SuffrageSinging

Linda Radtke sings a few 19th century ditties Nov. 14 at the First Congregational Church in St. Albans.

ST. ALBANS CITY — After reading about the women’s suffrage movement, Linda Radtke had two takeaways:

  1. “No one gave up power without a fight.”

  2. “You can only get so far continuing to be polite.”

Radtke visited St. Albans on Sunday to present her Vermont Humanities program “From the Parlor to the Polling Place: Stories and Songs from the Suffragists.” 

Taking a spot near the front of the First Congregational Church, she spent an hour in period garb singing songs from that era and giving a few historical lessons along the way.

A retired English teacher, Radtke said she started planning such entertainment to marry her interests of history and music. Her first program revolved around Civil War songs, but she decided to explore the women’s suffrage movement because she wanted to do something a little more contemporary.

After doing her research, she found plenty of parallels between then and today. In the late 19th century, business oligarchs fought against labor among a background of racial tensions. While progress has been made since then, much of that cultural turmoil has remained.

Radtke found that the woman’s suffrage movement wasn't free from such influences. Some well-known suffragists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, would share anti-immigrant viewpoints in their writings, and the movement often segregated itself along racial lines. 

Many suffragists also lined up behind the temperance movement, which painted the Irish and Germans as irresponsible drinkers.

Radtke said such insight into the past shows that history is an ongoing process. Change, especially, takes time. Suffragists, for example, fought their battle for over seven decades before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, and it all started with a few energized women meeting in a parlor.

“It was two to three people meeting in the parlor saying, ‘What are we going to do? But look at what they did,” she said.

Music was an important part of the women’s suffrage movement, and she rolled out songs she found from that era such as “Shall women vote?”, “New America”, “Giving the Ballot to the Mother” and “Voting as We Pray”.

Such songs would help communicate catchy slogans or interesting ideas that people could use to make political points, such as “She’s good enough to be Your Baby’s Mother, She’s Good Enough to Vote With You.”

Others told humorous stories in folk song fashion. Radtke sang one such song in Yiddish.

As for her next program, Radtke said she’s still looking for a new era to explore through song. Outside of her humanities programs, Radtke is the producer of the VPR Choral Hour on Vermont Public Radio and a member of multiple Vermont choral ensembles, such as Counterpoint and the Oriana Singers.

“As we learn about these barriers on voting, it makes me think of this hard won fight. It’s not just history,” she said.

(1) comment

Elaine Lawson

Linda Radtke's program was delivered with bright, smiling, upbeat voice. She is a strong advocate for strength and unity in fighting ignorance and unfairness. Keeping the past alive through song and storytelling helps us see a way forward in these troubled times. Must mention how well-paced and wonderful her accompanist was, too. Thank you, Linda, and thank you, Vermont Council on the Humanities.

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