We are looking for one or two more people to join our proposed AHA panel (Jan. 08 in Washington D.C.) called “Black on White: Female Orators and Race Relations in the Nineteenth Century.” We plan a session of precirculated papers and are looking specifically for another paper on a woman from, for instance, Asia or Africa (non-European or U.S.). Our general topic is described below followed by summaries of our two papers. If you are interested, please contact Alison Parker directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Throughout the nineteenth century, women struggled to influence the course of reform in religious, social and political movements. Women, who were not the primary recipients of political rights and had an uneven access to power, used creatively their marginal status--often informed by their race and sex--to position themselves as more authentic voices in evangelical, reform, and political discourses. This panel, with its precirculated papers, will allow for greater audience dialogue on the broad topic of how, when, and why certain women from countries as disparate as Madagascar and the United States managed to claim an authoritative–if contested–voice on the public stage.
Paper by Alison Fletcher,
Kent State University:
Rafaravavy, a Christian convert from Madagascar, traveled to England under the auspices of the London Missionary Society to raise support for Christians in Madagascar. Rafaravavy was one of six Malagasy who visited England in 1840; she attracted the most attention since she had been mistakenly reported to have died for her faith. Ranavalona, the Queen of Imerina, the powerful central kingdom in Madagascar, saw the British missionaries and their converts as a threat to her power and so forbade the practice of Christianity in her kingdom; those who continued to practice their faith faced imprisonment and sometimes death. During Rafaravavy’s appearances in England she was hailed as a Christian martyr who had miraculously survived to spread God’s word. Her active participation in speaking tours was a departure for the London Missionary Society’s directors who had not previously permitted overseas female converts overseas to have speaking roles in public. Rafaravavy’s unique position as a living Christian martyr helps explain her exceptional role and popularity as a speaker, as does the fact that the missionaries emphasized her religiosity, high-ranking family background, and respectability, making her a suitable role model for middle class evangelical women.
Paper by Alison M. Parker,
State University of New York,
In the 1850s United States, Frances Watkins Harper, a free black woman from the South, launched a successful career as a Christian evangelical abolitionist; she earned enough from selling her publications and lecture fees to be able to support herself. Standing before white and black audiences in the antebellum North, Harper focused on the injustices of slavery, white prejudice, and the federal government’s complicity in upholding the institution of slavery. Demanding that the perspective of black Americans be heard, she aimed to make northern whites recognize their role in perpetuating racial injustice. Her status as a free black woman gave Harper added influence in the fight against slavery for she presented herself as speaking with authenticity about racism and the hardships faced by all blacks, especially slaves. Her fellow abolitionists countered critics of women speakers by emphasizing Harper’s eloquent speaking voice, her pious faith, and her attractive and respectable looks and dress.
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