Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2009


Women’s Studies in Communication 32:2 (Spring 2009), pp. 203–231.

doi: 10.1080/07491409.2009.10162387


Copyright © 2009 Organization for Research on Women and Communication; published by Routledge/ Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


This essay theorizes women’s rhetorical agency in the nineteenth-century American West. Contrast between fluid gender norms in frontier life and the Cult of True Womanhood highlights how agency is confined by materiality. Agency is the capacity to recognize and act in moments when material structures are vulnerable to resignification. I offer an analysis of Frances Fuller Victor’s novella The New Penelope to demonstrate how pioneer women writers reinvented womanhood in light of socioeconomic changes.