For as long as socially and politically aware citizens have gathered to voice dissent, music has served a paramount role; the women’s suffrage movement proves no exception. From local community suffrage meetings, to large-scale city-wide marches, to prison cells — suffragists consistently unified, rallied, and asserted their unbreakable spirit in song.
Women’s Suffrage in Sheet Music, the Music Division’s new digital collection, includes over 200 pieces of sheet music spanning the years 1838-1923 that present suffrage arguments and calls to duty as well as anti-suffrage views and anxieties. The majority of selections in the digital collection highlight women’s emerging voices and suffrage efforts with published rally songs and songsters written and compiled by notable composers and suffragists, as well as music manuscripts submitted for copyright deposit by everyday citizens. Anti-suffragists raised voices in song as well, and popular music of the era echoed anti-suffrage sentiments of the day with specific references to the movement. The Library of Congress preserves sheet music and songsters that represent suffragist voices, anti-suffrage views, and general societal angst at play throughout the women’s suffrage movement, all of which are represented in this digital collection.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, In the Muse will feature regular Wednesday blog posts for the month of March that highlight significant women and stories attached to specific selections from the digital collection. For now, I encourage you to peruse the collection and, a century after the 19th Amendment was passed, consider the suffrage movement from a musical standpoint.