Self-proclaimed traditionalists love to talk about how allowing women in the workforce precipitated social decline. This is a delusion. “Women have always worked,” as American labor historian Alice Kessler-Harris argued in her book of the same name. “In preindustrial societies,” she writes, “nearly everybody worked” in cooperative endeavors, “and almost nobody worked for wages.” And in industrial societies, women have always worked, and they were often the primary earners in their families. But since their stories do not fit a traditional narrative, they’ve been ignored.
Moving goalposts and narrow definitions of what counts as “work” have marginalized women’s contributions in hundreds of fields, including music. But women have always written music, whether or not they’ve been compensated or recognized as professional composers.