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Women in Music – Ruth Crawford Seeger

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Ruth Crawford Seeger: Modernist Composer, Music Educator, Ethnomusicologist, and Mother

Ruth Crawford Seeger, Mike Seeger, Peggy Seeger and Charles Seeger, c. 1937 Library of Congress.
Ruth Crawford Seeger, Mike Seeger, Peggy Seeger and Charles Seeger, c. 1937. Library of Congress.

Before we get into our Mother's Day themed post, Women in Music: Ruth Crawford Seeger, I have an announcement: This marks the 101st Perennial Music and Arts post! This little music and arts education blog has come a long way since it began a little over five years ago in March 2016.

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Ruth Crawford Seeger

Photos of Ruth Crawford Seeger at ages 2, 8, 16, and 20s from The Ruth Seeger Press Kit

Ruth Porter Crawford was born in East Liverpool, Ohio on July 3, 1901. She was the second child of Clark Crawford, an itinerant Methodist minister, and Clara Graves Crawford. The family resided in Jacksonville, Florida when Clark died of tuberculosis in 1914. Her mother began operating a boarding house to support the family.

Fine_Arts_Building_410_South_Michigan_Avenue_Beyond My Ken
Fine Arts Building, 410 S Michigan Ave, Wikipedia

Growing up, Ruth was interested in writing poetry and had aspirations to be a poet. She began studying piano at the age of six, and after high school graduation, she entered Foster's School of Musical Art in Jacksonville to further study piano. The Foster School relocated to Miami in 1921, and Crawford continued her higher musical studies by enrolling in the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. (The American Conservatory operated from 1886–1991 and was located in what is now called the "Fine Arts Building" on Michigan Ave.)

Ruth Crawford: Modernist Composer

Ruth originally planned to stay at the conservatory for only a year, taking the one-year teaching certification course for piano. However, she stayed on, studying harmony (music theory) with John Palmer during her first year and counterpoint, orchestration, and composition with German-born, American composer Adolf Weidig Nov. 28, 1867 Sept. 23,1931) in subsequent years, who encourage her compositional efforts. In 1923, Clara relocated to Chicago to live with Ruth, and the following year, Ruth earned her bachelor's degree in music from the Conservatory and subsequently enrolled in the school's master's degree program. By 1924, at the age of only 22, Ruth had developed her "ultra-modernist" compositonal voice. Her early student works include her Piano Preludes (1924-1925), Sonata for Violin and Piano (1926), and Music for Small Orchestra (1926).