The Songs of the Suffragettes


We’ve selected songs from the suffragette movement to both commemorate International Women’s Day and exemplify the wit in protest music.

This week saw the annual International Women’s Day. As you may have already seen, this lead to several articles looking at the most powerful women in music today, their achievements, and their reflection of our wider society and levels of equality.

Yet the use of music as a tool for women’s rights is nothing new. The suffragettes were well aware of the power and symbolism music can bring to a protest. Gerri Gribi explain how the suffragettes used music in their protests in an interview for Suffrage Wagon:

Listen to the Gerri Gribi Interview

As Gerri notes, several of these song books still remain. The three songs below have been taken from these song books:

Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be? (Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?) by L. May Wheeler

Set to a popular parlour tune, this song addresses an argument made against woman’s suffrage: that women already had everything they needed – male protection, a sphere of their own – and didn’t need to vote as well.

Chorus:

Oh Dear, what can the matter be
Dear dear what can the matter be
Oh dear, what can the matter be
Women are wanting to vote

Verses:

Women have husbands, they are protected
Women have sons by whom they’re directed
Women have fathers, they’re not neglected
Why are they wanting to vote?

Women have homes, there they should labour
Women have children whom they should favour
Women have time to learn of each neighbour
Why are they wanting to vote?

Women can dress, they love society
Women have cash with all its variety
Women can pray with sweetest piety
Why are they wanting to vote?

Women have reared all the sons of the brave
Women have shared in the burdens they gave
Women have laboured this country to save
And that’s why we’re going to vote

Final Chorus:

Oh Dear, what can the matter be
Dear dear what can the matter be
Oh dear, what can the matter be
Why should men get every vote?

Keep Woman in Her Sphere (Auld Lang Syne) by D. Estabrook

This song is found in numerous suffrage songbooks, and was widely sung at rallies.

I have a neighbour, one of those
Not very hard to find
Who know it all without debate
And never change their mind

I asked him “What of woman’s rights?”
He said in tones severe
“My mind on that is all made up,
Keep woman in her sphere.”

I saw a man in tattered garb
Forth from the grog-shop come
He squandered all his cash for drink
and starved his wife at home

I asked him “Should not woman vote”
He answered with a sneer
“I’ve taught my wife to know her place,
Keep woman in her sphere.”

I met an earnest, thoughtful man
Not many days ago
Who pondered deep all human law
The honest truth to know

I asked him “What of woman’s cause?”
The answer came sincere
“Her rights are just the same as mine,
Let woman choose her sphere.”

The New America (America)

Sung at the National-American Woman’s Suffrage Convention, 1891, this song reflects a common suffrage argument – that giving women the vote simply fulfilled the promise of 1776.

Our country
Now from thee
Claim we our liberty
In freedom’s name

Guarding home’s altar fires
Daughters of patriot sires
Their zeal our own inspires
Justice to claim

Women in every age
For this great heritage
Tribute have paid

Our birth-right claim we now
Longer refuse to bow
On freedom’s altar now
Our hand is laid

Sons
Will you longer see
Mothers on bended knee
For justice pray?

Rise now
In manhood’s might
With earth’s great souls unite
To speed the dawning light
Of freedom’s day

About Phil

Founder of The Phonograph and works in the media sector. Interested in basketball, beer, music, driving, media and american football. Loves Hip Hop.
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4 Responses to The Songs of the Suffragettes

  1. Councillor David Pearson says:

    Very interesting I admire those women who fought for the vote and suffered so much.
    Councillor David Pearson
    Member of the Fawcett Society

  2. Pingback: Suffrage Songs of the UK and USA | Blue Thread

  3. Devin Lacy says:

    Great!!!!

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