Song energizes the quest for equality. Music gives voice to the passion of the individual for change and propels the feet of the collective to flood the public square in parades of protest. In the United States today, this quest continues, but it builds upon the hope of progress past.
One hundred years ago, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920 was such a signal achievement. It enshrined the right of women to vote in the nation’s founding document and propelled a revolution that continues to reverberate today in the dramatic increase of women serving as elected leaders in local, state, and national offices.
“The Equal-Rights Banner” (1884) helped to propel the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Composed to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and thus arguing musically that giving women the vote was itself patriotic, this suffrage lyric was written by the Reverend C.C. Harrah. It connects women’s suffrage to the nation’s very survival.
1. Oh say, have you heard of the new, dawning light,
Bringing hope to our land, and its foes all surprising?
Our banner still floats, as the emblem of right,
And the day breaks upon us, for women are rising.
And with ballots in hand, at the right’s dear command,
They’ll be true to the flag and will rescue our land;
And ever the EQUAL-RIGHTS BANNER shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
2. How justice and right have been crushed to the dust,
While the foe of the home in protection reposes;
Behind screens, behind bars, and in places of trust,
Not true Freedom, but License its vile form discloses.
The injustice we see, and the women when free
Will destroy by the votes, and then saved shall we be;
And the EQUAL-RIGHTS BANNER forever shall wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
3. The women for truth and for virtue will stand,
And the country be freed from unjust legislation,
And heav’n then will smile on the purified land,
And the Power shall be praised that hath kept us a nation.
Woman’s ballot is just, so then conquer we must,
And this be our watchword—“In God is Our Trust!”
And our EQUAL-RIGHTS BANNER in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. (1)
Published in 1884, six years after a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was first introduced in the U.S. Congress, “The Equal-Rights Banner” offers insight into the roots of women’s political power in the United States as this political movement was nurtured in the temperance movement. In the 19th-century, alcoholism was seen as both a public health issue and a women’s rights issue. Often located in religious organizations, temperance both provided social sanction for women’s concerted action and galvanized women to demand political power. This connection is most audible in verse 2 of Harrah’s lyrics in its call for the elimination of “License” or the right to sell alcohol.
To celebrate the 19th Amendment, sing “The Equal-Rights Banner” in thanks of the many women of all races, ethnicities and creeds, especially today, who help make democracy possible.
-Mark Clague, musicologist
1. C. C. Harrah, “The Equal-Rights Banner,” in Report of the International Council of Women (Washington, D.C.: Rufus H. Darby for the National Woman Suffrage Association, 1888), 23.