There are two main categories of suffrage music, rally songs and parlor music. Rally songs generally consisted of women’s rights lyrics adapted to the melodies of popular songs. This allowed for communal sing-alongs at rallies and events, where people did not need to be able to read music to participate. Parlor music, on the other hand, featured original music as well as original words, and generally was printed in sheet music format. The topic of women’s rights in American music appears as early as the 18th century, but received its main impetus after the Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848.
Early Women’s Rights Lyrics “I’ll Be No Submissive Wife,” written and composed by Alexander Lee in 1835, was an extremely popular ballad, and went through 6 different editions by 1838. The song has sometimes been characterized as a pro-women’s rights song, as the lyrics cry out in protest, “I’ll not be a slave for life—not I love, honor, and obey.” However, more likely Lee’s work was probably satirical in its intent, exposing the character to ridicule in her overzealous refrain of “No no no no no no no no no no not I.” Likewise, “Let Us All Speak Our Minds If We Die For It,” published in 1863, has been interpreted by some to be an early feminist statement, but, with its lyrics written by man (William Brouch), it also is comic in intent. The character protests “I never yet gave myself thus a slave, however my husband might try for it, yet I can’t and I won’t, and I shan’t and I don’t.” In England, the song was introduced early into music halls, and the woman character was identified as Mrs. Naggit.” Still, whether satirical or not, both songs reflect a dissatisfaction among some women concerning their roles in marriage and societal expectations that they be submissive.
Women’s Rights Convention Songs A scant five years following the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, the topic became a popular subject for parlor sheet music although not always in a positive way. The 1853 waltz “Woman’s Rights Convention” with music by C. Tompkins and arrangement by Julia F. Baker appears supportive enough by its title even though it is lacking in words. However, another song that appeared the same year, “Women’s Rights . . .Rightly Written for the Woman’s Rights Convention,” is quite open in its opposition to any role that women might play as politicians and leaders: “‘Tis ‘Woman’s right’ as Wife to act/ Alone to Legislators,/ But ‘not her right’ to mount the stand/ And speak as commentators.” A song written by Fanny Fern in 1853 called “Woman’s Rights” also embodies the idea that it is woman’s right to serve her man but not her right to “speak aloud in legislative halls.”
More Mockery in Sheet Music One of the early graphic pieces of American sheet music that extended the mockery of the Woman’s Rights movement was “We’ll Show You When We Come to Vote,” published in 1869 with words by Frank Howard. The cover illustration shows women at the ballot box, with posters covering the wall urging people to vote for “Susan B. Anthony for President,” for “Governor of Mass Lucy Stone,” for “Gov. of New York Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” along with cries of “Down with Male Rule.” The lyrics themselves argue that the typical woman’s rights advocate, while complaining of her lot, “rides in a carriage fine, and buys six dresses ev’ry week,” neglecting her babies in the process. Whatever its deficiencies, this song mirrors the fears of many men for decades to come that Votes for Women would lead to social revolution with women demanding to assume the roles of men and abandoning their “duties as housewives.” It also indicates that although suffrage leaders had become pariahs to the anti-women’s rights forces, their names and accomplishments were now well known to virtually everyone.
American Citizens Who Cannot Vote Throughout the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth, there were many songs written and published in support of suffrage. However, the majority of these songs are somewhat difficult to find today because their editions were limited, most being the product of either local activists or the organizations to which they belonged. The example pictured here from 1895 with words and music by Nettie Bacon Christian is typical. The song was dedicated to Helen M. Gouger, President of the Indiana Suffrage Association, and deals with a common complaint among suffragists, that women were linked with the lower orders of society such as “The Indian, the Chinaman, the Idiot” in their inability to be able to vote. While African Americans are not referenced here, many suffragists were extremely bitter when black men were granted the right to vote but they weren’t. The theme is continued in a 1911 work by W.G. Fortney that was published in San Francisco by the Macdonald Music Company, where African Americans are specifically mentioned. The second verse asks “Is it right for the Negro, the Jap, and the Chink/The tramp and the old whiskey bloat, to be hauled in a taxicab down to the polls/ And there be told how they must vote?” while the widow who runs a small, heavily mortgaged farm is not allowed access to the ballot.
“Official” Suffrage Songs There were a series of songs that either had a direct connection to an official suffrage association or were linked to them by an “official dedication.” Whatever the case, it is likely that most were used as a fund raiser for the cause. The Woman’s Journal, always eager to publicize new suffrage memorabilia, often took note of them, and many activist composers advertised their new creations in its pages. “Give Us the Ballot,” which was published in Emmetsburg, Iowa, was dedicated to the Political Equality Club of the same city. Political Equality Clubs were spread around the country and originated from an idea advanced originally by Susan B. Anthony. ”Suffrage Marching Song,” with words by Florence Livingston Lent and music by Fanny Connable Lancaster was “sold for the benefit of the Equal Suffrage Cause” by the Massachusetts Woman’s Suffrage Association. The copyright date of 1914 suggests that it may have been published in early preparation for the State referendum on suffrage that was held the next year. ”Victory,” though printed and published by E. Humphrey Owen of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was distributed by the Woman Suffrage Party of Luzerne County. It was published in 1916, the year after the unsuccessful attempt to pass a suffrage amendment in Pennsylvania. At times, without a dedication or an imprint of a suffrage association to serve as a guideline, it is difficult to know if a pro-suffrage piece was a commercial product or produced by an activist source. Many suffragists would publish a piece of music themselves that they had written and use the proceeds to fund the cause. The suffrage periodical the Woman’s Journal ran a number of announcements and small ads about such productions. Here are a few pieces in support of the movement that may or may not be directly connected to a suffrage sympathizer. Note that the two marches, even though they have similar titles, are composed by two different individuals. All three marches here, while they could have been played at home with the family sitting around the piano, were more likely used for demonstrations and actual marches, although marches did not become common until Alice Paul showed to other suffragists how successful they could be. “The Franchise Campaign March,” published in 1914, is the latest of the last three marches that are pictured here.
Rally Songs Most rally songs, which consisted of suffrage lyrics set to popular tunes, were printed not in sheet music format but on single sheets with words only or collected in booklets called “songsters” or “song books.” There was no need to print the music, since everyone knew the melodies, and the broadside and pamphlet formats made distribution of rally songs at meetings and gatherings both inexpensive and easy. Probably the most famous of all of the songsters was the “Equal Suffrage Song Sheaf” with words by Eugenie M. Raye-Smith that was published in 1912 and dedicated to Anna Howard Shaw. Songs included “Come Vote, Ladies ["Good-night, Ladies!"],” “Marching to Victory and Freedom ["Marching Through Georgia"],” and “Woman’s Song of Union ["Suwanee River"].” Although the copy here is labelled “Second Edition,” no “First Edition” is known.
Suffrage and American Iconography Suffrage sheet music in the 20th century differed from its counterpart in the 19th through greater use of illustrative covers, generally in full color. Still, many pieces were not necessarily the product of commercial firms but were produced and, at times, published by activists and their supporters. One feature of many was the use of iconic American images such as the bald eagle, the Liberty Bell, and the depiction of motherhood. Opponents of suffrage had attempted to portray the suffragists as the other, a sexless creature outside of the mainstream of American life. To counter that, supporters attempted to show that Votes for Women was a logical extension of this country’s traditions, that the Liberty Bell and motherhood were at one with extending the franchise to women. In addition, the two pieces pictured here, “Votes for Women,” with words and music by Edward and Mary Zimmerman and published in 1915,” and “In 1920 I Will Vote for You,” written by Richard O’Connor in 1918, may have had a local connection to the Pennsylvania Liberty Bell Campaign of 1915. In that year, a replica of the original Liberty Bell was cast, put on a specially fortified truck, and driven throughout the various counties of Pennsylvania, particularly in the rural areas. Both of these pieces were published in Pennsylvania, and while the latter piece was appeared three years after that campaign, the Liberty Bell was still available for viewing and was borrowed for events outside of the state.
She’s Good Enough to Be Your Baby’s Mother This particular piece of sheet music reinforced a major argument of suffragist sympathizers. In responding to critics who contended that women lacked the inherent capability to vote in a responsible manner, they pointed out that men gave over the chore of raising children to their wives. If women were so muddle headed that they could not cast a vote properly, then what were men doing in allowing them to bring up their children? The cover here also portrays the mother as young and attractive, not at all the dowager of anti-suffrage mythos. The suffragists also argued that women wanted the vote not to overturn society and take over but so that they could become better mothers, and vote for such things to protect children as laws would would guarantee the purity of the milk supply. ”She’s Good Enough,” based upon evidence from the number of surviving copies, was probably the most popular title of all American suffrage sheet music. It is the only song known, apart from Ethel Smyth’s famous English song “The March of Women,” that went through several significantly different cover designs. Smyth’s song, originally published by the Women’s Social and Political Union, was imported to the United States where it was featured in a major demonstration by Alice Paul’s Congressional Union in Washington, D.C. on May 9, 1914.
Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Suffrage “Since My Margarette-Became-a-da-Suffragette” was published in 1913 by Jerome H. Remick with music by Gus Edwards and words by Will D. Cobb. It combined an anti-Italian immigrant bias with a mockery of the suffrage movement. The male character is subject to the domination of his wife now that she has learned about suffrage. He has to give her all of his money because she has assumed the role of the treasurer of the family, he has to sleep alone with his monkey, and no more does he “eat da spagett.” Again, based upon the number of surviving copies, this song, unfortunately, was somewhat of a hit.
Specific Events In the late 19th century as well as the early part of the 20th, music publishers often printed songs about contemporary events such as the sinking of the Titanic, Lindbergh’s flight, the Johnstown Flood, and local fires and disasters. There are a few such pieces that deal with happenings in the suffrage world. The song “November,” written by Ella H. Lowe and Edward Johnson and published in Suffern, New York in 1915, recounts an event in suffrage history that is not often recognized today. In the Fall of that year, suffragists honored Anna Howard Shaw by presenting her with a Saxon car in the official NAWSA suffrage color of yellow. The words of the music do not refer specifically to Shaw but do tell the story of a comparable Yellow Saxon that will carry suffragists around to rally support for the coming referendum, probably intentionally calling to mind the Shaw Gift. The Saxon Automobile Company liked to publicize its connection to the suffragists, and even published an advertisement in several magazines featuring Alice Snitjer Burke and Nell Richardson, who had toured the country in their “Golden Flier Saxon” on behalf of suffrage. This may have been the first ad featuring women endorsing a car for other women. “Fall In Line,” published by the New York State Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1914 depicts a march held in New York City in that year. In the background one can see the Flat Iron Building. The song was also recorded on an Edison cylinder. Its price of fifty cents may have been a bit high for its day, but the music probably was used as a fund raiser and may have been sold through the mails.
Official Anti-Suffrage Sheet Music Although the Anti-Suffrage forces were well funded, primarily through the liquor industry who feared prohibition if women were given the vote, they produced very little of any type of memorabilia, sheet music included. Part of the reason for this is that they did not need to. There were plenty of mocking barbs directed against suffragists in the products put forth by commercial manufacturers. The Anti- groups also generally discouraged their own supporters from copying the suffragists who relied heavily on buttons, posters, ribbons, and sashes to create spectacle. ”The Anti-Suffrage Rose” was one of the few exceptions to that policy. With words and music by Phil Hanna, it was published in 1915 by the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts. The title of the song was no accident. Red or pink was the official color of the Anti- forces and the Rose was the official flower. Some suffragists in response avoided Roses.
Popular Songs About Suffrage There were a number of popular songs dealing with suffrage, and a good percentage of them were mocking in tone, although most did avoid the bitterness that was sometimes present in other memorabilia. Illustrated here are but several of many examples. “Mind the Baby, I Must Vote Today” is a classic example of the popular fear that many men had, that suffrage was more than women voting, it was the start of a revolution in which men and women would exchange roles. Postcards especially delineated the scene of the harried husband forced to do the housework and the minding of the baby while the wife goes out, either to her club, or, in this case, off to the polling place. Perhaps the two most common images in this regard are the husband standing over a washing tub or feeding the baby. “Wanted, A Suffragette” is also about the reversal of roles, although even though the lyrics are by a woman in a way that is extremely derogatory to the role of women. The male character in the song wants to marry a suffragette and change places with her. He doesn’t mind keeping the house nice and warm and caring for the cat if she will work “till late at night” and “bring home the money and give it to me.” ”Oh! You Suffragettes,” with its cover of women in sashes simultaneously marching in a parade and throwing bricks is told from the perspective of an immigrant recently from England who was hazed in Hyde Park by suffragettes who assumed that he was a member of Parliament. He describes them as wearing “Men’s collars and shirt fronts,” looking to obtain men’s votes, notes, and trousers, painting the stereotype that suffragettes really want to be men. ”Votes for Wimmin” is about Johnny Green’s “mama” who has abandoned him and his father to go to New York and “join her clan” and dress up like a “female man.”
Broadway and Suffrage There were a number of plays on and off broadway that dealt with the topic of suffrage. Many of these were musicals where suffrage was either the main theme or which included at least one major song on the topic. Among these were “The Suffragettes–A Musical Comedy,” with the libretto by Harriet D. Castle and words by Ira B. Wilson, “The Old Town,” with the songs “Weak Little Woman (Suffragette)” and “The Militant Suffrage Song,” “They Loved a Lassie,” which included “Votes for Women,” and, from Jewish theatre, “The Song of Love” with its “Suffragettes.” One act plays or closet dramas abounded, among which were such titles as “Shall Our Mothers Vote?,” “A Suffragette Town Meeting,” “The Suffragettes’ Convention,” “When Women Vote,” the racist “The Colored Ladies Political Club,” “A Suffragette Baby,” and “Married to a Suffragette.” Perhaps the most famous song of all to arise from this tradition was “That Ragtime Suffragette” from the “Ziegfeld Follies of 1913.” The entire libretto and music from “The Suffragettes” was published in 1916 by Lorenz Publishing Company, containing songs such as “A Hen Party,” “Why Don’t We Let the Women Vote?,” and “Downtrodden Women.” Although suffrage was gaining considerable popular support by 1916, a change in attitude had not as yet made its way onto Broadway.
The Mayoress The theme of what would happen if women were to obtain the vote was a constant in satiric anti-suffrage art, particularly with respect to post cards. The fear among some men was that granting the franchise to women would result in an electoral revolution in which women would not only take over political power but also all of the other roles of men, forcing them in turn to cook, clean, and care for the children. The Mayoress or When Woman Rules was a comic opera embodying this theme. The book and lyrics were by Arthur Lamb and the music by John T. Hall. It was probably produced in the same year that the music was published (1910) by Victor Kramer. It is curious that, despite the name of the work, none of the songs allude directly to the “takeover,” except possibly “Change the Boy to Suite the Girl.”
If you would like more information about suffrage sheet music, please see my forthcoming book, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study, to be published by McFarland sometime in 2013. Consult the home page of this site for further details as they become available.