Women Organists in Georgian and early-Victorian Britain

In articles in Organist’s Review (February 2010) and The Organ Yearbook (Vol 39, 2010) I described the careers of some women organists in late-Georgian England (1750-1850). The date of 1850 clearly covers the early Victorian era but I had included women appointed as organists up to this date for two reasons: firstly, many women organists in post in 1850 will have been trained as musicians in late-Georgian England with its distinctive organs and styles of performance and, secondly, from 1850 many parish churches were reordered with the removal of west galleries, and this was accompanied by changes in the roles of women in the church.

The world of the Victorian women organists has been very well described by Judith Barger (Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England, Ashgate 2007) and my objective was to look at the situation of women organists in the preceding period, namely 1750-1850. As the first women organists were appointed in the 1750s it seemed an obvious starting point. My early articles focused on a few examples of Georgian women organists that I was aware of from my other research. However, during the preparation of the articles, and subsequently, I have uncovered the names of around two hundred women organists appointed during this period. These women were identified from a range of sources, such as directories, newspapers, church records and some secondary sources. The quite large number of women organists in the City of London during the Georgian period was first recognised by the late Donovan Dawe (Organists of the City of London 1666-1850, 1983 published by the author).

Following my talk at the 2022 RCO Winter Conference I have updated my database to include all the early women organists that I am aware of to date along with references for the information sources. A list of early women organists sorted alphabetically by name can be found here.

I a still searching through newspaper archives for further names but I would be most grateful details of any names known to you could be forwarded to me at info@signofthepipe.com

David Shuker   February 2022