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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Mixed Messages

24 July 2021

 The people of the theater have always lived
in a world of fantasy, pretense, and illusion.
On a theater stage reality is suspended.
The set is make-believe.
The lighting is simulated. 
The actors pretend to be someone that they are not.
And even time is transformed into another dimension. 

In the early 20th century
one kind of entertainer
made a career out of theatrical misdirection.
They were female impersonators,
a popular kind of novelty act
in the music halls of Europe.


These men assumed a female persona
that used costumes, comedy, and music
to fabricate a glamorous fantasy of a woman.

Today I feature postcards
of seven of these remarkable entertainers.

The first performer is
? Crist Jebben? Stimme Phänomen
– Voice phenomenon 
Sitting provocatively on an ornate side table, she/he is dressed in an elaborate gown filled with beads, sequins, and embroidery. This postcard was never mailed but has the imprint of a German publisher from Lübeck, a port city in north Germany on the Baltic Sea. The card's paper type likely dates it from 1912-1918.

* * *

My second postcard is captioned:
Imitant une chanteuse Russe

Imitating a Russian singer

This entertainer wears a floor-length velvet dress with floral embroidery and fur trim, topped off by a Russian crown-like hat. Her/his full name was M. Robert Bertin, a French actor/vocalist who performed in many theaters throughout France and even South America, becoming one of the leading female impersonators of the Belle Epoque. Bertin produced dozen of postcards demonstrating a wide variety of character styles that imitated famous female singers of this era from 1900 to 1914. One of Bertin's French contemporaries, Eloi Ouvrard, said after meeting him/her, "We had the impression of admiring on stage, not only a real woman but a beautiful and pretty woman!"

M. R. Bertin
Source: Cornell University Library

Not surprisingly female impersonators were popular in France and I've featured some in two posts from 2015, Louis Vernassier – Musical Excentrique and Things Are Not Always What They Seem. The cabaret show was not unique to Paris, but it was where the all the best entertainers found work and where most of their publicity was produced.   

* * *

My third female impersonator is
Harry Vorst
Mitglied der Junghähnel

Member of the cockerel singers

In this postcard a woman contemplates her reflection in a hall mirror. She/he is dress in an extra long floor-length gown with incredibly lavish embroidery. In the upper corner is a vignette portrait of Harry Vorst as a man. 

This postcard was sent to a soldier via the German army Feldpost on 28 June 1918 from Hohenstein-Ernstthal, a town in the Zwickau rural district, in the Free State of Saxony, Germany.

 * * *


My fourth entertainer,
Gustl Schneider
is technically not advertised
as a female impersonator.
But I think Gustl was one,
because if she/he was a woman,
then the proper feminine word in German
would be Sängerin.

Her/his outfit is more modern and less flashy, almost an ordinary woman's city day dress.This postcard was sent from Berlin on 21 April 1919.


* * *


The next performer's postcard is simply captioned:
Myllardo ?

The question mark was a common device used to highlight the ambiguity of a female impersonators. It implied mystery and magic. Was it a woman or a man?
Myllardo is seated and wears a satiny white gown. Like several of the others, she/he uses a feather headdress to accentuate a ladylike effect. This postcard, also printed in Lübeck, was sent through the Feldpost from Leipzig on 25 May 1915.


* * *


My next example of a cross-dressing entertainer is
Hermann Barra
Migl. d. Orig. Leipz.
Fritz-Weber- Sänger

This member of the Original Leipzig Fritz Weber Singers is dressed in a folk costume not unlike that worn by the Original Wiener Damenorchester «Donauwellen» in my story from two weeks ago, The Waves of the Danube. Her/his hat is different, but the fashion resembles the same traditional German apparel. Like Harry Vorst, Hermann Barra's male portrait is in the upper corner.
This card has a free Feldpost postmark of 15 May 1916 from Magdeburg. Someone, presumably the writer, has penciled in a mustache and goatee on Hermann's portrait.

German female and male impersonators seem to have produced the most souvenir postcards during the era of 1900-20. Most likely this was because at the time Germany's printing industry manufactured most of the world's postcards. But it seems unlikely that Germany's music halls would have generated such a large number of cross-dressing entertainers if its audiences did not find them an appealing act. 
* * *
During the war years even the German army accepted this kind of transvestite performer as I have shown in two earlier posts from 2014 and 2017 entitled Theatrical Ladies and Artists of Das Wandertheater. This traveling troupe was called the Wandertheater Armee Abteilung A.  and presented a musical variety show for the troops that included a female impersonator named Jose ??? or sometimes Fritzi Jose.

This performer was very likely a well known act and in postcards of the Wandertheater ensemble she/he was given a prominent placed at the center of the photo. This postcard of Jose ? ? ? is a third card that I've acquired but not featured before. It is postmarked 22 August 1917.

From our perspective in the 21st century it is not possible, nor is it fair, to judge the sexuality of these men by our current attitudes to LGBTQ people. There is nothing in these postcards that actually discloses such intimate personal details. Undoubtedly, because of the titillating nature of their act, these men were subject to exploitation, abuse, and violence. Yet we can only guess, as the true reality of the lives of these entertainers will always be hidden.
But what is clear from these postcards is that all these men had show business talent and could boast of some success, if not fame in their own time. Utilizing the fantasy that is the theater, they each developed an act that offered entertainment and sold tickets. Not to mention souvenir postcards too. My collection now has enough postcard examples of both female and male impersonators from this era that I believe that musical cross-dressers were as much a standard act in European music halls as Tyrolean brass bands, cowboy sharpshooters, Indian jugglers, and Chinese magicians.
However we are still forced to guess at what their acts were actually like. From the captions we know they sang, but not their repertoire or how they were accompanied. Their extravagant costumes imply a kind of over-the-top comedy, probably with risque or at least double entendre humor. But after over a century, their jokes have vanished into the fog of time.
This week I searched on YouTube for historic silent films of early music hall shows, hoping I might find something with a female impersonator. I couldn't find anything from this 1900-1920 era, but I did find an excerpt from a 1933 movie, Arizona to Broadway, in which a female impersonator plays a role. This so-called pre-code film was produced before the enforcement of the 1934 Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines. The performer is Gene Malin (1908–1933), an American actor, emcee, and drag performer who became one of the first openly gay night club performers during America's prohibition era. 
The movie has a complicated story-line involving three con men helping a young woman recover stolen money from some other crooks. Malin plays a vaudeville star that is clearly imitating Mae West's style of humor. At about 2:00 into this excerpt she/he comes on stage after a dance number to sing a torch song. It gives us a little appreciation for what the acts of these earlier cross-dressing performers must have been like.





This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where stars are born every weekend.

The Mandolin Club

17 July 2021


People love to share their enthusiasm.
Whether it's for tennis, chess, stamp collecting,
photography, bird watching, or even blogging,
people enjoy the company of others
who take pleasure in the same activity.
When these aficionados organize a club or society,
it brings a larger membership into a structured association
that expands on that shared passion.
In other words,
the more, the merrier.


For many musicians,
both professional and amateur,
the love of their instrument
leads them to find other devotees
to form clubs dedicated to that instrument.

With more players
there is more musical potential.
As more voices means
more possibilities for a larger sound,
for a dynamic range beyond
the individual instrument.

Some instrumentalists have no trouble assembling a like-minded ensemble.
 String instruments like violins, violas, cellos, and double basses
are designed to constitute a homogeneous sound. 
But saxophones and trombones also come in a wide range of sizes
adaptable to a variety of musical forms.

But once upon a time,
connoisseurs of the plucky Italian relative of the violin
decided they needed a club
to promote their favorite instrument,
the Mandolin.

Since these enthusiasts were German
they needed a postcard photo of their group
as a souvenir of their concerts.
Today I feature three of these music clubs.

My first example of this German enthusiasm for the mandolin is a postcard of 16 men on a small outdoor stage. According to a placard at the feet of their director, they are the Con-Fuoco Mandolin Club. The Italian phrase Con Fuoco is a common musical term which means "With Fire". The mandolinists are all dressed in a similar costume, with white trousers, a quasi-sailor's blouse, and a soft cap which was probably their idea of a Venetian gondolier's uniform. However the curl of their mustaches are not so much Italianate as Prussian. 
The typical soprano mandolin has eight strings tuned in pairs like a violin, though the fingerboard has frets. The other members of this instrument family include an alto, tenor, and baritone mandolins which are scattered around the Con Fuoco mandolin club.

The card has a postmark of 16 July 1909 from Berlin. The publisher is Verglag von W. Schmidt of Schöneberg, which was then a small city, now a district, located southwest of Berlin's city center. By coincidence, Schöneberg is the birthplace of the German-American singer and actress, Marlene Dietrich(1901–1992), who learned to play the violin as a young girl. So it's not impossible that one of the men in the Con-Fuoco Mandolin Club might have been her teacher.

* * *

My second postcard is of the Mandolinen Club „Nordische Klänge”"Nordic Sounds". The card was never posted but the caption adds that it was established in 1906, though the style of printing suggests the photo dates from around 1910-14. It's a serious group of 29 players, dressed in white trousers and lightly striped shirts with stiff collars and long ties. Each man also has a sash tied around their waist, which I interpret as the group's effort to  look Italian, perhaps more Milan than Venice. But they are mostly German, I think, as the postcard was published in Berlin by Photographie Adolf Neumann, Gerichtstr. 84.
Among the mandolins are several that are larger than the standard violin-length instrument, and more akin to a viola or cello string length. There are two regular guitars and two unusual harp-mandolins with extended necks for extra bass strings. Standing on either side are two players with what look like double basses. The left one has a typical double bass arched top and bridge for the strings, but the left one is more guitar-like with a flat top, curved bouts, and a single round soundhole. This is a rare contrabass mandolin. The group's photo is also interesting that like many Germanic music ensembles of this era, they felt a need to display a collection of percussion instruments with a tambourine, small metal glockenspiel, a triangle, and a castanet clapper. That suggests there was dancing.

* * *
My third postcard is the „Sempre Avanti” Mandolinen Club. With 19 gentlemen dressed in more formal suits, it's not surprising that this serious bunch had a competitive Italian name that means "Always Ahead". They are posed in a photographer's studio in three ranks that includes a few larger mandolins and four guitars. The player seated on the left has a Viennese harp-guitar with extra strings called a Schrammel guitar or contraguitar. On the floor in front is a large animal skin.

The back has two postmarks that are not entirely clear, but might be from Berlin. On the front is a handwritten date of 24.3.06 with Greetings from the Brewery Wektoria(?). If the „Sempre Avanti” mandolinists were from Berlin or anywhere in north Germany, I feel sure they were well acquainted with the fellows in the „Nordische Klänge” and Con Fuoco mandolin clubs. Like brass bands, they may have competed  in contests for best regional orchestra which would lead to shiny medals and prize cups.

As with nearly all of my photos and postcards of forgotten musicians, it is impossible to know what repertoire these groups performed. After more than a century, printed musical programs are the rarest of ephemera and were very infrequently reported in newspapers. Since the mandolin is associated with Italy, I expect these mandolin clubs played arrangements of Italian opera tunes or popular songs. It seems likely that performances included singing too, though we can't know if it was in German or Italian.

But these mandolin clubs were not unique to Germany. I've seen photographs of similar string ensembles for American, French, Russian, and British musicians, but postcards of these music clubs were a particular German fad. Besides mandolin orchestras, there were bands for multiple banjos, ukuleles, zithers, and balalaikas. There was a lot of strumming and picking in the early 20th century.

Fortunately mandolin clubs survive into our century,
and surprisingly one of the places
with the most mandolin enthusiasts is Japan.
Here is the Arte Mandolinistica Kyoto from 2018
performing the Queen classic
Bohemian Rhapsody

I can't resist including a brilliant arrangement of
John Williams' STAR WARS Main Theme
played by Mandolin Orchestra "ARTE TOKYO"

And because in a few weeks
the world's attention will be focused
on the Tokyo Olympic Games,
here is a rendition of John William's Olympic Fanfare
played in 2019 by the Arte Tokyo Mandolin Orchestra.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday,
a club for bloggers who love old photographs.

The Waves of the Danube

10 July 2021


With just a hint of a smile
the young woman looks slightly past the camera.
She wears long pendant earrings
with a wide hat stylishly tilted
and a fur stole draped over her shoulders.
It's a fine portrait,
not often found printed on a postcard.



 A second postcard portrait shows her
with a more distant, pensive gaze.
Now she is dressed in a white gown,
a corsage pinned to the front.
And we see that she is a musician
as she holds a violin at rest.

Her name is Elsa Goldstein.
She was a member of the
Original Wiener Damenorchester «Donauwellen»

The occasion for her portrait may have been when she posed
in the same white gown, though also wearing a sash,
with her full ensemble of six women.
According to the postcard's caption
the group's director is Paula Goldstein.
Perhaps her mother or sister.


This Austrian ladies' orchestra was one of thousands of musical groups made up of female musicians who performed at restaurants, cafes, and wine and beer gardens throughout central Europe from about 1870 to 1930. In my collection I have hundreds of their souvenir postcards that date from 1899 to the 1920s. The German term damenorchester described two different types of ensembles, generally divided by different instrumentation. One used brass instruments, sometimes with a few woodwinds, which in English would be called a band. The other orchester was a kind of chamber orchestra with mainly string instruments, though it also used a few wind instruments. The dynamics of the instruments typically  characterized the venues where the damenorchesters performed. Brass was for outdoors with about 12 to 18 musicians. Strings played indoors using fewer, perhaps 5 to 10 members.  However for certain alfresco settings where quiet music was desired a string ensemble like Elsa Goldstein's Donauwellen orchestra might play in the open air.
In July 1902, the Wiener Damen-Orchesters «Donauwellen» played in the garden of the Café Kaiserhof in Urfahar, a borough of Linz, Austria, on the left bank of the Danube or Donau River.
Linzer Volksblatt
2 July 1902


It was typical for most of the Damenorchestern to be led by a man. An all-female ensemble directed by a woman, as the Donauwellen was, is less common. Even though some ladies' ensembles also included a few male musicians, all promoted the feminine side of their entertainment by dressing in elaborate costumes.

In this next postcard, the Original Wiener Damen-Orchester «Donauwellen» have eight women dressed in a traditional folk costume of matching frocks, vests, and head coverings. They are arranged in a classical sprawl on the set of a photographer's studio. None of the women have instruments. The director is again named as Paula Goldstein. I suspect that she is the older woman seated right, and the same woman seated with a book in the previous postcard.
This card was sent from Chemnitz, Germany to nearby Dresden on 5/6 July 1906.


This next postcard of the Original Wiener Damen-Orchester «Donauwellen» was also sent from Chemnitz in May of 1906 and has the same women dressed in similar costume but with striped frocks. Three are playing mandolins and the grouping suggests they also sang. 


To judge by the huge number and endless variety of Damen-Orchestern postcards preserved into the the 21st century, these female musical ensembles were evidently extremely popular throughout the vast empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary. However it is very difficult for me to do research on them as the archives I use are primarily for English language documents and newspapers. But this week I got lucky using the ANNO Historische Zeitungen und Zeitschriften at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. This archive, which is easily searchable and FREE, has a large collection of Austrian newspapers and magazines from the 19th and 20 centuries. I found three references to a Damen-Orchesters «Donauwellen» from 1901 and 1902 which are reviews not unlike the kind we read today for a traveling band playing a week at a popular restaurant. 

Linzer Volksblatt
8 July 1902

The Donauwellen ladies' orchestra has been giving concerts in the Cafe Kaiserhof in Urfahr for a few days with great success. Much praise is due to the song singer Miss Beriha Hilberger, who herself provides the accompaniment on the piano for her singing lectures. Mr. Louis Rischanek, as well as all the members of the orchestra, received the greatest applause and were thus induced to repeat most of the numbers. The concerts take place in the beautiful and large cafe garden and it is Mr. Limberger's eager endeavor to attract his guests to his establishment through the commitment of recognized good music bands and singers and to satisfy them in every way. The band intends to stay here for a long time.

It's quite possible that because there is no mention of a Paula Goldstein, but of a man named Rischanek, that this is a different «Donauwellen» group. However I'm sure that the ladies of Frau Goldstein's  got similar reviews.

The portraits of Elsa date some time later than the postcards of her group. Here in the one with her violin, she appears about age 16-18. In the caption at the top of the card, she is Elsa Goldstein, Dirigentin or Conductress. There is a long message written in pencil along the side and bottom and continued over to the back. The postmark date is 19 August 1915 and sent free via the German military Feldpost from Gera, Germany the third-largest city of Thuringia,  after Erfurt and Jena. 




Elsa's portrait with violin was listed along with the first one by the same dealer, but it was her artful pose without an instrument that first attracted my attention. To my eye, she resembles the self-possessed young woman in the iconic painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring by the Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer, in about 1665. For all we know, hidden below the canvas, Vermeer's girl is holding a violin or a mandolin.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
    Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
Source: Wikimedia

 Unlike Vermeer's mysterious unknown girl, the director of the Original Wiener Damen-Orchester «Donauwellen» has a name. Yet time has erased all the easy paths to properly identify her. It seems likely she was from Wien-Vienna, but not certain. Her estimated age suggests a birth year of 1898-99 but there are few archives from the Austria-Hungary empire that have survived with complete census and birth records.
It seems very probable that Elsa Goldstein was Jewish, as the surname Goldstein is of Yiddish origin and very common among Ashkenazi Jews. The name translates as gold stone, which means a touchstone slate used for assaying precious metal alloys. But from our advantage of 21st century hindsight we know that if this is true, the future for Elsa after 1933 will be very grim indeed if she stayed anywhere in Europe.

For these reasons, it is unlikely that I will ever learn more about this pretty young violinist. I believe she is the leader of a family group, her mother being the stern-faced Paula Goldstein, and some of, if not all, the other women, are her sisters or cousins. But I doubt many newspapers in Austria ever listed a full roster of the players in a Damenorchester.
What we are left with is trying to understand the context of the Original Wiener Damen-Orchester «Donauwellen». The Original implies that there was competition from other Wiener Damen-Orchesters.  My collection has dozens of postcards of other female ensembles from Wien, and as the brief 1902 notice in the Linzer Volksblatt suggests there may have been other groups with this name. 
However the name «Donauwellen» is special in another interesting way. It translates as Donau waves, i.e. the Waves of the Danube. It turns out that this was the name of a well-known waltz by the Romanian bandmaster and composer, Ion Ivanovici, (1845–1902). 

Ion Ivanovici, composer (1845–1902)
Source: Wikipedia

Ion Ivanovici, a.k.a. Jovan Ivanović, Iosif Ivanovici, Josef Ivanovichor, published the "Donauwellen", or the "Waves of the Danube" in Bucharest in 1880. The composer Émile Waldteufel orchestrated the piece in 1886, and it was first performed at the 1889 Paris Exposition where it won a prize and quickly became an audience favorite. Though Ivanovici wrote many waltzes, marches, and other works, his "Donauwellen" has remained his most recognized piece. In the United States, it is often called "The Anniversary Song" which was the song title given to an adaptation of the music by singer Al Jolson and composer Saul Chaplin in 1946. A recording of this song, without any credit to Ion Ivanovici, made the Billboard charts in February 1947 and lasted 14 weeks, peaking at #2. Nineteen other artists have recorded the tune, but Ion Ivanovici never made a penny.

To conclude this story of Elsa Goldstein's Original Wiener Damen-Orchesters «Donauwellen», here is a video of a performance of Iosif Ivanovici's Donauwellen Walzer played by violinist Doina Fischer and friends. I think it safe to say that Elsa played this piece in this way. And she surely would approve of Doina's gown.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where hats and furs make the woman.

The Odd Fellows Home Girl's Orchestra of Lexington, KY

03 July 2021


Though the pavement is covered with rain,
the young ladies are not wearing rain slickers
but sailor suits in a female dress version
complete with collar tie and service stripes on the sleeves.
As noted on the bass drumhead the 14 girls are members 
of the Odd Fellows Home Band of Lexington, Kentucky.

However most of their instruments are not suitable
for a marching band, but for a seated orchestra.

A few years earlier, to judge by the director's face,
they sat on a platform constructed in front
of the same portico to celebrate a patriotic day,
perhaps Flag Day or July 4th.
The sailor dresses are in summer white
and about half of the musicians, 12 girls and one boy,
hold string instruments. In the back is an upright piano.
The director is the same man,
but all the girls are different
from those in the first photo.
The drum is the same. 

This next postcard is a half-tone newsprint image captioned:
Kentucky Odd Fellows Home Orchestra.
Prof. Ellis Kidd, Director. Lexington, KY

The ensemble of fourteen girls pose on the same steps
with five violins, viola, cello, and double bass,
two clarinets, two cornets, trombone and percussion.
The director, Prof. Kidd, standing on the left
is the same man in the other postcards.
The other man on the right is unidentified.
The poor print makes face matching more challenging
but I think the cellist is the same girl in the previous photo.
Here the young ladies, ages 13 to 18, are not in uniform
but wear an assortment of fashions.
Their high button shoes suggest a time before 1920.

Three vintage postcards of what looks like a girl's school orchestra.
In a way it was an institution for children, but it wasn't a school.
The string instruments made it definitely a kind of orchestra,
but there were boys too who played in a band.

They were all residents of
the Odd Fellows Home for Widows and Orphans of Lexington, KY

The first postcard of the Lexington girl's orchestra
was the only one sent through the mail,
though somehow it never had a stamp.
It was sent to Miss N. J. Hines of Florence, Alabama
from Benham, Kentucky and dated August 26, 1924.

This is those
girls that played
at the theatar to
night  they sure do
make good music
Write soon and the
Best of wishes  Yours

Evidently Elmer had heard the girls' orchestra and picked up their postcard at a concert they gave near his home in Kentucky's coal mining region, Harlan County, 165 miles southeast of Lexington.

Lexington KY Herald
7 June 1925

In June 1925 the girls' orchestra performed at a luncheon for a conference of the United Commercial Travelers, another national benevolent organization like the Odd Fellows but established for traveling salesmen. The event was held in the banquet room of a Lexington hotel, and about 225  "knights of the grip" with "their ladies" were entertained by the 14 piece orchestra in a program which included a number of solos. A vocal solo was rendered by Miss Irene Crooks, with a cornet solo by Miss Marie Minter and a trombone solo by Miss Etta Brewer. The other members of the orchestra were Misses Nellie Gross, Ruth Burchett, Margaret Schnitzler, Oggie Raynes, Thelma Showalter, Emily Spencer, Minnie Wood, Eva Fugate, Bessie Raynes, and Kemp Cline. Surely some of the names belong to the girls in Elmer's 1924 postcard.

I.O.O.F. Home, Lexington, KY
Source:  University of Kentucky Library Archives

In this postcard view of the home we can see on the left the main administration building with the four  column portico where the orchestras photos were taken. In the foreground is a band stand, a centerpiece in this era seen in many postcards of American institutions.
The Order of Odd Fellows was founded in London in 1730 as a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal order. The first American lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was established in Baltimore in 1819. It became the first national fraternity to accept both men and women when in 1851 it allowed women to join, forming a separate order called the Daughters of Rebekah. By 1896 it was considered the largest fraternal organization in America reporting in 1922 that it had 2,676,582 members.
Around the country many I.O.O.F. lodges built institutional homes for widows and orphans as a benefit for their members. The one in Lexington opened in October 1898 on about 30 acres of farmland in the north corner of the city. By 1920 it could boast of several large buildings with separate dormitories for boys and girls. Though from the beginning the Lexington home served as a haven for both widows and orphans, it never took in many widows, and in 1916 they were transferred to another facility in Eminence, KY, about 50 miles northwest of Lexington.
Not all the children who lived at the home were there because both parents had died. In many cases the loss of one parent forced the surviving spouse to place their children in the care of the orphanage. For fathers it was usually their work that prevented them from having any time to properly raise their children. For mothers it was a different kind of financial burden as in this era women had very limited job opportunities and poverty compelled them to resort to a charitable institution like the Odd Fellows Home. In one personal story I found online, a woman wrote a novel based on her  grandmother's decision after the death of her husband to abandon her five children at the Odd Fellow's Home. The grandmother went on to remarry a man widowed with five children and then produced another five children. Such heartbreaking stories were sadly more common then because communities offered few if any social assistance programs.

I.O.O.F. Home, Lexington, KY
Source:  University of Kentucky Library Archives

In the 1920 census the orphanage was home to 121 children, with 66 females. The orphanage's population was smaller in 1910 with 110, and larger in 1930 with 155. The staff numbered about 15. The average age of an orphan at the home in 1920 was 12.6 years. Though several girls were listed as 17 or 18, there were no boys that age. The residents were released into the world when they reached a majority age, so this may have been earlier for boys at 16 when they had more employment opportunities than girls. There seemed to be more children 12 or older than younger children. It was sad to read a few ages carefully marked as 4 7/12, 3 11/12, and 3 10/12.  

In the 1920 census, siblings at the orphanage were listed together under their surnames. Of the 121 children living at the home, 80 were there with another sibling, recorded under 27 family names, several in a family group of 4 and one with 5. Another interesting bit of detail recorded by the census taker was in annotations along side the sheet columns. "All in school. All over 6 years old can read and write. All born in Kentucky, (for child, father, and mother) All over 10 years old can speak English. All that are old enough worked at the Home."

The older children attended public schools in Lexington, but the home hired a teacher for the primary education of the youngest kids, and provided the older ones training in domestic skills and farm trades. On the property the home also maintained a large garden farm which was reported to have a harvest in 1919 that, when canned, produced 328 gallons of corn, 600 gallons of tomatoes, 524 gallons of of green beans, 320 gallons of sorghum, 51 gallons of jellies and preserves, 108 gallons assorted pickles, 55 gallons of catsup, and 38 gallons of peas, for total of 2,024 gallons. That's a lot of jars to fill.

I.O.O.F. Home, Lexington, KY
Source:  University of Kentucky Library Archives

This next postcard image of the Odd Fellows Home, provided by the University of Kentucky Library Archives, shows Prof. Ellis O. Kidd standing in the center of both the girls' orchestra and the boys' band. Not surprisingly the location is on the same portico as the other postcards. The boys' band was organized by Prof. Kidd in 1914 and the girls' orchestra a year later.

Though the Odd Fellows had financial responsibility to support the orphanage, the home still needed money for numerous extra expenses like summer activities for the children. Like many other orphanages I have written about on this blog, the Lexington Odd Fellows Home used their boys' band and girls' orchestra as a way to raise funds from the general public, either through private event programs or with ticketed public concerts. Every summer Prof. Kidd arranged to take one of his ensembles on a tour of Kentucky. In June 1920 the girls' orchestra traveled 735 miles over 10 days to towns near Lexington with a concert every day. A tour by the boys' band in 1921 raised over $20,000 in pledges for a $200,000 endowment. Postcards of the band and orchestra were a useful medium to promote the home and collect money from the sale of souvenir cards.

When Ellis O. Kidd was hired in 1914-15 to teach the Odd Fellows Home's band and orchestra, he had already established himself in Lexington as a talented and versatile musician. A Kentucky native born in 1865, since the late 1880s he had made his principal occupation in the city as a notable church organist and also played cornet and trombone in several Lexington bands and theater orchestras. Over his long career performing and teaching music he held the position of choir leader/organist at a Baptist, Episcopal, and three Methodist churches. When Ellis O. Kidd died on 25 July 1941 after a long illness, the Lexington newspapers ran very appreciative obituaries. One noted that his mother had been a music teacher and that Ellis and his siblings had performed in a traveling family orchestra. 
A few months before his death, Prof. E. O. Kidd conducted the Odd Fellows Home boys' band in a concert in March 1941. The boys' band would continue to be active at the Odd Fellows Home for another decade, but quietly vanished from newspaper reports after 1950.  The girls' orchestra had a much shorter run of only 13 years with the last newspaper report in May 1928. Perhaps the children found other activities of conflicting interest. This was about the time that school systems began to add band and orchestra programs to the curriculum. Teaching string instruments is more difficult and labor intensive than with a band's wind instruments. Keeping up with the two ensembles may have been too much work even for Prof. Kidd.
The Odd Fellows Home was not the only fraternal society orphanage in Lexington, as the Knights of Pythias also maintained a large institution there. In the early 1930's it had a girls' orchestra too which played public concerts. However there was no mention of the orchestra's director, so I don't know if Prof. Kidd had any connection to it.

Teaching children a musical instrument is a labor of love, both of children and music. Prof. Kidd's musical upbringing matches that of many directors of children's bands that I have featured here on my blog, as in his era music was often an intimate part of family heritage. It is remarkable that he passed on his own family's love of music to children who had tragically suffered the loss of their parents. That required a special level of devotion. 

Alumni of the I.O.O.F. Home, Lexington, KY
20 June 1941
Source:  University of Kentucky Library Archives

By the 1940 census the population of the Odd Fellows orphanage had declined to 61 from the 1930 count of 155 boys and girls. I could not find any newspaper reports on the number of orphans in the 50s and 60s but it likely continued to decline. The Odd Fellows closed the Lexington Home in about 1970 and a few years later the property was used by the city for an urban renewal project. As far as I can determine none of the buildings have been preserved. 

An orphanage was one way that communities in past times responded to personal tragedy with moral obligation. No doubt some children found life in the orphanage a troubling, if not abusive, experience. For some orphans the shame and pain of abandonment left marks that were difficult to heal. But in several modern reports in the Lexington newspapers, the alumni of the Odd Fellows Home, now seniors with grandchildren of their own, talked of the friendships, the kindness, and education they received in this institution that became their home.

The Odd Fellows in Kentucky regularly celebrated a homecoming for their lodges, and in the summer of 1941 the convention was held in Lexington. To commemorate the occasion, a large group of alumni residents assembled on the portico for a photo. Undoubtedly many there that day spoke fondly of Prof. Kidd and remembered the music they played together as children. It's a typical homecoming photo, but it's a photo of a family too. 

* * *

The address of the Odd Fellows Home in Lexington was at 511 west Sixth street. Ellis O. Kidd and his family lived at 611 Price Avenue, about 350 yards from the orphanage. It was close enough that he probably could hear his young musicians practicing their instruments as he walked to the rehearsal room.

Less than two miles north from the Odd Fellows Home
was another orphanage,
the Colored Orphans Industrial Home.

Colored Orphans Industrial Home, Lexington, KY
now the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center.
Photo by Danny Mayer.

The NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database
provides the following history of Lexington's Colored Orphan Industrial Home:

The Colored Orphan Home in Lexington, KY, was incorporated with E. Belle Mitchell Jackson as president; Emma O.Warfield, vice president; Ida W. Bate [wife of John W. Bate] secretary, Priscilla Lacey, treasurer, and 11 other women members of the Ladies Orphans Home Society. Captain Robert H. Fitzhugh, who was white, was a professional philanthropist for the home.

Support for the home came from bequests, fund-raising, and donations. The home was located on Georgetown Pike [Georgetown Street] in Lexington. The board members served as matrons of the home and donated food and supplies. The home took in orphaned and abandoned children, a few elderly women, and half orphans (children with one parent). The parent of a half orphan was charged for the child's board at the home.

Board members determined when a child would be returned to its parents; there were a few adoptions and foster care placements, but the goal was to educate the children and teach them an industrial trade in preparation for adulthood. In addition to classwork, house chores, and gardening, the children were taught kitchen duties, cooking, carpentry, chair-caning, laundry, and sewing. The  children made all of the clothes and linen at the home and did shoe-making and repairs; shoes were made for the children and also sold to the community.

The home continued in operation until 1988 when the facility became the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center.

Eliza or Isabelle (Belle) Mitchell Jackson (1848–1942), the home's first president, was born in Perryville, KY and raised in Danville, KY. Her parents, Mary and Monroe Mitchell, purchased their freedom. Belle became an abolitionist and was the first African American teacher at Camp Nelson, a supply depot and hospital used by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Camp Nelson was a large recruitment and training center for African American soldiers and refugee camp for their wives and children. Mrs. E. Belle Mitchell Jackson later became a prominent teacher in Fayette County, KY and was one of the founders of the African American Orphan Industrial Home. She was actively involved with the Colored Women's Club movement. She was married to Jordan Jackson, an African American attorney, undertaker, newspaper editor and Republican leader in Kentucky.

In 1931 the children at the Colored Orphan Home of Lexington
posed on their home's portico steps for a photo.

Colored Orphan Industrial Home
Lexington, KY, 10 July 1931
Source: Source: University of Kentucky Library Archives

In the 1910 census 52 children lived at the colored orphanage. In 1920 only 23 names were listed. I was unable to find any reference to a band or orchestra at the Colored Orphan Industrial Home. The contrast with the Odd Fellows Home is striking. Everything was separate. Nothing was equal. It would be a long time before the balance began to shift, and even now, a century later, our nation still struggles to address inequity and injustice.


For more history on orphanage bands and orchestras in my collection
I recommend these stories from my blog.
The Iowa I.O.O.F. Orphans Home Orchestra,
Music Long Ago and Far Away,
The New York Orphan Boys' Band,
The Jenkins Orphanage Band,

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every weekend
good stories are delivered
right to your doorstep.


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