A Ladies' Orchestra
31 December 2009
Posted by Mike Brubaker
Here is a well dressed ensemble from around 1910. A typical women's orchestra of the early 20th century with a gentleman as the director. Note the horn player standing next to him. There are no clues as to the identity of this group but they seem like a professional group, covering all the strings, most of the woodwinds and brass, and one tympanist too.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, women had just begun to establish their musical credentials and these ladies' orchestras were mainly from the centers of artistic culture and musical education, such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cleveland. Since major orchestras excluded women at this time, the ladies formed smaller ensembles that toured the country performing on the Chautauqua Circuit. Almost all were led by a man, perhaps to demonstrate a group's respectable and chaste character compared to vaudeville and theater performers. You can learn more about the unique history of the Chautauqua here: traveling-culture/essay.htm
I like the relaxed and slightly informal quality of this photo. It was printed in Canada as a postcard, probably between 1904 and 1918, and no doubt used for promotion of the group. Perhaps these are Canadians? By their dresses and the formal wear of their conductor, I'd date them around 1910 - 1915. The percussion is interesting too, as tympani are uncommon in photos but tubular bells are often found. What music used them? Perhaps they were more for demonstrating a "sophisticated" orchestra.