Music has always been Julie Panke's No. 1 passion. History, however, women's history in particular, is a very close second these days.
Director of the 105-year-old Thursday Musical Club based in Schenectady, Panke has been immersing herself into the Women's Suffrage Movement of the early 20th century, and learning as much as she can about women such as Harriet Leonard Colburn, Izetta Jewel Kenney Miller and Lucia Oliviere. All three women were suffragists of the 20th century and all three spent a major part of their adult lives in Schenectady.
To honor those women and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in New York, Panke and the Thursday Musical Club will present a special concert, "Songs for Suffrage, Voices for Votes," at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Carl B. Auditorium at Schenectady County Community College. Women earned the right to vote in 1917 when the all-male electorate voted in favor of women's suffrage. Women in New York first participated in the election of 1918.
"I thought the topic of women's suffrage would be perfect for a women's choir," said Panke, a Wisconsin native who moved to the Capital Region back in 1979 after getting her graduate degree in music from SUNY-Buffalo. "So I started doing some research about the Women's Suffrage Movement, found some very interesting women right here in the Schenectady area, and I thought a concert would be a great way to honor them."
Panke originally got the idea after attending a Musicians of Ma'alwyck concert, "A Declaration of Sentiments", at Druthers in Albany in March of 2016. The Siena College Chorus and Chamber Singers were also a part of the event.
"The Musicians of Ma'alwyck and the Siena College choir put on a wonderful concert with music written specifically for the event," said Panke. "The Declaration of Sentiments was based on an 1874 petition to Congress by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage. They used notes from these three women during the middle section of the performance to honor these three women, and I'm so happy I went. I thought it'd be a great idea to build a program around women in the Schenectady area."
Panke didn't have any trouble finding women involved in the movement. Oliviere, born Lucinda Newell in North River in 1855, was part of Schenectady's Socialist movement during the first two decades of the 20th Century. While she helped secure the vote in New York, she didn't have any success running for local and state-wide office as a Socialist. She wrote for The Citizen, a Socialist newspaper in Schenectady, and when General Electric scientist Charles P. Steinmetz died in 1923, a poem she wrote about him was published in the New York Times.
As for Colburn and Miller, Panke had plenty of help digging up information on those two women. Darlene Lee, former president of the Schenectady Republican Woman's Club, is writing a book about Colburn, and Anne Rockwood, a freelance writer from Galway, hopes to produce a work on Miller.
Colburn, born in 1856 in Detroit, lived in Schenectady from 1900-1935 and was instrumental in the formation of the Schenectady County Historical Society, the Schenectada Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Music Teachers Association and the Schenectady Republican Women's Club.
"I like Harriet because she lived a life with purpose," said Lee. "You have to admire a woman who was instrumental in forming organizations that still exist more than 100 years later. I find Hattie's life personal and relatable to many women in Schenectady who generously volunteer their time and talent for the greater good. She faced the challenges of opposition with strength and determination."
Lee said she is thrilled to be involved in the Thursday Musical Club's 105th spring concert.
"It gives me an opportunity to be transported back in time to experience what moved women to support legislation guaranteeing women the right to vote. I want to hear the words they sang and feel the passion in the music. I am looking forward to meeting lots of women, a new generation of women who feel like I do. It is their challenge to carry on with the mission. I leave them with this question. Who's your Hattie?"
Miller was born in 1883 in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and became a popular Broadway actress. She was very involved in the Suffrage Movement, but she didn't move to Schenectady until 1927 when she married Union College professor Hugh Miller. In 1928 Miller was a part of WGY's historic "A Queen's Messenger" broadcast, the first-ever radio drama.
"Izetta blazed a trail for the rest of us, as a suffragist, as an early candidate for political office, throughout her career, and in her efforts for equal rights," said Rockwood, who helped put together an exhibit on Miller at miSci lasts year and currently on display at the Galway Library. "She was widowed with a young child and faced numerous challenges as a result. At the time, not only did women not have the right to vote, laws restricted their rights to inheritance, including guardianship of their own children."
Long-time area pianist Elinore Farnum will accompany the Thursday Musical Club, while also performing in Wednesday's event along will be "Totally Pitchin,'" the student a cappella chorus at SCCC. Among the songs to be performed are "Petition," set to music by Katie Ballantyne of Ithaca, and "Ain't I a Woman," taken from the text of Sojourner Truth's speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851. Also in the program will be Native American Dawn Standing Woman, who will speak about the influence of Mohawk culture to the suffrage movement, and Eric Marczak, an expert on Native American flutes.
Formed in 1913 by Elizabeth Jones, the wife of a GE executive who lived on Avon Street in the GE Realty Plot. The Thursday Musical Club currently consists of about 30 women, and meets under Panke's direction for rehearsal once a week at the First United Methodist Church in Schenectady.
Until recently the choir director at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady for 17 years, Panke also serves as artistic director for the Festival Celebration Choir, an ecumenical chorus which rehearses at the First Lutheran Church on Western Avenue in Albany.
'Songs for Suffrage'
WHERE: Carl B. Taylor Auditorium at Schenectady County Community College
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
HOW MUCH: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, free for SCCC students
MORE INFO: Visit www.tmcsingers.org