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Playing Along: Music and Women’s Education in the Nineteenth Century


The course of women’s education in the United States changed drastically during the nineteenth century, shifting from “French” finishing schools which treated education as an accomplishment to the first women’s colleges which sought to compete with longstanding academic institutions reserved for men. One facet of education that shows this transformation is music, which began the century as an ornament to a woman’s education but came to be regarded as a scientific and academic study by the end of the century. The visual arts show this change through the depiction of educated women with instruments. The portrait of Adèle Sigoigne by Thomas Sully from 1829 and Thomas Dewing’s Lady with a Lute from 1886 both feature women with instruments from opposite ends of the century and reveal the evolution in musical education for women from accomplishment to academic discipline. Through the analysis of these works, conclusions can be drawn about nineteenth century sensibilities regarding education, music, and femininity.

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