Sisters in Song got me involved in women’s hymnody in ways I never expected. Now, when I go browse an antique shop or bookstore, I zero in on the old hymnbooks. Just this weekend, I found an old hymnal from 1913. Some of the pages are missing and all are tattered. But for one dollar, it couldn’t be too much of a gamble. Sunday School Voices Number Two was the property of the New Truxton Sunday School, and from the numerous scribblings in the flyleaf, it obviously passed from owner to owner. Now it’s mine. I already had a freebie from an auction last year, Jubilant Voices published in 1905. The content of the two was similar.
Several things stood out for me. First, there were an incredible number of women lyricists. The earlier book had 243 hymns. Women wrote the lyrics for 135 of them. They wrote the music for ten. The more recent book had 128 women written hymns versus 122 written by men, but some of the pages were missing. Also notable is that the women held none of the copyrights. Back then, married women could not hold title to property in most states, and most of the women were married. I suspect it was more convenient for the woman to write the song and immediately sell it to the man who wrote the music or to a publisher for a nominal amount. Fanny Crosby was often the writer of hymns in these books. She sold the lyrics of her 8000+ hymns for less than five dollars each to help support her personal mission work.
Also notable was the number of women, most of whom I never heard of, who were in the hymnals. I will have to look up Ida Scott Taylor, Mrs. C.H. Morris, Charlotte Homer, Ida Reed, Lizzie DeArmond, Jennie Ree, Flora Kirkland, Nellie Place Chandler, Edith Tillotson, and Eleanor Long among many others. That will be another day, though.
Another thing that struck me was the frequent use of two images: sunshine and war. War won out thirty-one to ten. I have read that there was a backlash to women written hymns beginning around World War I. They were too feminine, not adequately “muscular”. I don’t see this criticism borne out in these hymns. Eliza Hewitt, who is featured in my book, had numerous hymns in these two hymnals. “Jericho Must Fall” says we must fight our foes. Sweet, blind little lady Fanny Crosby wrote “The sword of the Spirit will vanquish our foes” in “March Onward, March Onward” which Phoebe Knapp set to music. “This our warfare on the Christian way” comes from Crosby’s “They That Overcome” and “Gird on, gird on your armor . . . to battle for the Lord” in “We’ll Battle to the End”. Other warlike songs include “Put on the Whole Armor” by Jennie Ree, “With Our Banner Waving”, “Up Ye Soldiers” and “Onward Till the Dawning” by Charlotte Homer, “Little Sentinels” (for militant children, I guess) by Jennie Ree, “The Glorious Conqueror” by Ella Bangs, “Rally ‘Round the Standard” by Civilla Martin, “The Fight is On” and “On the Firing Line” by Mrs. C. H. Morris, “Our Fight, His Victory” by Edith Spaulding, “The Conquering Hero Comes” by Civilla Martin, “With Flaming Banners” by Lizzie DeArmond, and of course, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe. This is only a partial listing.
I’m anxious to get my hands on yet another old time hymnal. Who knows what I’ll find!