Enlightenment Rhetoric and Feminist Reform at the Hindman Settlement School

As an area of study, feminist rhetoric looks to affirm the role of feminist discourse in public and private life. One key approach to feminist rhetorical studies, as emphasized by scholars such as Krista Radcliffe, includes the recovery of women rhetors’ contributions to civic action. Furthermore, as emphasized by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, in its resistance to patriarchy, the content of feminist rhetoric is particularly associated with conscious-ness-raising. To this end, this paper recuperates a history of feminist rhetorical practices in Appalachian educational reform.

Investigating the founding of the Hindman Settlement School in 1902 by May Stone and Katherine Pettit, as well as the bureaucracy of the institution’s early years, I examine how these two women draw on various rhetorical strategies—both constructed and appropriated at times—to contribute to a legacy of conscious-raising, social justice work in the region. Of note, the school’s philosophy of social reform was influenced by Enlightenment understandings of human nature, as well as John Dewey’s humanism and progressivism. Consequently, in “Enlightenment Rhetoric and Feminist Reform at the Hindman Settlement School,” I perform a close rhetorical reading of archival material from the Hindman Settlement School Archives located at Berea College: diary excerpts from Stone and Pettit, business correspondences, annual letters and reports, and summer program progress reports. In particular, I demonstrate how Stone and Pettit’s savvy appropriation of Enlightenment rhetoric contributed to the success of Hindman’s foundation, along with its continuing role as a site that supports and fosters popular education in Appalachia.