“Shout, shout, up with your song! Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking.”
Whenever her children or grandchildren were being particularly tiresome or her husband, the long-suffering Jack, was being typically bloody minded my grandmother would burst into song, loud and defiant…
“Shout, shout, up with your song! Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking!”
…on and on in the face of family wide complaint.
It was only years later that I discovered that she was singing “The March of the Women” - an anthem written for and gladly taken up by the suffragette movement as a battle cry of their demands for votes for women. For my grandmother it was reminder of a time before the 1st World War when she was a single woman and a taxpayer and like many others of her generation wondering why she was denied the vote. The song was her heartfelt cry for freedom, equality and respect that Gran felt that she wasn’t getting then and 100 years on many women aren’t getting today.
The song was written by Ethel Smyth, a bisexual woman “of boisterous vitality” who defied her family to study music and composition in Leipzig. In1910 Ethel attended a meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union which was being addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the British women’s suffrage movement. Although she had little or no interest in female emancipation Ethel adored Emmeline and her radical views and decided on the spot to give up music for the next two years and dedicate herself to the cause of votes for women. Her rousing anthem ‘The March of the Women’ was premiered by a chorus of Suffragettes at a fundraising event at the Albert Hall in London on March 23, 1911 and soon became the rallying cry of the suffragette movement.
The most famous, though least public performance of ‘The March of the Women’ took place in Holloway Women’s Prison in London in 1912 where over 100 suffragists, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Ethel Smyth, were imprisoned for smashing windows at the homes of suffrage opponents. Inspired by the communal determination and courage of the exercising prisoners, many of whom had endured the ‘state torture’ of forced feeding, Ethel Smyth appeared at a window overlooking the prison yard, and conducted their singing of the suffrage battle hymn by waving her toothbrush.
“March, march–many as one, Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.”
On the 6th February 1918 some women at least - those over 30 years old and owning property - were granted the vote. Over the years female suffrage has been made universal…but universal suffrage has not resulted in universal opportunity or universal equality. Still women are held back, overlooked and forgotten. Despite their limitless contribution to our lives, the important jobs that they hold and the love and life they give us all women are still not seen as equals - and until the day they are perhaps the time has come to raise our voices once again , like Granny…
Shout, shout, up with your song! Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking; March, march, swing you along, Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking. Song with its story, dreams with their glory Lo! they call, and glad is their word! Loud and louder it swells, Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord! Long, long--we in the past Cowered in dread from the light of heaven, Strong, strong--stand we at last, Fearless in faith and with sight new given. Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty, (Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!) These, these--beckon us on! Open your eyes to the blaze of day. Comrades--ye who have dared First in the battle to strive and sorrow! Scorned, spurned--nought have ye cared, Raising your eyes to a wider morrow, Ways that are weary, days that are dreary, Toil and pain by faith ye have borne; Hail, hail--victors ye stand, Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn! Life, strife--those two are one, Naught can ye win but by faith and daring. On, on--that ye have done But for the work of today preparing. Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance, (Laugh in hope, for sure is the end) March, march--many as one, Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.
Dame Ethel Mary Smyth, 22 April 1858 - 8 May 1944
“Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.”
Recorded on the 232rd March 2011, the 100th anniversary of the first public performance of the March of the Women a link to a group of women singing the song - and waving toothbrushes!
– from Martyn Day