Saturday, August 21, 2010

Four-minute men, three-minute women, and one-upmanship

On August 19 Scott Berkun blogged about
The four minute presentation and referred to my August 9 post on this blog.

Back during World War I some women took the idea of brief speeches even further. The November 29, 1917 issue of The Idaho Statesman said that in Boise there were ten days of speeches in theaters by ‘three minute women’ organized via the women’s committee of the Council of National Defense and the Four Minute Men.

An article in Volume 23 of Public Libraries (on page 218) said that:

“In Memphis, there has recently sprung full-fledged into being a live organization of ‘Three Minute Women.’ It is already in touch with the Government, and may prove the beginning of a national organization. It addresses groups of women which the Four Minute Men can not easily reach. At the noon-hour in a bag factory, a Three Minute Speech on thrift stamps was the means of selling $55 worth of them to the women employees, who had ignored the movement until that moment.”

In James A. B. Scherer’s book The Nation at War, on page 62 he noted that in North Carolina:

“They have also quaintly organised the women down there; they have what might be called a company of three-minute women, on the principle, I suppose, that women can say more in three minutes than the Four- Minute Men can in four (and say it much more to the purpose). They have put these three-minute women at the telephones; it is easy enough to get the co- operation of the telephone companies. So every day at noon when the North Carolina farmer puts his ear to the telephone he not only gets the latest market quotations on ‘butter'n'eggs,’ and corn and cotton and hay, but ‘central’ drops into his ear at the same time just a little dose of the proper patriotic ’dope’ that Uncle Sam thinks he needs at the moment.”

Where did I find out about the Four Minute Men? In the forum section of the Winter 2009 issue of Rhetoric & Public Affairs magazine Professor Lisa Mastrangelo wrote a 27 page paper titled World War I, Public Intellectuals and the Four Minute Men: Convergent Ideals of Public Speaking and Civic Participation. The Summer 2010 issue carried responses to her essay by four other scholars.

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