Kansas City High School Girls Advocated Civil Rights 100 Years Ago

UMKC professor to sign book ‘Praising Girls: The Rhetoric of Young Women, 1895-1930’

Praising Girls CoverKANSAS CITY, MO – At the turn of the 20th century, ordinary Kansas City girls delivered extraordinary arguments for the rights of women, African Americans, and Native Americans. A new book by Henrietta Rix Wood, Ph.D., reveals how these high school students spoke out on important issues of their era. Wood, an assistant teaching professor in the Honors College at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, will sign her book Praising Girls: The Rhetoric of Young Women, 1895-1930 at a reception in her honor Thursday, May 5, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. in Miller Nichols Library 325. Southern Illinois University Press published the book in February 2016.

Wood analyzed writing by young women of different races, classes and social statuses. Surveying school-sponsored publications of the period, she found that girls used epideictic rhetoric in newspaper editorials and articles, creative writing projects, yearbook entries and literary magazines. This type of rhetoric, typically oral, most often is employed in ceremonial situations such as speeches, sermons, and graduations. Leaders use it to motivate, blame, praise and forge solidarity. Unlike men of the time, young women had few chances to speak publicly, so they expressed their opinions in print. “The girls in my study intervened rhetorically in national and international discourses on class, race, education, immigration, racism and imperialism,” according to Wood. “They confronted the gender politics that denigrated young women and often deprived them of positions of authority.”

The book considers the published writing of girls at four Kansas City-area schools including privileged white girls at a college preparatory school, Native American girls at an off-reservation boarding school, black girls at a racially segregated public high school, and working- and middle-class girls at a large whites-only public high school. Wood examines how students educated readers about their culture and identity, and commented on historical events.

Wood also will sign a book she co-edited last year: In the Archives of Composition: Writing and Rhetoric in High Schools and Normal Schools, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015.

“Students in the Honors College are privileged to learn from a researcher of Dr. Wood’s caliber,” says Jim McKusick, UMKC Honors College dean. “She is leading a national conversation on the use of epideictic rhetoric by marginalized groups.”

Wood earned an interdisciplinary doctorate in English and history at UMKC; a master’s degree in English from UMKC and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Her research focuses on the rhetoric and history of women in the U.S. Before beginning her graduate studies, Wood was a reporter for The Kansas City Star, and for a newspaper and city magazine in Dallas.
The Honors College is hosting Thursday’s reception. UMKC faculty, staff, students and the public are welcome to attend.

Written by Beth Hammock, UMKC Honors College Outreach Consultant