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    The first woman to run for office in the San Francisco Musicians’ Union Local 6 was Elsa Melville, who stood for the board of directors during the December 1932 election. Little is known about Melville, who was likely a member of the San Francisco Symphony. A 1923 “Illustrated Daily Herald” article said she was an English cellist, making a Bohemian Club guest appearance with the Symphonic Ensemble players, presented by Alexander Saslavsky.

    Her entry, however, into the all-male election must have caused an uproar because an article in her defense appeared in The Musical News for January 1933, just after the election. Examination of election results shows 22 people ran for seven board seats, which suggests significant dissatisfaction with the union’s leadership.

Women on the Board of Directors
By Joseph W. Walker

I was asked on election day and many times since if I approved of a woman on the board of directors. My answer is absolutely, “Yes.” We have quite a number of women in our membership who pay the same dues and are amenable to the same laws as are the men. Surely, then, they are entitled to representation in our official affairs.

It has been said that when a woman goes into court she gets all the best of it on account of sex. It has also been said–and with a modicum of truth–that she is more severe in dealing with her own sex than men are. Accepting these sayings as truth, it would appear that a woman upon a board would indeed be a blessing, for if one of our lady members appeared before the directors asking for a favor, or being called upon the carpet for some infraction, the women member of the board would probably see that there was no favoritisim shown on account of sex. On the other hand, if a male should appear before the same tribunal and the “Dear Sirs and Brothers” were inclined to be severe, our woman director would more than likely look upon him as mere man with all the failings and faults that go to make up masculinity, and more than likely would be inclined to temper justice with mercy.

She would therefore act as a sort of a balance wheel. Now you all know what happens when the balance wheel of your watch doesn’t properly function; your watch doesn’t properly function; your time piece is no good. When the balance wheel of business is not working properly, we have times such as we are passing through now. When the balance wheel of government starts to wobble, you have a lop- sided administration.

So I say that a woman on the board would act as a sort of mental gyroscope to stabilize the ship of state, and keep it on an even keel.

That my opinion is shared by many others is shown by the fact that 351 votes were cast for Elsa Melville at the last election, and I might remark that Elsa is not only a thorough musician with a world of experience in every branch of our art, but is also endowed with a superabundance of reason and good common sense.

If during the coming year, as sometimes happens, a vacancy should appear upon the Board, I would like to see this lady appointed to fill that vacancy, for I am sure that such an appointment would be ratified by any meeting to which it were referred.

Having arrived at the end of this broadcast, I will leave you all with the greetings of the season. This is Station JOE, now signing off, to be back again some time, I hope.

The Musical News
San Franisco, January 1933

Results published in the January 1933 The Musical News show 1337 votes cast by a membership of approximately 2500, though at the time–the depths of the Depression–about 400 members, more than 15 percent, had been suspended for failure to pay dues. Melville’s 351 votes ranked her eleventh of 22 board candidates. She did not run again in 1933.

A Message of Thanks

In thanking the membership for the excellent vote cast for me as a candidate for Board of Directors at the recent election, I am reminded of Robert Ingersoll, who, when asked to address a gathering of Unitarians, told them he felt that they had complimented themselves as much as him, in showing their liberal-mindedness by inviting him.

In the same way, I feel that our San Francisco musicians have proved that they are getting away from the old prejudice against women holding office.

You may know that in Canada, at one time, a woman was not admitted to the bar to practice law, although she had passed all the necessary examinations, on the ground "that a woman was not a person." We have certainly gone a long way since those days, and now we know that women are persons, and even, sometimes, personages.

Of course we know that brilliant women are in the minority compared with brilliant men, but that is because this has been a man’s age. Signs are not wanting, however, that another woman’s age is on the horizon.

Alfred Hertz created an admirable precedent (in this country) when he introduced women into the symphony orchestra and certainly nobody can claim that anything but good has been occasioned thereby.

Now on behalf, not only of our own women members, but women in the aggregate, I wish to take this opportunity of thanking Joseph W. Walker for his kind and admirable article in the January Musical News. Mr. Walker is, in my opinion, one of the big men in our organization. Many of our members may not know that he has had a very successful executive career, and is an able scientist and inventor.

In conclusion I cannot help feeling that a sincere personal compliment has been paid me for this, I thank you all.

Better luck next time.


The Musical News
San Francisco, February 1933

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