Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Eleanor Sophia Smith, 1858-1942

By Maggi Smith-Dalton, Independent Scholar, Institute for Music, History, and Cultural Traditions/Singing String Music

Composer, Music Educator, Author, Founder/Director of Chicago Hull-House Music School, Musical and Political Progressive

The year after Illinois Governor Edward Fitzsimmons Dunne (1853-1937) signed a bill into law which greatly expanded women's suffrage rights, the extraordinarily gifted and prolific music director of Chicago's famed Hull-House Music School, Eleanor Smith, penned a stirring “Suffrage Song.” The music, with joyful marching rhythms, and an inspirational lilt to its melody, was ideal for energizing the progressive reform movement of women's rights. With lyrics by James Weber Linn (1876-1939), it called for “right” to “prevail over wrong,” and expressed confidence in “triumph.”

As she had always done, and would always do, Eleanor Sophia Smith, in philosophical and practical service to the Hull-House settlement's Progressive civic mission, channeled the power of music to address both head and heart. Always dedicated to the highest standards of musical discipline and artistic understanding, the music she wrote and taught also spurred energy towards useful action in the workaday world outside the classroom. Her musical contributions to the causes of reform, particularly political and labor reforms, like her purely pedagogical efforts, were shaped by hopes of engendering, as she termed it, an “intelligent patriotism.” Music was appreciated as a powerful democratizing force among those who struggled and strove.

She was a respected colleague of John Dewey (1859-1952) and held a variety of important academic appointments, working with him and others on revising and reforming the public school curriculum, especially as regarded music education.

As a progressive music educator on the Hull-House campus, through her staggering output of musical compositions and pedagogical works, and by becoming a leader in the larger educational reform movements in Chicago, Eleanor Smith bequeathed a rich and lasting legacy. Yet her musical activism has been overshadowed by the work of more famous activist women of Hull-House, such as its founder, Jane Addams (1860-1935).

Eleanor Sophia Smith, born on June 15,1858, in Atlanta, Illinois, grew up in a large family; her father had been a close friend and campaigner for Abraham Lincoln. She struggled with poor eyesight all her life, yet her musical talents and hunger for specialized training impelled her move to Berlin, Germany by the 1880s. She studied voice with Julius Hey (1832-1909) and composition with Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925). Autumn 1890 brought Smith to Chicago, where she began her teaching career at Hull-House. She became director of the new Hull-House Music School, established in 1893; this was the first settlement music school in the country.

For many of the following years she lived in Hull-House; for some years in the home of her friend Mary Rozet Smith (1868-1934) (who financed the school). After her retirement from the school in 1936, until her death from pneumonia on June 30, 1942, she lived with a relative in Midland, Michigan.

Smith was a member of the Chicago Woman's Club, Chickaming Country Club, North Side Branch Equal Suffrage League (later renamed the Chicago Equal Suffrage Association), and the Audubon Society.

In 1915, as Hull-House celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, Smith's “Suffrage Song,” along with her powerful and challenging “The Sweat Shop,” (evoking for both singer and listener the experience of being treated as a mere “machine” in one of the most common settings for the working poor) was published in a collection entitled, simply, “Hull-House Songs.” Other songs published in that collection included "The Land of the Noonday Night," (unsafe mining conditions) and "The Shadow Child," (evils of child labor). The songs used lyrics by a variety of poets and writers, and were selected to show the world at large what was most important to the leaders, residents, and community of Hull-House.

Through her long career at Hull-House, and through her textbook series, The Modern Music Series (1898) and The Eleanor Smith Music Series (1908), Smith was instrumental in founding “a new age in music education,” and one which presaged modern understanding of teaching to the “whole child,” not by rote, but by engagement. This approach was key to the music she wrote at Hull-House, evidencing her attitude towards progressive labor, social, and political reform—for such reforms to be organic to, not grafted on—wider democratic empowerment.


Eleanor Sophia Smith --Composer, Music Educator, Author, Founder/Director of Chicago Hull-House Music School, Musical and Political Progressive in School Music Journal, January 1909.


“100 Most Valuable Documents at the Illinois State Archives: 63. Illinois Suffrage Act (1913).” Office of the Illinois Secretary of State, Secretary of State Archivist.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes, Prairie State Books. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. Original edition, 1910.

Alper, Clifford D. 1980. "The Early Childhood Song Books of Eleanor Smith: Their Affinity with the Philosophy of Friedrich Froebel." Journal of Research in Music Education 28 (2):111-118. doi: 10.2307/3344819.

"Eleanor and Gertrude Smith papers, ca. 1890s-1930s." Eleanor and Gertrude Smith papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago,

Elrod, Pamela G. "Smith, Eleanor Sophia.” In Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001. 810-812

Elrod, Pamela Gail. Vocal Music at Hull-House, 1889–1942: An Overview of Choral and Singing Class Events and a Study of the Life and Works of Eleanor Smith, Founder of the Hull -House Music School. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001. Dissertation.

Hajo, Cathy Moran, Editor/Project Director. "Smith, Eleanor Sophia (1858-1942)." Ramapo College of New Jersey's Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies (SSHGS) Accessed February 25, 2019.

Lee, William R. “Smith, Eleanor.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Mlcoch, Jordan, Diana Boone, Laurel Wenckowski. "Hull House Songs by Eleanor Smith: A Primary Source Examination.” University of Alabama College of Arts & Sciences, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2019.

Smith, Eleanor. Hull-House Songs. Chicago: Clayton F. Summy Co., 1915.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; Susan B Anthony; Anna Howard Shaw; Jane Addams; Lucy Stone; Carrie Chapman Catt; Alice Paul; Emmeline Pankhurst; Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dame; Jane Addams; Susan B Anthony; Carrie Chapman Catt; Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dame; Emmeline Pankhurst; Alice Paul; Anna Howard Shaw; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Lucy Stone. Women of the Suffrage Movement: Memoirs & Biographies of the Most Influential Suffragettes. Madison & Adams Press, 2018. iBooks.

Stebner, Eleanor J. The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation, and Friendship. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1997.

Vaillant, Derek. Sounds of Reform: Progressivism and Music in Chicago, 1873-1935. Chapel Hill and London: UNC Press Books, 2003.

Woman's Who's Who of America:A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. John William Leonard, Editor-In-Chief. New York: The American Commonwealth Company. Original edition, 1914. [LINK]

Photo of Eleanor Sophia Smith from the January 1909 issue of The School Music Journal, page 96. accessed March 1, 2019

The Journal of School music. [An independent publication. Devoted to school music in all its phases. W.S.B. Mathewes, editor]. v. 1 (Oct. 1908-June 1909). Available from;view=1up;seq=9

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