Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Gordon Wilson, West Richards, Finley Grise

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Every American knows some of Stephen Collins Foster's songs, but not everyone who sings My Old Kentucky Home and Old Folks at Home realizes that it was he who wrote those songs. Of the two hundred songs and compositions which Foster published, at least fifteen are constantly sung. Since these songs voice emotions which are fundamental to mankind, they have become more important than the composer himself. For this reason they may be called folk-songs, and because they voice so truly the spirit of America, America is proud to claim them as her own.

The title of this thesis, Stephen Collins Foster & His Folk-songs, aptly describes the objective of the work, namely, to present the life of the man as a key to his works and to point out his distinctive contributions to the folk-song of America. To the text illustrations have been added that are intimately related to the subject-matter of the chapters in which they appear.

Although much intensive and splendid research has been done by the Foster Hall staff in this field, the writer has no knowledge of an individual work which treats the subject in the manner that she has chosen. The thesis is divided into five chapters. Chapter I considers the life of the composer as a background for his works and the influences which were predominant in molding his melodies. His works form an autobiography of the man himself, representing him in his different moods. The laughing, buoyant song Oh! Susanna depicts the Foster who loved the minstrel show and the serenading parties with friends. The homesick songs Old Black Joe, Old Kentucky Home and Old Folks at Home are probably the greatest of his works because they speak of the emotion that was deepest in the heart of their creator, the love for home. Chapter III takes up an individual treatment of the world-sung melody The Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight. Chapter IV points out the Foster shrines in America. Chapter V undertakes to summarize his distinctive contributions to American music and represents him as the creator of songs strictly American in origin, nature and treatment.


Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | Composition | English Language and Literature | History | Literature in English, North America | Music | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social History | United States History