“If You Want to Meet Men, Join the Band.”

A Three Part Look at Women’s Struggle to become Accepted in the Band.

Part 1

I was talking with one of our band members, Doris McNabb, and she shared some interesting insights into what is was like to be a woman in a concert or marching band when she joined during the depression.  Here is her story.

Early experiences that Doris had as a child in the Midwest set the scene for the difficulties she would face later as a female instrumentalist.

“My grandfather McNabb in the early part of the 20th century before there was public school music in Indiana took the restless young men on the farms, secured instruments and taught them how to play.  He formed a band that marched on holidays and gave weekly band concerts in the summer in the gazebo in Auburn, Indiana.

Every year in my grade school in Michigan we had a penny social on Halloween.  There was a big parade in costumes with prizes.  I was five years old.  Mickey Mouse was fairly new.  Another girl and I were dressed as Mickey and Minnie.  We were chosen for first prize.  Minnie was handed a prize, but when I took off my mask, the woman was surprised and said, “Oh, this is a boy’s gift.”  She kept it and walked away.”

Doris grew up with an insatiable desire to play an instrument:

“Finally, I was able to study a band instrument.  My father was a fine trumpet performer, my mother a pianist.  However, with a larger family than most during the depression, I had to wait.

Off my father and I went to the high school to see the instruments.  In those days I had to choose a girl’s instrument; either a flute or clarinet.  One had to purchase the instrument as no rental program existed.  The salesman said, “The Germans have just marched into Paris.  It may be difficult to obtain reeds.”  I chose the flute.

When I arrived at the University of Michigan, the band was made up of mostly men.  The few women in the band were not allowed to march in the marching band.  All of the men were required to march in the marching band.

The men could walk in the front door of the Women’s League.  Women were required to use the side door of the Men’s Union.

In 1955, I walked into a building dressed very neatly in pedal pushers.  The Dean of Women approached me in the hall and said, “You may not be here unless you are wearing a dress or a skirt.”

All of my instrumental teachers were men.  It was rare for a young woman to be pursuing instrumental music education as a major.  The clarinet teacher felt strongly about this.  He refused to give me the grade I had earned; he also wrote in my instruction book, “To Irma”. (a reference to “My Friend, Irma” a dumb blonde in a 1940’s radio station comedy).  A blonde definitely could not have any brains.  There was no recourse in those days.”

Doris may be diminutive and was obviously a blonde, but her desire to be a music educator held her in good stead.  She continues to this day to play in the Eagles Band and to give private lessons.  Doris persevered and even in her 80’s returns to the University of Michigan each year to march in the marching band during their homecoming football game.  Good on ya, Doris.

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