Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication


Amidst the social reform impulse of late nineteenth-century America, Charlotte Perkins Stetson--noted writer, lecturer, and social reformer--began her career as a spokeswoman for social justice. As such, she lectured to local religious groups, Nationalist clubs, women's clubs, and literary societies on a variety of subjects that included social ethics, family, motherhood, and art. In these many lectures and sermons, Stetson related her unyielding faith in and fervent expression of humanity's potential for perfectibility. This study analyzes six selected addresses delivered by Stetson between the years 1883 and 1892 in order to identify the rhetorical techniques she used to communicate her vision of human perfectibility. Divided into nine chapters, Chapter I and IX introduce and conclude the study. Chapter II is predominantly biographical, giving careful attention to those people, experiences, and events in Stetson's life that contributed in an important way to her development as a speaker and reformer. Arranged chronologically according to the date of delivery, each of the next six chapters considers the rhetorical techniques used by Stetson in an individual address. The standards of judgment used in the criticism of Stetson's speeches are essentially traditional. For every speech the following elements are considered: historical background, social setting and audience, organizational structure, and speaker effectiveness. In 1898, Stetson published Women and Economics, establishing her as an intellectual leader of the women's movement and climaxing almost a decade of lecturing. By examining her speeches delivered between 1883 and 1892, a greater understanding as to the origin and development of those ideas set forth in her book is possible as well as a better comprehension of the rhetorical strategies she used to communicate them. In addition, the critical appraisal of her speeches furnished further identification of the historical underpinnings of contemporary feminism.