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 Elegant Tuba

16 September 2022

 For most women a tuba
is not a common fashion accessory.
It's generally too big
to fit into a lady's handbag
and tuba slide grease can leave
unsightly stains on a white blouse.



 But for a few select women
a tuba's gleaming sensuous curves
add a touch of classy refinement
that sparkles more than any gilded jewelry.



The tuba's understated but elegant form
enhances a woman's figure
as well as any violin or flute.
Which is why clever fashionable women
know that a tuba will always complement 
their choice of evening gown or teatime frock.

Today I present a curated selection of portraits
of female tuba players.


We begin with a cabinet card photograph of young woman dressed in a long dark gown and holding a silvery tuba. Her skirt is made of a very textured fabric and her bodice is a matching satin, I think. It is difficult to be certain of the color, but it looks more black than the sepia tones of dark blue or deep red. Her blouse has a high collar and long sleeves in an interesting geometric pattern. She gazes direct into the camera lens of S. P. Eggan of 251-3 Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The photographer's stylized embossed logo looks like the initials S. A. Eggan, but the first letter has a larger swirl that makes the letter P. This matches the name Sever P. Eggans who was a photographer in Minneapolis. Born in Norway in 1869, Sever's name first appears as a photographer at 251 Cedar Ave. in the 1888 Minneapolis city directory working with Ole P. Eggan, who I believe was his brother. Yet by the 1892 directory Sever P. Eggan listed his occupation as retoucher for the A. B. Rugg studio. However in the 1897 city directory, Sever P. Eggan returned to 251 Cedar Ave. with his own photography studio, though without Ole P. Eggan who seems to have left Minneapolis. Sever maintained a studio at that location in Minneapolis through the 1920s until his death in 1929. (Many names, including my own, have trouble with alternate spellings, but the directory listing for Eggan included a warning to also check Eagan, Egan, Eggen.)
With this business history, and since the studio marked does not read Eggan Brothers, it seems fair to date this photo as no earlier than 1897.  It's curious that the S in the logo resembles the musical symbol for a treble clef. Perhaps Mr. Eggan had an interest in music too. His studio certainly catered to musicians as the second portrait was taken there too.

This young woman poses with a slightly smaller tuba, which I believe is a euphonium and not a baritone horn. She wears a dark gown of the same material as the previous woman and cut in similar style. Clearly both women are wearing a coordinated formal dress, a style better suited for an orchestra rather than a band concert. 
Their two instruments are a similar conical design but of different sizes, the smaller euphonium in B-flat and the larger tuba in E-flat. There are tubas made in larger sizes typically with 4 valves for lower bass notes, but these three valve models would have been the more common bass instruments in bands of the 1890s, with the higher voice of the euphonium assigned the more melodic solo lines. It's interesting that both instruments are polished to a lustrous shine that required the photographer to pay special attention to the studio lighting. I suspect they may even be brand new instruments for the two ladies and might have been the reason they had their photo taken.

* * *

The third tubist's portrait is a young woman in a dark dress, maybe blue or green, that is made of ordinary matte fabric ornamented with a high collar and some pearl beads on her chest. She holds her tuba securely with an arm through the upper tubing and gazes off to the camera's right. She wears a soft cap, almost boyish with only a hint of brim, if any. It's very like the homemade uniforms worn by many of the "ladies' bands" in my collection.

The photographer's mark reads: R. A. Ewing, Oklahoma City. There was a photographer named Robert A. Ewing in the 1902 Oklahoma City directory, which was the oldest directory available, and he operated a studio until at least 1942. But I was only able to find him in one census record from 1950 that showed he was born in Virginia in 1872. By that time he was retired, so I don't know when he established his photography studio in Oklahoma City. This style of cabinet card might be late 1890s but the grey card stock feels more like early 1900 to me. Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907 and Oklahoma City is its state capital. In 1890 the city's population was 4,151 and by 1900 it grew 142% to 10,037. During the next decade it jumped an astounding 540% taking the population to 64,205. 

Her instrument is similar to the euphonium, but it may have more cylindrical tubing, in which case it would be a baritone or tenor horn. The nomenclature of the low brass family is very confusing and I'm only a horn player so I won't try to explain it. Basically it's all about the plumbing.

* * *


I can't resist including one more tuba player from about the same era, roughly 1895 to 1905, that I featured in a story from November 1917, The Elegant Low Brass of Philadelphia. She is seated in the studio of Franz Meynen, a German photographer who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1874. It's one of my favorite portraits with the tubist seated and resting her arm thoughtfully on her upturned tuba, almost as if she was a Grecian or Roman marble sculpture. Her instrument is another E-flat tuba like the one in Minneapolis, but not as shiny. Follow the link to see her trombone companions.

Minneapolis and Oklahoma City, not to mention Philadelphia, were becoming major centers for culture when these photos were produced. Beginning around 1885 both Minneapolis and Oklahoma City had female bands and orchestras that performed in their city's parks and theaters, either as touring companies or organized by local talent. Unfortunately tuba players, male or female, do not get much notice in newspapers so I am unable to offer a name for any of these four women. And because there were so many different groups I can't presume to identify their musical group either.
All we are left to admire
is their beauty, poise, charm,
and good fashion sense
to include a tuba in their portrait.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where mothers always know best.


Liz Needle said...

Thanks for this post. I never realised that women in the 1800s actually played the tuba. Always seems more of a man's instrument to me - but then, I don't know much about the subject- although I am learning quite a bit from your great posts.

Barbara R. said...

These are the first women tuba players I've ever seen. Interesting to know they might have been in orchestras rather than marching bands. Perhaps sitting bands would be an image I can imagine.

Kristin said...

I wonder if the first two women were sisters. It's too bad we don't know their names.

Kathy said...

I am curious about the first two - did all the women in the orchestra have the same dress as a uniform or, like Kristin suggested, are they sisters dressed alike.

Mike Brubaker said...

Though they may be sisters, which I know was common as sisters regularly appeared in the band/orchestra rosters that were often included in newspaper reports of the time, I think the Minneapolis women dressed in a custom "uniform" chosen by the members of their musical group. The old photos and postcards of female bands and orchestras often show women wearing nearly identical handmade dresses that were not the military style uniforms of male bands which came from a costume supplier.

Monica T. said...

Love the comment "[the tuba is] generally too big
to fit into a lady's handbag" ... ;)

Molly's Canopy said...

These are lovely portraits, which make the large tubas seem quite genteel. I particularly like the formal dresses with the geometric lace collar details. Stunning. And kudos to you for finding a reference to one of the photographers in the 1950 US census. Aren't we all thrilled that that census is now available!


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