Raising Your Voice, Casting Your Vote: Music of Suffrage
Now through December 31, 2020
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment by examining how music has accompanied the fight for the right to vote before and within the last century and supports that call today.
In music, we strive for a perfect union of melody, harmony and rhythm. In democracy, it’s more complicated.
August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which declared that voting could not be denied or abridged on account of sex. A week later it officially became law.
While acknowledging this achievement, we reflect on the role of music to promote the call for suffrage, not just for women, but also for black, indigenous, people of color. Though the ratification of the 19th Amendment ended the decades-long struggle for women to secure the right to vote in the United States, the battle for voting rights for non-white citizens continued well into the 20th century, and issues of voter suppression plague our democratic system to this day.
During these struggles, music strengthened the voice of the people, helping relay the message of suffrage, sway perspective, and rally supporters.
In this display, we examine not only the music of suffrage and the activists who raised their voices, using music to persuade, but also how their words and actions inspire music from new generations, tell the story of suffrage, and encourage participation in democracy.
Each image below connects you with different resources available to UMKC students, faculty and staff. Click on the picture to learn more about the resources and follow the links. We’ll also highlight resources and events on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Bugler Girl as Symbol of Women's Suffrage
Poster + eBook
"Now press the clarion to thy woman's lips."
The image of a woman in armor, sword sheathed, trumpet of victory to her lips, was one of the defining images of the suffrage movement in Great Britian and in the United States. British artist Caroline Watts created the image of a herald calling troops to the battle in 1908 with the "Bugler Girl" (AKA "Clarion Girl").
This image and similar were featured on memorabilia of the movement: posters, buttons, sheet music covers, the program for the Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913, in pro-suffrage journals, and even on chinaware, with cup and saucer sets.
Learn more about the imagery of the suffrage movement in Cartooning for Suffrage.
Image Source: Caroline Watts, The Bugler Girl Poster, 1908
Parades and Marching Bands
"We Sure Led the Parade" Alma Nash, the Missouri Ladies Military Band, and the Push for Women's Suffrage from Rural Missouri to the Nation's Capital.
This article details the journey of a group of women from a small town in Missouri who ended up leading the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession, which was at the time the largest organized political protest in Washinton D.C. ever. You can read more of Dr. Elyssa Ford's research about Alma with Alexander Street Press.
To learn more about this and other parades and the music that was performed, visit the Library of Congress' blog "Suffrage Music on Parade."
Image Source: Library of Congress
Songs of the Suffragettes
Recorded for Folkways Records in 1958, singer Elizabeth Knight and guitarist Sul Julty present Songs of the Suffragettes. Similarly to how the term "Yankee Doodle Dandy" started as a term of insult during the Revolutionary War, then became a point of pride to the revolutionaries, the term "suffragette" originated as a demeaning term for women suffragists. Some, though, embraced the term. In fact, the tune to "Yankee Doodle" was used to promote women's suffrage with the song "Votes For Women, Sure to Win" in the Equal Suffrage Song Sheaf by Eugénie M. Rayé-Smith in 1912.
Sheet Music during Suffrage
The suffrage movement coincided with the rise in published sheet music, as it became the norm for upper and middle class families to enjoy amatuer vocal and piano performances at home. Learn more about the history of sheet music with Russel Sanjek's American Popular Music and Its Business: Volume II 1709-1909 (available in the reference collection).
To explore sheet music from that era, visit the Library of Congress' amazing Women's Suffrage in Sheet Music Collection and learn more from the digital version of their exhibit, "Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote."
Image Source: Library of Congress
Dame Ethel Smyth, composer
Journal Article + Album
Dame Ethel Smyth carries legacies in the worlds of music and politics. She is noted as the first woman to have a work performed by the Metropolitan Opera and as a key member of the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom. Her abilities in music and activism combined when she composed "The March of the Women", which became an anthem of the United Kingdom women's suffrage movement, sung in the US as well. In "Ethel Smyth, Suffrage and Surrey: From Frimley Green to Hook Heath, Woking," Christopher Wiley explores her successes as a composer, the role she played in the fight for women's suffrage, and how ties to her community influenced the two. He addresses that while Smyth was prepared for her involvement with the suffrage movement to hinder her musical career, it in fact resulted in newfound support.
Through the UMKC library's subscription to Naxos, you can find Smyth's music on the album Dame Ethel Smyth Songs and Ballads recorded by Lucy Stevens, Elizabeth Marcus, and the Berkeley Ensemble, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez.
Image Source: Library of Congress
"Friends and Fellow Citizens": Oration and Theatrics
Recordings + Article
Spoken word, including speeches, pageantry, and suffrage dramas, was an integral component of voting rights activism. Marr Sound Archives holds albums of historically significant speeches, including Side by Side: reenactments of scenes from women's history, 1848 to 1920.
Hear a reenactment of Susan B. Anthony's "Women's Right to Vote" speech after her arrest for casting an illegal vote.
In contrast to spoken activism, tableaux vivant was a popular form of promoting the suffrage (and anti-suffrage) cause, including the National Woman's Suffrage Pageant tableau presented in front of the U.S. Treasury Building in 1913.
Image Source: Library of Congress
Votes for Women: Celebrating New York's Suffrage Centennial
eBook + Musical Performance
Votes for Women: Celebrating New York's Suffrage Centennial is a detailed account chronicling "the history of the women's rights and suffrage movements in New York State and examines the important role the state played in the national suffrage movement. The work for women's suffrage started more than seventy years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and one hundred supporters signed the Declaration of Sentiments asserting that 'all men and women are created equal.'"
Missouri-based American Wild Ensemble performed at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY to celebrate the role of these suffragists.
The Mother of Us All
Album + YouTube video + score
The Mother of Us All, music composed by Virgil Thomson and libretto written by Gertrude Stein, was inspired by the life of Susan B. Anthony. Classified as a "pageant", the work combines real figures from the United States women's suffrage movement with historical and fictional characters.
The Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater's recording of The Mother Of Us All, is available on Naxos Music Library. You can also watch the work on YouTube, made available by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This production, performed on February 14, 2020, was presented in the Charles Engelhard Court. It was a collaboration between The Juilliard School, The New York Philharmonic, and MetLiveArts, and it was a part of the New York Philharmonic's Project 19 initiative. We also have the score available in our collection.
Women's Liberation Around the World
eBook + playlists
Before 1893, no woman anywhere in the world had the right to vote in a national election. A hundred years later, almost all countries had enfranchised women and it was a sign of backwardness not to have done so. Women and the Vote: A World History is the story of how this momentous change came about.
We also explore the music of global women's liberation with playlists provided by Smithsonian Folkways. Included are the themes of Women's Liberation, which includes artists from Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, and Women and Folk, including songs of protest. Both playlists highlight the importance of music in the fight for equality and to further the messages of social causes and suffrage. Explore the artists in these playlists in our collection, including Bernice Johnson Reagon, Peggy Seeger, and Mary Lou Williams.
Helen Hopekirk, pianist and composer
Helen Hopekirk was a pianist, composer, and known supporter of women's suffrage. Hopekirk studied at the Leipzig conservatory and was a successful touring pianist, particularly in the United States. She taught at the New England Conservatory and both had a work performed by and appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Despite being native to Scotland, she supported the women's suffrage movement in the United States and appeared in a suffrage parade in Boston on June 15, 1915. This album includes a selection of her piano works, performed by Gary Steigerwalt.
eBook + album
Though we don't know for certain that composer Amy Beach openly supported the suffrage movement, we do know she was the first American woman to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra, and that her prowess in classical composing and piano performance were upheld as examples that women were equal to men. She lived contemporaneously to the push for women's suffrage and her music has been used in many 100th anniversary commemorative concerts. Learn more about her in Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944 and listen to her work in the album Chanson d'Amour.
Image Source: Piano Concerto
eBook + album
Zitkála-Šá (Red Bird), also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was Yankton Dakota Sioux born in 1876. She was a leading voice for Native American rights, persuasive writer, and devoted musician, often pictured with her violin in her youth. She wrote the libretto for the first authentic Native American opera, The Sun Dance (1913), with composer William F. Hanson. She transcribed Sioux melodies for the basis of the opera, and the premiere cast included members of the Ute Nation. Though we don't have that opera in our collection, the book Red Bird Sings introduces readers young and old to Zitkála-Šá's history, music, and activism. You can further explore Native American music and activism through the album The Promised Land: American Indian Songs of Lament and Protest.
Sojourner Truth, who escaped slavery and became a leading figure in the abolitionist movement and for women's suffrage, used song as well as words to share her message of equality. "I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the colored woman, I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is broken."
Truth's life has inspired many artistic retellings. In 1963, Paulene Meyers portrayed Truth in a one-woman performance, available on Alexander Street Press.
Truth the Musical, premiered in 2015 in Washington D.C. and combines many musical styles, including gospel and jazz.
Image Source: National Portrait Gallery | CCO
Paul Robeson: Songs of Free Men
Bass-baritone Paul Robeson and pianist Lawrence Brown presented the recital Songs of Free Men. Robeson was active in the civil rights movement and he and Brown both proudly shared their African-American heritage of gospel songs and spirituals with audiences around the world.
The Fight to Vote
In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer attempted to vote and was violently oppressed. Through the years, she was threatened, lost her job, thrown in jail, and beaten. She used music in her activism, compiled in this Smithsonian Folkways release, Songs My Mother Taught Me, available from Music & Performing Arts.
Ballads of Black America
Ballads of Black America, by Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick and performed by Kirkpatrick and Pete Seeger, includes works inspired by suffragists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass as well as activists such as Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King. The 1972 album was recorded for Smithsonian Folkways, available on Alexander Street Press.
Lift Every Voice
Score + eBook
"Lift Every Voice And Sing" was decreed the "Negro national anthem" by the NAACP in 1919. James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem, and his brother J. Rosamund Johnson set it to music; the song has been used in numerous settings, including Omar Thomas' "Of Our New Day Begun", part of the Shining A Light collection.
Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, musicians of color in the classical music community joined together virtually in a performance of the work. You can learn more about "Lift Every Voice and Sing," its history, and its relevance in the fight for suffrage in the black community (along with the history of black musical genres such as jazz, blues, gospel, and hip hop) in the work Lift Every Voice: The History of African-American Music.
Albums + archives
As a dynamic orator, prolific writer, and amatuer violinist, abolitionist and suffragist Frederick Douglass (the only man to speak at the first women's rights convention) inspired many a musical setting, from art songs to full length operas. Composers Dorothy Rudd Moore, Ulysses Kay (from the Columbia University archives), and Aldolphus Hailstork, among others, found inspiration in his words and life.
He also inspired his grandson, Joseph Douglass, who became a famous concert violinist and educator.
Films: Historical and Fiction
Fiction and historic fiction help tell the story of the women's suffrage movement, too.
Iron Jawed Angels, set in the 1910s, casts Academy Award-winning actors as some of the main players of the period: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Carris Chapman Catt, and Inez Milholland. The film demonstates the contention within the movement, with various individuals devoted to different tactics, from the largest parade Washinton D.C. had ever seen, in 1913, to the "Silent Sentinels" who protested in front of the White House between 1917 and 1919, and also the abuse, violence and imprisonment experienced by many of the suffragists, including prison labor and forced feedings when they went on hunger strike.
The Chicks' "March March" and the Voices of Democracy
Documentary + YouTube video + journal article
In June 2020, the country pop trio The Chicks dropped the word "Dixie" from their band name and released a single titled "March March", which directly related to the protests against police brutality. The music video uses archival footage from protests over the last century, including women's suffrage, civil rights, LGBT rights, and Black Lives Matter.
Historically, protestors face abuse, violence, and arrest for exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom to assemble. When The Chicks spoke out against military action in 2003, they faced a severe media boycott. The documentary Shut Up and Sing covers the fall out and response by the band. You can learn more in the article "'Mad As Hell': Democractic Dissent and the Unpatriotic Backlash on the Dixie Chicks", regarding their blacklisting, or with a review of their latest album, Gaslighter.
Suffrage in the Latinx Community
Music video + eBook
Even though Latinx men and women had been active in the fight for suffrage since before the 19th Amendment and despite the fact that technically Latinx voters also won the right to vote with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they still experienced voter suppression through language tests and other methods of disenfranchisment. During the 2016 election, a popular song by Bomba Estéreo, "Soy Yo," with music video featuring a charismatic Sarai Gonzalez, was recast as a get-out-the-vote ode in "Be You y Vota."
Learn more about that fight in Latinos and the Voting Rights Act.
Image Source: screen shot from Be You y Vota
Song cycle: "And Still We Dream"
YouTube video + eBook
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City commissioned and performed the song cycle And Still We Dream with music by Laura Karpman and libretto by Kelley Rourke as part of their 19th Amendment-themed performance "...When There Are Nine" in January 2020. The piece uses text written by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Read more about Karpman and her work in both music and activism in the book In Her Own Words: Conversations with Composers in the United States.
Image Source: screen shot
"The March of the Women"
In her 2019 album, jazz artist and former Kansas Citian Karrin Allyson makes a centennial tribute to women's suffrage. "The March of the Women" single includes oration, a women's chorus, and the Karrin Allyson Sextet.
Shoulder to Shoulder: Centennial Tribute to Women's Suffrage seeks to re-create the multi-decade debate – warts and all – that culminated in the enactment of the nineteenth amendment. 'We want to highlight this significant movement in American history. One that we shouldn't forget and that is relevant today. It's also one in which music played an important role,' said Karrin Allyson." (Quote from liner notes.)
While we don't have this album in our collection (yet!), we do have over 20 of Allyson's other albums, as well as historical images of Allyson in the LaBudde Special Collecion, many digitized.
Contrafacts Old and New
One standard practice in protest music is to use existing songs, either by reframing them to fit the moment or to rewrite lyrics for popular melodies. A new musical work based on an existing work is called a contrafact, or a parody (sometimes satirical, sometimes not). "The Lucretia Mott Song," set to the popular "Battle Hymn of the Rebulic" honors one of the early leading voices for equal rights. It's found in our collection in the songbook Here's To The Women.
The Kansas State Historical Society digitized The Suffrage Song Book, printed in Topeka, KS in 1909, with new pro-suffrage lyrics written to existing popular songs (with four sets of lyrics set to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," no less.) Kansas was one of the Western states to allow women's suffrage before the 19th Amendment made it a national law.
The practice of contrafact continues today, with Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" reimagined as a suffrage anthem in honor of Alice Paul, who, once suffrage was achieved, continued to push for equality and drafted the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Image Source: screen shot
Project 19 + Shining A Light
21st century Voices
In honor of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and in response to the disparity of women's voices in classical music, the New York Philharmonic launched Project 19, a commissioning series featuring 19 composers, the largest women-only commissioning initiative in history.
Of those 19 women, UMKC Music/Media Library's Shining a Light exhibit and collection features eight, with more to come as we expand our collection. You can browse the collection, hear work samples, and access composers' biographies at the exhibit. Please enjoy the works of Tania León, Joan Tower, Jessie Montgomery, Melissa Wagner, Anna Thorvoldsdottir, Du Yun, Unsuk Chin, and Olga Neuwirth.
Citizenship and Voting for Asian Americans
Article + Music Festival
Asian Americans also faced barriers at the polls. As a teenager, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (the first woman to earn a doctorate in economics from Columbia University) rode a white horse in the 1912 procession in New York City. It is unclear if she ever voted, though, since Chinese immigrants were not allowed to naturalize due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It was not repealed until 1943.
It wasn't until 1952 that Asian Americans were granted the right to become citizens and to vote, though discriminatory restrictions remained law.
Though many Asian Americans used music as a way of retaining their cultural heritage, they also practiced other styles, or incorporated and blending traditional styles with new, such as brass bands, jazz, orchestra, and opera. This practice is examined in "Transformations of Tradition: Three Generations of Japanese American Music Making."
In 2016, 18MillionRising put out the album "Voices of Our Vote" featuring AAPI artists. This year, the 2020 Project and BTO Collective encouraged voter registration among AAPI with a virtual musical festival, "Fresh Off The Vote."
Image Source: Wikipedia
Vote!: Women's Fight for Access to the Ballet Box
August 18, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibited states and the US government from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. Vote!: Women's Fight for Access to the Ballot Box examines how the 70-year-long fight for women's suffrage was hard won by leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt and others. Learn how their success led into the civil rights and feminist movements of the mid- and late-twentieth century, as well as today's #MeToo, #YesAllWomen, and Black Lives Matter movements. In the face of voter ID laws, voter purges, gerrymandering, and other restrictions, Americans continue to fight for equality in voting rights.
Women & Music: A History by Karin Pendle
eBook + score
Karin Pendle's Women & Music: A History offers a survey of women composers, performers, educators, and patrons from antiquity through the twentieth century. Chapters on music in Europe 1880-1918 and America 1800-1918 are prefaced by the importance of social movements for women's rights and women's suffrage for the success of nineteenth and twentieth century women composers. Among the entries are Dame Ethyl Smith (1858-1944), composer and leader in the United Kingdom women's suffrage movement; Helen Hopekirk (1856-1945), performer, composer, and suffragist; and Vivian Fine (b.1913), who uses the historical record from a post-Civil War debate--whether women or black men should get the vote first--in her 1976 cantata "Meeting for Equal Rights 1866".
Image Source: IMSLP
The Start of the Movement and the Story Now
eBook + musical performance
In a quiet town of Seneca Falls, New York, over the course of two days in July, 1848, a small group of women and men, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, held a convention that would launch the woman's rights movement and change the course of history. Sally McMillen unpacks, for the first time, the full significance of that revolutionary convention and the enormous changes it produced. Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women's Rights Movement covers 50 years of women's activism, from 1840-1890, focusing on four extraordinary figures--Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony.
Music was not only used to help secure the vote, but is still used to help tell those stories. 19: The Musical was part of the "Rightfully Hers" exhibition for the National Archives. Watch a workshop performance for the forthcoming premiere. "One way of spreading the message [of suffrage] to a wide audience was through music. The power of music is again employed in the cause of voting rights."
Sweet Honey in the Rock: Chant and Music in Protest
Album + newspaper article
Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-women African American a cappella ensemble founded in 1973, has long combined gospel tradition and activist songs. "We Want the Vote," the last track from their 2003 album The Women Gather, includes elements of chant and interlocking rhythms, like the marching feet of thousands of protesters throughout history. The Marr Sound Archives holds this album in its collection.
The role of chant and gospel music resonates in protests of our time, as examined in a July 7, 2020 article in The Washington Post by musicologist Maurisz Kozak. "This music is important for expressing political messages because it creates a sense of emotional connection and social coherence, even among strangers. It does this through the physical link that develops between participants. In a way, music functions as a social glue that binds the minds and bodies of those who create it."
Dominick Argento: From the Diary of Virginia Woolf
"Thinking is my fighting." Despite considering herself an outcast from the women's suffrage movement in Great Britain, Virginia Woolf supported the cause, showing her feminist views in her writings and working for a year in a suffrage office. From the Diary of Virginia Woolf is a song cycle with music set by Dominick Argento, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. Each song is from a different entry in Woolf's diary spanning from 1919 to 1941.
"The rise and fall of feminist counterculture is traced through feminism's liberation of popular media, such as music, cinema, and television, and provides portraits of personalities as countercultural models. ... The book examines the decline of feminism since 1980 and links that decline to the fall of feminist counterculture. Feminists of the 1960s seemed to be repeating the history of the 1920s, when feminists gained the vote, but then lost the next generation."
Chapter 3 of Feminist Phoenix, especially, focuses on "Songs of Sisterhood" and how folk and popular music aided the message.
Many films explore the role and history of women's suffrage and liberation movements, including the 2020 American Experience released on PBS, The Vote. In our collection, we have the American Experience film One Woman, One Vote, with historical photographs and vocal performances, and the documentary about activist and journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who marched in the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession. She was also one of the founders of the NAACP and a leader in voting and civil rights. Learn more about her in the video Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice.
Image Source: Library of Congress
Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World
Based on Mackenzi Lee's popular weekly Twitter series, Bygone Badass Broads features 52 remarkable and forgotten trailblazing women from all over the world. Starting in the fifth century BC and continuing to the present, the book takes a closer look at bold and inspiring women who dared to step outside the traditional gender roles of their time.
Among Lee's featured heroines are Edith Garrud (black belt suffragette), Rukmini Devi Arundale (dancer), Julie d'Aubigny (opera singer), Maria Tallchief (considered the first American prima ballerina), and Angela Morley (composer). You can view Tallchief performing via The Kennedy Center's YouTube page and explore Morley's compositions in the Marr Sound archives including her score to Watership Down.
Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music
Songs in Black and Lavender explores Black and Queer women's involvement with music through the lens of eight different music festivals. "This book is about manifestations of black feminist consciousness in "women's music," which is less a type of music than it is a site of women's thinking about music, a context for the enactment of lesbian feminist politics and notions of community."
In chapter 4, Eileen M. Hayes discusses how politics have influenced the history of Black women's involvement in women's music. She analyzes musical styles and their political influences that do not easily fit into traditional music histories.
Websites + Score
Tens of thousands of activists worked to secure the right to vote. Every year, elections happen in government, whether at city, state, or national levels, and the results of those votes affect the lives of citizens every day. Organizations like Rock the Vote and Head Count use concerts as venues for voter registeration drives and awareness campaigns to promote participation in democracy.
Jennifer Higdon, the 2016-17 UMKC Conservatory Barr Laureate, wrote Hear My Voice, a choral work "inspired by the democratic process of voting, and illustrates how music, and choral singing in particular, are metaphors for the power of the individual voice within the larger context."
- Vote.org: Check your registration status and make sure your voting information is up to date
- Votes for Women: 19th Amendment in the Heartland: A regional partnership of exhibits and events.
- UMKC Women's Center
- WWI Museum and Memorial: Votes & Voices
- Kansas City Public Library
- The 19th Amendment Centennial: 1920-2020
- A Colorful Centennial Commemoration of Women’s Right to Vote
- League of Women Voters
- Johnson County Museum
- 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative
- National Archives: Women Suffrage and the 19th Amendment
- National Park Service: The 19th Amendment: 100 Years
- Women's Vote Centennial
- Smithsonian Institution: Votes for Women
- National Portrait Gallery: Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence
Display created by Tracy Bass, Bryanna Beasley, Libby Hanssen and designed by Sean McCue.
Posted: August 05, 2020