Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

English composer and a member of the women’s suffrage movement.

Quote: “I feel I must fight for [my music], because I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs; not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea.”



  • Ethel Smyth was born April 22, 1858 in London, England. She was the fourth of eight children
  • At 17, she studied music with Alexander Ewing. Her father did not approve and stopped the lessons. At 19 and old enough to travel on her own, she defied her father and went to Leipzig and studied music at the Conservatoire. There she met Brahms, Cara Schumann, Grieg, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and others.
  • In 1910, Smyth met Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the founders of the British suffrage movement, and head of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Smyth took two years off from her music career to devote her time to women’s rights and suffrage activism. During this time, she wrote The March of Women, 1911, a piece that later became the battle cry for the British Women’s Movement.
  • In 1922, Smyth was appointed D.B.E for her service to music and became known as Dame Ethel Smyth. In 1926 she became the first female recipient of an honorary doctorate in music from Oxford University.
  • Smyth passed away in 1944 from pneumonia.

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