This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Friendly Maids of WEEI

31 October 2015

Music depicts the beauty of sound. And very often beauty portrays the allure of music. A beautiful young violinist turns her gaze away from a moon-like vignette of a man. His name is crudely painted below his face – FREDDY.

They make a very romantic arrangement, but the couple are part of a larger image of five women, a musical quintet called The Friendly Maids of WEEI.  Marge is our violinist. On the left is Ethel on flute; Lilian on string bass; and on the the right, Mildred with her elbow on a piano; and Elizabeth on cello.

There's a saxophone too.

Postcards like this were a useful promotional material for a radio station. Based on the requests from listeners, the station management could judge both the popularity and signal strength of its programs. Since this new medium of show business lacked the visual cues of theatrical stage and cinema, programming needed a hook to attract an audience. Female musicians had a special appeal that worked for radio.

Radio Digest
March 1928

In 1928 this group provided music for WEEI radio, broadcasting from Boston, Massachusetts. If you tuned carefully to 590 kHz you could hear them play daily from 11:15 to 12, and after a short break for the noontime news, once again from 12:15 to 12:45 pm. The station's call letters came from the first owner of the station, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company, which began transmitting its signal on September 29, 1924.

Like many radio stations around the country, WEEI had a slogan, "The Friendly Voice", hence the name for the Friendly Maids. They appeared at midday after the 6:45-8 exercises; 8-8:45 musicale; 10-11:15 home service features. The afternoon brought market and garden reports with varied musical features. The evening changed to entertainment produced by NBC's Red Network in New York, which included symphony and band concerts.

One of the WEEI announcers was named Frederick Hawkins, and I suspect that Frederick is Freddy. He probably read the news with a great baritone voice too.

* * *

The earliest mention that I found of the Friendly Maids of WEEI was in newspaper radio schedules for 1927. Some time after 1928, they became the Metropolitan Dutch Girls. Even though it was radio, they still had to dress the part, and this next clipping shows the quintet in elaborate Dutch folk costumes, complete with wooden clogs. A footwear that must have annoyed WEEI's sound engineer to no end whenever any of them tapped a foot to the music.

Source:  Diana Lewis Burgin All Rights Reserved.

The image gives us the full names of the Friendly Maids: Lillian Arnold, string bass; Mildred Goodwin, piano; Ethel Hobart, flute; Elizabeth Lobdell, cello; and Marjorie Posselt, violin, who was the leader of the quintet. (Hobart was misspelled Kobart) I don't believe any of them was of Dutch ancestry, so I presume the name, Metropolitan Dutch Girls (which I found as a full name on several radio schedules) came from an advertiser's sponsorship. I don't know if this was their everyday dress for broadcasts.

I discovered their names from a family history blog about Ruth Posselt, a noted Boston concert violinist, whose first teacher was her older sister Marjorie Posselt. This excerpt from the blog of Ruth's descendant, Diana Lewis Burgin, gives the family details. 
 Ruth’s father, Emil Posselt, came from a musical family in Dresden Germany and emigrated to the US as a teenager in a German orchestra in 1885. He was a violist, violinist, and played several band instruments. According to family tradition, he toured with Nellie Melba when she concertized in the United States. A proud member of the musicians’ union (Boston local) Emil made a modest living as a freelance musician and music teacher. In 1893 he married Ida Lewis Pierce from Middleboro Massachusetts, whose forebears traced their lineage to the Mayflower and Anne pilgrims. Ida was a graduate of the Bridgewater Normal School and a singer; her sisters were all professional musicians and one of them, Maud Pierce Allan, had a career on the stage and in the movies. Emil and Ida also had 7 children: Gladys, Molly, Marjorie, Emil, Grace, Naomi and Ruth. All except Naomi had musical talent and Gladys, Marjorie and Grace made careers in music. Marjorie was Ruth’s first teacher, and Gladys was Ruth’s accompanist for several years before Ruth went to Europe. Later, Gladys married Emanuel Ondricek, a well-known Czech violinist and pedagogue and Ruth’s main teacher.
                                           Copyright © 2007 Diana Lewis Burgin. All Rights Reserved.

Majorie Posselt was born in 1897 and was already a professional musician before she began work at WEEI. In 1926 Ethel Hobart, Elizabeth Lobdell, and Mildred Goodwin were all featured on WEEI radio as a flute, cello, and piano trio. On the 1920 census for Boston, Lilian Arnold, born in 1898, listed her occupation as Musician, orchestra. Then, as now, Boston was an important center for musicians, especially female musicians, and it had a long history of successful ladies orchestras and bands. Clearly the Friendly Maids / Dutch Girls quintet of WEEI were accomplished performers when they posed for the photographer. In an earlier decade they would be just a minor Bostonian chamber music group. But in 1927, they became something more.

It was the age of radio.

Radio Age
March 1927

The first radio broadcasts in the United States began in 1920, but there was a limited audience because there were so few radios. For all their simplicity, the early crystal sets required delicate tuning and lacked speakers, making it difficult to hear through a small earpiece. Over the next few years, radio technology changed rapidly, as enthusiasts struggled to understand complicated assemblies of vacuum tubes, electrical power - both AC and DC, aerial antennas, ground wires, speaker cones, and cabinets. The first magazines with a radio theme were designed to appeal to a geeky masculine readership with pages filled with electronic diagrams and detailed analysis of the latest advances in wireless science.

This first period of the radio age was all about basic communication. Music and entertainment was secondary. Three covers from 1927 issues of Radio Age illustrate this point.

* * *

Radio Age
May-June 1927

Presumably the runaway steam locomotive about to go off the rails in the first image will be saved at the last moment by a radio signal. That futuristic notion could still use some work in the 21st century.

The second image shows a telephone conversation  between New York and London. In fact the first transatlantic phone service opened in January 1927 and used radio rather than cable for part of the signal. Incredibly, the first videophone device was demonstrated in April 1927.
Radio Age
July-August 1927

On the last cover, I'm not sure what's happening between the deep sea diver and the airplane, but you could read about it on page 34.  

Meanwhile other radio magazines focused on a feminine readership, and the difference is striking. 

Radio Digest
February 1927

The magazine Radio Digest published long schedules of radio stations with their frequency and program times. Its articles covered radio celebrities, sports, and entertainment rather than the arcane minutiae of electric circuitry. The front covers also displayed more eye candy than Radio Age. The fluffy-haired blonde on the February 1927 issue was Gladys Johnson, the staff cellist at KGW in Portland, Oregon. She was supposedly well known to Radio Listeners throughout the territory from Alaska to Yucatan. Given the way that AM radio transmissions traveled through earth's atmosphere, that was probably not an exaggeration.

Radio Digest
February 1927

Radio Digest
October 1927

By the fall of 1927, Radio Digest switched to printing in color and singer Anne Cornwall from WMAQ, WEBH, and WQJ in Chicago adorned the cover for the October edition.

Radio Digest
October 1927

Radio Digest
January 1928

In January 1928, Miss Eunice Johnson from KOA in Denver, Colorado was the cover highlight for the Radio Digest. Beauty seemed to be her main talent, though still in her teens, she sings and talks to her audience like an old timer.

Radio Digest
January 1928

These covers came from a wonderful archive of the Old Time Radio Researcher Group, where there are hundreds of PDF files of similar magazines devoted to the people and technology of radio's pioneer history.

Marjorie and her quintet were not destined for a long run on radio. But they represent an important change in American culture as it accepted more contributions from talented women.. All across the country, radio stations competed for advertising dollars by trying out new programs, new music, and new novelties. The medium needed creative ideas to invent a modern entertainment. The Friendly Maids are an example of how hundreds of women found opportunities in radio and show business.  

The Radio Digest for March 1928 printed a long Who's Who list of radio personalities. There were coloratura sopranos, contraltos, tenors, baritones, basses, saxophonists, clarinetists, pianists, cellists, and even a one-man orchestra. Marjorie Posselt was listed the Leader of the Friendly Maids, Instrumental Quintet, WEEI.

Radio Digest
March 1928

Frederick Hawkins, the announcer for WEEI was on the list too, and it's unlikely we will ever know his full story. Marjorie's wistful expression was perhaps intended for another truelove.

Harrisburg PA Evening News
February 19, 1924

In February 1924, several newspapers around the country reported that Marjorie Posselt's violin, worth $1,600, was stolen from her automobile. When it was recovered by police she happily said, "It is closer to my heart than any man will ever get."

Harrisburg PA Evening News
February 19, 1924

I include the larger section of this newspaper page, so that you can also read about the eight foot tall statue of the Prince of Wales; the favorite winter sport of Columbia University students; the clever anti-blinding Kleig Eyes hood; and the British harbor pilot, possibly over 8 feet in height, who made an unexpected voyage to New York. 

And what about that saxophone?  It turns out that it wasn't Freddy's instrument after all. It was Marjorie's. In 1941, the Palm Beach FL Reporter reviewed a solo recital she performed for the Ft. Lauderdale Music Study Club. Though her program was principally music for violin, she did offer several selections on saxophone.   

Sax and Violins. That's real show business talent.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories in a mirror.


Dara said...

Very interesting post, Mike. Do you think the girls had to dress the part for every radio concert or just for the promotional pictures? My great-grandmother played violin and piano, supposedly in silent movies as well as on stage - I wonder if she ever played on the radio.

Deb Gould said...

My Boston grandparents probably listened to those Friendly Maids, Mike...they had a "honker" of a radio (recalled my mother, years ago) and listened to music a lot -- my grandfather was a violinist, so enjoyed tuning in music in his study at night. WEEI is still on the air, and broadcasts the Boston Red Sox games during the season...

Postcardy said...

It seems odd that women musicians and beauty would impress radio listeners when they couldn't be seen. I guess their popularity was based more on the radio magazines promoting them with pictures than on their performances.

anyjazz said...

Love this ramble into the old radio days! I was an avid radio fan as a child. I was one of those skeptical of that new television contraption. "How can you work and watch a picture at the same time? Won't never catch on." But look where communications have gone. I still listen to the radio. I liked the old radio logs and guides you posted. Nothing like them today.

Wendy said...

"Sax and Violins" -- oh you punster, you. Obviously things never change in the entertainment world ever in search of a gimmick, a novelty, something shocking and new. Somehow "Friendly Maids" sounds titillating and condescending at the same time.

Jo Featherston said...

Very interesting, and marvellous research as usual. I feel sorry for the one sister in the Posselt family who didn't have any musical talent. I haven't heard of the word 'concertised' before but guess it follows the way English language is going these days. I think the floating image of Freddy looks quite ethereal there, almost ghostly, so that provides a Halloween connection for this week :-)

Lorraine Phelan said...

After reading Jo's comment I had to go back and reread the post to find out about the sister who didn't have any musical talent. Maybe she just didn't have as much talent but still enjoyed music. I hope she didn't feel excluded by her sisters.

Anonymous said...

I also have seen postcards being used to advertise the singers on a radio station in the 1920s

Kathy Morales said...

So interesting. Freddy just had to be included, I guess.

ScotSue said...

A fascinating post of vintage photographs and posters. Love those ones of the "girl bands" from an earlier era.

La Nightingail said...

All your posts are always fun and interesting, but this one really stands out! I enjoyed it very much. My father's family had the first crystal radio set in their neighborhood and all the neighbors would come round to listen to it. And yes, Dad laughed and talked about how difficult it was to get turned into a station clearly without a lot of static and other interference. Fortunately they lived in Berkeley, CA - just across the bay from San Francisco so had access to a choice of stations.

Little Nell said...

I agree that Freddy’s image looks somewhat ethereal, and in fact, out of place; almost like a memorial card. Fascinating post about radio, which has always been a great love of mine.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP