Carolyn Eastman is an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research examines how men and women engaged with publications, oratory, and visual imagery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how those popular media affected their perceptions of self and community as well as the larger political culture. She is the author of the prizewinning A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution (2009). Her current research has focused on two book-length projects. The first unfolds the strange career of an eccentric, drug-addicted, riveting orator in the early nineteenth century. The second asks how ideas about travel—elaborated in popular, richly illustrated volumes—cultivated new ways of seeing strangers and considering the self during the eighteenth century.
In 1829 a social reformer named Frances Wright gave dozens of lectures to overflow audiences in cities up and down the East Coast, prompting scandalized newspaper accounts that sought to rouse public outrage about her oratory. The story of this scandalous public woman reveals an important moment in women’s history, and casts light more broadly on the gender politics of publicity for women in American culture that continues to have repercussions today.