical arguments to back up her divine revelations. "I understood three ways of seeing motherhood in God" (27). By laying out not only reasons, but three reasons, which harmonizes with the Holy Trinity. She provides a place for women within God, instead of excluding them from the divine as the traditional Father, Son and Holy Ghost layout does.

For the first time in writing, women were included in the church as a voice, an individual and a personal voice. Julian created a vision of God that gave women a place and an honor beyond that of being simply the mother of God - instead they may partake of God the Mother.

Catherine of Siena

Catherine's "Letter 83: To Mona Lapa, her mother, in Siena" includes appeals to logic. "You were glad, I remember, for the sake of material gain when your sons left home to win temporal wealth" (31). As opposed to her mother's reaction to Catherine's absence, which is to call her to come home. And that is only one of the reasons that she gives her mother.

She also implores her mother to act like Mary and leave Catherine to God's work as Mary left Jesus on the cross. This analogy seems to place Catherine in the role of Jesus, though she does not explicitly state that. She, like many of these women writers, uses subtlety and delicate phrasing. How much should her words be interpreted, especially considering that it is a translation from Italian (albeit by a woman)?

The end of the letter has an ellipsis indicating a portion of it was cut out. I can't help but be curious as to what exactly the editors of this anthology thought should be cut out of the short letter that they provided. I understand that not everything can be included in a book, which by its very nature is finite, but I do wish there could have been a footnote explaining the cut out portion, my own nature including a healthy portion of curiosity.

Personally, I don't like that the examples of women rhetors from the middle ages tend to be religious. However, I know that in that time period it wasn't just women that were limited to spiritual writings. Many men also wrote theological works or those couched in theological terms in those times. It was a natural consequence of writing and education tending to be concentrated in the church.

The voice of Catherine's writing did speak to me as she sounded like an exasperated daughter writing to her clingy mother. Our reasons may be different, but we both wish our mothers to let us live our own lives. The difference is in her time it was a radical idea, and in my time it is not all that far from normal.

It is difficult to conceive of being not allowed by culture and custom to pursue an education. To be thought of as a part and parcel of my family and not as a person on my own. How difficult it is to discern what part of my personality is me, some sort of inviolate central core of identity and what part of me is the culture in which I was raised. Would I care, if I didn't know any better? Would I have been happier with fewer choices, less education, less freedom?

Christine de Pizan

In the introductory portion of the section on Christine de Pizan, the editors of Available Means stress how often she used the "I" construction, even "I, Christine," as if to emphasize that the "I" was a female person (32). However, in the subsequent passages quoted from Christine's The Book of the City of Ladies, or at least in the translation thereof, nowhere do those words occur.

And it may, again, be a case of translation. Although the recommendation for further reading on page 42 is for a translation by Sarah Lawson, the text has a translation from Earl Jeffrey Richards, another male translator. Again, I don't like that this text uses so many (so far) male translators. Is there a bias? Why should it be important to me that the translator of this women's rhetoric, this time truly a woman's words, is a man? There is no strict way to correctly translate from one language to another, or Google Translate would be perfect. There are nuances, especially with writings that are in older dialects. 

Phrases and rhetorical choices can be highly influenced by translation. I know this. I have spent many years of schooling doing translations from Ancient Greek, Latin and French. Nuances of the language are difficult enough to translate - why should this woman's voice be forced through a man's interpretation? 

But I haven't gotten to the actual text. I did enjoy it enough to be curious about the parts of the text that were cut out. What, for example, were the other scepters for? 

Christine was the focus of much discussion in our fourth class session. Her use of rhetorical devices is both apt and admirable. Playing to her audience, she declares that the men who write and say that women are bad must be correct, since they all seem to agree in the essential perfidy of women though it pains her. By agreeing, she places herself in a position where she is not disturbing the status quo. She feigns doubt in order to present her point through a set of divine characters. 

By placing her "I" in the position of agreement with the general consensus, she thereby allows the contrary views expressed by the ladies to come from an authority higher than that of a mere mortal woman. And she even places herself in the position of having to be persuaded that women, virtuous women, can be of worth and are not necessarily as literally written about. She bemoans her sex, "for I detested myself and the entire feminine sex, as though we were monstrosities in nature" (34). 

And once Reason convinces her that she is wrong to curse being born a woman, she explains the reasons that the men who have written about women in such a way, perhaps in order to allow some men to agree that they did not mean what they had written or spoken, but were only going along with the great writers of the past or intending their words to be taken as ironic. She is not attacking men, but rather the ideas that attack women.

After a Seminar freshmen year at St. John's, I told the tutor that I felt like I had read a different text than the rest of the class - after class had ended. He told me that he wished I had said so during class, because those kinds of discussions tended to be the best kind. In our fourth class session, another student brought up an interpretation that had never occurred to me. She believed that "Nature, which allows the will of the heart to put into effect what the powerful appetite desires, has grown cold in them," (40), meant that women were in a state closer to capital N Nature and men were separated from Nature to their detriment.

I had a completely different interpretation of that sentence. In my opinion, it meant that the men who grew old and impotent were mad at all women because of their inability to have sex. Losing sexual power, they resort to take whatever power they can over both women, by lambasting and slandering them, and men, by telling them women are no good.

And this time, yes, I did speak up and made my different opinion known. It was difficult for me to do. My heart was pounding to speak up, but I did it. And, just before the end of class, the first student said that she was glad that I had offered the differing interpretation. Even reading the same words, interpretations can differ, and that's practically the point of a class like this, to discover how others read a text - else why not simply read on one's own?

Christine uses exclusionary language in her argument. The City of Ladies is only for some women. It is not for "those women who lack virtue" (38). This exclusion led one person in my class to coin the phrase "medieval slut-shaming," which was, frankly, awesome. And that, I think, is a fatal flaw in Christine's rhetoric, and in the rhetoric of many of the women writers so far. Women as a whole cannot fight for their rights if they are fighting among themselves. If I am so busy trying to sift the virtuous women from those who lack virtue, then when will I find the time to point out how all women are being discriminated against?

This trend continues even today with the so-called "cool girl" trope. She doesn't mind if you look at porn, and she'll watch football with you. She'll laugh at your sexist jokes, because she's not like the other girls. She's cool. Why can't you stodgy feminists just be like the cool girl?

Perhaps it is not just giants that we need to seek, but also peers. Peers to support us and bring us together rather than continually dividing us and setting us against ourselves.

Margery Kempe

The piece of Margery Kempe's story that is presented in Available Means gives an interesting example of how women are expected to act about their work. She herself cannot write, and so she must get someone else to write her story down for her. She frames this in such a way as to imply that the writing only came about through the grace of God, thereby creating a spiritual endorsement of the work. If God had not wanted Margery Kempe's story to be written, then it wouldn't have been, therefore it is the will of God that it be written.

Kempe's preface to The Book of Margery Kempe does not come right out and state that, but it does imply it by detailing the difficulties that she encountered in trying to get the text written. She cannot outright state it, since her pen is not the one doing the writing. She must work around the male scribe in the telling of the tale in order to present what she believes to be true.

In order to justify her right to have her story told, she gives proofs of her talking to God, appealing to the male authorities of the church as well as female mystics. It is as if it is not truly her choice to speak out, but rather the will of God, for how else could the words of a woman be worthy of record? Through the hand of a man, and the translation from Old English of yet another man, still, her story survived.

In class, one woman mentioned that she had, in a previous class, read the whole Book of Margery Kempe, in Old English even. She told us that there were themes of sexual assault and harassment in the book, including Margery's rape by her husband. By retreating into religious life, did Margery gain some safety? Is the choice always between safety and freedom?

Margery was still persecuted, even after retreating into a religious life. "[The Lord] would speak to me and tell my soul how I would be despised for his love" (45). People didn't believe in her closeness to God, and her former friends became her enemies. The long road to transcribing her story only emphasizes its importance and her right to be heard.

Queen Elizabeth

In her speech, "To the Troops at Tilbury," Queen Elizabeth uses her femininity as a rhetorical tool. She contrasts her "weak" female body with her strong, kingly stomach. By pointing to an internal feature, she is able to take on a masculine aspect to relate to her audience even while they can see her femininity before them. Does that insult the female body, to use it so negatively? Or is it a form of regaining control, such as reclaiming a slur?

It is interesting that in all the long years of her reign, the editors of this book chose a speech less than a page in length to highlight. The stub biography they provide for her is longer than her speech. But it is a powerful speech, and powerful in its implications.

Here is a female Queen, a woman who refused marriage because she was married to her country. She makes of her governance a religious vocation. She takes on aspects of men and women in order to totally rule her country. She dares to speak to soldiers and encourage them to war, less as Queen than as Ruler.

Her mention of a weak female body leads to a powerful moment of playing to her audience. "I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too" (49). I can almost see the pride swelling in the breasts of the English sailors and soldiers. A king of England, indeed.

Rhetoric is designed to play to an audience, and this short speech demonstrates that Queen Elizabeth knew well how to do that.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

It seems impossible that I had not heard of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz before. A woman so driven by curiosity and scholarship that she entered religious service in order to continue its pursuit. She seems not to have been especially religious, especially at first, but it was her only route to continue study and she took it.

The text of hers included in Available Means, from "La Respuesta," is an impassioned plea to be allowed to continue studying, and it is a fine example of rhetoric. She points to personal evidence of dedication, such as cutting her hair, though it was not the fashion, to encourage herself to learn Latin more quickly. She logically lays out the reasons that she must study everything in order to study Scripture. In order to place herself in a lineage of women who learn, she lists women of the past.

A common thread in these rhetorics is the idea of apology or humbling. The woman writing must prevent herself from being seen as a threat to the established order while also doing what she wants to do. She becomes an exception, and exceptional. Sor Juana disclaims her love of learning as meritorious, because it is, to her, a necessity. And yet, she gives a subtle dig, by stating that these habits of hers are seen as meritorious in men (77).

Thus, these women rhetors distance themselves from their own opinions, or even the idea that women can have opinions. Christine used allegory. Julian, Catherine and Margery used religion. Sor Juana uses nature, specifically, her own natural inclination to learn, to paint herself as one in thrall to learning, with no particular merit beyond her nature.

Mary Astell

The very title of this selection speaks to what Mary Astell sought: Serious Proposal to the Ladies. Serious. At a time when women's concerns were thought to be the opposite of serious, Astell focuses on how her argument is different.

She asks for a place to which women can retreat, a Protestant place, to contrast with existing Catholic religious retreats. Indeed, the first word she uses to describe the retreat is monastery, but she quickly retreats from the Catholic connotations of that word. And, by exercising intellectual faculties and excluding sinful temptations, women will be prepared for the Afterlife with God. To this good place, the ladies are explicitly and inclusively invited.

Mary Astell writes her own words; there is no translator standing between her words and our eyes. That is refreshing, and becoming more common as the book moves quickly into the modern era. I have to wonder how many woman rhetors are lost to time, either through being truly lost or successfully hiding their identities behind a man's name.

One of the difficulties of Mary's proposal is that her audience would not necessarily want to be told that they are deficient by lacking education. She must carefully frame the argument as a benefit not only to men but to women. And yet, this careful framing does not mean that she circumlocutes unintelligibly. "If therefore we desire to be intelligible to every body, our Expressions must be more plain and explicit than they needed to be if we writ only for our selves" (82). Knowing that she writes to an audience, she sets for clear arguments meant to persuade without insulting either men or women.


I would like to believe that "Petition of an African Slave" was written by Belinda herself in the third person, although it is possible that it was transcribed by another. That Belinda, a former slave, could not only demand a stipend of support from her former master's estate, but also write it herself is a more compelling narrative. But, in the end, what I am more curious about is not whether she wrote it, but whether her petition was successful.

Since I cannot satisfy that curiosity, I will instead look at her words. In class, we spoke about how she uses emotion and drama to try and garner sympathy from her audience. She actually tells a well-structured story about her life, emphasizing her happy childhood as a contrast to what happened when she was enslaved. Her descriptions are vivid and compelling.

It seems incredible that someone who was not only enslaved, but also female, would have the gumption to petition for what she saw as her clear right - support from the estate that she toiled for without remuneration. How does slavery change one's ability to speak and present oneself in public? She had to be humble in the petition, and yet not pitiful. She does not come across as asking for a handout, but rather as demanding just compensation.

I would be persuaded by her argument, but as not only female, but as a former slave, Belinda did not have the benefit of having any peers hear her plea. It would have been men more like her former owner who decided whether to rule for or against her. And it seems likely that they would choose to rule against her, in order to establish precedent that might protect themselves at a later date.

Mary Wollstonecraft

To the disappointment of some of my classmates, Mary Wollstonecraft focuses her arguments for women's rights in the selection we read from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman on how such advancements will benefit men. If a woman be educated, then she will make a better wife and a better mother. While her lot may be improved, her status would remain that of a servant simply by virtue of her sex.

To me, that kind of argument was playing to her audience. She schemed, if you will, to get men to accept women's education by framing her argument directly to men. And, once women begin to be educated, then what is to stop them from clamoring with yet a louder voice for more rights? Perhaps she had faith that when the educated woman was no longer the exception, they could expand their arguments to include those benefits which would be exclusively woman's.

And yet, she did also argue that it was not only for the benefit of men that women should be educated, but for the betterment of society as a whole. "[Y]et the gangrene [of the uneducated, oppressed women], which the vices engendered by the oppression have produced, is not confined to the morbid part, but pervades society at large" (105). This comparison of the whole of society to a living being allows Wollstonecraft to subtly push for not just educational equality, but more than that. It leaves an opening for further arguments of equality to be made each time women gain any small bit, for how shall society be healthy if its members are unequally restricted?

Calling a conclusion obvious is a rhetorical device designed to gain agreement from an audience, and Wollstonecraft uses that to her advantage. And yet, she also uses obvious to pull that female apology maneuver by calling her suggestions for education "obviously hints" (101). Although Wollstonecraft is able to argue for the cause in which she believes, she is still constrained to argue as a woman in a culture that favors men.

And although her demands seem quite modest from the perspective of today's culture, at the time, simply asking for education was a large step. She must strike a delicate balance between claiming rights for women and not seeming to be asking that men give up rights. And that seems to be similar to present day feminist concerns. When women ask for equality, it seems to men that they demand a concession - a change of the natural order which would leave them deficient.

Cherokee Women

It seems as if this bit of text is almost included more to give the background of the place of women in the Cherokee culture than for particular merit in rhetoric. I found it difficult to read; the punctuation was oddly spaced. These difficulties caused me to miss at first what I now consider the most important part of "Cherokee Women Address Their Nation."

Nowhere do the women apologize for speaking. Nowhere do they defend their right to speak. Instead, they consider it their duty to speak out.

This is in stark contrast to most of the other woman rhetors we have read so far. Each finds some way to demonstrate how humble she is, how beneath the notice of the male reader, calling their suggestions mere hints and their talents poor faults. They line up exceptional women of the past as reasons that they should be allowed, permitted to speak.

Not so, for the Cherokee women. Though history proved that their children did not listen to their pleas to hold onto the land, they spoke when it was their duty to do so, frankly and without apology.

Maria W. Stewart

It is interesting that in the biographical portion on Maria W. Steward her race is not mentioned except by implication. And yet, the fact that she was black, female and speaking in public is incredibly powerful. Even more than a white woman, her path would have been barred. And, according to the biography, she gave up because of the barriers presented by her audiences - but she had audiences. She spoke to men and women, black and white, at a time when few women spoke publicly at all.

In the "Lecture Delivered at the Franklin Hall," Stewart rails against the unfairness of even those with an abolitionist bent, for they will not stand by their convictions by allowing black women to rise above the station of servant, no matter their references or skills. "[I]t was not the custom" (110), was the pitiful excuse given. How could she not grow discouraged at the unwillingness of so-called well-meaning whites to put their money where their mouths were?

It is not that Stewart finds anything wrong with service as an occupation, but the essential limitation on blacks. Just as the white women ask for equality to white men, so should black men and women have those opportunities to better themselves morally and intellectually. She uses scripture to back up her arguments as well as personal pleas from her own experiences.

And yet, history obscured her contributions, giving the Grimke sisters the claim to be the first women to orate in public to mixed audiences. Then, as now, it comes down to who is given the space, the credibility and the venue for expression. And given is the right word, for those who must fight for the space, fight to be believed and fight to be heard are often left with little time or energy for the message they wished to express in the first place.

Sarah Grimke

The selection Available Means provides from Sarah Grimke is a letter in reply to a letter from her brother-in-law ("Letter to Theodore Weld"). Although his original letter is not provided, its contents can be inferred from the arguments that she makes. This technique is perhaps more necessary when large amounts of time might separate correspondence, but it also allows her to reframe his arguments to suit her own purposes.

She writes at times as if she agrees with him, as if the interpretation that he gave was certainly not the one his wife claimed he meant, but something better. Sarah's words seem unagitated even when she claims that "the ministry as now organized is utterly at variance with the ministry Christ established, tends to perpetuate schism and disunion, and therefore must be destroyed" (115). And, of course, the current organization of any ministry of her time was a hierarchy of men.

Grimke is entirely reasonable in her arguments that the cause of women's rights do not infringe upon the cause of abolition. "I cannot see why minds may not be exercised on more than one point without injury to any" (117). The problem that Grimke refuses to address is that of division within the ranks. The more causes are added to any group, the smaller the group will be. Ideally, human rights should include both gender equality and the abolition of slavery, but when the abolitionists required a larger constituency, they were forced to sacrifice the less popular cause of women's rights.

And, by doing so, they buried women's rights for a greater good. It seems that this sort of attitude continues even to the current day, when women's rights advocates are shut down because their problems aren't as vital as other causes. 'Why should we bother with these silly women and their pet causes? They should be content with what they have, because there are others who suffer more.'

Even when women have the franchise and the right to hold office, the legislature of the United States has nothing like gender parity. Is this because of some innate inability of the female to hold office or the fact that the culture has still not shifted to include women's rights and gay's rights and the rights of those called 'other' as fundamental human rights?

Angelina Grimke Weld

The editors of Available Means saw fit to include from Angelina Grimke Weld, sister to Sarah and wife to the writer of the letter to which Sarah Grimke replied, a speech that cries to be read aloud, "Address at Pennsylvania Hall." And it is not just threat of the mob reported to be outside, nor the incredible fact that the very next day the hall in which she spoke burned down. No, it is her rhetoric. She uses of scripture not only to prove her cause of abolition but to encourage her audience to its support. She agilely responds to the noise and threat of the mob, incorporating its actions into her words.

Grimke Weld decries the actions of the mob as being illogical and unfitting to argument. Even if the hall were leveled "[would that be] any evidence that we are wrong, or that slavery is a good and wholesome institution?" (121). She recognizes that their tactics are meant to frighten good people from their consciences, not to persuade by means of reason. And with threatened people in front of her, she attempts both to soothe their fear and rouse their actions. The attacks only prove that what they are doing is working.

She also has a clear vision for how women can contribute to the abolitionist cause. "Men may settle this and other questions at the ballot-box, but you have no such right; it is only through petitions that you can reach the Legislature. It is therefore peculiarly your duty to petition" (123). She could be seen even as giving a little dig for the fact that women cannot vote, but rather than dwelling on that as a deficiency, she gives women a special job. And she builds up the impact of such petitions, both to encourage the women to send them and to give the women some sense of empowerment.

And yet, what power do petitions truly have? Perhaps in Grimke Weld's day they held more power than they seem to now. It seems that current day petitions are less about legislative issues and more about wants and needs. How often does a petition produce a legislative impact? How many years have Idahoans tried to add the words that would include more humans in our human rights amendment? Why is the religious freedom to discriminate enshrined in a law that is supposed to be separate from church?