I decided to start featuring women's speeches when speakers, coaches, and speechwriters started to ask me for examples--because they said they couldn't find them. "Do you have any famous speeches by women more recent than Eleanor Roosevelt?" was a common question, even though she died in the early 1960s. Big collections of top speeches left only a few spots for speaking women--for example, in The Guardian's list of the top 100 speeches of the 20th century, just three were by women, the most recent in the 1980s. Only four women have won Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, an annual prize established in 1938. I'm happy to turn the tables.
Women have been public speakers for less of our history than have men, but even when there are many women speaking, society often fails to note it or record it. That failure to recognize such a vital achievement is in its own way a form of gender discrimination. When we don't publish, save, note, or record the speeches of women, we are silencing them in another, more permanent way.
For all those reasons, I decided to start my own list. It's not a list of the best speeches by women or by the best-known women, but of famous speeches by women. That seeming nuance allows me to include speeches from non-famous women whose words go viral, as well as prominent women whose speeches have an impact. It also allows me to demonstrate that there are plenty of well-known speeches by women, putting the lie to lists that seem to say "we couldn't find any." Over time, the Index also has become for many a teaching tool, research starting point, and collection of role models and models for various types of speeches, which delights me.
Here's what the Index contains:
- Speeches from 30 nations around the world, including women's speeches from Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Burma, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Haiti, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Macedonia, Malawi, the Marshall Islands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Sweden, Ukraine, the United States, and Wales. I'm always looking to expand the geographic range of this series!
- Speeches from all sorts of women and girls: The Index rule is that the speech must be famous in some way, not necessarily the speaker. I like the idea of having famous and not-so-famous speakers, so we have students, professors, prime ministers, queens, princesses, presidents, First Ladies, legislators, activists, scientists, engineers, aviators, athletes, actors, musicians, attorneys, judges, journalists, evangelists, cultural observers, comedians, performers, bankers, entrepreneurs, poets, novelists, diplomats, voters, and more. They range in age from teenagers to women in their 90s. They're transgender, lesbian, straight. black, white, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islanders, Hispanic. Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, agnostic, ministers, nuns, evangelists. Women with abilities and disabilities that are physical and mental. Conservatives and liberals and middle-of-the-road-ers. Speakers from last week, and many centuries ago--and everything in between, if it can be found.
- A wide range of speech styles and formats: Included under our public speaking umbrella are examples of slide presentations, lectures, high school assembly statements, United Nations speeches, legislative testimony, panel moderation, questions, answers, keynotes, extemporaneous speeches, commencement speeches, spoken-word poetry, legal arguments, courtroom testimony, press conference statements, debates, TED and TEDMED and TEDx and TEDWomen talks, a filibuster, video statements, political convention speeches, maiden speeches in Parliament, retirement speeches, eulogies, tributes, awards acceptance speeches, inaugural speeches, technical demonstrations, on-stage interviews, concession speeches, resignation speeches, labor rally speeches, parody speeches, and more.
- Hillary Clinton's "women's rights are human rights" speech, far and away our most-read post in the Index.
- Aviator Amelia Earhart's "A Woman's Place in Science."
- Helen Keller's "I am not dumb now" and "Strike Against War."
- Evita Peron's 1951 Renunciamento.
- Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?"
- Margaret Sanger, "The Children's Era."
- Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" speech.
- Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King.
- Aung San Suu Kyi's "Freedom from Fear."
- Indira Gandhi's "What Educated Women Can Do."
I'm also grateful to guest Famous Speech Friday contributors Claire Duffy, Karoline Henriques, Cate Huston, John Shosky, Janice Tomich, Kate Peters, Walker Wooding, and especially regular Famous Speech Friday contributor Becky Ham. I also am grateful to the many libraries, historical collections, and archives that make it possible for me to find texts and other material. Please, eloquent women, publish your speeches so I -- and others -- can find them.
Finally, please share The Eloquent Woman Index and keep your ideas and suggestions coming.
Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.