Inventing citizens, imagining gender justice: The suffrage rhetoric of Virginia and Francis Minor

Angela G. Ray*, Cindy Koenig Richards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


From the late 1860s through the mid-1870s, woman suffrage activists developed an ingenious legal argument, claiming that the U.S. Constitution already enfranchised women citizens. The argument, first articulated by St. Louis activists Virginia and Francis Minor, precipitated rhetorical performances by movement activists on public platforms and in polling places, and the Minors pursued their line of reasoning to the Supreme Court. The Minors' arguments enacted a hermeneutic practice that venerated foundational texts while at the same time subverting their conventional meanings. The rhetorical figure of the gender-neutral, race-neutral citizen provided a basis for imagining a new political subjectivity for women. In the infamous Minor v. Happersett decision of 1875, however, the Court formally dissociated citizenship from voting rights. This analysis of the Minors' rhetoric illustrates the capacity of argument that "failed" in law to invigorate cultural movements, assisting in the production of new ways of imagining political selves and performing political identities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-402
Number of pages28
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Citizenship
  • Constitutional law
  • Hermeneutics
  • Invention
  • Woman Suffrage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education


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