Women in History – 8 May

Women in History – 8 MayDame Ethel Mary Smyth, (23 April 1858 – 8 May 1944) was an English composer and a member of the women’s suffrage movement.

Smyth was born in London, as the fourth of a family of eight children. Her father, John Hall Smyth, who was a Major-General in the Royal Artillery, was very much opposed to her making a career in music.

Undeterred, Smyth was determined to become a composer, studied with a private tutor, and then attended the Leipzig Conservatory, where she met many composers of the day. Her compositions include songs, works for piano, chamber music, orchestral and concertante works, choral works, and operas.

In 1910 Smyth joined the Women’s Social and Political Union, a suffrage organisation, giving up music for two years to devote herself to the cause. Her “The March of the Women” (1911) became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement. When the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, called on members to break a window in the house of any politician who opposed votes for women, Smyth was one of the 109 members who responded to Pankhurst’s call. She served two months in Holloway Prison for the act. When her proponent-friend Thomas Beecham went to visit her there, he found suffragettes marching in the quadrangle and singing, as Smyth leaned out a window conducting the song with a toothbrush.

She lived at Frimhurst, near Frimley Green for many years, but from 1913 onwards, she began gradually to lose her hearing and managed to complete only four more major works before deafness brought her composing career to an end. However, she found a new interest in literature and, between 1919 and 1940, she published ten highly successful, mostly autobiographical, books.

In recognition of her work as a composer and writer, Smyth was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1922, becoming the first female composer to be awarded a damehood. She died in Woking in 1944 at the age of 86, and at her own request, after cremation at Woking Crematorium, her ashes were scattered in the woodland next to the golf course.

Smyth received honorary doctorates in music from the Universities of Durham and Oxford.

Women in History – 8 MayMaud Wood Park (January 25, 1871 – May 8, 1955) was born in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1887 she graduated from St. Agnes School in Albany, New York, after which she taught for eight years before attending Radcliffe College. While there she married Charles Edward Park. She graduated from Radcliffe, where she was one of only two students who supported suffrage for women, in 1898.

In 1900 she attended the National American Women Suffrage Association convention, where she discovered that, at the age of 29, she was the youngest delegate present. Park determined to attract a younger group of women to the organization and, in concert with Inez Haynes Gillmore, formed the College Equal Suffrage League. She toured colleges promoting it, and started chapters in thirty states. She also organized the National College Equal Suffrage League in 1908.

Park was friends with another American suffragist, Carrie Chapman Catt, who recruited her to campaign in Washington, D.C. for the Nineteenth Amendment, which is the amendment that guarantees suffrage for American women.

In 1901 Park became one of the founders of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (BESAGG), which became the League of Women Voters of Boston when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. She was BESAGG’s executive secretary for twelve years. In 1920 Park became the first president of the League of Women Voters, a position she held until resigning in 1924 for reasons of health. From 1925 until 1928 she was the League’s legislative counselor.

Park also organized the lobbying group known as the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee in 1924, and worked as its chairwoman. This group was instrumental in the passage of the Sheppard–Towner Act of 1921 and the Cable Act of 1922, both of which advanced women’s rights. Park pioneered the “front door lobby,” a direct approach to lobbying that symbolized the idealism of woman suffrage. She co-wrote the book Front Door Lobby. (An Account of the Achievement of Woman Suffrage in the United States), with Edna Lamprey Stantial, which was finally published in 1960. She also wrote the play Lucy Stone, which was first produced in 1939 in Boston.