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The women musicians of south place ethical society, 1887 – 1927

Beck, Jessica Claire (2018) The women musicians of south place ethical society, 1887 – 1927. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with Conway Hall Ethical Society.

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Abstract

Conway Hall Ethical Society (known as South Place Ethical Society until 2012) has been a prominent home for radical thinking in London since it was established in 1793 as a dissenting congregation. Both music and feminism have been central to the Society’s past, but their significance in this context in previous academic literature has been vastly overlooked. The years between 1887 and 1927 were host to tumultuous change at the Society when it went through a significant change in leadership and made the official departure from being a religious organisation to joining the ethical movement. At the same time, rapid developments in women’s equality occurred across the country as the fight for women’s suffrage became one of the most important political issues of the time. This was also a period that witnessed a vibrant music scene in London as more and more people had the opportunity to engage with performance, concerts and music education; this included young British women who were beginning to challenge the limited expectations of musical women’s careers, which had been ingrained over many centuries of a patriarchal music scene. This thesis explores how these developments in British culture and politics were manifested in a society that had already established itself as an important organisation in London for progressive thinking and action. It is achieved through a focus on the women musicians who were part of the Society’s activities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, with comparisons to their presence at other musical establishments. Particular attention is paid to three women, Jessie Grimson, Edith Swepstone and Josephine Troup, who between them represent some of the diverse experiences that musical women found within the South Place Chapel during this period. Each of their careers was profoundly affected by their association with the Society. This thesis also presents a significant amount of unstudied music from the ethical movement’s history and the output of women musicians. Drawing on previous unstudied and newly discovered archival material at Conway Hall and elsewhere, this thesis also contributes to existing understanding about the intersection of music and feminism at the turn of the twentieth century. This results in better knowledge about how the ethical movement’s engagement with music and the advancement of women’s rights had a wider influence on British society.

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