Musical program tells story of suffrage movement

Forest Area School District Superintendent Amanda Hetrick sings songs written by suffragists while Elisha Pospisil accompanies her on the guitar Tuesday evening during a program given at the Forest County Historical Society. (By Kara O'Neil)

A program Tuesday at the Forest County Historical Society commemorated with song the 100-year anniversary of women getting the right to vote.

Outside at the historical society, Forest Area School District Superintendent Amanda Hetrick presented songs sung by suffragists in their campaign for the vote.

In between singing songs written and sung by suffragists and a few songs by anti-suffragists, Hetrick gave a brief history of the women's suffrage movement from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention that began the movement up to when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.

Hetrick noted that music has always played a role when social and politically aware citizens have voiced dissent.

The songs were sung at suffrage meetings, large scale marches and rallies, she said.

Tuesday evening, one of the songs sung was "Freedom's Anthem" to the tune of "Swanee River."

The chorus went:

"All the world is sand and dreary,

Everywhere they roam,

While men deny their wives and mothers

Justice in the state and home."

Hetrick was accompanied on guitar by Elisha Pospisil, a former music teacher and the director of curriculum and technology at the Forest school district.

Most of the song lyrics pointed out the justice of giving women the vote and appealed to the American tradition of freedom and human rights.

The songs also pointed out negative aspects of not giving women the vote and portrayed those who were against women's suffrage as fools, cowards and unjust tyrants.

Suffrage music falls into two main categories - rally songs and parlor music, Hetrick said.

Rally songs were suffrage lyrics set to popular tunes, Hetrick said. She explained that this allowed for communal singalongs at rallies and events.

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" was a common tune to set suffrage lyrics to, Hetrick said.

Suffragists also composed "parlor music" with original tunes and lyrics. These songs were generally printed in sheet music format and sold to raise money for the cause, Hetrick said.

The anti-suffrage movement also had its songs and was well funded, Hetrick noted.

Liquor companies who feared women getting the vote would lead to prohibition being enacted were among the chief contributors to the anti-suffrage movement, Hetrick explained.

Many women involved in the movement were also concerned about other social and political issues of their day such as abolition, racial justice and the temperance movement, Hetrick said.

The presentation was part of a Tuesday Talks lecture series on various local and historical topics the Forest County Historical Society is putting on every week this summer. The series will run through Aug. 25.