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Women Composers at the White House: The National League of American Pen Women and Phyllis Fergus's Advocacy for Women in American Music

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2018

Abstract

Women composers' concerts, arranged by Phyllis Fergus, were held for Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House in 1934 and 1936. They featured music by members of the National League of American Pen Women—an organization for writers, artists, and composers—and were part of a substantial agenda proposed by Fergus, its music director and later president, to achieve national recognition for its composer members. Drawing on Fergus's scrapbooks and documentation in the FDR Library and Pen Women's archives, this article explores the events that Fergus helped to organize, including concerts in Miami, Chautauqua, and Chicago, the latter played by members of the Women's Symphony Orchestra. White House appearances by Amy Beach helped emphasize the League's professional status, and the nationalistic tone of its publicity, urging audiences to “Buy American” during the Depression, worked to distract from age-old assertions of women's lack of creativity. However, the musicales for Roosevelt, who received the composers socially rather than as paid professionals, reinforced women's domestic position, and financial restraints limited most League programming to the genres typically associated with female composers. Despite its separation from a male mainstream, the NLAPW was nonetheless a significant force in promoting women's music in the 1930s.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Society for American Music 2018 

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Footnotes

The research and writing of this article were supported by an Arts and Humanities Initiative Grant from the University of Iowa and a semester as a fellow-in-residence at its Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. I gratefully acknowledge my debt to Reynolds Hoyt Clifford and Thallis Hoyt Drake for providing access to their mother's scrapbooks and to Virginia Franklin Campbell, President of the National League of American Pen Women, for her assistance.

References

References

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Frances Copthorne Papers. Sibley Music Library. Eastman School of Music. Rochester, NY.Google Scholar
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Women Symphony Orchestra Records and Scrapbooks, 1929–1948. Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
“53 Women Named as Leaders of Sex.” New York Times. May 9, 1941.Google Scholar
Beasley, Maurine H. Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media: A Public Quest for Self-Fulfillment. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.Google Scholar
Beasley, Maurine H. Women of the Washington Press: Politics, Prejudice and Persistence. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Butterfield, Elizabeth Merz. “Report of Music Contest,” Official Bulletin 13, no. 17 (June 1938).Google Scholar
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Domer, Marilyn. “The Role of Women in Chicago's World's Fairs: from the Sublime to the Sensuous.” In Women's Participation in Chicago's World's Fairs: Past and Future, 1426. Evanston, IL: Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University, 1984.Google Scholar
Elkins-Marlow, Laurine. “Gena Branscombe (1881–1977): American Composer and Conductor.” PhD diss., University of Texas Austin, 1980.Google Scholar
Elkins-Marlow, Laurine. “‘Music at Every Meeting’: Music in the National League of American Pen Women and the General Federation of Women's Clubs, 1920–1940.” In Politics, Gender, and the Arts: Women, the Arts, and Society, edited by Ronald Dotterer and Susan Bowers, 185–99. London: Associated University Presses, 1992.Google Scholar
Fergus, Phyllis. “President's Letter.” The Bulletin 13, no. 7 (March 1937): 1.Google Scholar
Fergus, Phyllis. “Women Composers!The Bulletin 9, no. 5 (March 1933): 6.Google Scholar
Fergus [Hoyt], Phyllis. “Music.” The Bulletin 11, no. 8 (June 1935): 8.Google Scholar
Fergus [Hoyt], Phyllis. “Music.” Official Bulletin 9, no. 4 (January–February 1933): 5.Google Scholar
Folk Music in the Roosevelt White House: An Evening of Songs, Recollections, and Dance. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1982.Google Scholar
Frank, Dana. Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.Google Scholar
Frogley, Alain. “‘The Old Sweet Anglo-Saxon Spell’: Racial Discourses and the American Reception of British Music, 1895–1933.” In Western Music and Race, edited by Brown, Julie, 244–57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.Google Scholar
Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World's Fair: Century of Progress. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.Google Scholar
Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper. “National League of American Pen Women, 1897–Present (Formerly League of American Pen Women).” In Women's Press Organizations, 1881–1999, edited by Burt, Elizabeth V., 146–52. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.Google Scholar
Gulesian, Grace Warner. “National Chairmen of Creative Groups.” Official Bulletin 16, no. 5 (October 1941): 2628.Google Scholar
Heflebower, Clara Keck. “National President's Address, Wednesday, July 12, 1933.” The Bulletin 10, no. 1 (October 1933): 5.Google Scholar
Indenbaum, Dorothy. “Mary Howe: Composer, Pianist and Music Activist.” PhD diss., New York University, 1993.Google Scholar
Jacobs-Bond, Carrie. The Road of Melody. New York: D. Appleton, 1927.Google Scholar
Hawkins, Deborah Anne. “Louise Crawford (1890–1973): Her Life and Works.” MA thesis, University of Iowa, 1982.Google Scholar
Kirk, Elise K. Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.Google Scholar
Locke, Ralph, and Barr, Cyrilla, eds. Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists Since 1860. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.Google Scholar
McCarthy, Kathleen D. Women's Culture: American Philanthropy and Art, 1830–1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.Google Scholar
Millspaugh, Clyde Burke. “Here and There at the Convention.” Official Bulletin 10, no. 9 (June 1934): 23.Google Scholar
National League of American Pen Women. The Bulletin, 1930–1944.Google Scholar
“Our Women Composers Unite.” Musical America (May 17, 1924): 26.Google Scholar
Pen, Ron. I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reynolds, Christopher. “Documenting the Zenith of Women Song Composers: A Database of Songs Published in the United States and the British Commonwealth, ca. 1890–1930.” Notes 69, no. 4 (2013): 671–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seton, Grace Thompson. “Report of National Chairman of Awards.” Official Bulletin 14, no. 10 (January 1940): 8.Google Scholar
Smith, Catherine Parsons. “‘A Distinguishing Virility’: Feminism and Modernism in American Art Music.” In Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music, edited by Cook, Susan and Tsou, Judy, 90106. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.Google Scholar
Smith, Catherine Parsons, and Richardson, Cynthia S.. Mary Carr Moore, American Composer. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987.Google Scholar
Theyler, Inez Shelton. “Echoes of the Biennial.” The Bulletin 12, no. 8 (May–June 1934): 8.Google Scholar
Tick, Judith. Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for American Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
Tilton, Elizabeth Simons. The League of American Pen Women in the District of Columbia. Takoma Park: Washington College Press, 1942.Google Scholar
Trousdale, Annie Laurie. “New Light on Music Markets.” Official Bulletin 18, no. 1 (October 1943): 22.Google Scholar
Watson, Dorothy DeMuth. “Music.” The Bulletin 8, no. 2 (December 1931): 6.Google Scholar
Wertheimer, Melissa E. “Women Composers Hiding in Plain Sight.” In the Muse Performing Arts Blog. Library of Congress. https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2018/05/women-composers-hidden-in-plain-sight/.Google Scholar
Whisnant, David E. All That is Native & Fine: the Politics of Culture in an American Region. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.Google Scholar
Whitesett, Linda. “The Most Potent Force’ in American Music: The Role of Women's Music Clubs in American Concert Life.” In The Musical Woman 3: 663–81. Edited by Zaimont, Judith Lang, et al. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.Google Scholar
Wilson Kimber, Marian. The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
“Woman Composers to Meet.” New York Times. July 21, 1935.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. “Ah, Love, but a Day,” op. 44, no. 2. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1900.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. Rendezvous, op. 120; A Mirage, op. 100, no. 1. In Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, edited by Martha Furman Schleifer and Sylvia Glickman, 7:506–21. New York: G. K. Hall, 2003.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. Three Pianoforte Pieces, op. 128. In Piano Music, edited by Glickman, Sylvia. Women Composers Series, 10. Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1932. Reprint ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1981.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. “The Year's at the Spring,” op. 44, no. 1. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1900.Google Scholar
Branscombe, Gena. Youth of the World. New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1932.Google Scholar
Buchanan, Annabel Morris, arr. Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies: Folksong from the Southern Mountains. New York: J. Fisher, 1933.Google Scholar
Butterfield, Elizabeth Merz. “Home.” Chicago: Clayton F. Summy, 1934.Google Scholar
Copthorne, Frances. On My Last Day. Manuscript. Sibley Music Library, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY.Google Scholar
Crawford, Louise. Fantasie Erotique. Manuscript. Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA.Google Scholar
Fergus, Phyllis. Heritage. Boston: C. C. Birchard, 1933.Google Scholar
Freer, Eleanor Everest. Scenes from “Little Women.” Chicago: Music Library, 1934.Google Scholar
Moore, Mary Carr. David Rizzio. Women Composers Series, 12. San Bruno, CA, 1937. Reprint ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1981.Google Scholar
Seuel-Holst, Marie. In Elfland: a Miniature Program Concerto. Chicago: Summy, 1938.Google Scholar
Amy Cheney Beach (Mrs. H. H. A. Beach) Papers, 1835–1956, MC 51. Milne Special Collections and Archives. University of New Hampshire Library. Durham, NH.Google Scholar
Frances Copthorne Papers. Sibley Music Library. Eastman School of Music. Rochester, NY.Google Scholar
Louise Crawford Papers. Iowa Women's Archives. University of Iowa Libraries. Iowa City, IA.Google Scholar
Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Hyde Park, NY.Google Scholar
Phyllis Fergus, scrapbooks. Private Collection of Reynolds Hoyt Clifford. Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
National League of American Pen Women Archives. Pen Arts Building. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
National League of American Pen Women, Chicago Branch, yearbooks. Chicago History Museum. Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
National League of American Pen Women, Green Mountain Branch, papers and scrapbook. University of Vermont Library Special Collections. Burlington, VT.Google Scholar
National League of American Pen Women, Minnesota Branch, papers and scrapbooks, 1927–1958. Minnesota History Center. Minneapolis, MN.Google Scholar
Papers of John Powell, 1888–1978, n.d., Accession #7284, 7284-a. Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. Charlottesville, VA.Google Scholar
G. Perle Schmidt Files. State Historical Society of Iowa. Iowa City, IA.Google Scholar
Society of American Women Composers, clippings file. New York Public Library, New York, NY.Google Scholar
White House, Office of Social Entertainments, papers and Scrapbooks. FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Hyde Park, NY.Google Scholar
Women Symphony Orchestra Records and Scrapbooks, 1929–1948. Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
“53 Women Named as Leaders of Sex.” New York Times. May 9, 1941.Google Scholar
Beasley, Maurine H. Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media: A Public Quest for Self-Fulfillment. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.Google Scholar
Beasley, Maurine H. Women of the Washington Press: Politics, Prejudice and Persistence. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blair, Karen J. The Torchbearers: Women and Their Amateur Arts Associations in America, 1890–1930. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
Block, Adrienne Fried. Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: the Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867–1944. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.Google Scholar
Butterfield, Elizabeth Merz. “Report of Music Contest,” Official Bulletin 13, no. 17 (June 1938).Google Scholar
Brown, Rae Linda. “The Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago and Florence B. Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement.” American Music 11, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 185205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Campbell, Virginia Franklin. “Frances Copthorne: A Life of Musical Engagement Paved the Way for Others.” The Pen Woman 90, no. 8 (Spring 2014): 9, 31.Google Scholar
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1: The Early Years, 1884–1933. New York: Viking, 1992.Google Scholar
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 2: The Defining Years, 1933–1938. New York: Viking, 1999.Google Scholar
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After, 1939–1962. New York: Viking, 2016.Google Scholar
Cunningham, Mrs. J. Harry. “Wanted—A Policy.” The Pen Woman 1, no. 4 (Winter 1921): 241.Google Scholar
De Graaf, Melissa J. The New York Composers’ Forum Concerts, 1935–1940. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2013.Google Scholar
Dempf, Linda. “The Women's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago.” Notes 62, no. 4 (2006): 857903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Domer, Marilyn. “The Role of Women in Chicago's World's Fairs: from the Sublime to the Sensuous.” In Women's Participation in Chicago's World's Fairs: Past and Future, 1426. Evanston, IL: Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University, 1984.Google Scholar
Elkins-Marlow, Laurine. “Gena Branscombe (1881–1977): American Composer and Conductor.” PhD diss., University of Texas Austin, 1980.Google Scholar
Elkins-Marlow, Laurine. “‘Music at Every Meeting’: Music in the National League of American Pen Women and the General Federation of Women's Clubs, 1920–1940.” In Politics, Gender, and the Arts: Women, the Arts, and Society, edited by Ronald Dotterer and Susan Bowers, 185–99. London: Associated University Presses, 1992.Google Scholar
Fergus, Phyllis. “President's Letter.” The Bulletin 13, no. 7 (March 1937): 1.Google Scholar
Fergus, Phyllis. “Women Composers!The Bulletin 9, no. 5 (March 1933): 6.Google Scholar
Fergus [Hoyt], Phyllis. “Music.” The Bulletin 11, no. 8 (June 1935): 8.Google Scholar
Fergus [Hoyt], Phyllis. “Music.” Official Bulletin 9, no. 4 (January–February 1933): 5.Google Scholar
Folk Music in the Roosevelt White House: An Evening of Songs, Recollections, and Dance. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1982.Google Scholar
Frank, Dana. Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.Google Scholar
Frogley, Alain. “‘The Old Sweet Anglo-Saxon Spell’: Racial Discourses and the American Reception of British Music, 1895–1933.” In Western Music and Race, edited by Brown, Julie, 244–57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.Google Scholar
Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World's Fair: Century of Progress. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.Google Scholar
Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper. “National League of American Pen Women, 1897–Present (Formerly League of American Pen Women).” In Women's Press Organizations, 1881–1999, edited by Burt, Elizabeth V., 146–52. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.Google Scholar
Gulesian, Grace Warner. “National Chairmen of Creative Groups.” Official Bulletin 16, no. 5 (October 1941): 2628.Google Scholar
Heflebower, Clara Keck. “National President's Address, Wednesday, July 12, 1933.” The Bulletin 10, no. 1 (October 1933): 5.Google Scholar
Indenbaum, Dorothy. “Mary Howe: Composer, Pianist and Music Activist.” PhD diss., New York University, 1993.Google Scholar
Jacobs-Bond, Carrie. The Road of Melody. New York: D. Appleton, 1927.Google Scholar
Hawkins, Deborah Anne. “Louise Crawford (1890–1973): Her Life and Works.” MA thesis, University of Iowa, 1982.Google Scholar
Kirk, Elise K. Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.Google Scholar
Locke, Ralph, and Barr, Cyrilla, eds. Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists Since 1860. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.Google Scholar
McCarthy, Kathleen D. Women's Culture: American Philanthropy and Art, 1830–1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.Google Scholar
Millspaugh, Clyde Burke. “Here and There at the Convention.” Official Bulletin 10, no. 9 (June 1934): 23.Google Scholar
National League of American Pen Women. The Bulletin, 1930–1944.Google Scholar
“Our Women Composers Unite.” Musical America (May 17, 1924): 26.Google Scholar
Pen, Ron. I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reynolds, Christopher. “Documenting the Zenith of Women Song Composers: A Database of Songs Published in the United States and the British Commonwealth, ca. 1890–1930.” Notes 69, no. 4 (2013): 671–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seton, Grace Thompson. “Report of National Chairman of Awards.” Official Bulletin 14, no. 10 (January 1940): 8.Google Scholar
Smith, Catherine Parsons. “‘A Distinguishing Virility’: Feminism and Modernism in American Art Music.” In Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music, edited by Cook, Susan and Tsou, Judy, 90106. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.Google Scholar
Smith, Catherine Parsons, and Richardson, Cynthia S.. Mary Carr Moore, American Composer. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987.Google Scholar
Theyler, Inez Shelton. “Echoes of the Biennial.” The Bulletin 12, no. 8 (May–June 1934): 8.Google Scholar
Tick, Judith. Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for American Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
Tilton, Elizabeth Simons. The League of American Pen Women in the District of Columbia. Takoma Park: Washington College Press, 1942.Google Scholar
Trousdale, Annie Laurie. “New Light on Music Markets.” Official Bulletin 18, no. 1 (October 1943): 22.Google Scholar
Watson, Dorothy DeMuth. “Music.” The Bulletin 8, no. 2 (December 1931): 6.Google Scholar
Wertheimer, Melissa E. “Women Composers Hiding in Plain Sight.” In the Muse Performing Arts Blog. Library of Congress. https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2018/05/women-composers-hidden-in-plain-sight/.Google Scholar
Whisnant, David E. All That is Native & Fine: the Politics of Culture in an American Region. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.Google Scholar
Whitesett, Linda. “The Most Potent Force’ in American Music: The Role of Women's Music Clubs in American Concert Life.” In The Musical Woman 3: 663–81. Edited by Zaimont, Judith Lang, et al. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.Google Scholar
Wilson Kimber, Marian. The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
“Woman Composers to Meet.” New York Times. July 21, 1935.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. “Ah, Love, but a Day,” op. 44, no. 2. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1900.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. Rendezvous, op. 120; A Mirage, op. 100, no. 1. In Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, edited by Martha Furman Schleifer and Sylvia Glickman, 7:506–21. New York: G. K. Hall, 2003.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. Three Pianoforte Pieces, op. 128. In Piano Music, edited by Glickman, Sylvia. Women Composers Series, 10. Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1932. Reprint ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1981.Google Scholar
Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. “The Year's at the Spring,” op. 44, no. 1. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1900.Google Scholar
Branscombe, Gena. Youth of the World. New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1932.Google Scholar
Buchanan, Annabel Morris, arr. Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies: Folksong from the Southern Mountains. New York: J. Fisher, 1933.Google Scholar
Butterfield, Elizabeth Merz. “Home.” Chicago: Clayton F. Summy, 1934.Google Scholar
Copthorne, Frances. On My Last Day. Manuscript. Sibley Music Library, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY.Google Scholar
Crawford, Louise. Fantasie Erotique. Manuscript. Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA.Google Scholar
Fergus, Phyllis. Heritage. Boston: C. C. Birchard, 1933.Google Scholar
Freer, Eleanor Everest. Scenes from “Little Women.” Chicago: Music Library, 1934.Google Scholar
Moore, Mary Carr. David Rizzio. Women Composers Series, 12. San Bruno, CA, 1937. Reprint ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1981.Google Scholar
Seuel-Holst, Marie. In Elfland: a Miniature Program Concerto. Chicago: Summy, 1938.Google Scholar
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