Unbinding Gentility: Women Making Music in the Nineteenth-Century South

Hearing southern women in the pauses of history

Southern women of all classes, races, and walks of life practiced music during and after the Civil War. Candace Bailey examines the history of southern women through the lens of these musical pursuits, uncovering the ways that music’s transmission, education, circulation, and repertory help us understand its meaning in the women’s culture of the time. Bailey pays particular attention to the space between music as an ideal accomplishment—part of how people expected women to perform gentility—and a real practice—what women actually did. At the same time, her ethnographic reading of binder’s volumes, letters and diaries, and a wealth of other archival material informs new and vital interpretations of women’s place in southern culture. 

A fascinating collective portrait of women’s artistic and personal lives, Unbinding Gentility challenges entrenched assumptions about nineteenth-century music and the experiences of the southern women who made it.

Unbinding Gentility dismantles facile stereotypes about women’s music making in the nineteenth century in order to explore the complex intersections of women’s musical practices and social class, race, and region. Women whose experiences have been silenced or caricatured come to life in this richly researched and substantial history of the U.S. South. Bailey reveals how gentility was no predictor of social or economic status, that accomplishment was not solely the domain of white elite women, and that there is much we still need to learn from the material culture of women’s musical lives.”–Glenda Goodman, author of Cultivated by Hand: Amateur Musicians in the Early American Republic 

“The author’s archival work and the number of women musicians’ lives she has unearthed are remarkable. An extremely worthwhile contribution, particularly in its treatment of the changing nature of women’s repertoire and the rise of professional women musicians.”–Marian Wilson Kimber, author of The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word

Publication supported by grants from the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund and from the Donna Cardamone Jackson Fund, Joseph Kerman Fund, and General Fund of the American Musicological Society, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Available April 2021 from the University of Illinois Press.