Tower goes even further and calls attention to the often-implicit assumption that classical music is predominantly male. This assumption, rather unfortunately, has a long history within the classical music sphere. Although there have been many notable exceptions (Hildegard von Bingen, Anna Bon, Clara Wieck Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, amongst others), women have historically faced extensive barriers when entering classical music as both composers and performers. During the eighteenth century in particular, as the same ideas about music that Copland eventually rejected were being formed and solidified, women were not allowed entry into the majority of educational institutions and many, particularly those of the white upper-class, were expected to stay home amidst the growing cultural emphasis on the nuclear family and domesticity. Women that did participate in music were often limited in their choice of instrumentation, and most were expected to learn the piano (which had also become more common in middle class homes thanks to the industrial revolution making their production much easier and more affordable to the consumer), with some also learning to play harp or guitar. It was not until the 1870s that string instruments became more acceptable and common for women to play, but female wind and brass players were still rare. Interestingly, women did make up the majority of music teachers in 1870. Although women only made up 2% of professional musicians, they made up nearly 60% of music teachers.
Women did not fare much better in the realm of composition. In 1895, George Upton, the music critic for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a book titled Woman in Music, that considered why in his estimation there had not been any great female composers included in the western musical canon amongst the so-called “greats” like Beethoven or Mozart. Rather than considering the lack of resources and the barring of women from educational institutions, Upton concludes that women’s emotions are too great to channel into music and that they are not scientifically or mathematically suited for musical greatness (feel free to roll your eyes here). Of course, we now know these assertions are rife with problematic ideas about gender and, to be blunt, completely wrong. However, in its day, these ideas were taken much more seriously, especially because they were coming from a respected music critic. Despite women’s success in other arts, such as painting and writing (which Upton actually does recognize), writing meaningful music was thought to be out of women’s grasp.