The definition of rhetoric has recently been expanded to include elements of experience, particularly the experiences that landscape provides. One landscape that has rhetorical significance is the American frontier, both in Colonial times and in the nineteenth century. The frontier had a rhetorical impact on women, in particular, giving them freedom to change their roles and achieve economic, political, and social success. Because of the tremendous significance of the frontier in women's lives, a new definition of frontiers emphasizes conditions such as opportunity for change, a dangerous and uncertain atmosphere, a freedom of thought and action, and an ability to redefine roles. This new definition allows for both a literal and symbolic interpretation of frontiers. In studying American women's history, it becomes clear that women needed a frontier existence to flourish and create an independent (and decidedly American) identity.

Colonial women enjoyed an unprecedented freedom because they existed on a frontier. As the frontier moved westward, women living on the East Coast were deprived of freedoms and opportunities and were increasingly confined to the home. As a result, suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony adapted a feminist rhetoric, the practice of which provided a symbolic frontier for eastern women. Though their female rights rhetoric empowered eastern women, society was too restrictive for complete change; consequently, it took over seventy years for women to obtain suffrage.

While women on the East Coast struggled to attain suffrage, Mormon women living in the West enjoyed political, social, and economic freedoms (including the vote). Mormon women enjoyed this freedom because they existed on geographical, rhetorical, and religious frontiers. They lived in the untamed West, practiced the feminist rhetoric of their eastern counterparts, and participated in a radical new religion that not only gave them a mandate from God to change their roles, but also gave them the opportunity to be part of polygamous marriages. These marriages, though seemingly enslaving, actually benefitted Mormon women. Mormon women provide a great example of empowering effect of frontiers. The frontier, as defined in this thesis, gave women freedom and opportunity.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Women, United States, Frontier, pioneer life