The Virtual Bookshelf: Militant Citizenship

Belinda A. Stillion Southard, Militant Citizenship: Rhetorical Strategies of the National Woman’s Party, 1913-1920 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011).

VB: Stillion Southard HeadshotBetween 1913 and 1920, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) waged a campaign to write women’s voting rights into the U.S. Constitution. Unlike the more moderate campaign strategies adopted by other woman suffrage organizations of the Progressive Era, the NWP remained committed to militant agitation—that is, holding political party leaders responsible for social change and doing so through nontraditional means of protest. Some of these militant strategies included heckling President Wilson, protesting silently outside the White House gates, and publicly burning his speeches in “Watch Fires.”

In light of the NWP’s militant identity and its demonstrated political viability, Belinda A. Stillion Southard treats the party’s campaign for woman suffrage as an example of how a relatively powerless group of women constituted themselves as “national citizens” through rhetoric. To this end, she uses volumes of NWP discourse, including correspondence, photographs, protests, and publications, to situate the NWP in the historical and ideological forces of the period, particularly as they are inflected by meanings of nationalism, citizenship, and social activism. In addition to the project’s historical focus, this study features the critical concept of political mimesis to help explain the ways in which the NWP mimicked political rhetorics and rituals to simultaneously agitate and accommodate members of the political elite.

Militant Citizenship received an honorable mention designation for the 2012 Winifred Bryan Horner Outstanding Book Award, presented by the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. Writing in the American Historical Review, Ruth Crocker notes that “Southard’s [sic] study focusing on the rhetoric as well as the enactment of protest adds an important dimension to our appreciation of the more radical wing of the woman suffrage movement. This monograph demonstrates the rich possibilities of approaching social movement history not only through an analysis of the rhetoric of public addresses, but also through the interpretive lens of visual culture.” Rhetorical scholar Cheryl Jorgensen-Earp remarks that “Stillion Southard has produced a well-argued study of depth and nuance that transforms our understanding of militancy, the National Woman's Party, and the broader strategy of political mimesis.”VB: Stillion Southard NWP 

Belinda Stillion Southard is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia. She studies rhetorical criticism, U.S. public address, and women’s discourse. While her research and teaching interests are grounded in the public address tradition, they are also guided by questions regarding the processes of identity-formation amidst political and social movements. Dr. Stillion Southard’s work has appeared in the Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Communication Quarterly and elsewhere.

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