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
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The Girls of Dorothea Dix Hall

29 September 2012

Show business is tough work. After the few minutes on stage, a performer has late hours, poor food at cheap hotels, and hundreds of miles to travel to the next stage. Add a spouse and children to the mix and the strain on an entertainer's career can be overwhelming. In the 1890s, one Boston man sought to make a difference, and organized a school just for children of theatrical families. These six smiling girls came from that school, the Dorothea Dix Hall, and they were children of the stage too.

This postcard was sent on Sept. 23, 1909, to Master J. Russell Breitinger of Philadelphia, PA.

We are all sorry we could not get up to see you off . And we hope to see you next summer - From - Ethel, Doris, Vera, Ruth, Baszion, Katherine and May
Dorothea Dix Hall - 63 W. Newton St. Boston Mass.

Seven names for six girls. I suspect this was written by an apprentice publicist, to a young stage door fan.

The Dorothea Dix Hall was established in 1893, by Rev. W. W. Locke as a school just for the children of actors. It was named after Dorothea Dix (1802-1887),  a professional nurse and an early advocate for the humane care of the insane and mentally ill. A Massachusetts native, during the Civil War she was appointed Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army and was instrumental in improving the medical training and standards for nurses. She died in 1887 and had no background in theater, so it is unclear why Rev. Locke chose to name his school after Dix. It may have been because of the location in Boston or her earlier career as a teacher.

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Today we might call this a charter school, or an academy for the arts, but it was a modest brick house, with room for only 24 children, and 4 teachers. This was a era of new experiments in education, and Rev. Locke took his interest in the theater, combined it with an idea of progressive education, and organized a boarding school that would take in the children of actors. Accepting both boys and girls, the school also took in local children who showed talent for the stage but came from an indigent background.

In order to fund the school, and actually pay the children for performing, they produced their own shows for Boston theaters. These were mostly short skits that resembled music hall shows, but had an emphasis on classics and on cuteness. This ad came from the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe, for January 26, 1896.

Whenever Boston theaters needed running-in children, Dorothea Dix Hall would provide them. The children received instruction in singing and dancing in addition to dramatics, and some even learned to play a musical instrument to accompany the others.  In 1897, the stage children presented an operetta called the Three Little Kittens. Musicals were as much a part of their repertoire as classic plays.

By the 1900s, the Dorothea Dix children had become fairly successful in the Boston theaters and several magazines featured articles about these precocious tykes and their playacting. This one is from the 1904 edition of the New England Magazine.

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Dorothea Dix Hall performances were now taken as far as New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. In December 1908, this story, The Lonely Children of the Stage, appeared in Good Housekeeping, along with a letter on the Emancipation of Education by President Theodore Roosevelt. The first photo illustration show the same six young girls in costumes similar to those in the postcard pose.

In 1907, the 28th annual report by the Massachusetts State Board of Charity gave the Dorothea Dix Hall Association's mission statement and financial statement. Now run by the Rev. W. H. van Allen, the school had 20 children that year, earning a respectable income of $1,492.34 from entertainments,etc. with total expenses of $4,268.35.

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This dramatic photo from the 1908 Good Housekeeping article shows four girls, Ruth Francis, Katherine McGregor, Baszion Fleece, and Doris Horslin in nightgowns, pointing up to the moon or Peter Pan perhaps. Doris on the right is the same girl, I think, as the one second from right in the postcard. She shows up in a other photos in the article including this more mature group of five girls in beautiful white dresses.

I found the name Doris M. Horslin in the 1910 census for Boston. Born in 1895, she was the youngest daughter of George A Horslin, who owned a stable. The census did not record an occupation for her mother, but an older sister was a saleslady at a confectionery store. It seems likely that Doris was one of the local juvenile talents who did not come from a theatrical family.

In January 1910, Doris M. Horslin, age 14, applied for a passport along with five other girls from Dorothea Dix Hall, Vera Barry, 13;  Juliette Day, 17; Ruth Fielding, 10; Florence Maguire, 13; and Vera Morrison, 17. All six girls listed their occupation as actress. Note the detailed personal description: eyes - blue, nose - large, mouth - ordinary, chin - large.

They were about to embark on a grand tour of Europe and the Mediterranean, beginning with a voyage across the Atlantic on the RMS Baltic of the White Star Line, which had a ship manifest where I found all the girl's names. This was no ordinary ship, as the Baltic was for a time the largest passenger liner in the world. The year before, in 1909, it had gone to the aid of two ships that collided in the North Atlantic resulting in the sinking of one ship. In 1912, the Baltic sent a radio message to the Titanic, warning of ice bergs spotted in the shipping lanes. 

Looking up these names on, I discovered a program of this 1910 tour, posted by descendants of one of the girls, Veronica Agnes Barry. For this grand trip the school was now called the Boston Educational Children's Theater, a training school for professional stage children and children of actors. Shortly before they left, in January 1910, the school's children performed Shakespeare's Mid-Summer Night's Dream at Boston's Symphony Hall with musicians of the Boston Symphony providing Mendelssohn's famous incidental music. 

The tour took them to many exotic places including Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Cairo where they gave many performances. They also visited Spain, Italy, England, and Ireland before returning to Boston. Few children today would get a field trip like that.

Sadly the history of the Dorothea Dix Hall seems to evaporate shortly after this, as I can find no references after 1911. But Doris Horslin shows up in the Boston city directories of 1912-17 as a dance teacher. The promotional material from the 1910 program suggests that many of the Dorothea Dix children graduated to adult careers as stage actors in the traveling stock companies, vaudeville, and big city theaters.

 But what became of Master J. Russell Breitinger?

Born in Philadelphia in 1894, he grew up and became an attorney. In 1923, he applied for a passport to travel to Italy and France.

By this decade, photographs rather than just a description were required for a passport application, so we get to meet J. Russell Breitinger. Older and wiser no doubt, but perhaps he always gave a wistful sigh when he looked at his postcard of the girls of Dorothea Dix Hall.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might find more stories of legless boys and girls.

The Red Wing Training School Band

21 September 2012

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital "T" That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City, Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble...
                                                               Meredith Willson

The words of Professor Harold Hill, from  Meredith Willson's  1957 musical The Music Man, may seem like a sales pitch now. But 100 years ago, communities all across America had such trouble with youthful criminals that it was indeed spelled with a capital T.  How should a society manage delinquent and errant young people? In Minnesota, the solution was to create a reformatory in Red Wing, MN,  and the curriculum there included music from the Minnesota State Training School Band. 

This band of 35 young boys (or 34, as there is a shadowy face seated in the middle on the left) is neatly dressed in cadet like uniforms and arranged for a concert with woodwinds on the left - mostly clarinets and an imposing baritone saxophone, and brass on the right. The band's conductor, wearing a bowler hat, stands at the back left.

Constructed on 450 acres, the Red Wing State Training School  was a state reform school for delinquent youth established in 1866 and then moved to Red Wing, MN in 1891.

This postcard was mailed on Sept. 14, 1910 to Mrs. Aggie Shareman of Olcott Beach, NY

Dear aggie. i hope
you are all well
i leave to Day.
to goe to my Jeddy(?)
Love to you Frank
Jennie. send the answer
to Mrs. Shareman
Huron, S. Dakota
P. Office. Gen. Del.

I wonder what Frank's question was?

What is unique about this boys band is that several young musicians have black faces. a very unusual mixture of races for 1910. Look for the drummer in front of the flag, the cornet in the second row on right, and trombone behind, and the small shadow in the middle of the clarinets.

Ordinarily I wouldn't expect to discover any more details about this postcard, except that 1910 was a census year, and institutions are very good about keeping records. There are 9 census pages devoted just to the Red Wing Training School and its population of 282 boys and 96 girls. Most of the youths were from Minnesota or Wisconsin, but a good number were born in  Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Russia, Porto Rico (sic), , or just Europe. Their ages ran from 8 to 21, but most were about 15-16. And of those 378 inmates, there were 12 boys and 5 girls who were black. Red Wing the town, had only 2 other black people in that census year outside the school.

What is especially remarkable is that the occupations for each inmate were listed in the census, and Musician, Band was noted for 17 boys, three of whom were black.
  • Lloyd B. Banks, 15,   birthplace  NB
  • Lemuel H. Reed, 16,  "   MN
  • Alec Withers, 17,  "   KY
The other 14 musicians were white and I list them here so that their names can be found on the internet too.
  • Chester L. DeLairy 14, birthplace MN
  • William Epple, 16,  "   MN
  • Nathan H. Harvan, 15,  "   MN
  • Fred V. Holfer, 15,  "   MN 
  • Thomas Humphrey, 16,  "   MN
  • George E. Hylur, 14,  " WS
  • Joe Kaufman, 16,  "  MN
  • John A. Lindsey, 13,  "  MN
  • Frances J. MacDonald, 11,  "  WS
  • Harvey C. Martineau, 14,  "   MN
  • Martin Rave, 14,  "  MN
  • George Stevens, 14,  "   MN
  • William Stevens, 13,  "   MN
  • Walter Waflew, 18,  "   SD

The main building of the Red Wing Training School, as seen in this postcard from 1908, was a fine structure and might be mistaken for a college or hospital. But this was still a prison and life for the inmates was difficult and at times brutally cruel. Some were orphans or from unsettled homes and had limited education. Boys were given manual training in farming and trade skills. But girls, who were segregated from boys, were expected to learn sewing, cooking, and laundering for their future life as a domestic servant. The girls reformatory was moved in 1911 to Sauk Centre, MN.

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Google's StreetView shows the Red Wing institution with little change.

The tower offered a good vantage point for a photographer to take a picture, and no doubt postcards were a  popular purchase for the young children and teenagers who called this place home - or worse.  This view from 1911 shows the  dormitories and auxiliary work buildings, and the Mississippi River on the right.

Despite the title, this postcard with a 1912 postmark has us in the same tower and looking the opposite direction and to the southeast, I think. Still used as a correctional facility, the Minnesota State Training School now functions as a diagnostic treatment center for boys committed by the state.

An excellent history with more images and stories of the Red Wing Reformatory can be found at THE WALLS OF RED WING by Brad Zellar.  His title comes from a Bob Dylan song written in 1963.
Oh, the age of the inmates
I remember quite freely:
No younger than twelve
No older ’n seventeen
Thrown in like bandits
And cast off like criminals
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing
.. .. ..
Oh, some of us’ll end up
In St. Cloud Prison
And some of us’ll wind up
To be lawyers and things
And some of us’ll stand up
To meet you on your crossroads
From inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing
                                                  Bob Dylan

The Red Wing reformatory probably had its share of recidivism. And some of those young musicians may have ended up in Stillwater, MN playing in the Minnesota State Prison Band. This colorized postcard view of the prison yard shows 16 convicts in pale blue band uniforms standing in a parade formation and holding mostly brass instruments. In the front are two African-American musicians on tuba and trombone.

Earlier this year I wrote a photo story on the Prison Orchestra of Ft. Madison, Iowa
which also had black musicians playing alongside white musicians. In 1910, this mixing of the races in a musical ensemble would have been unthinkable anywhere outside the prison walls. The segregation and discrimination of African-Americans was such a normal convention in this era, it is amazing that prisons were the one place where it seemed to be absent.  Of course in reality, enforced integration in a penitentiary probably did little to change the engrained prejudice of the convicts in the 1900s. But perhaps band music offered some friendships that would have been impossible anywhere else.

Source: Minnesota Department of Corrections

The same band is found on the history webpage at the Minnesota Department of Corrections website. This photo is a little different and shows the band playing their instruments with a cornet bandleader, who may not have been an inmate but a prison officer, standing to the left. Their caption dates the image to 1907, but the postcard has 
Copyright 1909 W. C. Heilbron.

My grandfather was born in central Minnesota in 1906. At age 16, he left his home in the small town of Glenwood to join the US Marines. I suspect that he may have known boys who got into trouble and did time in the Red Wing Training School. That Trouble was not caused by Pool, but by poverty, broken homes, abuse, neglect and lack of opportunity. In fact the same reasons that still create problems for young people. My grandfather was lucky and found his way out, but I'd like to think that playing a band instrument might have helped some of these boys too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might find more photos and stories of wayward youths.

For a contrast, read the story about the I.O.O.F Orphanage Band from Mason City, Iowa, the birthplace of Meredith Willson,  composer and lyricist of the The Music Man.

The Music Store

14 September 2012

click to enlarge
The neighborhood music store has mostly vanished from Main Street in America. Years ago, it was the shop that sold musical instruments suitable for beginners to  advanced musicians; displayed sheet music for the latest popular songs and dances; carried necessary supplies like replacement strings for your guitar or valve oil for your cornet; offered music lessons; and even hired out musicians for local entertainment.

Sometimes they even offered haircuts too.

This antique photo postcard is scratched and creased, but it shows just such a music store. And at the entrance stands a family orchestra of a mother and father with their 4 children. Father holds his guitar, while his daughter and three sons pose with their violins and mandolins.

This unknown family of musicians left no identification on the card, but if we look closely there are clues.

Above the shop doorway are two signs:

The Chicago Tribune
The World's Greatest Newspaper


Souders Laundering Co.

As it is unlikely that the Chicago Tribune advertised outside the Midwest, we will start in Illinois.

The name Sounders is not common but a search through turns up a few choices in Rock Island, Illinois.

In the 1910 US Census for Rock Island we find, Wallace Souders, age 35, occupation - Laundryman. The City Directory is even better and the 1907 edition has a listing for:
SOUDERS LAUNDRYING CO. THE (Wallace and M R Souders) successors to The American Steam Laundry 501-503 12th.

Wallace and his mother Mrs. Mae Souders ran a laundry business in Rock Island from 1907 until 1921, as the listing disappears after 1922.

So now we have a time frame and a place. Any other clues?

The music store signs are clear and next to the wonderful barber's pole is a window sign posting prices for a haircut and a shave. If you look through the window to the left, you can even see a certificate - perhaps the barber's license?  In this decade, Rock Island had three stores that sold pianos, and about 34 barber shops.

But the best clue I think is the family themselves. Their complexion and dress strongly suggest a heritage from the Mediterranean rather than the Baltic, and I would eat my hat if they were not recent immigrants from Southern Italy. Yet despite my best efforts, I can not find them in Rock Island, IL.

All three music stores were owned by men with non-Italian names, and who did not have a family of four children. And none of the music stores had an address that also matched an address for a barber shop. Though some shops were on the same street as a music store, just a few numbers away, not one of the 34 barbers had an Italian name.

One of the search tricks in, is to set no names but instead check only  birthplace-exact and place-exact. Using Italy (exact) and Rock Island (exact) produces interesting results. In 1900, Rock Island had only 10 people who had immigrated from Italy. That population increased in 1910 to 112, and in 1920 to 125. But the geography makes this a bigger challenge. Situated on an important crossing of the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities confusingly includes 5 cities; Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa. But even when you expand the search to include all these communities, there are surprisingly very few Italian names.

Predictably, most immigrants to Rock Island were of German or Swedish origin, but curiously there were a lot of people from Belgium, almost 400 in 1910. Russian immigrants, who almost always had Yid or Hebrew added to their nationality, followed with nearly as many - 248.  The 1900 and 1910 censuses recorded no one from Spain or Portugal, though there were a number of single men from Greece working as laborers on street and sewer projects. When Italian men lived with a spouse and family, they tended to operate a Fruit Stand, or a Confectionery. One Italian in Davenport had a listed occupation:  Macaroni Maker.  But not one was a barber, or a musician, or a music store owner.

There is just no way to know how large an area that Souders Laundry collected washing. With easy access to railroads, an Agency of a laundry might even be a greater distance outside of the Quad Cites than we would expect today.

And this guitarist and his family, though they may likely have come from Italy, could have been the fruit seller across the street, who has just acquired new string instruments for the family. So this photo puzzle will have to remain unsolved.

But look at the pride in those faces. Music was very important to this family. Both the violin and the mandolin, which has the same string tuning, have always been associated with Italian culture. Italian musicians from Naples were the first to popularize the mandolin in America. The musical traditions of immigrants helped to shape our American culture and this family is a perfect example of that legacy.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you go shopping for more end of summer deals.

Ladies Orchestras in Wien

07 September 2012

Few cities can approach the musical heritage of Wien - Vienna. Its citizens were the first to hear the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Johann Strauss, Mahler and many more. Its music has always retained a continuity through the special traditions and styles unique to Vienna. Unfortunately one of those traditions has been to exclude women musicians from playing in its premier orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. This great orchestra, which is an independent group made up of members of the Wiener Staatsoper, did not officially include a woman until 1997, when it engaged a woman as a harpist. It was not until 2003 that it finally admitted the first woman string player , a violist, as a regular member of the Wiener Philharmoniker. At a performance of the Vienna Philharmonic this past week at the 2012 BBC Proms, it was reported that there were just two women in the orchestra.

Yet despite this discrimination of women, Wien has a long heritage of women musicians. This postcard is of the entertainment provided at Adolfi's Salvator-Keller - a ladies salon orchestra or Damen Orchester. This sextet of two violins, double bass, flute, piano and percussion are dressed in a kind of uniform with a quasi-military jacket atop a white skirt, and a hat looking a bit like a naval officer's hat. They stand on the stage of Adolfi's located at Salvatorgasse 1 in Vienna. Why it had a nickname of "Zum dummen Kerl" or "To the Dumb Guy" is a mystery. Perhaps it had something to do with remembering the directions.

The back shows a postmark of
31 October 1910 on top of an impressive postage stamp that celebrates the 80 years of Emperor Franz Josef, who in addition to being the Emperor of Austria, was also King of Bohemia, King of Croatia,  King of Hungary, King of Galicia and Lodomeria, and also Grand Duke of Cracow for good measure. 

In this postcard, the restaurant is at the same address, but it may have changed ownership as it is captioned Franz Lechner's Salvator-Keller, Wien.  Unfortunately the postmark was partially destroyed when the stamp was removed, so this promotional card might date from before or after the first card, but in any case the restaurant still offered daily concerts for its patrons. If you look closely at the collage of three miniature photos the ladies orchestra is in each one.

The ensemble now has seven women musicians and one man. The woman at the piano even looks to have her hands raised in action at the keyboard. The ladies all wear white dresses and have a flower in their hair. On the back wall is a mural of an angelic figure blowing a trumpet, which is different from the first card's large cartoon of military men seated at a cafe table. Restaurant decor is always changing.

This next postcard of a Viennese ladies orchestra sends Greetings from the Restaurant Prohaska at the Prater in Wien. The Prater is the famous park in Vienna which includes promenades for walking and riding, and an amusement ride area with the great  Wiener Riesenrad or Ferris wheel. This outdoor restaurant  offered performances by the Damenkapelle G. Richter. This group has 9 women, made up of 5 string players, flute, piano, and drums led by a woman who holds a baton but no doubt played an instrument too. While you enjoyed your schnitzel, you could keep up with the music announced on the sign at her music desk.

Compare this orchestra to Bessie Greenhill's English Ladies Orchestra from the same period.

This card was postmarked in Wien and Retz Austria in 1905.
A slightly younger Emperor Franz Josef tries to make out the address.   

This lovely young lady is Fräulein M. Frank who plays cello with the Damen Salon Orchester "Alt Wien". Whereas there are many postcards of German and Austrian-Hungarian ladies bands and orchestras, there are very few of individual women musicians.

Women could perform as soloists with the men of the professional orchestras, and there were a number of great women pianists and violinists who did become successful concert artists. But women could not sit in the regular orchestras of the opera and philharmonic. Women musicians instead found professional work in these small chamber ensembles that played salons, restaurants, and beer gardens. There may have been a seasonal quality to these performances, like working only in the summer, but that was true for the entire Vienna concert schedule which revolved around the royal court calenders.

The postcard was sent from Bavaria in 1909 which at that time still had a separate postal service from Germany. Though Germany and Austria share a common language, they have very distinct histories. At this time the Austrian Hungarian Empire was one of the largest multicultural countries in the world, with a complex arrangement of ethnic groups, of which the Germanic was only a small part.

Fräulein M. Frank had a sister,  

J. Frank who played flute in the Damen Salon Orchester "Alt Wien". Younger or older sister?

Note her two toned wooden flute in blackwood and ivory. 

After some hunting I found the companion postcard for the full Österreisches Damen Orchester "Alt Wien", under the direction of E. Frank. This photocard is more typical of the photos of these German/Austrian women's orchestras showing them without instruments. Translated to the Austrian Kingdom Ladies Orchestra "Old Vienna", it has 2 men and 7 women who wear tightly fitted white jackets with fancy bandsmen style embroidery. The older man on the right is presumably Herr E. Frank and in the center, the woman wearing a dark colored jacket is likely his wife.

The card was sent in September 1901 and as I can not recognize Fräuleins J. and M. Frank here, these may be their other sisters. We can't know what their music sounded like, but they cut a splendid figure in a uniform.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might encounter more ladies and gentlemen in photogenic poses.


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