MARY HARRIS "Mother" Jones, "Speech At a Public Meeting on the steps of the capitol Charleston,

West Virginia" (15 August 1912): Teaching and learning materials

 

Classroom Activities

 

A. In what ways do you think Jones's speech demonstrates motherly qualities? Do you think these motherly qualities would be recognizable to all audiences? For example, if upper-class people heard Jones's speech, do you think they would identify her language as maternal? Do you think working-class people would call her words maternal? Be prepared to explain your answer.

 

B. Jones's speech relies heavily on religious appeals. What are the potential benefits and dangers of evoking religion in an address to a public audience?

 

C. Jones was known for wearing very conservative clothing that made her appear older than she actually was. She also is reported to have lied about her age and claimed to be older than she really was. Why do you think Jones wanted her audience to think she was older? What effect do you think Jones's age and appearance had on her ethos?

 

D. Jones's speeches use satire, ridicule, hyperbole, name-calling, threats of violence, and mockery. Under what conditions do you think such language is appropriate/inappropriate in public address? Is this language ever necessary to raise public awareness of an issue or to motivate people to take action? Is this language ever ethical or justified? What purpose(s) does it serve that could not be achieved with milder language?

 

E. Jones's audiences seemed to find her fiery language particularly surprising because she was a female. Do you think audiences today have different expectations for men and women speakers? If so, what are the differences in expectations? How does a speaker's gender affect what he or she can/cannot say?

 

F. Jones's speeches contained a strong polarizing quality. She strove to cast her listeners into two mutually exclusive groups: supporters and adversaries. Can you think of any other speakers who intentionally or unintentionally create such polarization? Why do you think this polarization occurs? What effect does it have on a speaker's effectiveness?

 

G. Read Jones's speech and pay particular attention to its anecdotal qualities. What role do stories play in her speech? Why might anecdotes serve as an effective type of evidence for Jones's message? What other types of evidence does she use?

 

Student Research

 

A. Research the neo-Aristotelian method of rhetorical criticism. Try to use the method to analyze Jones's address. What do you see as the strengths and weakness of the neo-Aristotelian approach? Then, research what rhetoric scholars have said about this method. What are some key scholarly objections to it? What methods of criticism do scholars offer as alternatives? How would you evaluate one of the alternative approaches compared to the neo-Aristotelian method?

B. Research the work conditions that U.S. industrial workers and miners face today and the wages that they typically receive. How have these workers' situations changed since the time of Jones's speech? What difficulties do these workers continue to face today?

 

C. The Industrial Revolution significantly changed the U.S. economy. Research the distribution of wealth in the United States in 1800, 1900, and today. How has the distribution of wealth changed across time? Based on your research, what problems can arise when a few people control most of the nation's wealth?

D. Many of Jones's speeches may be read as calls to violence. Is this type of language protected as "free speech?" Research the development of free speech in the United States. Pay particular attention to the following court cases: Schenck v. U.S., 1919; Debs v. U.S., 1919; Abrams v. U.S., 1919; Gitlow v. NY, 1925; Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1996.

 

E. Locate and compare a scholarly collection of "great speeches" edited prior to 1960 and a collection edited after 1990. In what ways has the rhetorical ideal changed over time? (Pay particular attention to the use of radical rhetoric and the presence of female orators.) What are some factors that might account for differences between the two collections?

 

Citizenship Resources

 

A. Locate a message that deals with a current social issue and which bases many of its arguments on religion (gay marriage and abortion debates are good places to start). How effectively do you think the religious appeals work to support the speaker's claims? How might a person argue for the speaker's cause without using religion? What effect do you think a switch to non-religious argument might have on the message's persuasiveness?

 

B. Locate a contemporary speech that uses the type of radical language modeled by Mother Jones (e.g., satire, ridicule, hyperbole, name-calling, etc.). What purpose does this language serve? How do you think the speaker's language affected the audience's response to the speaker and the issue? Do you think the speaker made a good decision to use such radical language? Be prepared to explain your answer.

 

C. Locate a contemporary message in which an outsider advocates for a particular cause. What suspicions might this person's audience have about his or her motivations? What rhetorical strategies does this person use to establish a right to speak on behalf of the movement? How effectively do you think these strategies work to grant the speaker an accepted position within the cause?

 

D. Select a current social movement in which you are an outsider to (i.e., a movement in which you do not stand to benefit from its success or suffer from its failure) but support many of its goals. Pretend that you would like to join the movement and that its local members have asked you to come to a meeting and deliver a three minute speech in which you explain your desire to help their cause. What would you say? What rhetorical strategies would you use to be accepted into the movement?