The Music Division’s latest digital collection, Women’s Suffrage in Sheet Music, includes over 200 pieces of music related to women’s emerging voices in the 19th century and more directly to the women’s suffrage movement. The collection provides multiple lenses through which a researcher can process the political struggle of the time, including music specifically written for suffrage events such as meetings and parades. One example is “Suffrage Marching Song” with music by Fanny Connable Lancaster and words by Florence Livingston Lent. As the sheet music cover indicates, the music was “officially approved and sold for the benefit of The Equal Suffrage Cause” and distributed by the Massachusetts Woman’s Suffrage Association. To be performed “With rhythmic swing: sharply defined,” the voice declares
Awake! Awake! Ye sisters all,
In this our glorious land,
And muster to the bugle call
To lend a helping hand;
To settle strife where such be rife,
Good will to all and cheer,
Clean government, new lease of life,
God’s will on earth be here.
On May 2, 1914, Boston saw its largest suffrage spectacle to date with a large-scale parade that expected 7,000 suffragists to march, but ultimately welcomed upwards of 12,000 marchers. It was reported that crowds as high as 300,000 came out to observe the spectacle. Women rode horses, women lawyers and doctors wore caps and gowns, ushers led the parade in red, white, and blue gowns as they carried “directoire canes” in hand, suffragists executed five specially designed floats, and marchers proudly presented suffrage banners, one particular banner insisting: “Forever out of darkness, leave behind the night; forward through the darkness, forward into life.”
Days before the parade, the Boston Daily Globe published a story called “Ready for Big Parade: Suffragettes Have Worked Out With Care Details of Demonstration on Saturday” (April 30, 1914). The article includes a map of the parade route that started on Beacon Street and finished at Tremont Temple, noting changes that had to be made due to subway work on Boylston Street that necessitated a change in the original route. The article also states:
[The marching chorus] is to be a notable feature. More than 200 strong, and accompanied by its own band, it will sing the suffrage marching song written for this occasion by Fanny Connable Lancaster and Florence Livingston Lent. And when the parade breaks ranks and becomes a mass meeting, the chorus will sing again in Tremont Temple.
The end of the article indicates that a chorus rehearsal took place at parade headquarters the previous day led by Dr. Archibald Davidson of the Appleton Chapel at Harvard University. In addition to conducting the Harvard Glee club, Davidson also directed the Radcliffe Choral Society at Radcliffe College.
Discovering the music for “Suffrage Marching Song” is interesting enough for any researcher concerned with the women’s suffrage movement; however, knowing exactly where it was performed and envisioning the scale of the scene as well as the participants, suddenly breathe new life into the sheet music. By drawing upon resources from across the Library’s reading rooms and locating important connections, we can best contextualize our digitized sheet music and uncover the stories that lie within the Library’s collections.