Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Carl Kell, Randall Capps, Larry Flynn

Degree Program

Department of Communication

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This study focused on the persuasive efforts of Laura Clay (1848-1941) as they represented a particularly southern argument for woman suffrage as opposed to the northern, or National American Woman Suffrage Association, suffrage argument. As a Kentuckian, she believed she understood southern attitudes on the three major issues she encountered during her thirty-two years as a suffragist.

The three issues were those of woman's traditional role, the race question, and state versus federal legislation. The arguments of Miss Clay concerning these issues were premised on justice and expediency, which formed the rationale of suffragist rhetoric.

Her arguments, tailored to southerners, supported the national rhetorical position by advocating a new role for women equal to the status of men based on the Christian and natural rights doctrines and the changed society caused by industrialization. She argued the race issue by stipulating an educational prerequisite, rather than a color qualification, for female enfranchisement. With her rhetorical skills, she sought to bring her southern audience to embrace the national position on these first two issues.

However, she could not accept the national association's decision to push solely for a federal amendment, to the neglect of states rights. Laura Clay's adherence to states rights ultimately set her at odds with the course of the national suffrage association, which she had served as first auditor for sixteen years.


Arts and Humanities | Communication | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History | Mass Communication | Political History | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social History | Social Influence and Political Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies