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Collection Women's Suffrage in Sheet Music

Highlighted Sheet Music Selections

The sheet music selections included in this digital collection not only present lenses through which to consider conflicting perspectives at play throughout the suffrage movement, but also demonstrate the variety of ways researchers can draw upon historic sheet music to study a particular era, movement, or event. Here we highlight only some of the noteworthy pieces included in the digital collection, grouped according to four overarching points of interest: rally music and songs written for the suffrage movement, sheet music selections that feature striking cover art, music that represents the strong anti-suffrage sentiments of the time, and music that connects women's suffrage to related social movements of the time.

Music for the Movement

Equal Suffrage Song Sheaf

Equal suffrage song sheaf

A good example of a collection of songs intended for rallies and meetings is the Equal Suffrage Song Sheaf, which contains a large selection of songs sung to such well-known tunes as "Yankee Doodle," "Hail, Columbia," "Suwanee River," "John Brown's Body," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "The Marseillaise," and "Oh, Susannah." The words are by Eugénie Marie Rayé-Smith (1871-1943), a lecturer, author and editor, suffragist, and social worker. She held a professorship in the law department of New York University and was editor of The Woman Lawyer's Journal. This song collection was dedicated to "our leader in the land," Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, physician, minister, and feminist. Born in England, Shaw immigrated to America as a child and became a close colleague of leading suffragist Susan B. Anthony.  From 1904 until 1915 she served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Suffrage Hymn

Suffrage hymn

Although the woman who composed this hymn is identified on the music only by her husband's name (Mrs. Alfred E. Clark), the text is by feminist journalist, newspaper editor, and suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915), an activist especially influential in Oregon. Her autobiography, Path Breaking; An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States, details her fascinating life and career which involved farming, raising her family, and founding, editing, and writing for her weekly human rights newspaper, The New Northwest. The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog features two photographs of Duniway: a portrait, as well as a photograph of her signing the first equal suffrage proclamation ever made by a woman.

The March of the Women from Songs of Sunrise

March of the Women from Songs of Sunrise by Ethel Smyth

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was an English composer and author who turned to writing after her hearing deteriorated. She was a close friend of leading English suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and author Virginia Woolf. "The March of the Women" is from a group of songs titled Songs of Sunrise. Emmeline Pankhurst made a tremendous impression on Smyth, who dedicated much of her life and work to the suffrage movement. Sung at rallies, meetings, marches, and presentations, her song became the de facto anthem for the woman's suffrage movement in England and was often sung by women while they served jail sentences or by others keeping vigil on their behalf during hunger strikes, to keep up protesters' spirits. There are also instrumental arrangements of this song. Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), actor, journalist, and author, wrote the words.

Fall in Line

Fall in line : suffrage march

The instrumental march "Fall in Line" by composer Zena S. Hawn, perhaps performed by a suffrage band during a march, features a photograph of a large suffrage march and was likely used for events such as this 1916 march on the Capitol; some events involved many participants and drew large crowds of observers. Here a suffragist shows off her marching costume and a grand marshal heads this march. The Library's National Jukebox provides access to a 1914 recording of a band arrangement of the piece. The Library of Congess's Prints and Photographs Online Catalog features many photographs similar to that featured on the sheet music cover.

Daughters of Freedom! The Ballot be Yours

Daughters of freedom! The ballot be yours : solo or quartet

"Daughters of Freedom! The Ballot be Yours" features words by George Cooper, friend of Stephen Foster and prolific lyricist during the 1870s and 1880s. Edwin Christie, the composer, was a respected if not particularly successful composer who probably worked in the Boston area. In 1998 a group of Library of Congress staff members performed a selection of songs from the Library's Music for the Nation online presentation. The program included a performance of "Daughters of Freedom! The Ballot be Yours," available to stream here on the Library's website.

Striking Cover Art

March of the Suffragettes

March of the Suffragettes by Braham

This lively piano march by Edmund Braham has no words, but the cover art markets the piece to suffragist consumers. The color illustration depicts Lady Justice holding a banner that features the state seals of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho; these states had passed state legislation giving women the right to vote in local elections. Legislation passed in Wyoming Territory (1869), followed by Utah Territory (1870, revoked in 1877 and restored in 1895), Colorado (1893), and Idaho (1896).

The Bicycle Girl

The bicycle girl

In 1896 Susan B. Anthony declared, "Let me tell what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." The Music Division's sheet music collections feature countless titles referencing and depicting the "new woman" or the "coming woman," frequently wearing bloomers and/or riding a bicycle. And Anthony was not the only suffragist to sing the bicycle's praises; in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's own words: "The bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, and self-reliance and will make the next generation more vigorous of mind and body; for feeble mothers do not produce great statesmen, scientists and scholars." To read more about the significance of the bicycle to the suffrage movement, see Sue Macy's book, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.

We'll Show You When We Come to Vote (The Great Woman's Suffrage)

We'll Show you when we come to Vote

The title of this song reveals how intensely threatening the prospect of women voting could be, while the lyrics in turn reveal the human propensity to hold onto power by any means, including belittlement and scorn. The lively lithographed illustration on the cover shows a group of women, children in tow, voting under banners that read "Vote for Susan B. Anthony for President," "Down with Male Rule," and "Vote early and often," hinting at the sarcastic anti-suffrage lyrics found in the music.

Anti-Suffrage Sentiments

The Anti-Suffrage Rose

The Anti-Suffrage Rose

While the better half of this online collection features songs in favor of women's suffrage, there was a fierce movement against suffrage as well – and one that included women! 1911 saw the formation of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) in New York City with "antis" (a nickname for "anti-suffragists") Josephine Dodge and Minnie Bronson at the helm. Anti-suffragist Phil Hanna's 1915 song, "The Anti-Suffrage Rose," was well-known among antis and was often featured at rallies and fairs. According to Susan Goodier in her book, No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement, "The New York State Fair…served as a favorite venue for antis and suffragists…Women distributed buttons and literature, and played a recording of 'The Anti-Suffrage Rose,' made by Alice George and Minnie Bronson" (p. 89-90). The song asserts that the anti-suffrage rose is far sweeter and superior to the yellow jonquil, a symbol of the suffrage movement.

Mind the Baby, I Must Vote Today

Mind the baby, I must vote to-day

As is the case with much of the popular sheet music from the beginning of the century, the cover art for this song is perhaps more valuable than the actual musical content. This cover illustration depicts the depth of male anxiety provoked by the notion of women gaining the right to vote. Several songs in the Women's Suffrage in Sheet Music digital collection have similar illustrations, all depicting harassed and emasculated men relegated to the kitchen, laundry, or nursery, surrounded by screaming, fighting, and hungry children, while the woman of the house abandons her family and waltzes out the door to vote.

Female Suffrage

Female suffrage : song and chorus

Many times it is difficult to tell from the title or cover art whether a piece of music is in favor of or against women's suffrage, and this sheet music is a perfect example. The title and even the dedication to prominent suffragists would lead you to believe that the music supports suffrage; however, upon reading the full lyrics and digesting the anti-suffrage message, the dedication on the cover is then read not as genuine, but rather mocking. One cannot always judge a piece of sheet music by its cover!

Related Social Movements

The Rebel Girl

The cover of The Rebel Girl by Joe Hill

The words and music to "The Rebel Girl" were written by Joe Hill (1879-1915), a songwriter, labor activist, and member and martyr of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He was famous for many labor songs and especially for the phrase "Don't waste time mourning; organize!" a phrase from his final letter written to Big Bill Haywood (1869-1928) just before his execution. The AFLCIO has written a short biography of Hill External. The song copyright is registered to Big Bill Haywood, labor activist and founding member and leader of the IWW. The woman pictured on the sheet music cover is Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), who was a member of the IWW and later a Communist (from the 1930s). Flynn served as organizer of the Workers Liberty Defense Union and in 1920 was named a founding member of the National Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union. A photo of Flynn which bears a strong resemblance to the image on the cover of this music is in the Library's collection. This song has weathered time and was recorded by many activists, such as Joan Baez and Pete Seeger.

Hull House Songs

Suffrage song : (let us sing as we go)

The music for this collection of songs was written by Eleanor Sophia Smith (1858-1942), an American music educator, composer, and founder and director of the Hull House Music School in Chicago, a section of the larger organization Hull House, which focused its resources and programming on issues of social justice, including women's suffrage. Author and educator James Weber Linn wrote the words. The songs are dedicated to Louise de Koven Bowen, an American philanthropist, civic leader, social reformer, and suffragist, and Jane Addams, a social worker, feminist, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams founded Hull House and wrote the introductory note explaining the background and purpose of the song collection. In some ways this collection resembles the Little Red Songbook of the IWW, but the song texts omit the emphasis on class differences and instead address social ills. This example is only a single excerpt. The other songs in this set were concerned with workers' rights ("The Sweat Shop"), child labor ("The Shadow Child"), miners' working conditions ("The Land of the Noonday Night"), and women's suffrage ("Prayer" and "Suffrage Song (Let Us Sing as We Go")). All the songs are meant to be didactic and in some way have connections to women's suffrage, the labor movement, support for immigrants and their families, and education. The illustration on the cover is a drawing of Hull House External itself.

Vote It Right Along!

Vote it right along! : song and chorus

"Vote It Right Along!," published in 1869, was composed by John Wallace Hutchinson and performed by the Hutchinson Family Singers, one of the most popular entertainment ensembles in mid-century America. The Hutchinson Family Singers mastered close, four-part harmony and took to writing and performing music that spoke to multiple moral causes such as abolition, temperance, labor rights, and, in the case of this song, women's suffrage. In her book, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815-1897, Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed, "The anti-slavery meetings held there were often disturbed by mobs that would hold the most gifted orator at bay hour after hour, and would listen only to the songs of the Hutchinson family…they looked so sturdy, so vigorous, so pure, so true that they seemed fitting representatives of all the cardinal virtues, and even a howling mob could not resist their influence." (p. 131)