Date of Degree
Blanche Wiesen Cook
African American Studies | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Cultural History | History of Gender | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Jewish Studies | Labor History | Music Education | Musicology | Music Performance | Social History | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies
piano, women, gender, music, ragtime, composition, girls, settlement house, movie theater
American girls and women used the parlor piano to reshape their lives between 1880 and 1920, the years when the instrument reached the height of its commercial and cultural popularity. Newspapers, memoirs, biographies, women’s magazines, personal papers, and trade publications show that female pianists engaged in public-facing piano play and work in pursuit of artistic expression, economic gain, self-actualization, social mobility, and social change. These motivations drove many to use their piano skills to play beyond the parlor, by studying in conservatory, working as classical and popular music performers and composers, founding and teaching at schools, working as department store demonstrators, movie theater accompanists, and settlement house workers, among other things. In the process, these girls and women created or expanded opportunities for women in society at large. Native-born white, African-American, and Jewish-American girls and women employed different strategies to pursue their aims, and focusing on these three groups reveals how race, social class, geographic location, age, marital status and more shaped female pianists’ options. Rather than seeing the commercialization of the parlor piano as a reification of domestic values imposed upon American girls or the swell in parlor piano sales as an indication of women's eagerness to adhere to existing gender norms, this dissertation traces how American girls and women converted the piano into a tool and conduit for their far-flung ambitions. “In Her Own Hands” offers new insight into how American girls and women from diverse backgrounds emerged into new societal roles between 1880 and 1920.
Litvin, Sarah F., "In Her Own Hands: How Girls and Women Used the Piano to Chart their Futures, Expand Women's Roles, and Shape Music in America, 1880–1920" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.
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African American Studies Commons, American Material Culture Commons, American Popular Culture Commons, Cultural History Commons, History of Gender Commons, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Commons, Jewish Studies Commons, Labor History Commons, Music Education Commons, Musicology Commons, Music Performance Commons, Social History Commons, United States History Commons, Women's History Commons, Women's Studies Commons