The Gendered Distortions of History
The present book, as we have already suggested, presents an argument, and evidence for that argument. It focuses on middle- and upper-class women patrons in order to demonstrate that they, taken together, formed and still form the predominant population of activists for and organizers of concert music and opera in the United States. We say this in full realization that individual men of means, such as Otto Kahn, have given millions to institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera. But, for a century now, American women have outnumbered men in music patronage ten or a hundred times over. Since most of them were and are less wealthy than Kahn was, they have tended to achieve results that are quite different from those associated with male patrons, or at least they have, in working toward similar goals to those of the men, developed distinctive working patterns, notably (as we shall see over and over) more collective ones. This, we quickly point out, is not to deny the diversity of patronage styles among women: for example, individual women of great wealth tended to go it alone (like their male equivalents) as patrons; and music-loving African-American women focused their energies on creating institutional structures that responded to the distinct needs and tapped the resources (e.g., the churches) of the African-American community (see Chapter 7).
The varied stories told here, and the many other stories that they, for lack of space, must "stand for," constitute a sturdy structural cord in the tapestry of
American music history. We say "cord," because this work was to a large extent intended to remain invisible, a support for the artistic work on the surface. Still, structural support needs to be recognized, if only in the scholarly literature. And yet, women's patronage has, until recently, gone nearly unmentioned in most standard texts and reference works, and its nature and extent have been insufficiently explored, much less thoughtfully theorized. This "distortion of omission" (as we might call it) concerning women patrons disfigures several of the otherwise most reliable histories of American music; it is even apparent, although to a lesser extent, in that model of scholarly thoroughness and insight, the recent New Grove Dictionary of American Music . Earlier we noted that scholars are generally hesitant to deal frankly with questions of money; as Richard Crawford puts it, the large topics of "institutions and economic arrangements" in American music "have been left in the dark by musicologists." But women patrons have been more consistently ignored, for reasons suggested earlier; and in the case of patrons who are both women and African-Americans the distortion of omission has been compounded by most musicologists' lack of familiarity with such basic historical sources as African-American newspapers.
The distortion of omission is one way in which those who construct the historical record silence or erase, however inadvertently or unconsciously, what does not fit the prevailing paradigm or myth—namely, here, male domination of the "creative" realm of human activity. Indeed, we might note that this myth is particularly misleading in regard to the place of the arts (including music) in American society, given that the arts—love of them, skill in them, except when carried out as a profession—were long assigned to the woman's realm and therefore prized as, precisely, feminine accomplishments.
There is another way in which evidence that does not neatly fit a paradigm gets silenced or erased; we might call this the "distortion of substitution." Pamela J. Perry, in a recent dissertation on music in Connecticut, has detailed several major cases in which "men were credited [in newspapers and books] with progress or success actually resulting from the initiative and benefaction" of their wives and other women, thereby polluting the historical record (although, thanks to Perry's efforts, not irreversibly); a recent study by Catherine Parsons Smith similarly demonstrates that the early stages of the founding of the Hollywood Bowl, shaped mainly by women, have been systematically disregarded by chroniclers and historians in favor of the later ones, in which men took over the lead.
The lack of easily available and reliable information about patronage of music and art shows in writings of more general import. Biographers and scholars have often failed to reconstruct in its full richness and contradictions the life of the early-twentieth-century middle- and upper-class woman; for to leave out, or pass over quickly as inessential, the art on her walls and the concerts she mounted at home (or helped establish in larger and more public venues) is to veil from sight the activities and engagements through which she often assumed her most nondomestic, most publicly influential (if not always publicly acknowledged) role. The
developments reported and studied here will thus need to find their rightful place not only in music history, as noted earlier, but also in the larger tapestries of American social and cultural history and American women's history.