As promised, every Wednesday this month In the Muse is featuring a blog post that highlights stories and names that lie within the Music Division’s recently-launched digital collection, Women’s Suffrage in Sheet Music. Last week, I located a newspaper article that contextualized Fanny Connable Lancaster and Florence Livingston Lent’s “Suffrage Marching Song” and described its performance at a 1914 suffrage parade in Boston. This week, I turn to another landmark suffrage parade – that which took place in New York City on May 6, 1911 – and two pieces tied to the event.
On May 6, 1911, the Women’s Political Union organized a march down Fifth Avenue leading to a rally in Union Square. The event drew thousands of participants and thousands more spectators. Days before the large-scale parade, an article in The New York Times titled “Suffragists Sing New March Song” reported on a preparatory meeting that was held downtown to pledge marchers, organize efforts, and generate enthusiasm. In addition to passing out literature, organizers “sold copies of the new ‘Women’s Political March,’ which had its first tryout yesterday [April 30, 1911]. Mme. Elsa Gregori, the composer, wielded the baton first for the musicians on the stage, and then for the audience, which sang with a vim. It is to be sung in the procession.” (May 1, 1911) The day after the parade, on May 7, 1911, The New York Times reported that Gregori’s song was sung at the rally in Union Square with band accompaniment prior to open-air speeches. The cover features the colors of the Women’s Political Union: purple, green, and white; and Gregori’s music sets a text by Henry Grafton Chapman. In addition to the published sheet music, the Library also holds a manuscript copy of the song in the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, along with a related newspaper clipping and a photograph of Gregori.
Gregori is a fascinating woman in her own right; born in Michigan but raised in Italy, Gregori (originally born Elsa Gregory) studied music in Milan and Paris and sang at the Paris Grand Opera. One evening at a salon, she attracted the attention of Charles Moreau Chaslon, a member of the old French nobility and one of the richest, most powerful men in Paris. Gregori curtailed her opera career in favor of marriage to Chaslon, but returned to music after her husband fell ill; this time, her interest was in composition. Gregori wrote an opera called Haschisch that theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein initially accepted for production and she relocated to New York City anticipating that production; unfortunately, it never materialized. Gregori remained in New York, however, where she continued to compose; assumed the business of her own previous concert manager, L.M. Ruben; and served as Vice President of the Musical Union of Women Artists. Reading about Gregori’s affiliation with a union for women artists and seeing her suffrage songs “Women’s Political Union March” and “Women” start to inform our understanding of Gregori the suffragist.
According to an August 28, 1911 article in the St. Louis Post – Dispatch, an Italian composer watched the May 6 suffrage parade from his room in the Waldolf-Astoria and, impressed by the spectacle, encouraged suffrage leaders, reportedly saying, “One grand parade – but you should sing! You should have of your own one grand anthem – a Marseillaise of emancipated womanhood!” In response, the Woman Suffrage Party of New York advertised a competition, inviting writers to submit original texts that might be selected and set to music as a national suffrage anthem ($100 cash prize to winner included). The selection committee reviewed 98 submissions and awarded the prize to Miss Minnetta Theodora Taylor (1859-1911) of Greencastle, Indiana. Taylor was a gifted linguist who had mastered 45 languages. She graduated from DePauw University at 20 years old and reminded friends in her later years that “it was considered as scandalous for a woman to want an education as some people now consider it for a woman to want a vote.” Taylor founded Greencastle’s first suffrage club, served as president of the Indiana State Federation of Women’s Clubs, established the Western Association of Writers, wrote school textbooks in Spanish, worked for the government as a translator, and held the position of associate professor of French and German at DePauw University. Tragically, Taylor died five days after submitting her “Ballot Song for American Women” verses to the competition and never saw the piece performed at the Woman Suffrage Party convention at Carnegie Hall on October 26, 1911.
As I emphasized in last week’s blog post, researching the entirety of the Library’s digital collections enhances our understanding of the sheet music presented in Women’s Suffrage in Sheet Music. The Manuscript Division is home to the papers of many suffragists and suffrage organizations, several of which feature digital collections. Additionally, subscription databases such as Proquest Historical Newspapers provide on-site researchers with access to digital archives for newspapers that reveal day-to-day news coverage of events of socio-political significance such as suffrage protests, parades, rallies, and ultimately – the successful passing and ratification of the 19th Amendment.