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Praising Girls

Praising Girls

The Rhetoric of Young Women, 1895-1930

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Henrietta Rix Wood


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
224 pages, 6 x 9, 11 illustrations

Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms


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About the Book

In Praising Girls, Henrietta Rix Wood explores how ordinary schoolgirls engaged in extraordinary rhetorical activities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. Focusing on high school girls’ public writing, Wood analyzes newspaper editorials and articles, creative writing projects, yearbook entries, and literary magazines, revealing how young women employed epideictic rhetoric—traditionally used to praise and blame in ceremonial situations—to define their individual and collective identities. Many girls, Wood argues, intervened rhetorically in national and international discourses on class, race, education, immigration, racism, and imperialism, confronting the gender politics that denigrated young women and often deprived them of positions of authority.
The site of the study—Kansas City, Missouri—reflects the diverse rhetorical experiences of girls in cities across the United States at the beginning of the last century. Four case studies examine the writing of privileged white girls at a college preparatory school, Native American girls at an off-reservation boarding school, African American girls at a segregated high school, and working- and middle-class girls at a large whites-only public high school. Wood’s analysis reveals a contemporary concept of epideictic rhetoric that accounts for issues of gender, race, class, and age.


Henrietta Rix Wood is an assistant teaching professor in the Honors College of the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Her teaching and research focus on rhetoric, gender, history, and education. Wood is a coeditor of In the Archives of Composition: Writing and Rhetoric in High Schools and Normal Schools and has published essays in American Periodicals and Rhetoric Review.


"The largest contribution of Wood’s study is her attention to the girls’ voices and thoughts in images, poems, and prose published in the periodicals, and the genre of school periodicals as a site of study. The girls’ writings reveal that they were confronting gender inequalities at an early age, and Wood’s work contributes directly to girlhood studies."—Nazera Sadiq Wright, American Periodicals

Praising Girls: The Rhetoric of Young Women, 1895–1930 fills a significant gap in our understanding of the history of American women’s rhetoric. This meticulously researched study of the published writing of diverse young women documents their rhetorical performances in the school newspapers, literary magazines, and yearbooks that gave them rhetorical space. Through a feminist recovery of the genre of epideictic discourse and its uses by girls in making arguments relevant to their everyday lives, Wood offers a historical and critical tour de force.”—Nan Johnson, Ohio State University

"The greatest strength of the book is the consequence of Wood’s deep immersion in the primary materials—speeches, student editorials, yearbooks. Her close analysis of these sources is a sheer pleasure...Wood’s book is an impressive and even inspiring investigation of how marginalized rhetors reframed rhetorical practices for their own models of citizenship, identity, and community. Such scholarship helps us broaden our understanding not only of the history of rhetoric, but of how we imagine citizenship and public discourse."—Missouri HIstorical Review

"By restoring what appears to be clichéd public writing to the historical context that generated it, Wood offers original and interesting readings of writing by Edwards and other girls from this era, showing the ways in which they claimed their ability and right to intervene in public debates about race, class, and gender. Rather than being passively defined, these girls actively engaged in the discourses that shaped their identities and the collective groups to which they belonged."--Angela Hubler, Kansas State University

"Unlike many archival-based projects, Wood does not foreground her research in storytelling. This proves to be a strength as it allows Wood to align her research with the redefinition of rhetorical tradition, yet may also leave readers desiring more information about the educational sites. Wood addresses an impressive amount of material in a relativelyl short number of pages."--Emily Kimbell, Rhetoric Review

 “In Praising Girls: The Rhetoric of Young Women, 1895—1930, rhetorical historian Henrietta Rix Wood delivers a unique and important adjunct to feminist rhetorical history, articulating and reinvesting in the voices—and, in particular, the epideictic rhetoric—of high school girls around the turn of the twentieth century. . . . Praising Girls is an exemplary instance of the importance of archival work for the expansion of our historical and rhetorical landscape.”—Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains