Women’s Speech Anthology: Absurdly Late, But Worth the Wait

"Speaking While Female: 75 Extraordinary Speeches by American Women" is a great new contribution, not just to the world of professional rhetoric but to the world in general.

The first inkling that alighted on this male brain that women’s speeches had been hideously overlooked by innumerable speech anthologies over the decades and the centuries, came a couple of tardy decades into my distracted study of speeches and speechwriting.

That inkling came by way of a brilliant woman named Denise Graveline, and her website, “The Eloquent Woman.” Every week for a decade, she published a “Famous Speech Friday”—a consequential speech by a woman from history. Over the years, the speeches she had exhumed and published numbered deep into the hundreds.

Those speeches are still available at a website her family established after she died at five years ago this month, at 58.

Dana Rubin writes in the acknowledgments of her important new anthology of women’s speeches, Speaking While Female: 75 Extraordinary Speeches by American Women“Those of us who were fortunate enough to be acolytes of the late Denise Graveline know she would have celebrated this book. She might even have written it herself, had she not passed away too soon.”

Rubin, a speechwriter and convener of speechwriters for two decades, has more than consolidated Graveline’s cause—first with her own vast women’s speech bank, SpeakingWhileFemale.co, searchable by speaker, category or keyword. And now with this gorgeous and wonderfully conceived anthology.

Organized in chronological order, Rubin’s book opens with a courtroom speech by accused Massachusetts Bay Colony heretic Anne Hutchinson in 1637 and closes with climate activist and journalist Bina Venkataraman’s USC commencement speech in 2021. What’s in between is must-have material for anyone who wants to begin to complete a collection of American speeches—and certainly any speechwriter who wants to find historical female quotes for contemporary speeches.

In correspondence with me, Rubin clarifies that her book isn’t the only anthology of women’s speeches. There are maybe a half-dozen others. “What distinguishes mine is that it makes a serious historical argument—that at each period in American history, there were women speaking, diverse women, contributing to the public debate and helping shape the nation’s politics, values and ideals. And that you can’t really understand American history if you don’t understand the contributions women have been through their public voice. That’s what’s new.”

Each one of these 75 speeches contains a tight but insightful one-page introduction of the woman who delivered it and the context in which the speech is delivered—making this book a real education in American history, as well as a fresh rhetorical feast.

As its title suggests, this book comes with a hint of indignation. I imagined my late mother, the feminist author of a novel titled, Women With and Without, might have titled this volume, About Damned Time: 75 Extraordinary Speeches By American Women.

In any case, Speaking While Female is a great new contribution, not just to the world of professional rhetoric but to the world in general. May Dana Rubin spawn acolytes of her own, who will help her continue to build on this collection, for many editions to come.

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