“Women, Work, and Success: Fin de Siècle Rhetoric at Sophie Newcomb College,” identifies a kairotic moment in the current conversation about gender in all-women’s colleges. We look to a now-closed (a year after Hurricane Katrina in 2006) women’s college in New Orleans to understand how faculty, students, and alumnae used rhetoric at the fin de siècle and early part of the twentieth century to construct a successful vision for women’s education. In calling their public rhetorics “epideictic,” we note that they were strategic rhetoricians who praised the institution of women’s education in documents like the student and alumnae-run magazine, The Newcomb Arcade, and in promises made by faculty in their speeches about education, and even in alumnae’s oral histories that were supposedly more candid. Together, we’ve written this article because it affords the field of Feminist Rhetoric with historical data and documents from female students and alumnae who were making a case for women’s education when it was in its incipience. The research we have done will help modern-day rhetoricians see and reflect upon the rhetorical foundations of women’s education in the South and in general, to then go forth to interpret the broader future of women’s education and an expanded sense of women’s gender.
Keywords: women, work, success, rhetoric, New Orleans, New South, reality, gender, art, pottery, education, students, teachers, alumnae