American Women Speak: An Encyclopedia and Document Collection of Women’s Oratory. By Mary Ellen Snodgrass. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016. 2 vols. Acid free $189 (ISBN 978-1-4408-3784-5). E-book available (978-1-44083-785-2), call for pricing.

American Women Speak provides brief biographies and oratorical samples for American women notable for their use of the spoken word from the 1630s through the present. Aside from brief front and back matter, including a subject guide and chronology, the book consists entirely of biographical sketches of the women along with, for most of the women, examples of their oratory. The examples include excerpts from and the full text of speeches, testimonies, and interviews. They cover a wide range of progressive topics, including women’s rights, environmentalism, pacifism, and gun control. Only two of the included women are activists for conservative causes.

The title’s main weakness is the fact that a speech is not included for each woman profiled. Of the 184 biographies, slightly under one-fourth (43) are not accompanied by any piece of oratory. Undoubtedly, the task of tracking down transcripts or recordings and obtaining reproduction rights for speeches from all 184 women would have been difficult. In addition, including a speech for every woman would have made the text quite lengthy. Nevertheless, in a work specifically created to highlight women’s voices, it seemed odd and frustrating that some of those voices were not present.

In addition, when a speech was present, it was sometimes difficult to understand the reason for its inclusion, especially when other speeches were mentioned that seemed more notable. For example, the biography for AIDS activist Mary Fisher describes her speech “A Whisper of AIDS” from the 1992 Republican National Convention as numbering in the “ranks of America’s most treasured oratory,” yet the speech that follows the biography is an excerpt from Fisher’s testimony during a congressional hearing on AIDS legislation (252). There were certainly good reasons for choosing each piece of oratory. However, the title would have been improved significantly with the addition of the explanations for those choices.

Among similar titles, American Women Speak appears to be the largest in both scope and size, as other books are more subject-specific, highlighting women from one period or demographic, and include far fewer women. For example, From Megaphones to Microphones: Speeches of American Women, 1920–1960 by Sandra J. Sarkela, Susan Mallon Ross, and Margaret A. Lowe, (Praeger, 2003), reproduces speeches from the so-called “quiet” years between the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and the second wave of feminism. Robbie Jean Walker’s The Rhetoric of Struggle: Public Address by African American Women (Garland, 1992) focuses on black women. Great American Conservative Women: A Collection of Speeches from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, by Patricia B. Bozell (Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, 2002), records speeches given by conservative women between 1999 and 2002. Finally, while it covers a broad period (1851–2007), Great Speeches by American Women by James Daley (Dover, 2008) only includes twenty-one women. Despite its shortcomings, its extensive coverage makes American Women Speak a recommended addition to collections, in particular for high school and college libraries serving speech classes and communications departments.—Bethany Spieth, Instruction and Access Services Librarian, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio


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