Friday, January 23, 2009

Banned from Singing, Dancing and Voting

The first two decades of the 20th Century was an era that witnessed women throughout the United States taking to the streets to demonstrate for equality in all spheres of social and religious activity. In Foxboro, these issues suffrage, dancing and singing were in the forefront of interest to the Catholic women of St. Mary’s.

Women Singing In Church

On November 22, 1903, a "motu proprio" was issued Pope Pius X in which he set forth new regulations for the performance of music in the Roman Catholic Church. These reforms reaffirmed the primacy of Gregorian chant, and at the same time, excluded women from singing in mixed ensembles with men. The following words from the "Motu proprio" which is a document issued by a Pope on his own initiative, caused a great deal of uncertainty, especially in the United States: "With the exception of the melodies proper to the celebrant at the altar and to his ministers, which must always be sung only in Gregorian chant and without the accompaniment of the organ, all the rest of the liturgical chant belongs to the choir of levites; therefore, singers in church, even when they are laymen, are really taking the place of the ecclesiastical choir. On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office and that, therefore, women, as being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir or of the musical chapel.

Apparently, there were many parishes in Massachusetts were the women continued to sing, and St. Mary’s in Foxboro was one of them. In March, 1909, the Foxboro Reporter reprinted a letter titled, "The Catholic View of Women Singing in Church" which was read during Mass. The priests and the parishioners were reminded, "The Holy Father has not given permission for women to sing in the choirs of the Catholic Churches, and the news that he has done so is entirely groundless...The instructions of Pope Pius must be obeyed literally in this country as well as in other countries. The singing of women must not be continued."

Women Dancing

During this same era, the Vatican also issued concerns about dancing, especially the "Tango." It appears the Church had no problem with dancing as long as the couples stood apart and hardly, if at all, held the partner's hand. But the 20th Century ushered a new, modern style of dancing which was regarded by moralists as fraught, by their very nature, with the greatest danger to morals.

In January 1906, the Foxboro Reporter published the contents of a letter written Archbishop John J. Williams, "On the Evils of Dancing, " which was read during Mass at St. Mary’s. The article reported the pastor also preached a sermon the same theme; "The letter and the sermon apparently was met with consternation for many of the youth of the parish enjoyed the pastime. Among other things the letter said ‘The world may sneer at such teaching, and call our denunciations exaggerations and unreasonable exactions without solid foundation.’"

In 1913 , the "Tango" raised the level of the Vatican’s pronouncements against dancing to a frenzy. In fact, the Tango was considered by some to be so scandalous that it was outlawed by both Church and civil authorities. Because of the way partners held each other, the dance was considered too risque' and "an offense against God.". On November 20, 1913, the Vatican instructed that the Tango was "an immoral dance and consequentially is prohibited to all Roman Catholics."

The September 5, 1914 Foxboro Reporter reprinted an article from the Canton Journal, "All Catholic organizations of the town have voted to discontinue public dancing for one year. This is made in the hope that human decency, if given a little time, would reassert itself and after a year dancing might be resumed free from its present day disgraceful exhibitions."
Women Suffrage

On January 2, 1913, the National Woman's Party was founded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns as an auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for the exclusive purpose of securing passage of a federal amendment. The party generated a new enthusiasm throughout the United States for the cause of women suffrage. On March 3, 1913, the day preceding President Wilson's inauguration, over 8,000 suffragists paraded in Washington, DC, organized by Alice Paul. Unfortunately the suffragists were jeered and mobbed by abusive crowds along the way. The 1913 proposed constitutional amendment to the U. S. Constitution providing woman suffrage was soundly defeated.

Undeterred, on January 12, 1915, a suffrage bill was brought before the House of Representatives but was lost by a vote of 174 to 204. Soon after, on March 27, the Foxboro Reporter reprinted an article published in the Boston Catholic Pilot, titled, The Catholic View of Women's Suffrage, "Whatever, then may be the outcome of the present movement for women's emancipation this assertion cannot be challenged. Any attempt to force women from her natural sphere of activity to place her in rivalry with man in the rude business of life can only end in disaster. Twenty centuries of Christian civilization have surrounded her with charms which are the secrets of her dignity and her power. Any attack upon these endowments must end eventually in the return of the Amazon to assume the place now held by Christian womanhood."
In the Mount Holyoke College Archives there is a letter dated April 1915 from Miss Hortense Hubbard to her parents. She describes her mixed feelings and attitudes toward women suffrage at this time, "Yesterday was "Suffrage Day" and after chapel a girl dressed in white, beat a drum, and there were all sorts of signs around about suffrage. On the lawn between the Library and Mary Lyon Chapel they had a table where they distributed papers and tried to get people to join the society up here. Cornelia did, but I didn’t. Late in the afternoon Miss Marks, one of the faculty, went around campus with her dog, a collie, and around his neck was a basket of jonquils in it and they were selling them for the benefit of the suffrage. But I wouldn’t buy one, because I am not ready to ally myself with the suffragettes, although I think they have some arguments. For instance last night Cornelia was trying to convince Dorothy Richardson about suffrage. Something was said about the Catholics and Cornelia said that the head popes & priests etc., don’t favor it because, that they realize it will mean more of an education and an enlightenment for the women, and they don’t want it. Is that true? I didn’t happen to get any of the papers that they distributed, but Cornelia did and maybe she will let me send them to you, if you will send them back…."

On January 10, 1918, a bill was brought before the House, and again on February 10, 1919. The former when put to the vote, was two votes short and the latter was one vote short, necessary for the two-thirds majority. Finally, in the summer of 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was an accomplished fact, and the Presidential election of November 1920, was therefore the first occasion on which women in all states were allowed to exercise their right of suffrage.

By the beginning of the third decade of the 20th Century, Foxboro Catholic women were singing, dancing and voting!


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