Father’s a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead

by Mrs. E. A. Parkhurst (1866, Connecticut College, Greer Music Library)

with Scott Schwartz, director and archivist

Susan McFarland Parkhurst, better known as Mrs. E. A. Parkhurst, was a prolific composer of parlor piano songs during the 1860s.  Her most recognized composition, Father’s a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead, remained a popular temperance song of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union throughout the late nineteenth century. 

A sheet music cover with the title and composer in a florid script.
“Father’s a Drunkard and Mother is Dead” (1866)

This sentimental song about Little Bessie, laments the loss of her mother, fruitless hunts for work, and a lay-about father more interested in his next saloon drink than his daughter.   Bessie’s story begins,

 Out in the gloomy night, sadly I roam,
 I have no mother dear, no pleasant home.
 Nobody cares for me, no one would cry
 Even if poor little Bessie should die.
 Barefoot and tir’d, I’ve wander’d all day,
 Asking for work, but I’m too small they say.
 On the damp ground, I must now lay my head;
 Father’s a drunkard and Mother is dead! 
“Father’s A Drunkard, And Mother Is Dead” from The Hand That Holds The Bread: Progress and Protest in the Gilded Age Songs from the Civil War to the Columbian Exposition by Faith Prince. Released: 1997.