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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Haivan V. Hoang

Second Advisor

David Fleming

Third Advisor

Jennifer Fronc

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


In the late 19th-century, when US women’s authority was largely relegated to domestic spaces, there was a pressing question about how women might claim a place in cities dominated by men. How did women use rhetoric to change the city? And how did the city change women’s rhetorical conventions and genres—especially when the ‘cult of domesticity’ endorsed women staying in the home and off the city street? My dissertation addresses these questions by focusing closely on one group of women sponsored by Hull House, a settlement house on Chicago’s West Side. Proceeding from the idea that rhetoric is in part responsible for gendering space (Johnson; Enoch; Mountford), I explore how women composed the city, and in the process, new roles for themselves and others. For exploring arguments about what the city should be and who had a right to decide, Chicago in the late 19th/early 20th century is an ideal site. In response to increased immigration and rapid industrialization, city planners such as Daniel Burnham sought to keep economic and civic spaces (men’s spaces) distinct from residential spaces (women’s spaces), while Jane Addams and her Hull House colleagues argued for women and housing at the center of civic life. This dissertation shows that when women claim city space, they participate in boundary-making, redrawing their own roles in the city, and also those of other citizens across gender, class, ethnic, and racial lines. This study complicates an understanding of historical women’s movements across domestic and public spheres by investigating the historically-specific ways women negotiated space and identity in a globalized context, helping us better understand the power of domestic discourses to authorize gender, class, national, and ethnic/racial identity formations into our present. My dissertation draws on primary sources such as articles, bulletins, meeting minutes, maps, and photographs from university and public library archives and museums to bring into focus the specificity of women’s arguments as they relate to home, city and world. My study includes both college-educated, middle-class women and working-class, immigrant women. Their perspectives and contexts guide my intersectional analysis of identity at the nexus of space, history, and rhetoric. Using theoretical frames from rhetorical theory, spatial theory, and feminist studies, I balance archived and published texts reflecting women’s perspectives on space with secondary sources on Chicago’s social relations, planning history, industrial history, and immigration patterns throughout. My analysis shows Hull House women extended their authority within a discourse of cosmopolitan domesticity, especially as it related to consumption and taste-making in an international market, to the arena of international relations. They invented for themselves a global citizenship in which they were authorized to participate in civic debates about immigration, labor laws, housing, and assimilation. By exploring rhetoric’s role in producing spaces, I highlight the class and racial privilege undergirding Hull House women’s claims to home, city, and nation. For example, in addition to claiming gendered authority over the domestic, Hull House women drew from their middle-class and white privilege to claim authority over the “foreign” space of Chicago’s West Side—a neighborhood where immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe made garments in sweatshops. These claims to the “foreign” West Side created tensions amongst Hull House colleagues. In one instance, when Florence Kelley argued that all working-class women needed legal protection from industries that exploited them, Josefa Humpal Zeman disagreed, noting the local Bohemian women with whom she identified had specific economic strategies emerging from transnational contexts. Tensions escalated into the 20th century as Hull House colleagues and West Side immigrant women collaborated to portray women’s home spaces in museum exhibits for a wider Chicago public. Ultimately, my study globalizes the point of view on US women’s spaces of rhetorical engagement, broadening the scope of inquiry beyond how women negotiated authority in men’s spaces to how women negotiated with other citizens across spaces inflected with national, gender, class, and ethnic/racial meanings.