Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

Melissa Mowry

Second Advisor

Kathleen Lubey

Third Advisor

Steven Mentz


The concept of a contrasting public sphere and private sphere is both enduring and contested. The model of the eighteenth century public sphere offered by Jürgen Habermas offers a rational-critical approach to public discourse, while bracketing difference. Interlocutors of Habermas see such exclusion as problematic, particularly from a feminist standpoint. In contrast to Habermas’ static model, this project offers a networked, motile vision of public and private spheres that allows for interconnections and relationships, and which not only incorporates conceptual differences, but in fact relies on them. In this flexible model, rhetorical feminism, where the ideology of feminism is brought to bear on rhetorical studies, reveals itself. Rhetorical feminism offers alternatives to traditional and dominant forms of writing and rhetoric. It does not require an explicit intentionality to advance the standing of women or their equal rights, but in practice, rhetorical feminism often has that effect. Cheryl Glenn finds the beginnings of this concept in the nineteenth century, yet I locate it as early as 1650. Considering a networked “lifeworld,” to use Bruno Latour’s term, rather than binaries of public and private spheres allows us to re-engage with the writings of women in this period, and understand them as case studies in of rhetorical feminism. Margaret Fell Fox and Mary Astell operated in religious and philosophical networks, and Eliza Haywood, as a periodicalist, helped create networks of discourse that crossed the realms of public and private. Quaker women created one of the first international faith movements, built and sustained by networked circulation of printed texts. Mary Astell was known in her day as a High Church Tory, and inserted herself into discussions on weighty philosophical matters. Eliza Haywood was a mogul in her time, with enormous commercial success across fiction and periodicals. Women writers in this study were able to deploy rhetorical feminism to renegotiate some of the terms of various patriarchal systems in their period, thereby advancing the standing of women. Themes of particular concern to women, including education, marriage, authorship, and coffeehouse culture productively intersect with discourses of religion and politics.