English Ph.D. Dissertations


"Among Ourselves:" The Collaborative Rhetorics of Nineteenth Century Ladies' Literary Societies

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing)

First Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett (Committee Member)


As traditional conceptions of authorship have been problematized (Barthe; Foucault; Moi), collaborative composition has gained the interest of scholars, particularly those within the field of rhetoric and writing. Much of the resultant research has focused on student learning and academic or job-related productions of texts. Yet a large area of the field, historical rhetoric, has not yet reevaluated the assumptions concerning authors and production. For these reasons, this dissertation seeks to further understand historical, collaborative rhetorics, specifically those of large groups such as Ladies Literary Societies. Utilizing heuristics, I approach the discovery and understanding of historical collaborations by conducting research in the archives of three carefully selected and purposefully diverse Women’s Clubs from the nineteenth century: Boston’s Gleaning Circle (1805), Oberlin’s Young Ladies’ Literary Society (1835), and Boston’s Woman’s Era Club (1894). These societies focused on the improvement of their members’ intellects with regard to rhetoric, literature, and religion. Yet while these groups have been researched in detail by other scholars (Anne Ruggles Gere, Mary Kelley, Elizabeth McHenry, Shirley Wilson Logan), the dynamism of their collaborations has not been the focus of scholarly inquiry. Consequently, this dissertation investigates the ways these societies collaborated by looking at both their products and practices. This dissertation concludes with a multimodal theory of collaboration that recognizes a number of key factors as the determinants of the characteristics (and success) of any given collaboration. While Ede and Lunsford and Lindal Buchanan outline the modes of collaboration that were utilized in my heuristics, the case studies revealed that nineteenth century women were utilizing a variety of these modes simultaneously dependent upon a variety of determining features. Recognizing context and stakeholders as the two primary determining features, this theory outlines six other factors that impact the characteristics of collaboration: need, purpose, process, time, size, and power. These factors all influence, then, the ways people collaborate with a variety of purposes (in contrast to most theories of collaboration which focus on collaborative writing). Consequently, when scholars look to study a collaboration or teachers look to develop collaborations in their classroom, they should consider all of these factors.