While men were the “professors” who opened music studios and developed community bands, or traveled from town to town as dancing masters, most local music teachers since the early 1900s have been women. — Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old Time Fiddlers in Missouri by Howard Wight Marshall
I always find it interesting to hear the stories of women and how they came to fiddle and how it fit into their lives. It seems rare that a woman took her music out of the home. I admire the women who played in public and appreciate the families who supported them. Here a few that I came across in Marshall’s book.
Sallie Goff (1892-1994) Sallie was the youngest of five children and the only girl. Her brothers all played fiddle, yet she was teased and discouraged from playing. She secretly played one of her brothers’ fiddle and taught herself. According to the book, she was in her 50’s when she finally got a fiddle of her own—a gift from her brother. After she was done raising children, she began to play again and passed down the family style of fiddling to her grand-niece, Carolyn Elwess.
Mrs. Lem Waterman (?-1974) – Her name was Harriet and she was married to a Baptist preacher. She played the Missouri contest circuit in the 1920’s. The men seemed to respond with amusement at the idea of a woman playing fiddle. She held her own and won over crowds with her spirited playing.
Altha Lamkins (1910-1998) Encouraged by her musical family, she performed her whole life, often with husband playing alongside her.
Lena Hughes (1904-1998) From the book: “Hughes fiddled in the family band and won a national fiddle title in Weiser Idaho in 1966.” In 2013, Tompkins Square released a collection of songs recorded in the 1960s on the album Queen of the Flat Top Guitar.