New York Times music critic Stephen Holden’s line about Shaina Taub—that she is a gravitational force “around whom others cluster like filings to a magnet”—came powerfully to mind on Monday night inside the Radcliffe Institute’s Knafel Center, where the singer-songwriter (and actor-dancer-musician-dramatist) held the stage for nearly three hours. As part of a celebration for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (which is closed now for renovations through Tuesday, November 6), Taub and eight other singers, all women, performed a dozen songs from her musical-in-progress about the American Suffragist movement.
The musical’s working title is “The Suffragists,” and throughout the performance, Taub stood at the center of the group, calling out musical numbers and filling in narrative blanks for the packed audience, as she and the others moved from song to song. Afterward, a panel discussion on the play and its subject turned into an extended Q&A with Taub, as the four academics who’d joined her on stage—scholars of history and music and gender studies—swiveled toward her to ask one excited question after another. Introducing the event, Radcliffe dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin reminded the audience that the women’s suffrage movement seems perhaps especially timely now: “We’re confronted on a daily basis by the reality that various forms of political and social exclusion are still commonplace for many Americans.”