Complicating claims about the decline of oratorical culture in the nineteenth century, this article demonstrates that rhetorical training was integral to the coeducational literary societies at California State Normal School in the 1870s and 1890s and that women benefited from such education. The societies were based on assumptions of relative equality between the sexes, fostering the development of teachers who would serve as powerful public speakers and leaders within their communities. This study also challenges arguments concerning the feminization of argumentation in the nineteenth century by highlighting the centrality of debate to the societies and the ways this argument overlooks such activities.

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