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Photo shows opera singer Sophie Braslau (1902-1935), a contralto who performed with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2009 and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia)
The beginning of the twentieth century was a period of dramatic change for women in the West. In the late Victorian period women were constricted by a patriarchal social structure. But the early twentieth century saw the creation of the Suffragette movement, the catalyst for the rapid social change that occurred over the rest of the century. With career options other than marriage and motherhood opening up to them, women engaged with politics, served in the two world wars, made an impact on the artistic and literary worlds and experienced social and sexual liberation. Between 1880 and 1910, the number of women employed in the United States increased from 2.6 million to 7.8 million. Women's organizations in towns and cities across the U.S. were working to promote suffrage, better schools, the regulation of child labor, women in unions, and liquor prohibition. By emphasizing traditional traits, female social reformers created new spaces for themselves in local and then national government even before they had the right to vote.
The Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1883, with its first opera house built on Broadway and 39th Street by a group of wealthy businessmen who wanted their own theater. In the company’s early years, the management changed course several times, first performing everything in Italian (even Carmen and Lohengrin), then everything in German (even Aida and Faust), before finally settling into a policy of performing most works in their original language, with some notable exceptions. The Metropolitan Opera has always engaged many of the world’s most important artists: Christine Nilsson, Marcella Sembrich, Lilli Lehmann, Nellie Melba, Emma Calvé, De Reszke brothers, Jean and Edouard, Emma Eames, Lillian Nordica, Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, Rosa Ponselle, Lawrence Tibbett and more. Some of the great conductors have helped shape the Met: Anton Seidl, Arturo Toscanini, Gustav Mahler, Artur Bodanzky, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Fritz Reiner, and Dimitri Mitropoulos.