As promised, this week we’ll share snapshots of three women who did achieve musical fame in a male-dominated history of famous composers, in honor of Women’s History Month and Music in Our Schools Month. Today, we bring you Dame Ethel Smyth.

Dame Ethel Smyth via Universität Paderborn

Dame Ethel Smyth – Ethel was not without adversity from a young age; when her father began to think that Ethel’s passion for the piano was “too intense,” he prohibited her from taking lessons. Ethel refused to leave her room, attend meals, church, school or social functions until her father allowed her to study composition at Leipzig Conservatory. As a student, Ethel studied alongside Dvořák, Grieg and Tchaikovsky. By 1893, she’d gained some recognition in England with the performance of her Mass in D for chorus and orchestra in 1893. Still, she struggled to get her operas performed. In 1910, Ethel briefly halted her composing, and devoted herself to the Women’s Suffrage Movement where she rallied with Emmeline Pankhurst. In 1911, she wrote and conducted Laggard Dawn and The March of the Women at London’s Albert Hall, endowing the women’s movement with its immortal and prolific composer. Her character was represented in the fiction of battle cry.

Virginia Woolf (left) and Dame Ethel Smyth via New York Public Library digital collection

Throughout her life, Ethel was publicly regarded as an outspoken suffragist and prolific composer. Her character was represented in the fiction of battle cry. Throughout her life, Ethel was publicly regarded as an outspoken suffragist and prolific composer. She was represented in E. F. Benson’s Dodo books (1893–1921), essays by Virginia Woolf, with whom she became close, and in radio plays by Henry Reed.

Listen to March of the Women here, or Cello Sonata No. 2 .

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