Women put up signs advertising a suffrage event featuring Dr. Anna Howard Shaw at the Long Branch Casino in New Jersey, ca. August 1915. Select the link for information and a larger photo.
During the period leading up to the Civil War, the movement for the rights of African Americans grew along side the movement for the rights of women, including many of the same leaders. Suffragists borrowed tunes from popular songs, adapted soldier's songs for marches, as well as composing songs based on hymns as they created anthems for their movement. An example of an early song from the movement was written by social activist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), titled "Human Equality," (undated, ca. 1872-1877). A note on the song sheet indicates that is "supplemental to "A Man's a Man for a That," by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, a song that was often used in causes of social equality, such as labor reform and the abolition of slavery, and so Garrison's song can be sung to the same tune. A recording available in this presentation is "Daughters of Freedom," a song written in support of women's suffrage by Edward Christie with lyrics by George Cooper, published in 1871. It is sung by the "Music for the Nation" Singers, a group of Library of Congress staff members. A sheet music copy is also available. A later example of sheet music from the movement is "Shall Women Vote?" by Frank Boylen, published in 1881.
In the 1850s suffragists Amilia Bloomer and Elizabeth Smith Miller pioneered unrestrictive clothing for women that included a short skirt over loose trousers, dubbed the "Bloomer costume" by the press. This was considered shocking at the time and the change was not immediately successful. A song illustrating the public reaction to the proposed women's dress is "The Bloomer's Complaint," published in 1851. With the introduction of the safety bicycle (the first modern bicycle) in the 1880s, women found a need for clothing that would allow them the freedom to ride. Susan B. Anthony was quoted in an interview as saying, "I'll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood." Women on bicycles were the object of humorous songs, some risqué, that marveled at the sight of a woman in trousers. "Eliza Jane," is a song published on a song sheet in 1895 that brings together the bloomers, the desire to vote, and the freedom of riding a bicycle, with lyrics that explain the scandalous risks the young lady was taking.
Many states, particularly in the West, began granting women full or limited rights to vote in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This progress gave the movement for nation-wide women's suffrage renewed vigor. An example of a supportive song about the suffrage movement from a Jewish point of view is provided by Yiddish sheet music published in 1911 for "Damen Rechte" ("Women's Rights," translated as "Suffragettes" on the sheet music) by Joseph Rumshinsky and Anshel Shor. The song not only advocates for women's right to vote, but for equal opportunities in many roles.  At the same time there were recordings made of popular songs comically sending up the movement and speculating on the unfortunate consequences of women's emancipation. "Since My Margaret Became a Suffragette," sung by Maurice Burkhardt, is an example of a comic complaint song about a man who's wife is busy campaigning for the vote, published in 1912 and "Your Mother's Gone Away to Join the Army" is a song about the family left behind as a mother goes to fight for the cause, sung by Billy Murray in 1913.
The text of what would become the Ninteenth Amendment was originally drafted by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and introduced to Congress in 1878, then rejected in 1887. The Constitutional ammendement was proposed again in 1914, in 1915, in 1918, and in February 1919, failing to win addequate votes each time, until it was proposed again in May of 1919 and passed. Consequently the women's suffrage movement spanned over seventy years, and included various styles of songs to promote the cause during that time, until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment by the states required thirty-six states in 1920. The songs sung by the suffragists were rarely recorded until long after their cause was won.
- Nelly Bly interview with Susan B. Anthony in the New York paper The World, February 2, 1896, page 10.[back to article]
- See also "Fraue Rechte," by Arnold Perlmutter, Herman Wohl, and Hyman Altman, 1911. [back to article]
- Roby, Henry W., The Suffrage Song Book. Crane and Company, 1909. Digital copy by Kansas Memory.
- Songs of the Suffragettes, sung by Elizabeth Knight. Folkways Records, 1958 (in print, available from various vendors).
- Hurrah for Woman Suffrage! Songs of the Woman Suffrage Movement 1848‑1920, Miriam Reed Productions, 1995.
- "Songs of Social Change" (Songs of America)