Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Emily Wilbourne

Committee Members

Anne Stone

Scott Burnham

Ann Yeung

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Musicology | Music Performance | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


Harp, Feminism, Women, Gender, Orchestra, North America


In 1930s North America, women—for the first time—were accorded permanent principal positions in significant American orchestras. Edna Phillips, Alice Chalifoux, and Sylvia Meyer, all students of the legendary harp pedagogue Carlos Salzedo, have been celebrated as pioneers for the prestigious employment they obtained in the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, and National Symphony Orchestra, respectively, between 1930 and 1933. Despite the impressiveness of these accomplishments, however, the narrative of their “firstness” is not wholly accurate. In actuality, female harpists have occupied orchestral posts as acting principals, substitutes, and second harpists since the very inception of orchestras. The cause for their early inclusion therein was directly and indirectly related to the feminine connotations of the instrument formed in eighteenth-century French salon culture and molded by literature, artwork, music, and ideologies over the course of the next two centuries. This research attempts not to dismiss the myths that have come to be assumed as fact, but rather to understand why and how a cauldron of events, large-scale cultural shifts, and specific individuals shaped these narratives and created lasting professional opportunities for female harpists.