Women Composers of Ragtime
Featuring Hoosier Rag (1907) by Julia Lee Niebergall and other Rags Written by Women
By Ted Tjaden
published June 2006 and updated periodically)
There is a wonderful body of work of piano ragtime music composed by women. This body of work, however, tends to garner less visibility than the more well known "Big Three" ragtime composers (who happen to be male), Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph Lamb. Fortunately, a number of ragtime enthusiasts continue to research the role of women in ragtime composition. The goal of this essay is to provide access to the compositions and sheet music of women composers of ragtime. Included in these pages is a list of 864 rags or ragtime-era compositions by women, with 462 (or close to 54%) of those titles having the sheet music available (for free). Information is provided on the following topics:
1) Introduction to Women Composers of Ragtime [top]
Although ragtime music often conjures up a "male world" of a piano player banging out tunes in a smoke-filled saloon of men gambling, it is likely fair to suggest that women were prime consumers of ragtime-era sheet music and that women composers played a larger role than many might assume. In particular, Indiana and the American mid-West tended to produce a disproportionately large number of female composers of ragtime music. Max Morath is rightfully given credit during the ragtime revival for focusing attention on the role of female composers of rags (see his article on ragtime women). More recently, Perfessor Bill Edwards has an online article devoted to female ragtime composers and ragtimer Nora Hulse has recorded and published a large number of rare and interesting rags by women. Nan Bostick, also discussed below, was heavily involved in research on women composers of ragtime).
Although many female composers of rags wrote only a single rag, either as a hobby, a puff piece or because of their personal circumstances (for example, a number of female composers appeared to stop composing after getting married), there are a number of female composers of rags who were quite prolific. Some composers (and entertainers), such as May Irwin, in fact became quite wealthy as a result of their work.
Some of the more well known or prolific female composers of rags are set out below alphabetically by surname, with the number of compositions included in my lists indicated in parentheses (realize of course that my lists are not exhaustive or complete; some researchers suggest that Sadie Koninsky, for example, composed hundreds of compositions; for now, I have been only able to confirm 35 of them):
** Note: see here for information suggesting Maria Louka was a pseudonym for Johann C Schmid.
My lists of female composers of rags in section 3 below are broad and inclusive and include female composers of not only "pure" rags but also composers of marches, waltzes and other ragtime-era compositions; as such, I include on my lists a number of female composers that do not appear on standard lists of female ragtime composers.
2) Profiles of Important Female Ragtime Composers [top]
I had initially planned in this essay to provide summaries of the lives of some of the major female composers of ragtime music. However, in conducting my research, I felt that sufficient work was being done by others in this area that I could instead focus on providing access to the sheet music of rags composed by women. Some of the resources useful for finding out more information on women composers of ragtime include but are not limited to the following:
A challenge in researching female composers of rags is that a number of rags have been published where the composer's given/first name is set out only in initials, and it is therefore not always easy to identify the gender of the composer (in fact, because of the different social conditions in the ragtime era, many female composers may have felt obliged to hide their gender by using initials).
Although I didn't use the following databases in compiling my list of ragtime compositions by women, other researchers may find the database useful. It is a searchable database created by Christopher Reynolds (University of California, Davis) and is entitled "Women Song Composers: A Listing of Songs Published in the United States and England, ca 1890-1930." The database contains 5,116 compositions and can be accessed here.
There are a number of contemporary female ragtime personalities who are active in composing, performing, or recording ragtime:
3) Sheet Music for Rags Composed by Women [top]
There are currently 830 ragtime or ragtime-era compositions by female composers listed on this site, with close to half of the titles containing (free) links to the sheet music for those compositions. Due to the large number of entries in my lists, I was obliged to divide the lists into four separate pages by composer surname to keep the lengths of each page to a reasonable limit. I compiled these lists of compositions of rags by women using the following sources:
Where the sheet music is in the public domain and available online, I provide links to the sheet music and cover for the composition. Where the sheet music is not available online, I indicate in parentheses the print source for the sheet music or the source where the composition is mentioned.
4) Commercial Recordings of Rags Composed by Women [top]
Max Morath was one of the early ragtime pioneers to feature recordings of rags composed by women with his 1977 Vanguard Records album entitled The Ragtime Women which contains the following compositions:
Nora Hulse, in addition to recently authoring the excellent article with Nan Bostick on female ragtime composers, has recorded a number of CDs and produced folios of ragtime sheet music of rags composed by women. Her CDs include:
In addition, Nan Bostick recorded a CD with Tom Brier entitled Missing You at the McCoys that contains a number of rags composed by women.
5) Bibliography [top]
Set out below is a fairly complete list of books and articles that discuss the role of women in ragtime music.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: May 2015.