Our History

Lecture by Mary Ellen Kitchens about the Archives in English (video)

How it all began…

Over 30 years ago, conductor Elke Mascha Blankenburg published an article about forgotten women composers in the magazine emma (link to the German original p. 44-46). A little while later, female musicians from all over the world came together to form a working group. They and the members of the Working Group of Women and Music soon followed Blankenburg’s call to “dig out and perform compositions by women”. By October 1979 there had been four working group meetings; the number of members shot up to over 100. The members of the original board were: Elke Mascha Blankenburg as first chairperson, Siegrid Ernst as second chairperson, and as third chair person, Barbara Heller. In 2009 the Archive of Women in Music celebrated their first 30 years with various jubilee events.

Why an archive?

“Asking whether there are female composers  begs the next question:  Where are their works?” said Renate Matthei, Chair of the Board of the Working Group of Women and Music from 1992 to 2013. The founders of the Archive, too, must have asked themselves this question. Elke Mascha Blankenburg began to sort through the entire collection of sheet music at the Institute of Musicology in Cologne, coming across an unusually high number of female composers: “I was bursting with excitement. How would this music sound? Would it be as good as the music by male colleagues? How did these women live?” Her discovery triggered even more intensive research in this area, which continues today. Within only a year, with help from the members of the International Working Group of Women and Music, 300 female composers’ names had been found in various music libraries. The Archive of Women in Music was born.

What happened next…

What started primarily as a private initiative soon grew into an important institution in the area of women and music. After seven years of voluntary activity, a fixed financial grant made it possible to fund regular and qualified work by permanent employees. In addition, with the help of the city of Kassel, the Archive moved into its own premises for the first time. After three further moves, the Archive now resides in hoffmanns höfe, Frankfurt am Main, where it has found not only a fixed home within an excellent infrastructure, but also a place in the cultural life of the city on the Main.

The Archive is run by the board of the International Working Group of Women and Music. From 2009 to 2013 the board consisted of: Renate Brosch from 1994, Angelika Seegers from 2009 and Renate Matthei from 1992. Since 2013 the board members have been Mary Ellen Kitchens, Dr. Vivienne Olive and Dr. Vera Lasch. Since the end of 2015 the board members are Mary Ellen Kitchens, Dr. Vera Lasch and Heike Matthiesen (extended board: Dr. Vivienne Olive).


In the past, the Archive of Women in Music has received the following prizes and awards:
Kulturförderpreis der Stadt Kassel (City of Kassel Culture Award, 1994) | Förderpreis der Dr.-Wolfgang-Zippel-Stiftung (Dr.-Wolfgang-Zippel-Stiftung Award, 1996) | Förderpreis der Paul-Dierichs-Stiftung Kassel (Paul-Dierichs-Stiftung Kassel Award, 1999)