Classroom Activities

  1. Discuss what it might have been like to be a woman to give a major political speech on an important occasion like the Fourth of July, which typically had male speakers. What types of challenges would you have to consider? How might you try to deal with those challenges?
  2. Fanny Wright does not specifically address the issue of gender discrimination in her speech. How was she able to address it indirectly?
  3. Choose several classmates to take a paragraph of Fanny Wright’s oration and perform it out loud with the rest of the class. What do you notice about her speech by performing it that you did not notice when reading it?
  4. Read the Fourth of July speech delivered in 1902 by Robert Grimshaw.  What similarities do you notice between Wright’s address and Grimshaw’s? What can you determine about the historical and political context of Grimshaw’s speech from the text itself?
  5. Discuss the benefits and limitations of using national holidays or occasions for making calls for social change. What makes the Fourth of July so popular as an occasion on which to make such arguments? Do we see similar claims being made still today?
  6. Work with your classmates to write out a Fourth of July speech to give at your local city hall or student union. What themes do you think you would use to address your audience(s)? Do they resonate with Wright’s themes and arguments from nearly two centuries ago?

Student Research

  1. Read the 1828 Fourth of July Address by John Quincy Adams included in Henry Hawken’s book. Compare the language, tone, and arguments used by Adams with those offered by Wright in her address.  How do these speakers commemorate the Fourth of July differently? What are the similarities?
  2. Read Frederick Douglass’s “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech. What similarities and differences can you trace across Douglass and Wright’s treatment of the Fourth of July holiday? How do you think their role in social movements impacted the way they crafted their arguments?
  3. Research an earlier Fourth of July Address. What aspects of the speech are similar to Wright’s? What aspects are clearly different from what Wright was doing fifty-two years after the Revolutionary War?
  4. Consider the expectations for ceremonial speeches. How do you think other speakers met those expectations in contrast to Wright? In what ways did she meet those expectations? In what ways did she violate those expectations?
  5. Research poetry delivered on the Fourth of July. In what ways do poems function differently than orations? How might those poems be different than the poem included in Wright’s speech? What rhetorical function did such poetry serve?
  6. Read Susan Zaeske’s article on the concept of the “promiscuous audience.” How do you think this issue of mixed gender audiences affected speakers like Wright, and how might it have been more complicated for Wright speaking on the Fourth of July?

 Citizenship Resources

  1. Where else do you see Wright’s conception of a globally engaged citizen in political discourse today? How do those references extend from what Wright called for in 1828?
  2. Considering current political discussions of war, peace, and gun violence, how do you think the ideas of nonviolence captured in Wright’s speech echo today in advocacy for gun control or gun safety, peace, and diplomacy?
  3. What kind of calls to citizenship do we hear on the Fourth of July today? Find examples of speeches by public officials or social movement leaders given on the Fourth of July today and contrast the themes with the past.
  4. Study a Fourth of July parade. How many of the floats represent patriotic themes and how many reflect the reform tradition?
  5. Study a website promoting a Fourth of July celebration. How would you characterize the primary themes and values promoted on these websites? Is there any trace of the reform tradition reflected in the sites? Or, are they mostly reflecting the celebration of U.S. history and values? Be sure to identify the primary values that are celebrated. 

Last updated June 16, 2016.