Frances Keyes’s feelings towards politics and segregationist policies have always been vaguely alluded to, and while she did advocate on the behalf of a maternity bill, and eventually wrote about warming up towards women’s suffrage, these are some of her few openly political moments. Frances tended to avoid politics and did her best to keep away from controversy. That is why when the Daughters of the American Revolution became entangled in a scandal of their own making, it was shocking that Frances was involved in the organization, and that she would resign so suddenly just months later.
In the early months of 1939, singer Marian Anderson requested to book an Easter Sunday performance at Constitution Hall, a concert hall owned and operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In late February, the news broke that she was denied, and the country went into uproar. Within a few short days, the DAR was being lambasted in the press for its discriminatory practices in the nation’s capital. They were called pagans, un-American, betrayers of democracy, mothers of fascism, and one writer declared they had given “Hitler, Goebbels, and the Nazi press of Germany a very happy half hour.”
For Roosevelt, the approval rating for her decision was at 67% across the nation, regardless of political affiliation. Roosevelt then helped sponsor Anderson’s performance at an open concert for the same day at the Lincoln Memorial. An estimated 75,000 people attended, and Anderson was introduced by Secretary Ickes, a critic of the DAR. While he never mentioned the DAR directly, he noted that there were those “even in this great capital of our democratic Republic, who are either too timid or too indifferent to lift up the light that Jefferson and Lincoln carried aloft.”
The DAR’s Reaction
An initial but unofficial explanation for their refusal to let Anderson sing was because Constitution Hall was engaged that afternoon, and they claimed the policy was such as to not allow two competing attractions on the same day. This was disputed by Anderson’s manager who petitioned the DAR to reconsider its ban on Anderson and allow her to perform on April 8th or 10th, when the hall was unengaged and reportedly available to white artists, but Anderson was still rejected.
It was not until a week after Anderson’s concert that the DAR issued their first official statement about the incident. In her message at the annual convention for DAR members, President General Sarah Roberts stated the rejection of Anderson derived from a policy put in place after an “unpleasant experience” and in conformity with the “conditions and customs” prevalent in Washington D.C. This “unpleasant experience” led to a “whites only” clause in the contracts of performers at Constitution Hall. It was created after a singer refused to perform for a segregated audience where black patrons were delegated to the balconies and after complaints from white patrons of having to share the space during performances.
Mrs. Roberts felt it was not the DAR’s place to create social change, but rather they would adjust and adapt as society changed. At no point in her speech did she mention the incident or Marian Anderson by name. There is also a notable absence of Anderson and the event in the meeting minutes of the heads of the DAR, except for them to agree to continue to uphold their policies on Constitution Hall.
“Asks D.A.R. to Reconsider.” New York Times, April 20, 1939.
“D.A.R. Explains Action on Singer.” New York Times, April 19, 1939.
“Asks D.A.R. to Open Hall.” New York Times, April 17, 1939.
“Throng Honors Marian Anderson in Concert at Lincoln Memorial.” New York Times, April 10, 1939.
“Protests Anderson Ban.” New York Times, March 27, 1939.
“Mrs. Roosevelt Approved.” New York Times, March 19, 1939.
“McConnell calls D.A.R. Mother’s of Fascism.” New York Times, March 16, 1939.
“Ban on Singer Declared ‘Pagan’.” New York Times, March 5, 1939.
“Ickes Taxes D.A.R. on Barring Singer.” New York Times, March 3, 1939.
“Protests on D.A.R. Ban Against Singer Grown.” New York Times, March 2,1939.
“Friends Press Case on Marian Anderson.” New York Times, March 1, 1939.
“Mrs. Roosevelt Indicates She Has Resigned from D.A.R. Over Refusal of Hall to Negro.” New York Times, February 28, 1939.
“From the Mail Pouch: Miss Anderson and the D.A.R.” New York Times, February 26, 1939.
“Anderson Ban Protested.” New York Times, February 23, 1939.
“Minutes: National Board of Management.” February 1, 1939.