Know Ohio: Women's Orchestra

As you know, March is Women’s History Month, and, as it comes it a close, Know Ohio correspondent Mary Fecteau brings you the story of how women found a voice in Cleveland’s early classic music scene.  

So, we all know that Cleveland rocks, but the Forest City is also known for a more classic sound. That is the sound of the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra – they’re considered one of the best orchestras in the world – and they’re powerful sound is the pride of Cleveland. But this brilliant music would not have been possible without the efforts of one very determined woman.

Adella Prentiss Hughes was a skilled musician, but her passion was promoting music, and she wanted more than anything to bring the classic sounds she heard in Europe to her hometown of Cleveland. Beginnng in the 1890’s, she organized concerts for other music buffs, but Adella felt strongly that Cleveland should have it’s own permanent orchestra. So, at a time when women were expected to devote their lives to their husbands and families, Adella worked in a male-dominated world and devoted herself to a fledging orchestra of local musicians. By 1918, her work paid off: The Cleveland Orchestra was official.

Although it was founded a women, the Cleveland Orchestra, at first, included only male musicians – and this was common among orchestras all around the world. But within a few years, the Cleveland Orchestra made history by becoming one of the first to hire female musicians.

But, in general, women musicians often did not have the opportunity to practice their craft after they finished school – especially if they happened to play an instrument that was considered more masculine. That’s right, traditionally, instruments were perceived as masculine or feminine -- and most female musicians only found work if they happened to play a stringed instrument, for instance.  

But this changed in 1935, when Cleveland Orchestra violinist Hyman Schandler saw the wasted potential of so many talented female musicians and began the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra. For the first time in Cleveland, this orchestra brought together local women of all ages and walks of life who had one thing in common: playing great music.

And the music continues to this day. The Cleveland Women’s Orchestra remains a group of passionate women making music together, 81 years later.

Instructional Links

Website Article: Cleveland Women's Orchestra, History & Archive

Online Reference Article: Points of View Reference Center, Gender Equality,ip,custuid&custid=infohio

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Magazine Article: Princeton Weekly Bulletin, Blind Auditions Key to Hiring Musicians

Online Reference Book: Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Adella Prentiss Hughes

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