World War II Army Flight Nurses – 26 Apr 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Josephine (Jo) Malito Nabors (1920–2015)
812 MAES, Pacific

Jo (Josephine) NABORS née Malito (Saint Elizabeth Hospital School of Nursing, Youngstown, Ohio, 1941) stayed on as a staff nurse at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital after graduation. Having written to the Army Nurse Corps about joining, she heard nothing until the end of that year, and she entered the military right after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Jo had dreamed of being an Army flight nurse before the program even existed, never thinking that war might be declared. Her first assignment was at Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi. After a year and a half on station, Jo signed up for flight nurse training in hopes of going to Europe; her orders for Bowman Field, Kentucky came through in the summer of 1943 for the class that graduated on 1 October 1943. Her 812 MAES was sent to the Pacific, however, with Elizabeth Pukas as chief nurse. Jo married immediately after graduation and flew under her married name, Nabors. Her new husband, also in the military, was stationed stateside throughout the war.


Jo Nabors featured in Honolulu newspaper clipping. (AFHRA)

Jo’s was my second interview out of state. She met me at the airport, then took me to my motel where I interviewed her at her request, rather than drive us to the small town where she lived. Stylish, very friendly, and with a strong mothering instinct toward me, Jo was very articulate and talked easily. At the end of the interview, she let me know how much she’d enjoyed our visit, in part because I’d put her immediately at ease when I wasn’t afraid to talk about myself and to answer her questions. That, she said, made her more comfortable chatting about her own experiences as a flight nurse in World War II. Jo died in 2016 at age 95.

 

To listen to my interview with Jo Nabors, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011354

Interviewed 1 May 1986, Girard, OH
Learn more about my interview with Jo on the Blog for 20 Dec 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 4 Apr 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Anonymous (1912–2010)
812 MAES, Pacific

The flight nurse who requested anonymity graduated from a school of nursing in the Great Lakes Region in 1937 and worked in general nursing, private duty, a doctor’s clinic, anesthesia, and obstetrical nursing before entering the Army in 1942. Like many of her Army nurse colleagues, she volunteered for every assignment posted, including the opportunity to attend the flight nurse course at Bowman Field, KY from which she graduated 1 October 1943. Assigned to the 812 MAES, she traveled with her squadron to air evacuation duty in the Pacific. She died in 2010.

Interviewed 30 Apr 1986
Learn more about my interview with “Anon” on the Blog for 22 Nov 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 14 Mar 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Helena Ilic Tynan (1920–2010)
801 MAES, Pacific

Helena Tynan née ILIC (Lenox Hill School of Nursing, New York City, 1942) chose nursing because she wanted to be a flight attendant for Pan American Airlines. But while she was still in nurses training, war was declared. Because the airlines ceased hiring nurses, after earning her nursing diploma in 1942 Ilic entered the Army through the Red Cross Reserve in March 1943. She was assigned initially to the Don Ce-Sar, a St. Petersburg, Florida hotel that recently had been converted into a military hospital. Duty at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida followed. Two months later Helena saw a notice on the bulletin board about flight nursing, signed up immediately, and about four or five months later went to Bowman Field. Now she could fly as a military nurse instead of a civilian one. She graduated from the flight nurse course on 26 November 1943. Helena joined Lucy Wilson, Lee Holtz, and Adele Edmunds in the 801 MAES, initially assigned in Hawaii and flying air evacuation missions in the Pacific.

Helena Ilic on R&R in Australia. (USAF Photo)

Warm, friendly, and personable, Helena had so much to share about her flight nurse experiences that she sort of flitted from topic to topic. Thinking I might have provided too much guidance in my previous interview and thus stifled what Clara Murphy might have said otherwise, I let Helena take the lead in this interview and offered only minimal guidance when she needed reassurance that she was remembering useful information. Helena’s experiences revealed a resourceful, compassionate nurse who always made sure her patients were well taken care of and well fed on her air evac missions. She was “true blue”, she said, always scrounging for whatever would make her patients more comfortable. Helena died in 2010 at age 89.

To listen to my interview with Helena Tynan, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011359


Interviewed 26 April 1986, San Antonio, TX
Learn more about my interview with Helena on the Blog for 1 Nov 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 22 Feb 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Clara Morrey Murphy (1918–2015)
802 MAES, North Africa

Clara Murphy née MORREY (Saint Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing, Hancock, Michigan, 1939) worked in civil service at a US Marine hospital in Detroit before entering the Army in March 1942. She already knew she wanted to be a flight nurse. Her first assignment was at Selfridge Field in Michigan where she worked until orders came through for Bowman Field, Kentucky nine months later as part of the initial cadre of flight nurses in the 802 MAES. Flight nursing was still “experimental”, with no formal training program yet implemented. On Christmas Day 1942, before the first class for flight nurses had begun, but after some rudimentary training, Morrey’s squadron deployed for North Africa to provide air evacuation support for the Tunisian Campaign. She attended the flight nurse course, which had moved to the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, in 1945 after returning from overseas duty.

Clara Morrey (USAF Photo)

Gracious and friendly, Clara was more reserved than the women whom I had interviewed previously. But since her squadron was the first to travel overseas for air evac duty, Clara truly had launched the role of wartime flight nursing, and I knew she would have valuable memories to relate. Initially hesitant to talk on tape, Clara soon agreed, so most of our interview was recorded, but she seemed uncertain of what to say about her experiences as a flight nurse during the war. To ease her mind, I briefly explained the types of questions I would ask. I learned toward the end of our interview that Clara had written several pages of notes about coping to help her remember what she wanted to share with me. Unknown to me, our interview was on her wedding anniversary. We socialized for some time after the interview, which had gotten off to a late start, but since Clara and her husband had a party to attend that night, I left before overstaying my welcome. Clara died on 10 June 2013 at age 94.

To listen to my interview with Clara Murphy, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011353

Interviewed 19 April 1986, San Antonio, TX
Learn more about my interview with Clara on the Blog for 10 Oct 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 2 Feb 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Elizabeth Pukas (1907–2004)
Chief Nurse, 812 MAES, Pacific

Elizabeth PUKAS (Battle Creek College Hospital School of Nursing, Michigan, 1929) began her nursing career on night duty in the emergency admitting ward of New Haven General Hospital, in Connecticut, followed by work in New York City. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Pukas had six months left on her twelve-month contract as a nurse with the Corps of Engineers in Antigua, where Coolidge Field was under construction. She finished out her contract and returned to her New York City job, where recruiters were seeking nurses for military service. Pukas agreed to join contingent on an assignment as a flight nurse. She was sent initially to a hospital in Atlantic City as head nurse of the communicable disease ward and immediately submitted her application for flight nurse training. When six months had passed without word on the assignment, Pukas’s patience had run out. She took the train to Washington, DC to meet with Colonel Nellie Close, chief nurse of the Army Air Forces, and learned that her request had been granted. A short time afterward she was packed and on her way to Bowman Field. She graduated from the flight nurse course on 2 July 1943. Pukas was chief nurse of the 812 MAES sent to the Pacific, initially to Hawaii, for air evacuation duty.

Elizabeth was my first out-of-state flight nurse interview. Welcoming and considerate, she met me at the airport with a hug and a luggage carrier on wheels – both much appreciated after my long trip. And after our interview, Elizabeth served as tour guide on a driving tour of the area before returning me to the airport. Fiercely independent and strong-willed, Elizabeth, like Grace Wichtendahl and Lucy Jopling, was chief nurse of her squadron and came across as a leader with high aspirations for herself and for the flight nurses in her squadron. Elizabeth, who earned a doctorate in psychology after the war, came across as very intelligent, articulate, well read, and well informed on past and current events. She showed pride in what she was able to accomplish as chief nurse during the war, a role that extended to off-duty hours when she acted as “surrogate mother” to her nurses, creating an enjoyable home environment and superintending activities surrounding the weddings of some of her girls. Like Grace, Elizabeth kept in touch with the nurses in her squadron and became a surrogate great-grandmother over the years. And, like Alice Krieble and Lee Holtz, she continued her military service and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force. Elizabeth died on 11 August 2004 at age 97.

To listen to my interview with Elizabeth Pukas, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011355

Interviewed 9 April 1986, Walnut Creek, California
Learn more about my interview with Elizabeth on the Blog for 20 Sep 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 12 Jan 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Ivalee (Lee) Holtz, 1916–1992
801 MAES, Pacific

Lee (Ivalee) HOLTZ (University of Texas School of Nursing, Galveston, 1942) entered the military in 1942 after Pearl Harbor was attacked, with the intention of being a flight nurse. Arriving at her first duty assignment at Hammer Field in Fresno, California, she applied for flight nurse training immediately and worked as a psychiatric nurse for a year before her orders for Bowman Field came through. She graduated from the flight nurse course on 26 November 1943. Holtz was assigned to the 801 MAES with duty assignment in the Pacific; her squadron replaced the original members of that squadron who were rotating back to the United States in 1944.

Lee (second from right) in front of flight nurse quarters on Biak.
(Author’s private collection)

After relying on written notes for my first three interviews, I was delighted when Lee agreed to talk on tape. Friendly and easygoing, Lee clearly enjoyed her work as a flight nurse during the war and shared fond memories of many experiences. She had learned not to let the inconveniences of wartime living upset her and to make the most of what she had to work with as far as patient care and personal comfort. Once I realized that the tape was running and I needn’t take notes, I sat back and enjoyed the interview with an obvious enthusiasm for what Lee was sharing about her time as a flight nurse. I learned that an interview could be both informative and enjoyable. Like Alice Krieble, Lee stayed in the military after her assignment as a flight nurse had ended. She retired as a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force and died in 1992 at age 75.

To listen to my interview with Lee Holtz, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011350

Interviewed 4 April 1986, San Antonio, TX
Learn more about my interview with Lee on the Blog for 30 Aug 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 22 Dec 2019

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Lucy Wilson Jopling (1916–2000)
Chief Nurse, 801 MAES, Pacific

Lucy Jopling née WILSON (Parkland Hospital School of Nursing, Dallas, TX, 1939) had planned to be a flight attendant after nurses training, but when her dad had a heart attack, she returned home to Big Sandy, TX instead. When she heard someone say that it’s the women who would help win the war, Lucy joined the Army. An assignment in the Philippines, where she and her nurse colleagues evacuated their patients to Bataan and then to Corregidor, and her own evacuation from Corregidor on a submarine, determined her future military course of action. Flight nursing, Lucy decided, was the only way she knew to return to the Philippines to bring the POWs home. After graduating from the flight nurse course at Bowman Field on 26 November 1943, Lucy was made chief nurse of the 801 MAES and was sent with her squadron to the Pacific, initially to New Guinea but their island hopping took her eventually back to the Philippines.

Lucy Wilson. (USAF Photo)

Lucy was working on her book Warrior in White (Watercress Press, 1990), which she described as a family history with focus on her years as an Army nurse, when she agreed to let me interview her about coping with war. As chief nurse of her squadron, Lucy, like Grace Wichtendahl, had a different perspective about her work than did other flight nurses whom I interviewed. Intense, spunky, strong-willed, courageous, she also already had wartime experience, as an Army nurse on Corregidor, that defined her experience later as a flight nurse in an air evac squadron working its way an island at a time toward the Philippines before war’s end. With 26 other refugees, many of them Army nurses, Lucy had been evacuated by submarine out of Corregidor before the troops surrendered, and she was determined to return to help evacuate the American POWs from the Japanese camps. From Lucy’s interview I learned to allow plenty of time for interviews, for at her suggestion we extended our conversation over lunch at a nearby fast-food restaurant. The sharing and socializing were mutually enjoyable and a fitting close to the interview. Lucy died on Christmas Day 2000 at age 84.

Interviewed 4 April 1986, San Antonio, TX
Learn more about my interview with Lucy on the Blog for 8 Aug 2015.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 1 Dec 2019

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Alice Krieble (1912–1999)
818 MAES, Europe

Alice KRIEBLE (Indianapolis City Hospital School of Nursing, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1940) worked as an emergency room evening supervisor after completing her nurses training. When the day supervisor left, Krieble was in charge of the department. She felt that opportunity gave her ample opportunity and special knowledge beneficial to the service, for she had wanted to work in a field hospital. It was, Krieble said, the best job she ever had. But, as she continued, “it didn’t turn out that way”. She felt that if the men had to go to war, “I can do my little part as a nurse. The young airmen don’t want to go, either.” She entered the Army on 1 January 1943 with an initial assignment in a Miami Beach hotel converted into a hospital. Dissatisfied with the paperwork and “policing” duty of convalescent patients that her job entailed, she applied for flight nurse training, was accepted, and graduated from the flight nurse course at Bowman Field on 11 March 1944 with assignment to the 818 MAES for duty in England.

Alice Krieble (second from left on second row) with flight nurses of her squadron.
(USAF Photo)

A delightful woman who laughed easily, Alice hadn’t wanted to be interviewed, she said – she had been interviewed so much about her World War II experiences that it had gotten old. But, she admitted after our interview, she hadn’t minded talking to me – what she really didn’t like was talking to large groups of women. From Alice, who needed very little prompting, I learned to sit back and let her take the lead once I’d asked some background questions. Like Grace before her, Alice did not let me tape the interview, but my written notes revealed many ways in which Alice coped with her colleagues and the daily challenges of air evac duty in wartime. Alice died on 21 March 1999 at age 86 after retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force.

Interviewed 3 April 1986, San Antonio, TX
Learn more about my interview with Alice on the Blog for 20 July 2015.

To be continued

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Nov 2019

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War I (Kent State University Press, 2013). I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Grace Dunnam Wichtendahl (1917–1990)
Chief Nurse, 806 MAES, Europe

Grace Wichtendahl née DUNNAM (Levi Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1939) had thought about being a Navy nurse but did not have the five years required work experience, so she joined the Army instead. An assignment to the Philippines was cancelled so that Grace could transfer to an Army Air Forces base and attend the second class of the flight nurse course from which she graduated on 26 March 1943. Grace was appointed chief nurse of the 806 MAES, the first air evac squadron to arrive in Europe in preparation for D-Day. Assigned initially in England, the flight nurses were kept busy honing their skills on the ground in what Grace remembered as “plane-loading, plane-loading, plane-loading” and “marching, marching, marching” until their cross-channel air evac missions began after D-Day. Two highlights of Grace’s wartime assignment were tea with the King and Queen of England, and her first trip to Omaha Beach. Of this trip Grace remarked that everyone has a few moments in their life when they prove themselves. This was her moment.

Grace Dunnam (second from left) with flight nurses of her squadron.
(USAF Photo)

Charming and gracious, Grace was the first Army flight nurse whom I interviewed. From Grace I learned that while my research questions constructed to help elicit how the flight nurses coped with war could guide the conversation, they could not dictate it. And that I would do best to let my interviewee choose what she wanted to share with me within the context of her experiences as a flight nurse in World War II. Ways of coping would become evident without having to address the topic directly. Grace did not let me tape the interview, but my written notes provided useful insight into the life of a flight nurse in Europe during the war and even captured Grace’s personality on paper, if not on tape. From her I learned about flight nursing from the perspective of a chief nurse responsible for the 24 other flight nurses in her squadron. Grace was the first of my interviewees to die, on 16 December 1990, at age 72.

Interviewed 29 March 1986, San Antonio, TX
Learn more about my interview with Grace in the Blog for 26 Jun 2015.

To be continued

British Women Organists – 20 Oct 2019

Women Organists in Victorian England:
What Did They Wear?

After I had presented a paper about women organists in nineteenth-century England at an organ conference in Oxford, England several years ago, a delegate approached me to ask, ‘But what did they wear?’ A good question for which we have little photographic evidence. We do, however, have illustrations and textual references that, when studied together, give an idea of how women organists confined to Victorian fashion dressed for the bench.

Today’s women organists have more socially acceptable options than did their Victorian predecessors for dressing to facilitate movement of the hands between the manual keyboards and easy foot access to the pedal board unencumbered by superfluous fabric. Women’s fashions in Victorian England were marked by their excess – tight-fitting bodices and voluminous skirts that accented a tiny waist cinched in by a tightly laced corset, and ostentatious display of ruffles, flounces and other embellishments to the clothing. Skirts were long, falling below the ankle. The addition of more and more heavy petticoats or crinolines to fill out the silhouette gave way to the hoop skirt supported underneath by a lightweight, cage-like foundation of steel rings and fabric tape secured around the waist. The copious fabric of the skirt eventually found its way swept to the back, and hoops gave way to a padded bustle.

Obviously, such fashions did not sit well on a church organ bench. Thus, how to dress was a concern for women organists. Not only propriety, but also practicality determined the women organists’ attire. If the organ was located in or near the chancel of the sanctuary, the organist could be in full or partial view of the congregation in the nave. Although organs located in a church’s galley were above the congregation’s line of sight and partially hidden, stairwells to organ lofts could be narrow and steep, and organs often were fit into tight spaces. Unlike the piano stool, the organ bench had to allow optimum movement of the feet on the pedal board. Even if a woman could pedal accurately without looking at her feet, the folds of a long, full skirt could get in the way.

Victorian women were held to a high standard of decorum, especially in church, and Victorian men were not hesitant to air their views about a lady organist’s appearance.

The issue of how a woman should dress for church was a highly contested one when it came to their visibility as choristers in mixed choirs in Anglican churches in the last half of the nineteenth century. When in August 1889 correspondent Musicus asked the readers of the Daily Telegraph what objection there might be to a mixed choir of ladies and gentlemen, he received an immediate, overwhelming response, with the focus of letters shifting from how lady choristers should be attired to whether they should be choir members at all. Claiming the topic ‘much ado about nothing’, the newspaper, which came out in favour of lady choristers, printed ninety-two of the hundreds of letters it received daily over a two-week period.

For a full discussion of this issue, see ‘Silenced Voices: Female Choristers in Nineteenth-Century England’ on this website. From the Toolbar, click on Books > Elizabeth Stirling > Book Extras. Or click on this link:

https://judithbarger.com/books/elizabeth-stirling/book-extras/

Correspondents weighed in about the attire for lady organists as well. Like the debate about lady choristers, the issue cloaked the greater concern about whether women should be organists at all. Writing to the Musical World in 1857, correspondent Pedal who declared the organ ‘by no means a lady’s instrument’, explained: ‘Their very dress is against them, since it impedes their pedaling.’ 1 Not only was the act of raising one’s skirt a foot or so to facilitate pedaling unbecoming and immodest, he claimed, the positions necessary to play the pedals were extremely indelicate, if not indecent. ‘No female but a Bloomer should be an organist,’ he stated, referring to the baggy ankle-length trousers worn beneath a loose knee-length tunic made popular by American Amelia Bloomer in the 1850s. 2 Any woman who would wear such a costume, according to Pedal, was sufficiently masculine to be an organist but, because her femininity was then suspect, had consequently lost her respectability. When the topic had run its course, the Musical World’s editor chastised Pedal’s immodest thoughts in church concerning a lady’s exposed ankles. 3

The matter of whether one should look at one’s feet when playing the organ was not exclusive to lady organists but also provided a target of opportunity for correspondents to chide their brother organists. Writing to the Musical Standard in 1863, Manuals joined the debate that had resurfaced about lady organists’ suitability for church positions and used the issue of pedal playing to lend his support in their favour. Many women organists played badly, he said, but many men organists played badly too. Believing that skill, not sex, should determine competency as an organist, Manuals asked, ‘What is there, either intellectually or physically to prevent ladies playing as efficiently as the opposite sex?’ 4 He used pedal playing as an example: Many men had to see the pedals before they could play them, but women, whose crinolines distended their skirts and concealed the pedals, played them correctly. 5 Correspondent W. C. Filby put it more succinctly: ‘As to pedalling, a lady cannot look at her feet – a gentleman ought not look at his.’ 6

Several drawings in the popular girls’ magazine, The Girl’s Own Paper, published in London by the Religious Tract Society beginning in 1880, offer a glimpse of what a young woman might have worn when playing the organ in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In each drawing, shown below, she is dressed in feminine clothing that is modest, yet tasteful. Without being slaves to fashion that would impede their position at the console, female organists could dress appropriately, avoiding bloomers, divided skirts and other ‘scandalous’ clothing considered by men as improper attire for women.

John Stainer, ‘How to Play the Organ’, The Girl’s Own Paper 1 (22 May 1880): 328. [Lutterworth Press]

 

King Hall, ‘How to Play the Harmonium’, The Girl’s Own Paper 1 (24 Jul 1880): 472. [Lutterworth Press]

 

‘Notices of New Music’, The Girl’s Own Paper 9 (17 Dec 1887): 177.
[Lutterworth Press]

 

Ada M. Trotter, ‘Marsh Marigolds’, The Girl’s Own Paper 16 (3 Nov 1894): 65.
[Lutterworth Press]

The Church Musician in 1895 offered its view on proper dress for women organists, probably with an eye to the recent controversy concerning lady choristers’ attire:

A lady asks what dress she should wear when playing the organ in church? Her ordinary quiet, ladylike costume, of course, attracting as little attention as possible. Any attempt at college caps, gowns, surplices, &c. for her sex are simply fads of modern lunatics, unknown till yesterday in the Catholic church. 7

Shoes as well as dress would have been chosen carefully for organ pedaling. Writing to the Church Musician in 1894 to ask what forms of shoes his brother organists found convenient to wear when playing the organ, George Stanton implied that female organists might have the same concern. Organists’ footwear varied, Stanton wrote. ‘Each has his or her own taste, and every organist wears the boot which suits him best. I know some players who wear laced boots; some who prefer elastic sides; some who wear slippers, rubber-soled shoes, or anything else which suits their individual fancy.’ 8 His inquiry received no replies in the journal’s columns. No illustration accompanied a Musical Times advertisement in 1870 for ‘Flexura, or Patent Steel Spring Waist Boots, particularly adapted for Organists’ to show a type of shoe worn by nineteenth-century organists. 9

When Theresa Beney, who had attended the National Training School for Music on an organ scholarship, gave her first recital at Bow and Bromley Institute in March 1883, the reviewer for the Musical Standard felt it necessary to debunk the still prevalent notion that ladies were not up to the task of mastering the pipe organ. He, like others before him, used pedaling to make his point:

The popular notion that ladies do not succeed entirely as organ players, would be considerably disturbed in the minds of those entertaining the idea who chanced to be present at the recital of March 31st. Although one does not like the notion of a lady struggling with a big organ and engaged in work so trying and requiring such courage and watchful power as recital playing, save in rare instances, perhaps, it must be acknowledged that ladies can play the organ, and as pedalists are exceedingly neat and sure-footed, possibly by reason of incessant practice in measuring distances by their feet without being able, as men are in walking and pedal-playing to watch their pedal movements.

The reviewer, like many of his brother organists, still was not convinced that ladies belonged on the organ bench, for he concluded: ‘On the other hand, the power and grandeur of a large organ would seem to be best handled by the sterner strength of the ‘lords of creation,’ to say nothing of questions of mental power, which the writer will not venture upon, lest his opinions bring him into ‘hot water.’ 10

For an in-depth discussion of the ‘eligibility’ of women to serve as organists in nineteenth-century Anglican churches, see Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate 2005). The book currently is out of print but may be found in libraries and purchased from used booksellers.

Notes

1   Pedal, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 585.
2   Ibid.
3   ‘Really, some of our organists’, Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 588.
4   Manuals, ‘Male and Female Organists’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (1863): 274.
5   Ibid., 274 – 75.
6   W.C. [William Charles] Filby, ‘Male and Female Organists’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (1863): 274.
7   ‘A lady asks’, Church Musician 5 (1895): 2.
8   George A. Stanton, ‘Organists’ Shoes’, Church Musician 4 (1894): 155.
9   ‘Flexura, or Patent Steel Spring Waist Boots’, Musical Times 14 (1870): 582.
10 ‘Bow and Bromley Institute’, Musical Standard 24 (7 Apr 1883): 215.