Women's Participation in the NEA Department of Music Education, 1884-1925

By Howe, Sondra Wieland | Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Women's Participation in the NEA Department of Music Education, 1884-1925


Howe, Sondra Wieland, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education


It is important to recognize the valuable contributions that women have made in the field of music education. Traditional accounts of the history of music education have overlooked these contributions, but that "history" is being rewritten as scholars challenge the discipline to examine its past from a feminist perspective. Authors today are addressing issues of race, class, and gender; approaching history from new perspectives; utilizing methodologies from other scholarly fields; and acknowledging the contributions of women. This paper focuses on the contributions of women in the Department of Music Education of the National Education Association (NEA) from 1884 to 1925 as a way of understanding women's roles in the development of American music education. (2)

The Discipline of the History of Music Education

The field of "history of music education" includes both "history of education" and "history of music." Unfortunately women have been underrepresented in the "history of education," although teaching has historically been a feminine profession. Education historians also have traditionally given only brief attention to music and art. Since the 1980s, however, within the discipline of "history of music," feminist musicologists have made tremendous progress in reconstructing the "history of music" to include the previously invisible contributions of women, and have challenged the discipline to address new issues. In the 2001 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, articles on "Women in Music" by Tick, Ericson, and Koskoff; "Feminism" by Soli; and "Gender" by Kallberg summarize these new areas in musicology. (3) Unfortunately, musicologists generally are not interested in the history of music education.

Most research in music education emphasizes quantitative research, and examining the history of the field is a small area within that research. Music education historians have produced textbooks and articles which, for the most part, have neglected women by emphasizing the contributions of great men, band history, the development of public school music, and the history of hierarchical organizations. Researchers need to reconstruct history to reveal the women whose roles heretofore have been invisible. The history of teaching music, in both private and public spheres, needs to be rewritten and the discipline challenged to embrace new perspectives.

There are some exciting recent publications that should begin to alter the traditional approach to research in the history of music education. English scholars are seeking alternative ways of writing history. Cox encourages researchers to broaden their horizons by examining local history in both formal and informal settings, and by studying the practice of teaching in its social context, producing a "usable past." (4) Instead of writing a traditional chronological account, Pitts selects current issues in England, and explores their roots. (5) McCarthy examines both the traditional Irish music and classical music taught in schools. (6)

The new encyclopedia edited by Burns, Women and Music in America Since 1900, is an excellent source on American women. (7) Howe urges scholars to reconstruct the history of music education to include more women of various classes and ethnic groups. (8) The article by Lamb, Howe, and Dolloff in The New Handbook of Research is a review of recent feminist scholarship in music education. (9) The outlook is good for an expanded history of music education that encompasses diverse groups.

Women's Early Roles

In the middle of the nineteenth century, public school music programs were begun in large urban school systems by self-taught male music teachers who taught singing and supervised the female classroom teachers. In the Boston public schools in the 1860s and 1870s, Luther Whiting Mason supervised music in the primary schools, Hosea Holt taught in the grammar schools, and Julius Eichberg in the high schools. …

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