The following is a guest post by Senior Music Cataloger Sharon McKinley.
The battle for the right to vote was hard-fought by women in America and elsewhere. The last state to ratify the 19th amendment to the US Constitution was Tennessee, on August 18, 1920. Today it seems unthinkable that women once lacked this basic democratic right.
The fight for women’s suffrage in the US is well documented at the Library of Congress, with recent collections as well as popular sheet music that goes back 150 years.
- Give the ballot to the mothers : songs of the suffragists : a history in song, compiled by Francie Wolff, 1998.
- Woman’s suffrage songs, by Pauline Russell Brown, 1913.
- Suffrage songs and verses, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1911.
- Suffragist sheet music : an illustrated catalogue of published music associated with the women’s rights and suffrage movement in America, 1795-1921, with complete lyrics / Danny O. Crew, 2002.
- Standing on the shoulders, words and music by Joyce Rouse ; arrangement by Hitomi Sutton. This is the theme song written and performed in Aug.1995 to the 75th anniversary of the 19th amendment.
The women’s suffrage movement was often subjected to ridicule. Many men viewed women as thoroughly uneducated and unsuited to vote, and found the desire to do so simply frivolous. They saw no reason that women, protected and pampered, needed to vote. As early as the mid-19th century, popular songs denigrated the movement and the idea of women’s rights in general.
We’ll vote against the terrible men (We’ll show you when we come to vote), by Frank Howard, c1869, looks from its cover to be sympathetic to the cause, but it depicts women as complaining about voting recreationally, while their husbands provide everything they need.
Fast-forward to 1917, when Eddie Cantor recorded The modern maiden’s prayer, from the Ziegfeld follies of 1917. This one depicts a twentieth century woman praying for earthly blessings such as clothes, money, and wealthy boyfriends. Not much seems to have changed in the 50 years since 1869…but the movement was about to succeed!
There are many sound recordings held by the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, including Side by side : reenactments of scenes from women’s history, 1848 to 1920 and Songs of the suffragettes, sung by Elizabeth Knight. You’ll find more books and music under the Library of Congress subject headings Women’s rights–Songs and music and Women–Suffrage–Songs and music. Try a keyword search on suffrage, suffragists or suffragettes, women’s rights. And look for other Library holdings, including photographs and such fascinating treasure-troves as the Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.