"You Gals Who Want to Be Free": A Feminist Perspective on the Evolution of Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid"

Emily S. P. Baxter

Abstract


Folk songs are a specific kind of poetry. They are symbolic and rhetorical. They are also, although it seems contradictory, both contextual and universal. “Union Maid” exemplifies this, maintaining cultural relevancy at nearly seventy-five years old. Yet the ways in which it has evolved over time play out many of the “grand tropes” of women’s, especially women workers’, history in the United States. There were other “women’s union songs” written around the same time as “Union Maid,” but this song has had a particular sticking-place in the feminist-folk-labor imagination and it is particularly ripe for a feminist analysis. This essay explores “Union Maid” as a changing song and examines its place within understandings of American women’s labor history.


Keywords


Woody Guthrie; “Union Maid”; feminism; gender; labor; unions; Pete Seeger; Annie Mae Merriwether

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