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 }

Music for Lawn Tennis

21 April 2017

Out among the clover
as the noontime passes over
do we gather for a lark.

With joy each heart is teeming,
every hour with fun is beaming,
And we linger there 'till nearly dark,

Each other gaily chaffing
at the harmless frolic laughing,
Heedless of the hours that steal away,

There is naught such pleasure yields
as hid in clover scented fields,
Playing in the cool of the day.

Lawn Tennis!
Lawn Tennis!
Sweethearts are wont to play at this,
The moments pass so jolly,
'Tis a pleasure, not a folly.
Give me the game,
"Lawn Tennis."


Lads and merry lassies
mingle on the Summer grasses
after lunch is served each day,

When the Sun is gently glowing
and a balmy breeze is blowing,
You will find us eager for the fray,

Lots of fun and sayings witty
from the dimpled cheeks so pretty.
Glances of their winning eyes devine,

Tho' a little bit confusing
makes the game much more amusing,
Then the gents try to them outshine.

Lawn Tennis!
Lawn Tennis!
Sweethearts are wont to play at this,
The moments pass so jolly,
'Tis a pleasure, not a folly.
Give me the game,
Lawn Tennis.”

Lawn Tennis – Song and Dance
as performed by Thatcher, Primrose & West's Minstrels
words and music by Barney Fagan
copyright 1885 by Chas. D. Blake & Co.

Lawn Tennis Song & Dance,
sheet music cover page
1885 by Barney Fagen
Source: Library of Congress

This is one of the strangest photographs in my collection. A small musical ensemble of eight women stand outside on a manicured lawn. In the background is a hammock, and further beyond is what looks like a lumberyard. One woman wields either a very long baton or a broomstick and is presumably the band leader. The other women have three brass instruments, a guitar, a violin, a tambourine, and a small snare drum. It's not quite a band or an orchestra. They all wear long dresses but each is different, so they are not in any formal concert attire. What makes the photo so intriguing is that lying on the lawn just in front of the women are seven tennis rackets. I have a lot of photos of ladies bands and orchestras, but this is the only one that includes sporting equipment.

We can't know where they are, as the albumen cabinet photo does not have a photographer's mark. It's likely the work of an amateur. But the back does have a penciled note that looks reasonably contemporary with the photo:

No. 10


* *

I think the women's apparel matches the 1890 date. However two of the brass instruments do not fit with that decade and that is the musical oddity in the photo. One woman has a standard piston valve cornet, but the other two have over-the-shoulder saxhorns of the style used in military bands of the 1860s. The middle instrument looks like a B-flat soprano saxhorn, and the right one is a longer bass saxhorn. During the first years of the Civil War, soldiers marched behind regimental brass bands which used this unusual style instrument because the sound would be projected backwards towards the troops that followed. The usual brass band concert formation, in camp or on the battlefield, was to arrange the bandsmen into a circle around the bandleader so that the sound projected outwards. These over-the-shoulder brass instruments came in an assortment of sizes from high treble to contrabass, and typically they used rotary valves.

In the post-war years, piston valve instruments became the new standard for brass bands because they were cheaper to make and easier to care for. They also sounded better. By the mid 1870s the over-the-shoulder instruments were outmoded and rare to find in photographs of male brass bands. I've never seen female brass musicians holding this kind of instrument in a photo as late as the 1890s.

Why this group of ladies has two OTS saxhorns is a mystery. All the women look capable of playing their respective instruments, especially the two string instrumentalists. Were they professional or amateur musicians? It's impossible to know without more clues.  

But the tennis rackets have a better explanation.

San Francisco Morning Call
23 May 1890

It turns out that 1890 was a peak year for Lawn Tennis which was first played on croquet courts around 1859-1865 in Birmingham, England. In the 1870s it became a popular game in America and by 1890 it was all the rage. This was partly because lawn tennis was played by both men and women, usually in mixed doubles. And like any other public activity of the 19th century, tennis required women to wear the proper fashion – a tennis gown. In 1890 American newspapers were filled with illustrations of the latest lawn tennis styles.

South End Lawn Tennis Club,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, c.1900
Source: Wikimedia

Nashville Tennessean
25 May 1890

The iconic female figure of 1890 was sadly not much different  from the distorted proportions of Barbie® dolls from the 1960s. Women are pictured with incredible wasp waists, long necklines, and tiny feet. They hold a tennis racket but their forearms are covered to the wrist, and shoulders are  filled out with puffed fabric.

Apparently perspiration was not much of an issue in 1890 as collars appear very high and  tight. And tennis hats provided no protection from sun. Presumably long hat pins kept the hats securely fastened during long volleys.

* *

Helena MT Independent Record
1 June 1890

Lawn tennis was an 1890 trend from New York to San Francisco. Even the newspaper in Helena, Montana reported on the current tennis fashions.

"The average young woman wants a tennis gown. If she is only moderately athletic she may get on with one dress for and occasional afternoon with the racquet or on the water. Such a dress is suitable for either tennis or yachting, or any informal out-of-door occasion, may have an underskirt of a delicate green wool with a tiny figure in cream and a blouse waist of cream with sleeves puffed at the shoulders. If she is an indefatigable player or spends much time boating and wants exercise dresses for downright service, they may be more carefully differentiated." 

* *

Lawn Tennis 1887
Print by Prang (L.) & Co.
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

In April 1888 the Pittsburgh Daily Post ran a report on women's fashions for tennis.  

Pittsburgh Daily Post
28 April 1888

Special Correspondence to the Post
New York, April 27 —
"How ought a woman to dress to play tennis well?" was the question asked this morning of a member of the large New York Tennis Club which carries off the palm from all feminine tennis players in and about the city.

"These are the six essential points," was the reply: "Sleeves loose enough no to cut the elbow, a waist broad enough in the back to give freedom to the arms in running, a silk petticoat, light skirts with little drapery or none at all, low shoes and courage to appear in daylight wihout corsets. Given these hald dozen items and in addition a quick eye, quick motions, quick thought and patience and almost any woman can play tennis well."

Tennis has been played in this country for 14 years. It has been the fashion for at least eight. It will be more the fashion than ever this summer.

"Yes, papa is going to have her in commission by the middle of May, and we shall be afloat pretty much all summer. We may get as far as the Mediterranean; who knows?"

"You lucky girl! What a jolly time you will have; but–you won't get much tennis, will you?"

"No; that's the one distressing thing about the situation. I shan't get a dozen games, it's an awful fact. I shall have to hang up my racket and put black ribbons on it. However, my arms will stay both the same size, there's a crumb of comfort in that. Last fall my right fore-arm was fully an inch bigger round than my left, and no matter how my sleeves were cut, they wouldn't match at all. I've just seen those muscles shrinking all winter, and now I am about even again. But I'd rahter have one arm twice as ig as the other, than not play tennis for a whole season."

* *

Are the members of the Ladies Lawn Tennis Orchestra
dressed in an appropriate garb for a game? 
Sadly their long dresses hide their feet
so we can't see if they are outfitted
with A. J. Cammeyers latest
Ladies Canvas Lawn Tennis Rubber Sole Lace Shoes.
Only $1.50 a pair.

New York Times
20 July 1890

and Match?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the game is always afoot.


La Nightingail said...

Well, the one musicians is wearing a striped skirt like the young woman in the first ad, but I wouldn't want to be the gal in the dark jumper. One of her straps is already slipping off her shoulder. I can't imagine trying to play tennis in it. I'd be pulling the straps up every other minute! Actually, I can't imagine trying to play tennis in any of those outfits - either on the musicians or in the ads. But they did, and more power to 'em!!! :) As for the saxhorns, perhaps they had belonged to fathers or grandfathers and the gals had rescued them from the back of a closet to be played again for sentimental or other reasons?

Deb Gould said...

What a totally bizarre photo this is! And the tennis outfits are outrageous -- I can't imagine being able to play in those outfits! The Louis Prang print is gorgeous...I love their postcards, etc. Anyway, nice find, Mike...great post!

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

This is a wonderful read. Two things jumped out at me....having the courage to appear in public without corsets...and having to pay $100 for an outfit in 1890? I wouldn't have fit in or out.

Alex Daw said...

Lawn tennis was quite a thing in its day wasn't it? Who knew! I haven't contributed to Sepia Saturday yet but wanted to let you know I enjoyed this post as always. Went to a fantastic concert last night....Philip Glass' new Symphony No. 11 and Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto played by Alexander Malofeev. Wow just wow. I am a musical ignoramus but it was spine tingling and there was a standing ovation.

Little Nell said...

I am full of admiration for those poor ladies wearing those ridiculous outfits. And as for it being her duty, as well as pleasure to have a custom-designed outfit! A very interesting post.

Wendy said...

For you to claim this photo as your most unusual is saying something. You surprise weekly. I wonder if lawn tennis was intentionally a slow game. Surely those costumes did not allow for a game like you would see today.


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