American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

14 September 2020

Māori Language Week 2020

September 14th 2020 marks the start of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week): the annual celebration of a pivotal moment in the revitalisation of the language in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In this post, we look at the journey of te reo Māori (the Māori language) following the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century, and hear from Scott Ratima Nolan, a member of staff here at the British Library, about his own relationship with te reo (the language).

Te reo Māori in Aotearoa

The history of te reo, considered so sacred in Māori culture that it now has protection under the Treaty of Waitangi, is a tale of highs and lows. Before the 19th century, te reo Māori was predominately a spoken language, with meaning and information also communicated through symbols and patterns embedded in crafts such as weaving and carvings. Te reo (the language) developed as a written form in the beginning of the 19th century with the arrival of Christian missionaries, and dominated the early years of publishing in Aotearoa. The first books printed in the country were written in te reo: extracts from the Bible printed on the missionary press in the 1830s at Paihia in the country’s North Island. Early Māori language newspapers, such as the government-owned Ko te Karere o Nui Tireni (shelfmark LOU.CMISC67), began publication in the following decade.

Image showing the title page of Ko nga pukapuka o Paora te Apotoro ki te hunga o Epeha, o Piripai (Bible extracts) printed in 1835
This extract from the Bible in te reo Māori (Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians, translated by Rev. William Williams) from the Paihia Missionary Press in 1835, is considered the first substantive book printed in Aotearoa/New Zealand. BL shelfmark C.23.a.15.(2.)

Te reo remained the most widely spoken language of Aotearoa during the first half of the 19th century, with Europeans learning the language in order to communicate, trade and convert the Māori population. However, this changed with the increase of settlers arriving in the country, and Europeans emerged as the majority population by the second half of the 19th century. The English language now dominated, forcing assimilation among Māori through suppression of the use of te reo in schools and discouraging its use in public life. Confined to use in the home, te reo Māori became at risk of extinction by the mid-20th century. The Māori language, culture and identity are intricately entwined, with te reo considered taonga (treasure) in Māori culture. Taonga require protection and this prompted a revitalisation of the language in the 1970s. On September 14th 1972, Parliament was called upon to allow te reo to be taught in schools: a place where its use had previously been actively discouraged, and often forbidden. Language recovery programmes began in earnest and te reo Māori became increasingly heard on radio and television, and read in Māori newspapers, magazines and books. Te reo education systems were established including Kōhanga reo and Kura kaupapa which immersed students in Māori language and culture. Following a successful language claim under the Treaty of Waitangi which argued that, as a taonga, the language deserved protection, te reo Māori was made an official language of Aotearoa/New Zealand through the Māori Language Act in 1987. The Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori), was set up in the same year to promote the language, and published guides such as Māori for the office = Te reo Māori mō te tari (shelfmark YK.2000.a.5008) and Te Matatiki  contemporary Māori words (shelfmark YK.1996.a.20438) to promote use of te reo in daily life.  

Front cover of Māori for the office = Te reo Māori mō te tari (2nd ed)
Guides such as this one were published by the Māori Language Commission in the 1990s to encourage the use of te reo in every day life. BL shelfmark YK.2000.a.5008

The Commission also exists to expand the language, and they have recently developed Māori terminology for a very serious 21st century situation: COVID-19. New terms to enter the Māori language this year to support the fight against COVID-19 include: 

  • Mate Korona = Corona Virus 
  • Patuero ā-ringa = Hand Sanitiser
  • Tū Tīrara = Social Distancing 
  • Rere ā-Hapori = Community Transmission 

Maori Language Commission, 2020 

The aim is for Aotearoa to eventually become a bi-lingual country, and while Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) celebrates that crucial moment in the trajectory of te reo in 1972, it also acts a source of inspiration and encouragement for all New Zealanders to connect or re-connect with te reo Māori. In doing so, they help safeguard a language deeply woven into their country’s history and identity. Te reo Māori is also safeguarded outside Aotearoa through diaspora communities, including here in the UK. The Ngāti Rānana London Māori Club keep the Māori culture and language strong and proud in New Zealanders living in London and the rest of the UK. Ngāti Rānana also meet to learn, practise and share knowledge of kapa haka: traditional performing arts. Anyone with an interest in Māori culture is welcome at their regular gatherings at the New Zealand High Commission in London (moved online during COVID-19).

 

A personal connection with te reo Māori 

Although the British Library is the national library of the UK, our staff are international and have personal connections to countries, languages and cultures all over the world. In the story below, Conservation Support Assistant, Scott Ratima Nolan, explains his own relationship with te reo Māori.

It hasn’t been easy to write about being tangata whenua: being Māori here in the UK. When I think about Aotearoa, the land I call home, it is a strong wrench. The ties of a thousand flaxen cords are interwoven with both Pasifika and Pākehā (White NZ) threads, bound with the hands of ancestors known, and (to my shame) unknown. Ever does it pull; He taura here whenua. Such are the ties that bind. 
 
Growing up in South Auckland, that North Island city of effervescent Polynesian culture, I was wrapped in the warmth of my whānau and a proud people. My father, a man as gifted as Herodotus in blending truth and fiction, maintained my first language was te reo Māori. While this is debatable, I certainly was strong in my tikanga (custom or practice); the first flag I ever knew was the United Tribes of New Zealand. I remember my visit to the Auckland War Museum as a child, where I was moved to tears in seeing the taonga, the treasures of my people, on display. It resolved me, even then, to become a Kaitiaki: a custodian. And, emblematic of my own shared bloodlines, caring for the heritage and the taonga of not just my own, but many cultures. 
 
Now, as any reproachful teenager would tell you, growing up is hard. And in moving to the South Island of New Zealand, I was confronted by another culture: that of the South Island Pākehā. My school had no legitimate te reo course. Culture was limited to theatre and musicals. Speaking te reo out loud was looked down on. In history, we spent an entire term on the Irish Civil War, but knew next to nothing on the New Zealand Wars, the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori land confiscation. Frustratingly, both teachers and my fellow students were aghast at my claims to be ‘native’. I looked like them; why would I want to be any different? In a grand spectacle of Pākehā dominance, in front of what seemed to be the entire school, my Principal forced me to remove my Pounamu, a sacred greenstone (which my father had forbidden me to remove), from around my neck. The trenches and palisades of my cultural pride and resistance were assaulted and hewn down into the cold embrace of southern conformity.  And, while I rebuilt my confidence somewhat over my university years, I had lost a lot of my pride, and my language. There were scars across my heart, and it was with some relief that I left Aotearoa to come to the UK. I hoped I could reconnect with my culture by becoming a Kaitiaki, working with heritage collections. 
 
However, attempting to build a career in heritage institutions here can be a real struggle for BAME and Indigenous peoples. To work in this sector, I found I had to suppress my culture: a necessity for those doors to open. I did this not out of shame over being Māori, but rather the sadness of not being accepted and welcomed here (especially in this sector) as such. And for years since, I railed against those ties that bound me until they diminished. And I stopped my ears to the whispers of my tīpuna (ancestors) who know me as Māori until they quietened. I even stopped using what te reo I knew, because I had grown up understanding that my language was sacred, and I felt I profaned it by using it when I did not honour my people. And thus, I lived, but I lived with a hole in my heart. 
 
But the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement was a real catalyst for me. That hole in my heart cast a long shadow across my soul, and a real despondency overtook me. This despondency rose not just from those events, but also the slow dawning realisation of how much I had given up just to be here to work in a field I had, in ruthless irony, chosen as a place where I could honour my people by being a Kaitiaki, a custodian, to the treasures we hold here.    
 
A taniwha, a guardian spirit that had long lain dormant inside me, had awoken, and it was hungry for change. And somehow, I gained the strength to put aside fear of exclusion, embarrassment or castigation, to speak up and identify myself as Māori.  And I found a workplace that is incredibly supportive and responsive to the BLM movement, and is taking steps to become more inclusive: to accept me as I am. In a matter of weeks, I was working alongside others on the Front Hall busts reinterpretation, which, in redressing some of our collection legacies, has restored Mana to both my people and the British Library. 
 
So, in this year’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, I’m celebrating my rebirth. I’m Māori, and I’m proud. I take courage from the very language itself, which at one point faced extinction and has come back so strong. Te reo Māori is an essential part of my culture, and I’ve made it my resolution to relearn it. I’m starting now, haltingly, to use the words of my people in every day speech and in email, to celebrate and share my culture, and to reach out to my friends back home in Aotearoa: to not only kōrero (talk), but also to whakarongo, (listen). 
 
And every word I speak tears down another brick in the walls I have built up, filling the hole in my heart. And at long last I can hear my ancestors again.  
 
Tihei Mauri ora! Behold the breath of life! 
 
Scott Ratima Nolan 
Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa 

 

Glossary 

Aotearoa: ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ the Māori name for New Zealand

Kaitiaki: Guardian or a custodian, someone who works to protect and safeguard 

Pākehā: White New Zealanders of (usually) European descent 

Pasifika: Peoples of the Pacific or of Pacific Island descent, who call Aotearoa home 

Pounamu: NZ nephrite jade, or Greenstone. A sacred stone considered taonga, or treasured. Often used in jewellery or weapons with a deep spiritual connection  

Tangata whenua: ‘The People of the Land’ how we as Māori often refer to ourselves; the indigenous inhabitants of this land 

Taniwha: a Mythological being, often found in water. They can be Kaitiaki (guardians) or monsters punishing those that breached tikanga (custom) 

Taonga: the treasures, artefacts or resources that are considered of great value, including our language 

Tikanga: the customs, culture, etiquette and practices of being Māori 

Tīpuna: alternatively spelled as tupuna, this refers to Ancestors and grandparents 

Whānau: Family and extended family 
 

Further reading: 

Belich, J. (2015). The New Zealand wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. BL shelfmark ELD.DS.322292

Cooper, G. (2004). Te rerenga ā te pīrere : a longitudinal study of Kōhanga reo and Kura kaupapa Māori students. Pūrongo tuatahi = Phase 1 report. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). BL shelfmark YD.2010.b.826 

Curnow, J., Hopa, N.K. and McRae, J. (2013). He pitopito kōrero nō te perehi Māori = Readings from the Māori-language press. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. BL shelfmark ELD.DS.322290 

Higgin, R. Rewi, P. and Olsen-Reeder, P. (2014). The value of the Māori language = Te hua o te reo Māori. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishers. BL shelfmark YP.2014.a.6419 

Karetu, T. and Milroy, W. (2019). He kupu tuku iho : ko te reo Māori te tatau ki te ao. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. BL shelfmark ELD.DS.306747

Moon, P. (2016). Ka ngaro te reo: Māori language under siege in the nineteenth century. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press. BL shelfmark YC.2020.a.2630 

Moon, P. (2018). Killing te reo Māori. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Campus Press. BL Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3686 

Williams, H.W. (1924). A Bibliography of Printed Maori to 1900. Dominion Museum Monograph. no. 7. Wellington, New Zealand. BL shelfmark Ac.1990.ca. 

References: 

Williams, W. (trans). (1835) Ko nga pukapuka o Paora te Apotoro ki te hunga o Epeha, o Piripai /Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians. Paihia, New Zealand: Pahia Missionary Press. BL shelfmark C.23.a.15.(2.)
 
Ko te karere o nui tireni. (1842). Auckland; New Zealand. BL shelfmark LOU.CMISC67

Māori Language Commission. (1997) Māori for the office = Te reo Māori mō te tari (2nd ed).  Auckland, New Zealand:  Oxford University Press. BL shelfmark YK.2000.a.5008 

Māori Language Commission. (1996). Te Matatiki : contemporary Māori words. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press. BL shelfmark YK.1996.a.20438 

Māori Language Commission. (2020). Māori terminology for Covid-19 [online]. Available at: https://www.tetaurawhiri.govt.nz/en/te-reo-maori/press-releases/maori-terminology-for-covid-19/  

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator Oceania Published Collections (post-1850) 

 

28 August 2020

Paradise in London: the Paraíso School of Samba and the beginnings of urban Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro

One event that is certainly going to be missed this summer is the Notting Hill Carnival. To avoid mass gatherings during the Covid-19 crisis, this year’s carnival takes place online. Usually on this weekend, the streets of west London become alive with the vibrant colours and sounds of costumes, steel bands and floats. The European & Americas Collections Team celebrates this popular London event with a joint blog. 

Initially, Trinidad-born activist and West Indian Gazette founder Claudia Jones started an annual indoor Caribbean carnival in response to the racist violence and riots that swept through Britain in the summer of 1958. The first London Caribbean carnival took place in January 1959 and was televised by the BBC, subtitled ‘A people's art is the genesis of their freedom’. The British Library holds a copy of a West Indian Gazette special edition about the event:

 

Image of black, white and red illustrated cover. It shows drawings depicting Caribbean dancers. Title reads: "Caribbean Carnival Souvenir, 1960: televised by BBC television. Organised by the West India Gazette.
Caribbean Carnival Souvenir 1960: televised by BBC Television, organised by the West Indian Gazette. Cover page with West-Indian musicians and dancers [BL Andrew Salkey Archive Dept. 10310, Box 33]

 

You can find out more about these beginnings at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/claudia-jones-caribbean-carnival-souvenir-programme-1960. In 1966 carnival finally took to the streets in Notting Hill and has stayed there ever since. For three days, music and dance now bring together two million people in celebration of Caribbean cultures. 

My own initiation to the Notting Hill Carnival has been through Brazilian influence and close involvement with the Paraíso School of Samba, the most prominent school of Brazilian samba in London. Every year since its foundation in 2001, Paraíso has taken part in the Notting Hill Carnival parade, featuring costumed percussionists, dancers, and carnival floats.  Just like in Rio!

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows dancers of the Paraíso School of Samba in traditional Brazilian Carnival wear.
Paraíso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

The president and founder of the Paraíso School of Samba, Henrique da Silva has since the age of eight been involved with one of Rio’s most traditional schools of samba: Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Estação Primeira de Mangueira or simply Mangueira. This inspired him to form a samba school in London following the same principles. The main idea of Paraíso is for people to celebrate and express their cultural identity through dance and music. To quote from Paraíso’s website  ‘samba is truly the popular art of people, especially in its inclusivity where everyone has a place. Paraíso plays samba as it is played by the baterias (percussions) of Rio’s samba schools.’

Samba music and dance originate from the Northeast of Brazil, where it was developed from the musical traditions of the African slaves. The style of Samba as we know it today, developed in the first half of the 20th century in Brazil’s urbanising Southeast, mostly its then cultural centre Rio. The style emphasises the polyrhythmic sounds of multiple percussion instruments, like African drumming music, which uses call and response.  This has become the pulsing sound of Rio’s modern carnival. The main driving force behind this style of samba were and still are organized groups known as escolas de samba (samba schools).  They are devoted to playing and dancing, as well as preparing for a yearly carnival parade. In Rio, samba is now inseparable from the Carnival.  

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows a close-up portrait of a smiling dancer of the Paraíso School of Samba. The dancer wears a dress made of blue coloured gems and feathers
Paraíso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

My initial reaction to co-writing this blog was reluctance, as I have mostly stayed away from carnival on my visits to Brazil. Looking after the Latin American Collections, however, I felt I should give it a go and was rewarded with joyful browsing and listening on the internet for a couple of hours. I hope you’ll do the same for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival until we can take to the streets once more.

Our guide to the first decades of urban Rio carnival is Brazil’s most famous composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), a keen participant in his hometown’s carnival celebrations. During his lifetime, modern urban carnival developed and he knew its local protagonists and different musical traditions like no other person. In his own classical compositions, Villa-Lobos sought inspiration in the country’s popular cultural traditions to create a distinctive Brazilian style of music. He even composed two pieces of music on the theme of children’s experience of carnival: Carnaval das Crianças (Children’s Carnival) in 1919 and Momoprecoce (the precocious king of carnival) in 1928. The first, a work for piano describes in eight vignettes well-known carnival figures popular at the time like the diabinho (little devil) or the rei momo (king of carnival). The later work reinterprets and elaborates these themes into an orchestral work with solo piano.

Popular narratives of samba usually mark important milestones of modern urban carnival around similar dates. In 1916, Ernesto dos Santos, known as Donga, and Mauro de Almeida registered the first samba with Brazil’s National Library in Rio, while in 1928, José Gomes da Costa, known as Zé Espinguela, launched the first samba competition from the same Mangueira neighbourhood, where the famous samba school developed from existing older carnival groups.

Vanessa Rodrigues Cunha (2015) describes the different musical traditions from which samba emerges as predominant by the end of the 1920s. The music played at the time was slower, however, than the samba we know from later Brazilian carnival, which also developed different dance routines. A good way to experience the greatest musicians of the early time of urban carnival is through browsing the recent digital exhibition Native Brazilian Music: 80th anniversary: the history behind one of Brazilian music’s most iconic albums.

 

Native Brazilian Music Museu VL; Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos as reproduced in the digital exhibition
Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos, as reproduced in the digital exhibition

 

It tells the incredible story behind the famous recordings of Brazilian popular music organised by Villa-Lobos and Donga for the British composer Leopold Stokowski. His tour through Latin America was part of U.S. president Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor policy’ and Stokowski had asked Villa-Lobos for help in finding Brazilian musicians for recordings. These took place in 1940 on board the steamship U.S.S. Uruguay in Rio’s harbour and would be released by Colombia Records in 1942. The exhibition contains some recordings, which give a good flavour of the musical style of the time. It is refreshing to hear them and you can see how they compare to the musical offerings of Notting Hill Carnival Online.

At the end of the weekend, you can sit down to listen to Villa-Lobos’ reinterpretation of the carnival theme with a recording (25 min) of his ‘Momoprecoce’ performed at the Proms in 2012 by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra with Nelson Freire at the piano and conducted by Marin Alsop. The recording includes a brief introduction to the piece by Alsop, and I could hear it over and over again. I’m sure that a weekend immersed in Caribbean carnival music will only enhance our appreciation of this wonderful ode to carnival!

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager & Iris Bachmann, Curator, Latin American Collections.

Bibliography:

In the absence of access to our physical collection items, Vanessa Rodgrigues Cunha’s dissertation has been an invaluable, well-written guide to information on Villa-Lobos carnival pieces and the beginnings of urban Rio carnival:

Cunha, Vanessa Rodrigues. The Symbiosis Between Villa-Lobos's Carnaval Das Crianças And Momoprecoce: A Comparative Study. Dissertation. CUNY. 2015. Accessed 28.08.2020 https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/896/ 

Daniella Thompson’s research for ‘Stalking Stokowski’ (2000) http://daniellathompson.com/Texts/Stokowski/Stalking_Stokowski.htm underpins the digital exhibition on the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ and gives a more detailed account of its history and the marginalization of black musicians as samba goes mainstream.

Further suggested readings at the British Library:

Goldman, Albert. Carnival in Rio (New York, 1978). f78/3978

George, Terry. Carnival in Rio: samba, samba, samba! (Hamburg, 2005). EMC.2009.a.372

Hertzman, Marc A. Making samba: a new history of race and music in Brazil. (Durham, North Carolina/London, 2013). YD.2017.a.606 

Neto, Lira. Uma história do samba. (São Paulo, 2017). YF.2017.a.22063 

 

26 August 2020

The Centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment and US women's right to vote

To celebrate this important anniversary, this blog highlights some of the US women's suffrage music held at the British Library.

Today - 26 August 2020 - marks the centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment becoming part of the Constitution of the United States. This 39-word Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."  

Text of what would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
The Nineteenth (XIX) Amendment to the US Constitution passed a vote in the House of Representatives on 21 May 1919 and in the Senate on 4 June 1919; it was then sent to the states for ratification.  On 18 August 1920 it was ratified by Tennessee, the 36th - and final - state needed to ensure its adoption.  Image: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

Although brief, this Nineteenth Amendment was the culmination of a decades-long struggle for women's suffrage. This struggle formally began in July 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, where, at a convention organised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, around 300 people gathered to discuss "the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women." In the 72 years that followed, activists for women's suffrage created many organisations and used many strategies to achieve their goal. In the end, however, it was amending the Constitution - rather than persuading individual states to extend the franchise - that was successful.

To commemorate this milestone, US institutions, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives Museum, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, are illuminating the complex, challenging and inspirational story of the movement for female suffrage with brilliant online exhibitions.

The cover photograph of this sheet music shows women in long white dresses and sashes marching in New York City for women's suffrage.
The copyright for this song was held by the New York Women's Suffrage Association which would have benefited from any sales. The cover photograph depicts one of the suffrage rallies held in New York City, 1912-14. In 1917 women gained the right to vote in New York State; this played a critical role in US President Woodrow Wilson's decision to support what would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Zena S. Hawn, Fall in Line: Suffrage March. New York: Arthur W. Tams Music Library, c.1914.  British Library Music Collections: H.3826.r.(27.) 

In the late 1980s, I had the great good fortune to work as an intern on the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Spanning the years 1831 to 1906 this vast microfilm project – then housed at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – brought together more than 14,000 documents relating to these two extraordinary women. As a new graduate student with little experience of working with primary sources, transcribing Stanton and Anthony’s correspondence and indexing their weekly newspaper, The Revolution, was priceless. Yet, even then it was clear that Stanton and Anthony’s activism was not without flaws; particularly, regarding issues of race. 

What excites me today as I browse these centenary exhibitions, is seeing Stanton and Anthony's contributions as one strand - albeit a hugely significant one - of the suffrage journey and realising how much is still being discovered about all of the women and men who petitioned, organised, marched, wrote to representatives, senators, and presidents, argued with friends and family, argued with each other, and ultimately refused to give up.  

Viewing these virtual exhibitions has also made me extremely jealous of the collection items held by these American institutions; but that is for another day! Today, we are simply celebrating this 100th anniversary by sharing some of the women’s suffrage sheet music held by the British Library. 

The Liberty Bell and the American flag are colourfully depicted on the cover of this sheet music.
This song is dedicated ‘To Dr Anna Shaw and the Great Cause of Woman Suffrage’. Born in Britain Anna Shaw received her MD from Boston University in 1885 and was President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1904-1915.
M. Zimmerman & E. Zimmerman, Votes for Women: Suffrage Rallying Song. Philadelphia: E. M. Zimmerman, 1915. British Library Music Collections: H.3992.r.(18.) 

Like all great American reform movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the one for women’s suffrage was imbued with songs and marches. This is not surprising, given the prominent role that music played in homes, churches and social and political gatherings at this time. 

A woman holds a banner saying 'Universal Suffrage' on the cover of this sheet music.
This song was privately printed by its female composer and in her  dedication she urges women to: 'Never fail to keep the cause of woman's suffrage foremost in your mind ... it is your cause and you must support it.'
Lucenia W. Richards, Suffrage March Song. Chicago: Richards & Richards, 1914.  British Library Music Collections: H.3995.nn.(18.) 

Today, historians often categorise suffrage music into "parlour songs" and "rally songs". Although the lines of demarcation between these two are somewhat blurred, rally songs tended to be well-known tunes - usually hymns or anthems - that had been given new, pro-suffrage lyrics. At public gatherings, this style of music-making was particularly advantageous since the new lyrics, printed inexpensively on a single sheet of paper, could quickly be passed around a crowd. One or two people would then kick off the melody and everybody else could join in. 

Compilations of suffrage songs - often a combination of these re-worded hymns with original compositions - were frequently published by local and national suffrage associations as a means to raise funds. Others, including the one below, were created by single individuals:

The decorative inside cover of a pro-suffrage songster.
Woman's Suffrage Songs. For Public Meetings, Conventions, Entertainments or Vaudeville.  Words and Music composed by Pauline Browne.  Indianapolis: P. R. Browne, 1913.  British Library Music Collections: F.328.s.(5.) [Image courtesy Library of Congress, due to Covid restrictions].

In contrast to rally songs, "parlour songs" tended to have both original lyrics and original tunes. They enabled the singer – in the non-threatening environment of her own home – to express why women wanted the vote and the benefits this would bring to society. Many appealed to the listener’s sense of justice and fair play, including the one below, which opens with the declaration that: "No man is greater than his mother / No man is better than the wife he loves." It then lists women's qualities and accomplishments, before arriving at the surely inevitable conclusion that women also deserve to vote:  

A smiling well-dressed woman and a baby look out of an open window; the baby waves while leaning on a red cushion.
H. Paley & A. Bryan. She's Good Enough to Be Your Baby's Mother and She's Good Enough to Vote With You. New York: Jerome H. Remick, c.1916. British Library Music Collections: H.3995.q.(70.) 

Opposition to female suffrage took many forms, but particularly common were accusations that women would become "sexless" (scathing references to "spinsters" were common) or would neglect their homes and families. These views were reflected in the sheet music of the time, including in the song below. Published in 1913, this song is full of stereotypes not only about those supporting women's suffrage but also about Italian Americans. The song's protagonist bewails the fact that since "his" Margarette became a suffragette, not only does she no longer cook or clean the house, but, worst of all, "She wear a-da pants / Dat kill da romance..."

A woman in flamboyant dress points dismissely at the floor as a man with curly hair and an earring begs in front of her on bended knee.
G. Edwards & Will D. Cobb, Since my Margarette became a-da Suffragette. New York: Jerome H. Remick, c.1913. British Library Music Collections: H.3992.x.(9.)

From the earliest days, there were strong ties between those working for women's suffrage in the United States and their counterparts in Great Britain. In the 1910s, concern about the increasing militancy of the British movement was reflected not only in the American press but also in popular music. The cover illustration of the song below, published in New Jersey in 1912, depicts British suffragettes marching in their sashes while throwing bricks and breaking windows. The song’s protagonist – recently arrived from England – shares the horrors he has witnessed there and concludes in the chorus: "They’re growing too strenuous by jingo/ These women on mischief are bent/ With brick bats they’ve smashed all the windows/ And raided the Houses of Parliament/ They’re wearing men’s collars and shirt fronts/ Less bashful are these sweet coquettes/ They’re after our votes just as well as our notes/ And our trousers! Oh! You suffragettes": 

In the sketch suffragettes wearing sashes and long dresses are breaking windows while holding a Votes for Women banner aloft.
B.A. Koellhoffer & J.J. Gallagher, Oh! You Suffragettes. Irvington, NJ: B.A. Koellhoffer, c.1912. British Library Music Collections: H.3994.u.(20.).  [Image courtesy Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums, due to Covid restrictions.]

In spite of the vigorous efforts of the anti-suffrage contingent, on 19 January 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would guarantee women the right to vote. This Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on 4 June 1919, ratified on 18 August 1920 and officially incorporated into the Constitution on 26 August 1920.  

Just over fifty years later, on 16 August 1973, Congress approved H.J.Res. 52 - introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) - designating 26 August as Women's Equality Day.  

Jean Petrovic

Due to Covid restrictions, some of the images in this blog are from non-British Library sources; I wish to express my thanks to these institutions.

Please note, you can read more about Bella Abzug and other women involved in the (still-ongoing) battle for the Equal Rights Amendment in my colleague Rachael Culley's evocative two-part blog inspired by the recent TV series Mrs America. Please also note that the British Library's next major exhibition 'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights', is currently on hold until later in the year.