Spanning a historical period that begins with women’s exclusion from university debates and continues through their participation in coeducational intercollegiate competitions, Debating Women: Gender, Education, and Spaces for Argument, 1835-1945 (Michigan State University Press, 2018) highlights the crucial role that debating organizations played as women sought to access the fruits of higher education in the United States and United Kingdom. Despite various obstacles, Carly S. Woods shows how women transformed forests, parlors, dining rooms, ocean liners, classrooms, auditoriums, and prisons into vibrant spaces for ritual argument. There, they not only learned to speak eloquently and argue persuasively but also used debate to establish a legacy, explore difference, engage in intercultural encounter, and articulate themselves as citizens. These debaters engaged with the issues of the day, often performing, questioning, and occasionally refining norms of gender, race, class, and nation. In tracing their involvement in an activity at the heart of civic culture, Woods demonstrates that debating women have much to teach us about the ongoing potential for debate to move arguments, ideas, and people to new spaces.
Carly S. Woods (she/her) is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and affiliate faculty in the Department of Women's Studies at the University of Maryland. Connect on Twitter @debatingwomen.
Lee M. Pierce (they & she) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the State University of New York College at Geneseo. Connect on Twitter @rhetoriclee.