"Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies": White Womanhood and Folk Song Collection in Early Twentieth Century America

Dye, Aldona, Music - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Gordon, Bonnie, AS-Music, University of Virginia

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a large number of middle- to upper-class white women did fieldwork collecting folk songs, yet the scope and impact of their work has remained largely unexplored in scholarly literature. To explore this phenomenon, this dissertation consults four archived collections of white women song collectors and organizations that relied on the song collecting work of white women: The Virginia Folklore Society of Charlottesville, VA; Annabel Morris Buchanan of Marion, VA; Ruby Pickens Tartt of Livingston, AL; and Helen Heffron Roberts, who did ethnographic work in Honolulu, HI. My research reveals that the daily lives of white women in the early twentieth century—who were involved in the teaching profession, held membership in women’s music clubs, oversaw the maintenance of their family homes, and for whom music-making was a part of their girlhood education—put them in proximity to folk songs and gave them the tools with which to apply to folk song collecting. This dissertation further identifies traditions of white womanhood, such as song transcription, amateur musicianship, and creative fiction writing, shaping the work of white women folk song collectors.
“Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies”: White Womanhood and Folksong Collection in Early Twentieth Century America argues that these traditions of white womanhood, as they were used in the practice of song collecting reinforced structures of race, class, and gender, often explicitly in the service of maintaining a white supremacist culture and advancing the missives of American colonialism and imperialism. Ultimately, this dissertation cautions against a “white feminist” read of these song collectors and argues that exploration into the “women’s work” of folk song collecting both illuminates the structures of white womanhood in the early twentieth century and contributes a crucial component to the complex history and legacy of American folk song collection.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
folk music, american, women, whiteness
Issued Date: