Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 December 2018
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.
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.