Rights of a Woman

Words by "A Lady"; tune "God Save the King," 1795

Who is this song's audience? Women. What are the rights of women according to this song? What arguments does the song make for granting women these rights?

To what institution is women's situation compared? Slavery. What words refer to men? Foe, tyrant.

How do you think this song would have been received when it was published? By men? By women?

Why set it to "God Save the King"? What was the symbolism involved? What other songs were being set to "God Save the King" during this era?

The original words to this song referred to someone named "Wollstonecraft." Who was Mary Wollstonecraft? In her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she wrote:

    It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meanesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion, that they were created rather to feel than reason and that all the power they obtained, must be obtained by their charms and weakness.
 

Where in the song is this idea expressed? Do you agree that this is the root of most prejudice against women? Then? Now? Why?

Why might the listeners to this song not view her as a friend? What might happen if her ideas were accepted?

When did these ideas became widely accepted? When did they became law? What still remains to be done?


"Rights of a Woman" performed by Paula Purnell. All rights reserved. © 2004.

Another recording, using a group of female voices, is available via YouTube.

This recording simulates an actual performance with its varied, untrained voices, which gradually join in the singing and introduce some simple harmonies in the final verses.

View the music and lyrics for "Rights of a Woman."

A Vindiation of the rights of women
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman title page from the first American edition.

This song appeared in the Philadelphia Minerva on October 17, 1795, written by "A Lady." This publication was modeled on Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in England in 1792, right after Thomas Paine's Rights of Man. The use of "God Save the King" as the tune was likely inspired by its use for many other patriotic and political songs (see other uses of this tune in Unit 1).

The use of this tune, probably one of the earliest uses to support women’s suffrage, brought with it extramusical patriotic connotations, as well as the idea of God bestowing rights and support, not only to the King, but also to women. Using well-known tunes was helpful in getting women to rally and sing.

effulgence: Brilliance, splendor.

Wollstonecraft: Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97). English author of "Thoughts on the Education of Daughters" and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), which argued for equal education opportunities for women. She made the case that better education would make better mothers as well as prepare women for a trade.

Write new lyrics to the tune "God Save the King" that update this song to reflect the rights you think women have yet to achieve.

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