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(Anti) Suffragist Sheet Music

In the News, Rare Books
cover of "When Women Vote and Pop the Question," available for study in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room

cover of “When Women Vote and Pop the Question,” available for study in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room

A new exhibition opened over the weekend in the Texas State Capitol.  Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, documents the struggle for women’s suffrage and the unique history of the movement in the state of Texas during the nearly three decades of struggle that immediately preceded the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

The exhibit, presented by Humanities Texas, runs through Saturday, May 24th and documents not only the development of the movement to extend equality across the genders, but also those who battled against this progress.  The anti-suffragist movement came to manifest itself in a number of ways.  Some were deceptively raw (these examples of anti-suffragist postcards and visual art are likely to have you alternating between sporadic wincing and baffled laughter) while others, in retrospect, seem downright bizarrely sublime.

Suffragist sheet music has been fairly well-documented.  However, a closer study with a wider sampling of the sheet music produced during that time may may serve to expand our understanding of the role of art and, specifically, music in the midst of political strife.  Those fighting for the right to vote for women penned iconic anthems like “Give Us the Ballot” and “Under Fire:  March and Two Step” (often sold as a fundraising tool for “Political Equality Clubs”).  Anti-suffragist groups sought to co-opt the popularity of this new genre by introducing some parlor music of their own.

I present to you, the musical genre of anti-suffragist sheet music!

The Anti-Suffrage Rose, "Inscribed on the cover in a beautiful hand by Hanna. Dedicated to the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association."

The Anti-Suffrage Rose, “Inscribed on the cover in a beautiful hand by Hanna. Dedicated to the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association.”

The anti-suffragists sought to fight music with “music,” crafting songs that championed the bravery and struggle of anti-suffragist groups.  One of the most famous of these, Phil Hanna’s “The Anti-Suffrage Rose” (the anti-suffragists, it seems, embraced the red or pink rose as the flower of choice to represent their cause, while suffragettes avoided roses and instead embraced jonquils or sunflowers as their emblematic blooms) was dedicated to the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Associations and the lyrics attempted to buoy the spirits of these women in their fight, reading, “Lovely Anti-Suffrage Rose. / You’re the flow’r that’s best of all! / You’re better far, than jonquils are, / We are going to prove it in the Fall.”

Others took up the suffragist anthems and penned songs of more subtle parody and condescension.  An example of this includes D.R. Miller’s lyrics for “I’m Going To Be A Suffragette” where a perplexed husband laments and ridicules his wife’s new political interest while she clamors on in the refrain, “I’m goin’ to be a suffragette, Billy / Hear me shout Hurray, Hurray.  / Now don’t you think that I am silly / or will waste my time away. / The sex that always joggled the cradle / have got some rights you bet. / I say Hip Hip Hip Hip Hip Hurray / I’m goin’ to be a suffragette.”

cover of "I'm Going To Be A Suffragette," available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections

“I’m Going To Be A Suffragette,” lyrics by D.R. Miller

While the University of Houston’s Music Library is definitely the destination to visit on campus if you are serious about your research of musical scores, it is not uncommon for Special Collections to be approached by researchers desiring access to our surprisingly rich reservoir of historically significant sheet music, including the anti-suffragist songs described above.  You will not want to miss J.M. Towne’s “When Women Vote and Pop the Question” which has us all wondering in song if we are ready for a bleak and horrible future where, “Men will play second fiddle, / Stay at home and grease the griddle, / While the women buy the shirts.”  If you are interested in glancing an alternative political atmosphere where the public debates are not framed by the much-maligned “political correctness” of our current day, we invite you to visit us and take a closer look at these confounding relics from our not-so-distant past.  Suddenly thinking before speaking, or writing songs, may not seem like such a burden to carry.

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