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Women Orchestral Conductors in America: The Struggle for Acceptance—An Historical View from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

By Shelley M. Jagow

Orchestral conducting has been the latest door of opportunity to open for women in the field of music.

Although women have been actively involved in performance, composition, teaching, and patronage from the history of the ancient Greeks to the present, their accomplishments and contributions have often passed unvalued.1 

Female musicians have endured more than their share of discrimination, and many women conductors continue to struggle in a profession that is often still perceived as male-dominated. The role of American women orchestral conductors and the accomplishments they have achieved from both a historical and contemporary vantage point will be documented.

Gender Discrimination

In order to appreciate the path trodden by women conductors, the traditional status of women and their role in society and in music must be examined. Early American women existed in primarily an agricultural society where young women were expected to become home-keepers, bear children for family labor, and perform daily domestic duties. Such restrictions were, of course, based on European precedent. Even Martin Luther declared that “women should stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon.”2 Women were further denied the right to vote and to hold political office and consequently succumbed to socially approved patterns of behavior. FOR MORE

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