Although it is not widely known, there is a soundtrack for women's fierce fight for the vote. Suffragists sang while they organized, recruited, spoke, marched, picketed, and served prison sentences. This statue represents the fiercely independent Ethel Smyth, an extraordinary, trail-blazing British composer of chamber music, symphonic works, songs, a great Mass, and 6 operas, one of which —"Der Wald"—was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1904, the first by a woman composer. Smitten by Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant British suffrage organization, Ethel Smyth stopped her brilliant music career and devoted two years to the British fight for the vote. In 1910, she composed "Songs of Sunrise" that included "The March of the Women," an energetic composition with inspiring words by Cicely Hamilton and dedicated to WSPU. "The March of the Women" became the official anthem of WSPU.
Arrested for throwing rocks at a protest, Ethel Smyth spent time in the notorious Holloway Prison. While she was in prison, Sir Thomas Beecham. a famous conductor and staunch friend, went to visit her. Upon his arrival, he looked up and spotted Ethel Smyth leaning out a prison window and using her toothbrush to conduct a group of suffragettes below her in the prison quadrangle, marching around and around in a tight circle singing "The March of the Women!"
Ethel Smyth was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. The statue of Ethel Smyth conducting by Christine Charlesworth
—high on my to-visit-list—was unveiled in Woking town centre, England, on March 8, 2022. (The oversized baton represents one that Emmeline Pankhurst presented to her at a suffrage rally.)
On May 2, 1911, another song in the suffrage soundtrack, "The Women's Marseillaise" was sung in America for the first time at a suffrage meeting in New York City. (The image on the right is a clipping from The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, May 2, 1911, p. 8.) Sung to the familiar melody of the French national anthem, the words of "The Women's Marseillaise" were written circa 1908 by Florence MacAulay, a WSPU member and organizer. Also sung at that event was "Women's Political Union March," composed by Elsa Gregori, who was the conductor at the meeting. Henry Grafton Chapman wrote the words seen in the musical score excerpt below: "Come ev/ry matron, every maid/That in this fair land of ours doth
dwell!/Hear the clarion, call,/Bidding us one and all/Tarry no more, but haste the ranks to swell!/Our purple banner flutters in the air! Hear our Trumpets blowing far
and near! Let your voice resound/All the earth around/Til the whole earth at last shall hear!!"
(The Women's Political Union was the renamed Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, founded in 1907 by Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton's daughter. Blatch spoke at the "Big Meeting," recruiting participants for an upcoming suffrage parade. The governor of Idaho where women had been voting for year also spoke, attesting to the many civilizing benefits of women voters.)
"The Women's Political Union March" was not widely performed but the "The March of the Women" and "The Women's Marseillaise" were lustily sung—giving courage, comfort, and solidarity to British suffragettes and American suffragists. Here are three links so that you can sample the suffrage soundtrack—Enjoy!:
Link to a contemporary performance"The March of the Women" by Seattle pro musical with the words: .https://tinyurl.com/3dk2xcs3
Link to a contemporary performance of "The March of the Women" by Werca's Folk illustrated with archival photo of the American and British suffrage movements. https://tinyurl.com/ynny5dmj
Link to a contemporary performance of "The Women's Marseillaise":