British Women Organists – 28 Sep 2019

‘Ladies Not Eligible’?:
Female Church Organists in
Nineteenth-Century England

Part 2

In my previous blog (8 Sep 2019) I explored the ‘lady organist issue’, perpetuated in nineteenth-century British newspapers and music journals, that declared women ineligible for organist posts in many of England’s parish churches. I focused on a flurry of letters to the Musical World in 1857 that argued for and against the stipulation ‘No lady need apply’. This blog extends the debate to 1863, when the topic resurfaced in the Musical Standard.

Like Pedal before him, a letter to the Musical Standard in 1863 signed Pedals argued that ladies as a group were not competent for the position of organist. 1 Pedal had written to the Musical World in 1857, ‘it is by no means a natural sequence that if one or two ladies do perform the duties properly, that every lady is competent’. 2 Ann Mounsey Bartholomew was one of the ‘very few exceptions’ whom Pedals was willing to admit into the priesthood of organists, but according to him, many of her female colleagues who had infiltrated the ranks were to blame for the low esteem with which the organist position currently was held. Pedals offered many reasons: women organists appeared to lack decision, vigor, self-possession and firmness necessary in organ playing. They did not use the instrument to its full extent, and they played too fast. 3

Manuals, a correspondent who saw the flaws in Pedals’s argument, admitted that women organists played badly, but many men organists played badly, too. ‘What is there, either intellectually or physically, to prevent ladies playing as efficiently as the opposite sex?’ Manuals asked. He used the example of pedal playing in support of his question. 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. 4 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.’ As to physical requirements, Filby observed that the control of an organ required no super-feminine strength. He concluded: ‘I only ask that, on the musical question, no sexual difference may be recognized, that female organists shall be neither flattered, pitied, nor dispised; but that they may be tried in the exacting balance of musical exigency, and only rejected when they are found wanting.’ 5

Pedals was not convinced. Women were not physically equal to the task of organ playing, he claimed. Let Filby ‘play the “Hailstone Chorus” with swell coupled to great, on one of Hill’s large organs’, and then ask himself if female organists possess the requisite strength. ‘I doubt whether a lady would not break down from sheer exhaustion, long before the final chord,’ Pedals remarked. As to other sexual differences, the correspondent explained:

I deny that I object to the ladies on account of their sex, … My objections arise solely from their natural inabilities – inabilities over which they have no control, since they are inherent in their nature; and if it has not pleased the great Maker of All to endow them similarly to men, it is not their fault. But still they must not endeavor to fill appointments to which the endowments of men alone are equal. 6

The debate continued. In a revealing secondary theme, a correspondent asked Alfred Beale whether in 1858 he had on three occasions lost organist elections to ladies, in competitions before professional umpires. Beale replied that he had played not three, but four times unsuccessfully against ‘lady organists’. One competition Beale chose not to discuss because of its disgraceful nature; another he blamed on the poor quality of the organ. In the other two auditions, Beale claimed, he was judged the best player, but the appointment in each case was given to a female candidate. 7 To the various reasons offered in correspondents’ letters why ladies should not be eligible as church organists, Beale unwittingly had added another: male pride.

The woman organist who entered the discussion rebuked Manual’s gallant defense of his sister organists. ‘We feminines do not want such toleration, we require no such mock homage, we do not care that the other sex should attribute to us qualities which we know we do not possess,’ she wrote. Filby, the female correspondent stated, put the matter in proper perspective; he asked for fairness, which was all she and her sister musicians wanted. 8

But in one place where women should have been considered equal to men in the sight of God, some women organists found themselves marginalized, excluded from using their musical talents in the service of the church. The opening lines of Samuel Wesley’s musical spoof on the process of organist elections in England at the end of the eighteenth century had more than a grain of truth to them in the next century: ‘Come all my brave boys who want Organist Places. I’ll tell you the fun of the Thing.’ 9

The policy of excluding women as applicants continued past 1880 when, for example, Saint Botolph Aldgate in the City of London pronounced ‘Ladies not eligible’ for appointment to the church organist position. 10 Of seven announcements I found in the press from churches declaring lady organists ineligible, six were Church of England and one, Congregational. One church was located in the City of London; the other six were in the metropolis of greater London. 11

Equally exclusionary was the wording found in far more published announcements, often for parish churches outside the London area, addressed to ‘any GENTLEMAN desirous of becoming a CANDIDATE’ for the organist position. Capitalising the letters of ‘gentleman’, as in an 1882 announcement for Saint Bride’s Fleet Street, left no doubt concerning the fate of lady applicants. 12 Similar announcements could be found as late as 1895.

Not all churches objected to women organists; some churches preferred them, as in a Musical Times announcement of 1870: ‘WANTED a Lady ORGANIST for Parish Church, West of London’. 13

No discernible pattern of discrimination against women organists is evident by year or decade in a sample of published announcements of vacant church positions. As early as the 1820s and as late as the 1890s, announcements by churches in London and the surrounding areas that excluded women as candidates coexisted with announcements in which the wording was gender neutral.

The use of gender-neutral wording to announce vacancies for organist positions raises the question of whether the choice of words was the intentional decision of a liberal-minded vestry or whether it simply had not occurred to them that women even would apply. Perhaps the vestry members were unaware that any woman could possess the requisite talent and qualifications to succeed as a church organist.

Women were denied the same preparation as male organists who were brought up as cathedral musicians and later sent off for a university education. Therefore, they had to follow a different career path. They completed their musical studies privately when necessary and found church positions to allow them to practice and perfect their profession as organists. Beginning around 1853, music journals published notices of female organists seeking church positions, as in these examples from the Musical Times of February 1877:

ORGANIST. – A Lady, thoroughly qualified, desires a post as ORGANIST, either in London or within 20 miles. Is an experienced, clever trainer. Excellent references. Address L. Novello, Ewer and Col, 1, Berners Street.

ORGANIST. – A Lady desires a SITUATION. Good references from Clergy and Organist. Address Solo, Post Office, Nutfield, Red Hill, Surrey.

ORGANIST AND CHOIRTRAINER. – A Lady of several years’ experience DESIRES a SITUATION. Apply to W. Parrott, Esq., Organist, Magdalene College, Oxford.

REQUIRED, by a Lady, a SITUATION as Organist in a church within 10 miles of London; W. or S.W. Has had 12 years’ experience, and can conduct a choir of moderate pretensions. A large stipend not expected. Address, in first instance, L.N., 4, Ranelagh Villas Grove Park Gardens, Chiswick, W. 14

We cannot know whether these ‘want ads’ achieved their intended purposes. But women were being elected to and succeeding in church organist positions. Books such as Donovan Dawe’s Organists of the City of London 1666–1850 and Charles Mackeson’s A Guide to the Churches of London and Its Suburbs, published annually most years between 1886 and 1895, both limited to the Church of England, as well as church appointments listed in music journals, document the names of hundreds of women organists throughout the nineteenth century.

Some, such as Ann Mounsey Bartholomew, Elizabeth Mounsey and Elizabeth Stirling were professional organists who held long-serving positions in City of London churches. Others left fewer traces of their church activities beyond a name appearing in lists of organist appointments. Many organists were amateurs, serving gratuitously in churches, perhaps the sisters, wives and daughters of clergy. Still others remained nameless, identified only as ‘a lady organist’.

They were, as Florence Nightingale in 1868 advised young ladies called to any particular vocation, doing God’s business, and, as she assured them, ‘Where God leads the way, He has bound Himself to help you go the way.’ 15 These women persevered as church musicians despite cultural, medical, musical and religious arguments put forth by opponents of ‘lady organists’.

In 1880 The Girl’s Own Paper, a popular magazine published in London by the Religious Tract Society printed an article by John Stainer on ‘How to Play the Organ’. First guiding the novice through the perils of ascending the stairwell to an imaginary church organ loft, Stainer’s advice has relevance to England’s women organists pursuing church positions in the nineteenth century and sums up their attitude when faced with real and imaginary obstacles impending their success. ‘The answer to the question, “How am I to play the organ?” might be answered in two words, namely, “Do it.” This is, in fact, the only answer that can be given.” 16


1      Pedals, ‘Organist. – The Ladies v. the Gentlemen’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (15 Apr 1863): 258.
2      Pedal, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 585.
3      Pedals, Organists. – The Ladies v. the Gentlemen’, 258.
4      Manuals, ‘Male and Female Organists’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (1 May 1863): 274–75.
5      W.C. Filby, ‘Male and Female Organists’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (1 May 1863): 274.
6      Pedals, ‘Pedals’ Reply’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (15 May 1863): 287. William Hill and Sons built organs in 19th-century England, among them one for the Birmingham Town Hall in 1832. The ‘Hailstone Chorus’ is from Handel’s oratorio Israel and Egypt – ‘He gave them hailstones for rain’.
7      D. Maskell, ‘Gentlemen v. Lady-Organists’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (1 Jun 1863): 323; Alfred Beale, ‘Mr. Beale – In Reply’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (15 Jun 1863): 323.
8      A Female Organist, ‘A Lady to the Rescue!’ [correspondence], Musical Standard 1 (15 May 1863): 277.
9      Samuel Wesley, ‘Come all my brave boys who want Organists’ Places’ folios 85–91, MS. Additional 35005, British Library, London.
10   ‘To Organists. – Wanted’, Musical Times 30 (1 Jun 1880): 321.
11   See ‘Organist Wanted for the Parish Church of St. Olave, Southwark’, Musical Standard 10 (13 Feb 1869): [1]; ‘To Organists. – The vestry of St. Matthew, Bethnal Green’, Musical Standard 10 (3 Apr 1869): [1]; ‘Organist Wanted for the Parish Church, Bromley, Kent’, Musical Standard n.s. 2 (29 Jun 1872): 380; ‘Organist and Choirmaster Wanted for George-street Congregational Church, Croydon’, Musical Standard n.s. 13 (27 Oct 1877): 268; and ‘Organist and Choirmaster Wanted for George-street Congregational Church, Croydon’, Musical Times 18 (1 Nov 1877): 554.
12   ‘Organist’, Musical Standard 4 (1 Dec 1866): 342.
13   ‘Wanted a Lady Organist’, Musical Times 20 (1 Nov 1870): 665.
14   Musical Times 18 (1 Feb 1877): 51.
15   ‘Letter to Miss Nightingale’, Englishwoman’s Review, January 1869, 150.
16   John Stainer, ‘How to Play the Organ’, The Girl’s Own Paper 1 (22 May1880): 328.



British Women Organists – 8 Sep 2019

‘Ladies Not Eligible’?:
Female Church Organists in
Nineteenth-Century England

Part 1

On 8 April 1865 the Musical Standard carried an announcement by the vestry of Saint John Southwark inviting ‘application from Gentlemen desirous of becoming CANDIDATES for the office of ORGANIST. Ladies, and persons afflicted with blindness, will not be eligible. 1 The linking of ladies with blind persons may have alluded to incapacities in women comparable to infirmities that, in the mind of an 1862 contributor to the Musical Standard, entitled the blind to compassion and assistance, but not to a position in which they might ‘do infinite harm by rendering the musical portion of our public worship uninteresting, if not ridiculous’. 2

In fact, the wording of the announcement ostensibly was intended to prevent harm to female organists, though the true motive remains suspect. When, at a vestry meeting, a letter was read from Kate Davis, organist of Saint John’s, resigning her position, a Mr Bradford proposed that the announcement in the public papers include the ineligibility clause, because he had heard it from a professional man ‘that it was absolutely injurious to the health of a female to play the organ at St. John’s’. 3

The decision of Saint John’s vestry to exclude women as applicants for its vacant organist position was not an isolated case. In 1853 Punch had taken up the cause of female church organists when it asked whether Saint Cecilia would be eligible for the recently vacated organist post at the church of Saint Helen Bishopsgate, given that the patron saint of organists was a woman. It is interesting that the 1853 announcement in The Times to which Punch referred was gender neutral in its wording, but Mr Punch had heard ‘that it is the practice of many vestries to exclude female candidates from competition for the organist’s office’ and wanted to spare Cecilia ‘the anxiety and trouble of making an application, in doubt whether or not it has been predestined to be fruitless’. Punch continued: ‘One would think that the church of a female saint would admit a female musician – or can it be that ST. HELEN would have closed her doors against her sainted sister, the namesake of Miss Punch, herself?’ 4

An announcement in 1854 advertising a vacant organist position at the Parish Church of West Hackney, with its stipulation that ‘Ladies are not eligible’, confirmed what Punch suspected and aroused the indignation of a letter writer to whom six years later, in 1860, the West Hackney announcement represented the degradation to which women still were subjected unjustly. The letter to the Musical World, signed A Seat-Holder at a District Church, decried the ‘unmerited and unmanly insult offered to our mothers, sisters, and wives’ which treated ‘the sex as inferior beings; it is un-christian and un-English-like’. The correspondent’s charge to popular writers nobly to employ their pens ‘in checking the progress of this increasing public evil’ went unheeded, at least in the contemporary music journals. 5 The pens of other writers, however, were not idle, as seen in a flurry of letters to the Musical World in 1857 and to the Musical Standard in 1863.

A letter signed A Clergyman asked readers of the Musical World in 1857 how it was that the announcements for parish organists appended the stipulation ‘No lady need apply’. He may not have anticipated that woman’s respectability would be offered in support of this blatantly discriminatory policy. He had cited the names of some of the most highly gifted organists of the time, among them Ann Mounsey Bartholomew, Elizabeth Mounsey and Elizabeth Stirling, as evidence that women could play the organ and conduct choirs as well as their male colleagues. A Clergyman asked, ‘Why should a really competent female be set aside (as is too often the case, to my own knowledge) for the sake of a less competent male, simply because she is female?’ 6

Elizabeth Stirling (1819 – 1895)

Correspondent Oboe, who once had visited a woman organist in the organ loft during a service, was quick to respond to A Clergyman. He asked, ‘Do you, sir, think that it is a decent or proper profession for a lady to follow?’ 7

Yet another Oboe, who claimed to have been the first correspondent to use that pseudonym, asked the journal’s readers, ‘What business had this “gentleman” in the organ-loft during the service? Organists, when they visit a strange church, never rest until they have made their way into the organ-loft, there to tease and torment the unfortunate inmate.’ 8

The only woman to join the discussion chose to shift the focus from sex to skill. She asked the journal’s readers, ‘How does “Oboe” account for the fact, that almost always where ladies are nominated with gentlemen, to compete for appointments, and have played before professional umpires, they have been returned by them as competent to hold office.’ She said she was quite indifferent to the presence of a gentleman while performing her duties, and invited the imposter Oboe to a vacant seat in her organ loft ‘during any of the services, where he would hear an efficient choir, commenced and carried out entirely under my own direction, to the perfect satisfaction of the clergymen and the increasing congregation’. 9 Although, in the view of the journal’s editor, A Lady Organist had vindicated her sex modestly and appropriately in her letter, he nonetheless felt obliged to warn Oboe mockingly ‘not to accept this insinuating “invite” – unless he has no disinclination to a probable case of “Mrs. Oboe”’. 10

The sentiments of a letter writer who signed himself Pedal matched those of the imposter Oboe. ‘The organ is by no means a lady’s instrument,’ Pedal declared. He explained: ‘Their very dress is against them, since it impedes their pedaling.’ Not only was the act of raising one’s skirt a foot or so to facilitate pedaling unbecoming and immodest, correspondent Pedal claimed, the positions necessary to play the pedals were extremely indelicate, if not indecent. Pedal’s personal opinion of women discredited his supposedly professional argument against women organists, however, when he remarked parenthetically, ‘Bless their little hearts, may their eyes always look as loving, and their kisses be ever so sweet!’ 11

A letter signed A Metropolitan Churchwarden urged a stop to the prejudice against female organists, whom he preferred because they usually were more desirous than male organists to please clergy and congregation. Setting his own bias aside, however, the Churchwarden advocated equality of opportunity for organists of either sex. ‘Let us have the same privilege of testing their abilities, leaving it to the umpires to decide,’ he recommended. 12

In the issue in which the last of these letters appeared, the Musical World published a response, stating that it had heard enough of these futile, at times unfair arguments, which almost assumed ‘the form of a crusade against the fair sex’. Oboe, the editor pointed out, would have shown a better sense of decorum had he joined the congregation in worship instead of visiting the organ loft, or, if prayer was not his reason for attending the service, had stayed away altogether. Pedal was chastised for his immodest thoughts in church concerning a lady’s exposed ankles. The claims of correspondents such as Oboe and Pedal, the editor suggested, masked the real reason for their harangue: that organists far outnumbered churches, and that by eliminating women from competition, men would have a better chance of securing organist positions. 13

Yet women organists continued to secure organist appointments, much to the dismay of some of their male colleagues who, in the press, denounced women’s fitness to succeed in that occupation. Although the Musical World hoped the controversy had ceased in 1857, the topic resurfaced six years later in the Musical Standard in an equally heated debate about women organists – which is the topic of the next blog.

To be continued


1      ‘To Organists’, Musical Standard 1 (8 Apr 1865): 328. Saint John Southwark also was known as Saint John Horsleydown. For more about the ineligibility of women to apply for organist positions in nineteenth-century England, see Judith Barger, Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate, 2007). The book is currently out of print, but copies are available in libraries and from used booksellers.
2      ‘On Choosing an Organist’, Musical Standard 1 (15 Aug 1863): 19.
3      ‘Elected Vestry of St. John’s Horsleydown’, South London Journal, 1 Apr 1865, 7b.
4      ‘Organist. – A Vacancy’, Times (London), 11 Nov 1853, 4d; ‘St. Cecilia and St. Helen’, Punch 25 (1853): 238.
5      ‘Organist Wanted’, Times (London), 10 Jun 1854, 2f. See also ‘Organist Wanted’, Musical Times 6 (15 Jun 1854): 89; A Seat-Holder at a District Church, ‘Church Organists’ [correspondence], Musical World 38 (11 Aug 1860): 513.
6      A Clergyman, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (29 Aug 1857): 553.
7      Oboe, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (5 Sep 1857): 586.
8      Oboe, ‘The Ass in the Lion’s Skin’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 586.
9      A Lady Organist, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 586.
10   ‘Really some of our organists’, Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 588; A Lady Organist, ‘No Lady Need Apply’, 586.
11   Pedal, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 585.
12   A Metropolitan Churchwarden, ‘No Lady Need Apply’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (12 Sep 1857): 585.
13   ‘Really, some of our organists’, 588.


British Women Organists – 18 Aug 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 [UK] 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 displays 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 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.

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. Pedal was one of many correspondents who expressed their views on the topic of lady organists in letters to the editor. 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

Future blogs will address the debates about lady organists from correspondence printed in the Musical World (1857) and the Musical Standard (1863).

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 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 in London 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. 10

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 2007). The book currently is out of print but may be found in libraries and purchased from used booksellers.



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 (Jan 1895): 2.
8  George A. Stanton, ‘Organists’ Shoes’ [correspondence], Church Musician 4 (Sep 1894): 155.
9  ‘Flexura, or Patent Steel Spring Waist Boots’, Musical Times 14 (1 Sep 1870): 582.
10 ‘Bow and Bromley Institute’, Musical Standard 24 (7 Apr 1883): 215.


World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Jul 2019

From Chickens to Flying:
Lauretta M. Schimmoler and
the Aerial Nurse Corps of America

Thanks to Robert E. Skinner’s meticulous research from the 1980s, we know much about the life of civilian pilot Lauretta M. Schimmoler, founder of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA). His 1984 article “The Roots of Flight Nursing: Lauretta M. Schimmoler and The Aerial Nurse Corps of America” introduced a worldwide aeromedical audience to the accomplishments of this visionary pilot from Ohio who in the 1930s identified flight nurses as the key to a successful program of medical air evacuation in time of national emergency. 1 When writing Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II (Kent State University Press 2007), I was familiar with Skinner’s work, having met and corresponded with him many years before during my Air Force career. Since the book’s publication, I have had an opportunity to review some of the sources in Skinner’s own research files at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL that shed new light on my own research.

This blog elaborates on some points that I made in Chapter 1 Origin of Flight Nursing in Beyond the Call of Duty and in eight blogs about Lauretta Schimmoler that I posted on my website from 1 Oct 2018 through 16 Mar 2019.

Pilot Lauretta M. Schimmoler, circa 1932 [Bucyrus, OH Historical Society]

ANCOA and State Nurses Associations

The California State Nurses’ Association (CNSA) was one of the organizations that Lauretta Schimmoler, who lived in Los Angeles, approached around 1940 when seeking recognition of her Aerial Nurse Corps of America. In a salvo of correspondence begun in 1937 the American Red Cross (ARC) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) decried and dismissed any connection between CSNA and ANCOA, because Shimmoler had not sought permission to link her organization with the ARC First Reserve – and, perhaps even more egregious – because she was not a nurse, Schimmoler dismissed their objections, however, when In the first issue of the short-lived Nurses’ Aeronautical Digest she wrote:

It is with a warmth of gratitude that the NURSES’ AERONAUTICAL DIGEST acknowledges this month the stimulating cooperation given the Aerial Nurse Corps of America by the California State Nurses’ Association. To these good nurses WE DEDICATE THIS FIRST EDITION OF OUR NEW PUBLICATION. To them goes much credit, for they have helped us in promoting understanding among the nursing profession. They have tended by their very actions to make the Aerial Nurse Corps of America a cohesive whole, instead of a divided organization. Their patience and inspiration explain much of the recent progress displayed by the Corps. 2

NURSES’ AERONAUTICAL DIGEST was intended to replace the monthly mimeographed ANCOA Flashes that had shared the organization’s news with its members for three years. In the new format, Schimmoler reviewed the achievements of ANCOA over the past years:

1932    Dec     Inception, Cleveland, OH
1936    Sep     First official assembly for organization, Los Angeles, CA
1937    Jan      Foundation of organization
1938    Jan      Incorporation of organization
1938    Feb     Copyrights
1938    Jul       Recognition by National Aeronautical Association
1940    Jan      Confirmation by resolution, National Aeronautic Association

During 1939, ANCOA was recognized through State Nursing Association Advisory Council appointments in California, Ohio, and Michigan; it is this activity with which the national leaders of the ARC and ANA took issue. 3

Continuing her progress report, Schimmoler noted establishment of fifteen active companies of ANCOA nurses, and members’ voluntary participation in first aid stations at air meets and air events treating over 3,000 persons.

Although begun as a civilian organization, Schimmoler clearly intended that her nurses eventually would form the military flight nurse cadre as ANCOA nurses:

We have a niche to fill, namely, ONE – in Aviation, TWO – MOBILE MEDICAL EVACUATION BY AIR AMBULANCE. THREE – the formation of adequate personnel to fill a vacancy and the creation of a new department established in such a manner as to dovetail into the existing service organizations so as to create for them a Department of Service, which they can immediately call upon to fill the needs in aviation. Aerial Nurses and their auxiliary departments are not encroaching upon assignments of any other persons, but filling a niche which will be invaluable in time of need.

An Aerial Nurse Corps company is so designed to be capable of carrying out the assignments of any of the National Emergency Service organizations, civil or military.

Standards for enlistment have been so established as to comply with the requirements of the organizations of which it would otherwise come under the direction. 4

ANCOA Pilots from Ninety-Nines, Inc.

Three years before the Women Airforce Service Pilots – WASP – organization was established in August 1943 to ferry planes for the US military, ANCOA founder Lauretta Schimmoler had proposed a corps of qualified women pilots to transport ANCOA flight nurses and their medical supplies to areas of need during time of emergency. In a letter to the Ninety-Nines, Inc. International Organization of Women Pilots of which she was a member, Schimmoler outlined her idea, which Mrs. Fanny Leonpacher, editor of the Ninety Nine News Letter, printed in that publication of May 1940. “President Schimmoler wishes to give the members of the Ninety-Nines an opportunity to become identified with this new Section” – the Air Corps Reserve Section of ANCOA – wrote Leonpacher, who included an excerpt from Schimmoler’s letter:

The work of this Section would, of course, be confined to those woman pilots who have the qualifications to pilot four place or larger aircraft under varying conditions. In the event of emergency and it is necessary for us to have medical supplies or personnel transferred from one point to another, we will have available the list of eligible who can get into equipment and conduct such an activity. 5

Leonpacher then asked interested readers to contact Shimmoler directly at 2620 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA.

It is intriguing to consider the possibility that as a civilian Schimmoler had pictured women pilots’ contribution to the war effort a few years before military leaders acknowledged their usefulness in the Army Air Force’s ongoing campaign to control the skies. And in Schimmoler’s mind it could have been a logical next step for Ninety-Nine, Inc. pilots to move from ferrying flight nurses and medical supplies to transporting sick and wounded soldiers on air evacuation missions.

ANCOA Ground Activities

Serving as volunteers in first aid stations at air events and air shows gave ANCOA members an opportunity to participate in aviation activities on the ground when work as a nurse aboard aircraft was limited. A 31-page First Aid Duty manual that Schimmoler prepared and printed in 1939 outlined the nurses’ responsibilities in setting up and running First Aid stations. “Aviation needs nurses as do other industries,” Schimmoler wrote, “ and to be efficient in this specialized phase of the industry it is essential that every nurse be trained.” Schimmoler wanted to instill excitement in the “scientific work ahead in the field of Aviation” that a nurse’s affiliation with ANCOA would make possible. “In this Manual we wish to go on record as being the first in the United States to indicate sufficient interest in our men and women in aviation to want to give them the best care possible at all Air Events,” Schimmoler wrote. She purposely made no reference to nursing technique or knowledge, relying on each ANCOA nurse’s training to prepare her for required first-aid duties she might need to render.

Schimmoler concluded:

These pages have been intended to bring out thoughts for the purpose of inciting a new zeal in your hearts and a burning desire to want to do YOUR part in this new industry. A desire to shun the glamour and accept the seriousness of it all. …

It is my hope that your Motto will be as mine has been . . . . “Whether I know him or not if he flies, he is a friend of mine in Aviation and if anything should happen, The Best is none too good”. . . . Give him the best available, Do not be satisfied with anything, do not be too hasty in your actions. Be thorough but always keep in mind, The Best Is None Too Good”. 6

Schimmoler’s Belated Recognition

When Lauretta Schimmoler initially contacted General Hap Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps, about her flight nurse organization in hopes that he could see its military usefulness in time of war, Arnold expressed an interest that, on further intelligence from his staff, he chose not to pursue in favor of the military’s continued cooperation with the ARC to obtain nurses for military needs. Not everyone on Arnold’s staff discounted ANCOA’s possible role in national defense, however. Writing in 1966 to Matilda Grinevich, a prior ANCOA nurse and World War II flight nurse who made the Air Force a career and retired as a lieutenant colonel, Colonel J.L. Stromme, who had served in the Assistant Secretary of War office prior to transfer to Los Angeles where he met Schimmoler in 1938, recognized her great contribution to “Flying Nurses.” “Those of us who knew [her, knew] of her zeal to have the sick and wounded given speedy transportation to the Hospital best qualified to treat the case in hand, which, in many cases would be by air.” Stromme told Grinevich that he had spoken to Arnold many times, urging him to take advantage of Schimmoler’s work, “and give her recognition for the part she played in its development. He said he would, but he never did, not even a letter to her.”

Stromme, whose letter contains many typos, continued:

There is a poem which goes something like this:

If, with pleasure, you are viewiny [sic]
The work some on[e] is doing, Tell her now.
Don’t with[h]old your approbation
‘Till the Parson makes oration
And she lies with lilies on her brow,
For no matter how you shout it,
She won[‘]t care a thing about it
For she cannot read her tomb-stone when she’s dead.

Which is all too true, none of us is so familiar with the dead language that we will be able to read our epitaph.

Through your efforts you have made Life much brighter for Loretta [sic], she is so grateful. 7

Grinevich had known Schimmoler since the 1930s when organizing the New York Unit of ANCOA; soon one of the first Army Air Force flight nurses of World War II with follow-on participation as an Air Force nurse in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well, Grinevich well knew how air evac saved the lives of combat casualties. For years she fought to have Schimmoler recognized as originator of the flight nurse concept – with no success until 1966.

At the Flight Nurse Section’s third annual luncheon during the Aerospace Medical Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, USAF Surgeon General Lt General Richard Bohannon presented Lauretta Schimmoler, whom he introduced as “The Billy Mitchell of the Flight Nurses,” with a plaque, an Honorary US Air Force Flight Nurse Certificate, and a pair of flight nurse wings. 8 Lt Colonel Grinevich, who was in charge of the luncheon arrangements, was on hand to see her hard-fought battle on behalf of Schimmoler finally bear fruit.

Two years later in January 1968, Schimmoler, pictured below, was an honored guest at a banquet at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of flight nursing that began in the Army Air Forces and continued in the US Air Force.

Captain Nancy Barran (L) and Lauretta Schimmoler (R) [USAF Photo]

Schimmoler After ANCOA

As World War II continued, Schimmoler closed her ANCOA offices in Burbank, CA, and in 1944 enlisted in the Army as a WAC. After basic training in Iowa, Private Schimmoler returned to California for duty as a dispatcher in base operations on the flight line at Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base – later renamed Travis Air Force Base. On duty when the first C-54 Skymaster air evacuation flight with its sick and wounded soldiers arrived from the Pacific theater of operations, Schimmoler saw her dream become a reality.

Following her military service, Schimmoler returned to civilian life as a detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – with which she had been associated before the war – for sixteen years before retiring in 1964.

Grinevich thought that Schimmoler, whose eyesight had begun to fail even before her “recognition” in 1966, had had a premonition for a long time of her days being numbered before her death in 1980. Writing to Robert Skinner in 1982, Grinevich recalled that Schimmoler, who lived in Glendale, CA, had pulled out a new formal from her closet that she described to Grinevich as her shroud in which she wanted to be buried. Schimmoler had a transient ischemic attack in October 1980 followed in three days by a massive stroke that took her life three months later at age 80. 9 After funeral services in her hometown of Bucyrus, OH, Lauretta Schimmoler was buried at Holy Trinity Cemetery, less than a block from where she had raised chickens before taking to the skies.



1     Robert E. Skinner, “The Roots of Flight Nursing: Lauretta M. Schimmoler and The Aerial Nurse Corps of America,” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 55 (1) (Jan 1984): 72–77.
2     “Editorial,” Nurses’ Aeronautical Digest 1 (1) (Oct 1940): title page.
3     “Progress,” Nurses’ Aeronautical Digest 1 (1) (Oct 1940): 7.
4     Ibid.
5     “Nurses,” Ninety Nines News Letter (May 1940): 2.
6     Lauretta M. Schimmoler, Aviation First Aid Duty (Aerial Nurse Corps of America National Headquarters, Burbank, Los Angeles, CA, 1939): I, 12, 31.
7     J.L. Stromme, letter to “Lt. Col. M.D. Grenevich” [sic], 23 Apr 1966.
8     “Miss Schimmoler Awarded Honorary Flight Nurse Certificate and Wings,” Aerospace Medicine 37 (7) (July 1966): 757.
9     “Mickie” Grinevich, letter to Robert Skinner, 4 Feb 1982.






British Women Organists – 22 Jun 2019

‘Place aux dames’?
Women Organists in the First World War

After carefully reviewing issues of the Musical Times 1901 to 1910, I was not satisfied with the numbers of women organists I was seeing – or not seeing – in the ten years of Edward VII’s reign (see the Blog for 2 Jun 2019), so I extended my search through 1913 and ultimately through the years of the First World War.

Four additional women organists performed recitals not in England, but in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Hong Kong – Mrs Longfield and Tibbes, and Misses Muir and Pakes in 1911 and 1912. Likewise, an additional three women organists secured appointments, but in churches outside England in Wales, Ireland and Italy. Six more women were successful candidates in organ playing at London College of Music, two at the Royal Academy of Music Metropolitan, and five at Trinity College London.

During 1911 All Saints Parish Church Southport advertised for a ‘Protestant, teetotaler, non-smoker’ organist.1  Sex of candidates was not specified, though a woman might have been more successful than a man for the post, and preference was to be given at another church to a middle-aged man as deputy organist. In 1913 the offer of furnished bachelor rooms for the successful applicant essentially ruled out female candidates for the vacant organist-choirmaster position at a private chapel in Wemyss Castle in Scotland.

A high spot of 1912 was Miss Lilian Frost’s debut as the first and only woman to play on the Saint George’s Hall Liverpool organ while the town hall was between permanent organists. Her recital program included Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor. In 1913 Miss Lord was given ‘great credit’ for her accompaniment to Messiah for a performance at Saint Saviour’s Church in Russia, and Maunder’s ‘Olivet to Calvary’ was performed at Saint Paul’s Church, Lock Haven, Pennsylvania with Miss Edna Fredericks on the organ bench. 2 Only Miss Jackman, organist for Sullivan’s ‘Festal Te Deum’ at Chagford Wesleyan Church, applied her talents in England.

Why this seeming dearth of women organists mentioned in the Musical Times during the Edwardian era and beyond? Music as a feminine accomplishment was on the decline throughout the nineteenth century and seemed to receive its final blow with the rise of the New Woman beginning in 1894. 3 For young women who came of age at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, music no longer held an important role in their lives, having been supplanted by higher education and paid employment outside the home and by increased participation in outdoor sports and recreation. The Musical Times in 1896 had singled out the bicycle as ‘a new and most formidable enemy of the pianoforte’, because hours formerly passed on the music stool were now spent on the bicycle seat, and cited the sale of pianofortes at low cost by owners ‘going in for cycling’ as proof. 4

An advertisement in the Musical Times in 1907 beginning ‘PARENTS DECEASED. – Lady wishes to SELL Second-hand ORGAN’ suggests a similar disinterest in the organ keyboard, though the sale could have been necessitated simply for financial reasons. 5

The Girl’s Own Paper, which featured an abundance of music-related material from its beginning in 1880, had decreased its musical content by 1901. The inclusion of sheet music offers an example. Starting with six to twelve compositions for voice and piano and occasionally for violin or organ in each annual volume, The Girl’s Own Paper gradually reduced the frequency to three or less pieces of sheet music in each annual volume by the end of the century, with none some years.

The magazine still included musical material in its fiction and nonfiction, but readers were no longer given the opportunity to participate in music making within its pages. A common theme was the business of music that focused on singers and pianists. Music had shifted from pastime to profession to be treated as a business, not as an accomplishment, in order to succeed. The fictional ‘Odette: Soprano’, who attempted unsuccessfully in 1905 to establish herself as a singer in Florence, might have done well to heed the warnings in 1901 of ‘The Failures of the Business Girl’ relevant to professional female musicians. While the piano was still the instrument most written about, as late as 1909 contributor Emil Reich considered the female pianist doomed to failure. 6

It is interesting to note that Flora Klickmann, the magazine’s editor beginning in 1908, was an accomplished organist-turned-journalist but did not promote organ playing in her magazine.

The primers on how to play the organ and harmonium, articles on playing for church and conducting choirs, notices of organ music, and sheet music for organ in the early 1890s, as well as fictional female organist heroines and the occasional drawing of a female organist were missing from the magazine’s pages in the twentieth century, with one exception. In 1904 Miss Emily Lucas, a clergyman’s daughter who had become a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, wrote about the challenges and rewards of training a choir and playing for services at Saint Andrew Norwood when visually impaired – Lucas was blind. 7

Organists were in the business of playing for worship services. Were women perhaps occupying the benches of churches, as was the case in the previous century, despite the silence of the Musical Times regarding their work? I considered what impact the call to arms may have had on women organists.

In Britain during the war, roughly two million women replaced men in offices, transport, hospitals and factories. Did they replace male organists in churches as well? In 1914 in ‘The War and Music’, the Musical Times expressed concern that concert-performers and music teachers would suffer financially and suggested that these musicians should not be expected to offer their services gratuitously, even when raising funds for war needs. ‘The New Army and Its Musical Needs’ in 1915 called not for organists, but for bands, and plenty of them, to keep up the morale of the soldiers, stating: ‘A Drum and fife, and a bagpiper, at the disposal of every company captain would work wonders.’ 8 Two organists – Sir Frederick Bridge and Sir Walter Parratt – were on the Music in War Time Committee of the Professional Classes War Relief Council tasked with developing schemes for the employment of musicians during the War and dealing with their financial distress brought on by the war. By the time the Musical Times proclaimed ‘THE LAST SHOT IS FIRED!’ at the end of 1918 and recommended music as the means to maintain the morale of the soldiers while they waited to return home, a definite picture had emerged in England’s wartime churches. 9

Whether to entice more women into careers as organists or to reward those who were already playing, Girton College offered an annual organ scholarship of £30 good for three years beginning in 1914. Only one advertisement from a woman organist appeared in the Musical Times, mid-war in 1916. A pupil of Mr Docker and Mr Bodington, she was a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and had experience training mixed, ladies’ and children’s choirs. Advertisements from male organists seeking church positions and from churches seeking organists were careful to insert the word ‘ineligible’ [for military service] to show that they were cognizant of their civic responsibility, as when R.A.J., an ‘’ALTO AND ORGANIST (29, ineligible)’ sought an appointment as Lay-Clerk or Organist and Choirmaster; the ‘ORGANIST of an Oxford College (ineligible)’, desired a good appointment; and Saint Thomas Hove advertised for an ‘ORGANIST (Ineligible) WANTED immediately’, all in 1917. 10 A private chapel in Ashdown Park, Shrivenham, which in 1918 wanted ‘a Single man’ as organist and choirmaster for the duration of the war, might have done better to advertise for a woman organist, perhaps hiring ‘A.E.’, a ‘LADY, A.T.C.L.’, who sought a post as organist or assistant that same year. 11

Because women organists were still visible during the war years in the pages of the Musical Times, which listed fifteen recitals by eleven women – four performed by Miss Elaine Rainbow, two women appointed to church organist positions, eight women attaining certificates of organ playing at the London College of Music and thirteen at Trinity College London. Organist and choir-trainer Miss Elsie Black was accorded ‘great credit’ for a Musical Festival at Lydbrook Parish Church in 1918 when the choir sang Parry’s ‘I was glad’ and Handel’s ‘Let the bright Seraphim’. 12

Only one woman organist, Miss Eva Fyfield of Greenham, was identified, in 1917, as having replaced an organist for the duration of the war. 13 It appears that male organists had not disappeared from the churches. Rather, they reappeared on the benches in uniform. The most publicized was Corporal F.E. Wilson, who by June 1918 had played fourteen recitals in Eastbourne in aid of the Sick Lines of Summerdown Camp. His 14 May recital of that year included Krebs Fugue in G, Hollin’s Concert-Overture, Wolstenholme’s Canzona and Boellmann’s Toccata. ‘Good!’ the Musical Times exclaimed. 14 Lieutenant Paul Rochard, Corporal Leonard Brown, Privates Patrick O’Neill and W.J. Rainbird, Corporal, Rifleman Isidore Harvey and Driver C.E. Blyton Dobson all played organ recitals during the war. Rochard was organist for Spohr’s ‘Last Judgment’ in 1916, and Dobson played the organ accompaniment for Maunder’s ‘Olivet to Calvary’ in 1918.

Not all mobilized organists returned home. Lieutenant Albert Midgley, ‘a highly-promising young musician’ who had held an organ scholarship at the Royal College of Music for four years and was organist at Saint Andrews Alexandra Park, London before joining the military, was killed in action at the Italian Front in June 1918. Corporal Dobson was organist for a memorial service ‘For the Fallen’ at Halifax Place Chapel, Nottingham, at the end of 1918. 15

What does this tell us about women organists in Edwardian England and the years of World War One? As was the case in Victorian England, women organists were undoubtedly occupying the benches of England’s organs in the first decades of the twentieth century. But as Martin Hawkins suggested, they likely continued to be found in the smaller churches in rural parishes rather than in the large city churches whose musical activities caught the attention of the Musical Times. 16 The war years failed to impact women organists significantly, because, as a colleague pointed out, most male church organists may have been too old or otherwise unqualified to serve in the military so did not vacate their posts. Of course it is possible, too, that young women who might have served as organists found work elsewhere in support of the war effort rather than pursue music making.



1    ‘Wanted for All Saints’ Parish Church, Southport’, Musical Times 52 (1 Nov 1911): 702.
2    ‘On Sunday evening’, Musical Times 54 (1 Feb 1913): 102.
3    See Ellen Jordan, ‘The Christening of the New Woman: May 1894’, Victorian Newsletter 63 (1983): 19–21.
4    ‘The Pianoforte and Its Enemies’, Musical Times, 37 (1 May 1896) 37: 308–309.
5    See, for example, ‘Parents Deceased’, Musical Times 48 (1 Jul 1907): 433.
6    See Judith Barger, Music in The Girl’s Own Paper: An Annotated Bibliography, 1880–1910 (Routledge, 2007).
7    ‘A Blind Girl Organist (Miss E. Lucas)’, The Girl’s Own Paper 25 (19 Mar 1904): 395 – 97.
8    ‘The New Army and Its Musical Needs’, Musical Times 56 (1 Mar 1915): 148.
9    ‘The Last Shot Is Fired!’ Musical Times 59 (1 Dec 1918): 535.
10  See, for example, ‘Organist of an Oxford College (ineligible)’, Musical Times 58 (1 Dec 1917): 532.
11  ‘Wanted, the middle of August’, Musical Times 59 (1 Jun 1918): 244; ‘Lady, A.T.C.L., Desires Post’, Musical Times 59 (1 Oct 1918): 436.
12  ‘A Musical Festival was held’, Musical Times 59 (1 Sep 1918): 418.
13  ‘At the Harvest Thanksgiving Service at Highclere’, Musical Times 58 (1 Nov 1917): 501.
14  ‘Corporal F.E. Wilson’, Musical Times 59 (1 Jun 1918): 258.
15  ‘Lieut. Albert Midgley’, Musical Times 59 (1 Aug 1918): 356; ‘A Memorial Service “For the Fallen”‘, Musical Times 59 (1 Dec 1918): 548.
16  Martin Hawkins, ‘Women at the Console’, Musical Opinion 77 (May 1954): 495.



British Women Organists – 2 Jun 2019

‘Place aux dames’?
Women Organists in Edwardian England

Writing about ‘Women at the Console’ in the Musical Opinion in 1954, Martin Hawkins noted the conspicuous absence at the beginning of the twentieth century of women organists in any church of importance in England when in competition with males. These women were as always, however, welcome as organists in smaller churches where no man was available. 1 By contrast, women organists had been very much in evidence in the nineteenth century. In Organists in the City of London 1666–1850, Donovan Dawe identifies six women organists in City of London Anglican churches at the beginning of that century. 2 According to Charles Mackeson’s A Guide to the Churches of London and Its Suburbs published annually most years beginning in 1866, just over sixty women played in London area Anglican churches in 1895, the last year of that publication. 3 Yet in The Mirror of Music 1844–1944 Percy Scholes, who identified nine women organists meriting notice in the Musical Times in the 1800s, is strangely silent about female organists after the turn of the century. 4

Many of the women who made names for themselves as organists during the reign of Victoria, opening the door to the organ world wider for those who would follow in their organ shoes, did not live to see the reign of Edward VII or were no longer active as organists. Ann Mounsey Bartholomew (Saint Vedast Foster Lane) had died in 1891; Elizabeth Stirling (All Saints Poplar, Saint Andrew Undershaft) and Eliza Wesley (Saint Katherine Coleman, Saint Margaret Pattens), in 1895. Elizabeth Mounsey (Saint Peter Cornhill) lived until 1905, but deafness ended her organ playing in 1882; and Ann Stainer (Magdalen Hospital Chapel), who lived until 1914, had retired from organ playing in 1899.

The most publicised female organ recitalist at the end of the nineteenth century – Emily Edroff, who was associated with the London Organ School and known for playing the repertoire of French and Belgian composers – disappeared from the press after 1895. Five other organists, however, made news from time to time in the next century, but primarily for aspects of music making other than their organ playing.

Ellen Day (1828–1916), the ‘The Doyen of Lady Organists’, had made her debut as a pianist at age eight and later as a church organist after a few lessons with James Coward, Crystal Palace organist. She served as organist of London churches for forty-five years, twenty-seven of them at Christ Church Victoria Street, Westminster from which she retired in 1910. She also performed in public as a pianist, accompanying her younger brother John, a violinist. 5

Margaret Fowles (1846–1907) began her organ career at age fifteen at Saint James church, Ryde on the Isle of Wight before founding the Ryde Choral Union in 1874, which she conducted for over twenty years. She founded a similar choral union and select string band in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, which she conducted during the last two years of her life.

Theresa Beney (1859–1945), born in Brighton, attended the National Training School of Music on scholarship where she studied organ and piano, then remained in London to forge her career as a professional musician. After her 1880 debut as an organ recitalist at Lancaster Hall, Notting Hill in 1880, Beney passed the examination for Associate of the College of Organists in 1881 and held the church organist post at Christ Church Folkestone for about three years beginning in 1883. Like other musicians eager to get on in their profession, Beney diversified her talent to include accompanying, conducting, teaching and composing in addition to solo organ and piano performances. Two of Beney’s vocal compositions premiered at the Proms in Royal Albert Hall – ‘Song of Victory’ in 1901 and ‘The Boys We Love’ in 1914.

Annie Patterson (1868–1934), a Dublin organist, composer and author, had made history as the first woman to earn a doctorate in music by examination in 1889, from the Royal University of Ireland, two years after earning her Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts from the same university. At the end of the nineteenth century she was conductor of the Dublin Choral Union and an examiner in music for her alma mater, as well as a lecturer in music. In the next century she turned her attention to writing, authoring books on The Story of the Oratorio (1902), Schumann (1903), How to Listen to an Orchestra (1913), and The Profession of Music and How to Prepare for It (1926). Of particular interest is her book Chats with Music-Lovers (1907), which includes sections on how to practise the organ and on hymn playing and a chapter on How to Be an Organist. Patterson concludes her words on ‘good organistship’ with a question, which suggests that prejudice against ‘lady organists’ had not completely been eradicated in the light of her predecessors’ achievements:

Why not give the lady organist as fair a chance of excelling at her art as her brother professional? The physical exertion expended in organ-playing is no more hurtful to a woman than is walking, bicycling, or dancing; and for the anaemic, dyspeptic or cold-footed, no better remedy can exist than the healthful drill of ‘pedalling.’ St Paul’s objection to women speaking or ‘teaching’ in an assembly, if taken literally, would dismiss the sex from class teaching of all kinds – an art at which women often shine. Patience, reverence and tact are all demanded from conductors of church choir practices, and these qualifications are eminently womanly ones. Wherefore – when old-world prejudices as to the ‘unbecomingness’ and ‘undue effort’ attached to the woman organist’s playing shall vanish before more intimate and practical knowledge of the King of Instruments itself – let the lady ‘pulsator’ have, if no favour, at least a fair field for the display of her talents. 6

Mary Layton (1869–1929), who had made her mark in music history in 1872 as the first female Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, was best known in later years as a choral conductor and teacher of singing. She saw choral singing for women as a hopeful and elevating influence of the women’s movement and worked in political and social life to improve the status of women through music. 7

Some lesser-known female organists were still going strong at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mary Kempke, who had been appointed organist to Saint Andrews Bigglesworth in 1853 and Saintt Swithin’s Sandy in 1862, was well on her way to ‘Seventy Years of Service’ on the bench, an accomplishment noted by the Musical Times in 1924. Miss Hutchinson, organist at Cotherstone (Teesdale) Congregational Church, had completed 50 years on the bench in 1917, during which she missed only four services.

But what about the next generation of female organists – those who flourished on the bench during the Edwardian Era 1901–1910? What can we discover about them? I carefully reviewed issues of the Musical Times for those years, seeking material regarding women organists.

Place aux dames!’ – translated ‘Make way for the ladies’ – prefaced a 1901 Musical Times notice of Fräulein Hoeller’s appointment as organist of Würtzburg Cathedral in Bavaria. The phrase seems out of place, given that it was already anachronistic in 1876 when the Musical Standard identified recitalist Elizabeth Stirling as ‘another able exponent at the organ, but (place aux dames), one of the gentler sex’. 8 But since England did not yet have a female cathedral organist – the magazine identified ten ladies serving as cathedral organists in Ireland in 1907 without addressing their absence in England’s cathedrals – Hoeller’s appointment was considered a novelty. Performances of two female organ students of the Royal Academy of Music in 1902 – Mabel Colyer and Alexandra Tallant – elicited the same surprising ‘(place aux dames!)’ remark. Annie Patterson, it seems, wrote from first-hand knowledge: the sex of an organist, if female, was still an issue. That the profession remained ‘an old boy’s club’, was apparent in a notice of the Wakefield and District Organists’ Association annual dinner of 1907, which concluded: ‘May increasing success attend this excellent brotherhood of organists!’ 9

Advertisements and notices in the Musical Times bear this out. The London Organ School, which had welcomed female pupils since its founding in 1865 and which included Emily Edroff on its staff as an organ professor in the 1890s, opened the auditions for its organ scholarship of 1902. And some churches still advertised for a male organist, though the ‘ladies not eligible’ clause from the previous century was no longer used. The Roman Catholic Church of The Sacred Heart Exeter advertised for a ‘Gentleman’ in 1901; an organist wanting to set up a holiday exchange in 1902 assumed that the willing organist would be a man with a wife. One church offered an excellent neighbourhood ‘for a young gentleman about to enter [the] musical profession’ in 1907; and a country church advertised for a ‘Single, young, earnest Churchman’ in 1909. 10

Of the three churches advertising for a lady or gentleman organist in 1908 and 1909, one was Nonconformist, one a small post, and one at Holy Trinity in Florence with the added responsibility of conducting the Ladies Choral Society. The incumbent, Miss Jessie Handley, must have found a suitable temporary replacement, for she moved to Hampstead and the next month advertised for a similar engagement in or near London.

Eight young ladies – Miss Dalley, Miss Ward, a twenty-six-year-old Officer’s daughter, and others identified only by initials – advertised for organist positions between 1901 and 1910. All were experienced with good credentials, most of them appending the requisite initials to their names indicating successful completion of examinations in organ studies through the London College of Music, Royal Academy of Music Metropolitan or Trinity College London. Indeed, as organ students, females seemed to excel. Five were successful candidates for the London College of Music, five for the Royal Academy of Music Metropolitan Examinations, and fifteen for Trinity College London over the ten-year period.

Despite Handley’s A.R.C.O. and L.R.A.M. credentials, female names were not as numerous in the lists of Fellows and Associates of the Royal College of Organists, which counted only five Fellows – Misses Brown, Clarke, Cliff, Cooper and Ibbetson – and five Associates – Misses Finlay, Lucas, Mear, Winkworth of Haughton and Wood – during the Edwardian years. We will hear more of Miss Lucas in the next blog.

We cannot know whether the coveted certificates and the advertisements with their strings of newly acquired credentials had the intended effect of job placement. Only fourteen female names appeared in the lists of Organist Appointments, and the sixteen females playing twenty recitals were far outnumbered by their male colleagues in the lists of Organ Recitals.

In 1904 the Musical Times reiterated its method for compiling the summary of ‘Organ Recitals’ submitted by readers. Because the magazine received such a large number of programmes, they were examined from two points of view – educational and general interest – and ‘vain repetition’ and ‘arrangements’ found no place in the monthly list. Furthermore, space precluded mentioning more than one piece in each programme. 11 It is likely, however, that women organists still were considered novel enough that all of their submitted recital notices would be printed, if not their entire programmes.

Additional women organists played recitals mentioned elsewhere in the magazine and accompanied choral concerts performed in churches, but their number was not great. Mrs Horace Evans accompanied Sterndale Bennett’s cantata the ‘Woman of Samaria’ on the organ in 1910. John Henry Maunder’s cantata ‘Olivet to Calvary’ was in vogue at the time, and many organists must have had the accompaniment neatly under their fingertips, including Mrs Sheppard, sub-organist of the British Embassy Church in Paris. No one name of a woman organist reappears in the Musical Times during these years to indicate a potential rising star in the organ world.

Grace Ivorsen, organist to the Magdalene Hospital Streatham may have realized that she could not earn her living by organ playing alone. Like many musicians, she diversified, and beginning in 1908 through 1910 advertised – ‘Terms moderate’ – as a piano soloist and accompanist and voice and examination coach. She also mentioned her abilities to read manuscripts and full score and to transpose, as well as her knowledge of French, German, Italian and Latin. 12

Not satisfied with the numbers of women organists I was seeing – or not seeing – in the ten years of Edward VII’s reign, I extended my search through 1913 and ultimately through the years of the First World War. I present those findings in my next blog.

To be continued


1     Martin Hawkins, ‘Women at the Console’, Musical Opinion 77 (May 1954): 495.
2     Donovan Dawe, Organists of the City of London 1666 – 1850 (Padstow: By the Author, 1983).
3     For more about women organists in Victorian England, see Judith Barger, Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate, 2007). The book is currently out of print, but copies are available in libraries and from used booksellers.
4      Percy A. Scholes, The Mirror of Music 1844 – 1944: A Century of Musical Life in Britain as Reflected in the Pages of the Musical Times, 2 vols (London: Novello, 1947).
5    ‘The Doyen of Lady Organists’, Musical Times 50 (1 Sep 1909): 587; see also ‘Lady Organists, and One in Particular – Miss Ellen Day’, Musical Times 50 (1 Mar 1909): 163–69.
6      Annie W. Patterson, Chats with Music-Lovers (Philadelphia: Lippincott, London: T. Werner Laurie, 1907), 136–137.
7      ‘Choral Singing: A Chat with Mary Layton’, Daily Chronicle, 28 Mar 1912.
8      ‘Bow and Bromley Institute’, Musical Standard n.s. 11 (4 Nov 1876): 290.
9      ‘Wakefield and District Organists’ Association’, Musical Times, 1 Feb 1907: 101.
10    ‘Organist and Choirmaster Wanted’, Musical Times 48 (1 Mar 1907): 147; ‘Organist and Choirmaster Wanted’, Musical Times 50 (1 May 1909): 294.
11     ‘Organ Recitals’, Musical Times, 1 Jan 1904: 30.
12    See, for example, ‘Miss Ivorson, A.R.A.M., A.R.C.M.’, Musical Times 49 (1 Aug 1908): 498.


British Women Organists – 28 Apr 2019

Elizabeth Stirling
(26 February 1819 – 25 March 1895)

Many years ago when researching Samuel Wesley and the introduction of Bach’s organ music into England, I came across the name of Elizabeth Stirling in connection with a recital she gave of Bach’s major organ works at Saint Katherine’s, Regent’s Park, London in 1837. The critic for the Musical World praised the “extraordinary, almost unrivalled talent” of the eighteen-year-old recitalist, “received with general astonishment,” and added: “We hope to see justice done to Miss Stirling. The prejudice against lady organists cannot remain, with such an example opposed to it.” 1 My desire to learn more about this remarkable organist with an apparently phenomenal pedal technique led to doctoral research culminating in my book Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate 2007).

At age twelve Stirling began organ lessons with William B. Wilson in Greenwich, where she was born and raised. When her family moved to Poplar a year later, she continued her organ studies with Edward Holmes, organist at All Saints Poplar, where Stirling later held the organist post beginning in 1839. Stirling studied harmony privately with James Alexander Hamilton and with George MacFarren and in 1856 aspired to an Oxford degree in music denied her because no precedent existed for awarding a degree to a woman. Stirling nevertheless continued her music career and was remembered in the Church Musician shortly after her death as “the only lady organist who ever got near ‘front rank’ excellence.” 2 She was elected organist of Saint Andrew Undershaft in the City of London in 1858, married Frederick Albert Bridge in 1863, collaborated with him on popular entertainments as pianist, was actively involved as organist for the popular Tonic Sol-fa Association, and began composing for voice and for organ. Her part song “All among the Barley” was widely sung throughout the British Isles. Her Six Pedal Fugues and Eight Slow Movements for organ were much publicized and apparently played by England’s organists. Both collections are available in modern editions edited by Barbara Owens (Belwin-Mills 1984) and by Barbara Harbach (Vivace 1995). Stirling’s organ works, which show the musical influence of Bach and Mendelssohn, were favorably reviewed and put her in the vanguard of England’s modern composers for the organ, securing her legacy, however modest, in music.

Although the best known “lady organist,” Stirling was one of hundreds of women in nineteenth-century England who served as organists in England’s churches throughout the nineteenth century despite a number of churches that declared “ladies not eligible” for the position. Their accomplishments are an inspiration to organists who followed in their footsteps.

Until recently, the only known photograph of Stirling, taken by her husband who had started a photographic business in 1870, appeared in an obituary printed in The Musical Herald. 3

In December 2018, I received a copy of a photograph of a woman organist, which organist Stephen Best sent in hopes that I could identify her. He had purchased the photograph-postcard from a person who did not know where he had found it. Comparison of the two photographs suggest that Best’s photograph is indeed of Elizabeth Stirling, most likely on the organ bench at Saint Andrew Undershaft where she held the organist post from 1858 to 1880.


1 “Organ Performance,”‘ Musical World 6 (1837): 174.
2 “Elizabeth Stirling,” Church Musician 5 (1895): 86.
3 “Elizabeth Stirling,” Musical Herald no. 566 (1895): 149.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 6 Apr 2019

World War II Flight Nurses Identified

Flight Nurses Anna Ranahan, Grace Dunnam, Dolly Vinsant, and Jean Tierney
of the 806 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, circa 1943

Until recently I had identified by name only two of the four World War II flight nurses pictured on the cover of Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. All four were assigned to the 806 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron [MAES], which was sent to the United Kingdom in July 1943 in preparation for D Day, after which they flew across the English Channel to evacuate wounded soldiers from France. Grace Wichtendahl née Dunnam, second from left in the photo, was chief nurse of the squadron. Wilma J. “Dolly” Shea, née Vinsant, third from left, was killed in action over Germany in April 1945 in a weather-related accident when the C-47 in which she was traveling to pick up patients for air evacuation crashed into a mountain.

The flight nurse on the far left is Anna G. Ranahan, who died shortly after World War II. * On the far right is Winna Jean Tierney neé Foley, who goes by “Jean” and is very much alive at age 97. I chatted with Jean by telephone recently; she is a delightful woman whose memory for her flight nurse years has not faded over time. She had finished reading Beyond the Call of Duty for the second time the previous night, and was excited to “meet” the book’s author and relay her surprise at seeing herself on the front cover. She thinks the photo was taken either at Fort Bragg or at Pope Field during maneuvers. Since the flight nurses are wearing wings on their uniforms, the photo would have been taken after graduation from the flight nurse course before shipment overseas.

From 1984 through 2016, Jean and her husband Ed, who flew C-47s during the war, returned to Normandy every other year for Memorial Day and D Day observances.

Armed Forces Radio interview with Ed and Jean Tierney after Memorial Day
Ceremony at the American Cemetery in Normandy, circa 2016
(Courtesy Francis Hellmann)

* Anna Grace Ranahan, who went by “Ranny” when in the 806 MAES, died in 1977.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 16 Mar 2019

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 8

Flight nursing in the United States Army Air Forces had become a reality when the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron left Bowman Field, Kentucky on Christmas Day 1942 for flying duty overseas in North Africa. Lauretta Schimmoler’s Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA), however, never really “got off the ground”. Despite Schimmoler’s pronouncement to ANCOA member Leora B. Stroup in January 1942 that “ANCOA shall never die,” the organization apparently did die a slow death after the outbreak of World War II when, as part of the national defense program, civilian aircraft were removed from the west coast to inland bases, thus eliminating ANCOA training flights, and a hold was placed on air shows. 1 ANCOA nurses who were by regulation members of the American Red Cross First Reserve were mobilized for active duty with the military. Some of them, including Stroup, served with distinction as flight nurses with the Army Air Forces – some one hundred of them, according to an uncorroborated newspaper account. 2 Schimmoler, in her early forties by then, was past the age limit for government flying in the WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots] program. 3 By Schimmoler’s account, she was apparently recommended for an appointment in the WAAC [Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps] prior to June 1942 but chose not to consider it, because she was completing a course on aircraft engines and was holding out for civilian rather than military wartime service. 4 Not being a nurse, military flight nursing was not an option for her.

In fact, the closest Schimmoler came to being a flight nurse was on the big screen with the 1942 release of “Parachute Nurse”, a Columbia Pictures film for which she was technical director. In this wartime melodrama, nurses are in training for a newly formed corps of parachute nurses to be dropped at sites inaccessible to medical care. Schimmoler was cast in the role of Jane Morgan, Commander of the Parachute Corps, “a very efficient, good-looking, plump, graying, motherly sort of woman, with a hardboiled exterior and a heart as big as her frame, which is ample”. 5 Sixty-two ANCOA members of Los Angeles Company A, First Division were used in the marching scenes. 6 Schimmoler’s personal correspondence suggests that she dreamed of follow-on movie contracts as a character actress, based in part no doubt on the “One-Take Schimmoler” moniker she won when scenes in which she appeared did not have to be retaken several times as is often the case. 7 The Hollywood Reporter did not ensure Schimmoler’s potential success in Tinsel Town, however, when in its review of “Parachute Nurse” she was included only among those nameless others having “lesser chances to score”. 8

Marching scene from movie Parachute Nurse [USAF Photo]

Careful not to imply that the story was based on an actual military unit, the Foreword to the film stressed,

This story is pure fiction, but the idea is real and vital. There are no Parachute Nurses attached to the Army today, there are none doing the actual training in jumping, but there is a Paranurse Division of the Medical Department of the Aviation Emergency Corps and the part these Paranurses may play in the defense of and aid to the United States may make the fiction of today the reality of tomorrow.

To the gallant women now engaged in the formation of this Division, this picture is affectionately and respectfully dedicated. 9

Off the movie set, Schimmoler had researched the idea of parachute nurses as a possible opportunity for ANCOA but, as she told RN magazine, “even with the present war developments, it seems unnecessary for women nurses to run the risks of being dragged in rough terrain, of being impaled in a tree, in landing in water, or of suffering some other casualty”. 10 She then hinted of the movie soon to be released: “No doubt in coming months there will be publicity stunts built around the idea of parachute nurse – perhaps even a movie featuring them, but it seems to me that it will only be practical to train parachute nurses when there is an actual shortage of manpower.” 11

After her film debut, with ANCOA no longer a viable civilian organization, Schimmoler closed her offices in Burbank, turned her clerical staff over to the War Operations Center of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and considered her next step. Not willing to sever her connections with aviation, she worked first as an air traffic controller trainee for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in 1942 and as an inspector for the United States Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in 1943 before enlisting in the Army as a WAC [Women’s Army Corps] in 1944. After completing basic training in Des Moines, Iowa, Private Schimmoler was sent to California’s Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base – renamed Travis Air Force Base in 1951 – where she was assigned duty in base operations as a dispatcher, “since they could not find a place for me to serve direct in Air Evac”. 12 Schimmoler was alone on duty one night in 1944 when the first C–54 Skymaster air evacuation flight from the Pacific Theater of Operations touched down safely on her watch. She recalled that being present for the arrival of this plane “was gratification which no amount of money could purchase”. 13 She continued: “When the first stretcher made its appearance in the open door of the plane and they began to move slowly down the ladder, I was overcome by it all for the moment. I said aloud, ‘And they said it wouldn’t be done.’” 14 It may have been a bittersweet moment for Schimmoler, however, to see that her dream had become a reality – but not for ANCOA.

In an unpublished autobiographical manuscript, Schimmoler recalled when Mickie [Matilda] Grinevich, a former ANCOA nurse who later served on air evacuation duty with the military, “bestowed an unexpected honor on me when she removed the wings from her uniform and said, ‘Lauretta, I want you to have these as a momento [sic] of our pioneering days together.’” 15 Real-life recognition of Schimmoler and ANCOA by the military came at last in 1966. During the thirty-seventh annual meeting of the Aerospace Medical Association, Lieutenant General Richard Bohannon, Surgeon General of the United States Air Force, presented Schimmoler, who was a guest at the luncheon of the Flight Nurse Section, an honorary United States Air Force flight nurse certificate and flight nurse wings. 16


1          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 17 Jan 1942; Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to H.A. Coleman, 22 Mar 1945.
2          Katherine V. Sinks, “Aviatrix Joins Air Wacs,” Glendale (California) News-Press, 27 July 1944.
3          Dora D. Strother, “The W.A.S.P. Program: An Historical Synopsis,” AF Museum Research Division, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, Apr 1972, 11. [AFHRA K220.0721–19] The cut-off age was 35.
4          Lauretta Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 26 Jun 1942.
5          James Rian, “Parachute Nurse,” revised final draft of screenplay, Columbia Pictures, 6 Mar 1942, 13. [Bucyrus, OH Historical Society]
6          Schimmoler, letter to Stroup, 17 Jan 1942; Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 5 Mar 1942; Lida Dolan for Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Leora Stroup, 2 Apr 1942; Lauretta Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 26 Jun 1942.
7          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Frank, 13 Apr 1942; Esther Smith, “Ex-Bucyrus Airport Manager Turns to Movies,” Mansfield News-Journal, 16 Aug 1942. The recipient may have been F.L. Hopley of Bucyrus, OH.
8          “’Parachute Nurse’ Timely; ‘Halfway to Shanghai’ Fair,” Hollywood Reporter, 8 (Sep 1942): 4.
9          Rian, “Parachute Nurse,” n.p.
10       “Parachute Nurses?” RN 5 (Feb 1942): 56.
11       Ibid., 56, 58.
12       Lauretta M. Schimmoler, “The Story of How It All Began: ‘And They Said It Wouldn’t Be Done’,” unpublished manuscript, n.d., 8.[Bucyrus, OH Historical Society]
13       Ibid., 8–9.
14       Ibid., 9.
15       Ibid., 7. Matilda D. Grinevich was a career Air Force nurse who had several air evacuation assignments; her first was with the 801 MAES in the Pacific in World War II.
16       “Lauretta Schimmoler Receives Honorary U.S. Air Force Flight Nurse Certificate and Wings,” Aerospace Medical Association, 37th Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, Nevada, press release, 20 Apr 1966; “Miss Schimmoler Awarded Honorary Flight Nurse Certificate and Wings,” Journal of Aerospace Medicine 37 (Jul 1966): 757, 759.


Former ANCOA nurses Leora Stroup, Eileen Newbeck, Margaret Gudoba, and Matilda Grinevich all served as flight nurses in the US Army Air Forces in World War II. To learn how the dream of flight nursing as part of air evacuation in the US military became a reality, see Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II (Kent State University Press, 2013).

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Feb 2019

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 7

Undeterred by the American Nurses Association (ANA) rejection of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA), Schimmoler again set her sights on military support of the ANCOA. In July 1942, with approximately 400 of her ANCOA nurses on duty with the armed forces, Schimmoler corresponded with Brigadier General David N. W. Grant, Air Surgeon for the Army Air Forces, United States Army:

David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon, Army Air Forces [USAF Photo]

Frankly, General, I have almost begun to think that I am another Billy Mitchell. I have not, however, given up hope that some how some way that your department will embark upon the creation of a school for nurses for air ambulance duty and that we [ANCOA] might be accorded the consideration of doing our part in the operations of this school. I feel this department should be separate apart from the regular Army Nurse Corps and be attached as a special unit of the Air Forces. …

      There isn’t a question in my mind, with the interest there exists in this field, that if we had the support and authority needed, that we could create an Air ambulance unit that you could well be proud of. 1

In his reply Grant informed Schimmoler that

      The question of aerial evacuation with the armed forces is now in the formative stage. Nurses will be assigned from the Army Nurse Corps for this work. Many nurses who have had prior experience with the airlines are available for this purpose. Evacuation, as contemplated, is of the mass type during actual combat.

      There are many vacancies in the Army Nurse Corps, which members of your association can join. Nurses are not being recruited specifically for aerial duty, but are being earmarked for this duty when the need arises. …

      I hope this answers your question. 2

A month later, Grant and members of the Army Surgeon General’s Office accepted a plan for a workable air evacuation system designed by Colonel Wood S. Woolford, the first Air Transport Command (ATC) Surgeon. Grant submitted the plan to the Air Staff in July 1942 and received approval to begin its implementation. Because of a shortage of airplanes, the plan incorporated the evacuation of casualties into the duties of the Troop Carrier Command whose tactical mission was to fly men and equipment into combat areas and of the ATC responsible for strategic flights between overseas locations and the United States. These transport planes, when outfitted with litter installations, could be converted into air ambulances for the return trip once troops and cargo were offloaded, putting to humanitarian use planes that would have returned to their bases empty. An interesting feature of Woolford’s plan was the employment of 103 female flight nurses. 3 At the time, only females served as Army nurses. Although the Army had male nurses, they were not commissioned as officers but rather were classified as nurses at the induction centers and assigned in the Medical Department of the Army as enlisted medical technicians. 4 Like the Army nurses assigned to ground medical facilities, the flight nurses would hold the relative initial rank and wear the insignia of second lieutenant. Not until 10 July 1944 did a presidential Executive Order appoint nurses as commissioned officers of the United States Army with the corresponding rights, benefits, and privileges accorded male officers.

Over the next five months, events happened quickly in the development of the air evacuation system in which Army flight nurses would participate. In September 1942 the 38th Medical Air Ambulance Squadron, a “paperwork” organization initially numbering only one officer and a few enlisted men that had been activated at Fort Benning, Georgia the previous May, was transferred to Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky. Bowman Field was chosen because of its proximity to the First Troop Carrier Command headquarters in Indianapolis just over a hundred miles north and because it already had some facilities in place as the former site of the Medical Officer Training School. 5

Upon its arrival, the squadron, now counting two officers and 138 enlisted men among its personnel, was assigned to the First Troop Carrier Command, which had been delegated responsibility for organizing and training air evacuation groups, and was attached to the base hospital. The 38th Medical Air Ambulance Squadron, which became part of the Army Air Forces, was re-designated the 507th Air Evacuation Squadron, Heavy, three days later and served as the nucleus for the air evacuation system. Flight nurses were among the 507th personnel. The 349th Air Evacuation Group activated at Bowman Field on 7 October incorporated the 507th Air Evacuation Squadron, Heavy, and three new units – the 620th and 621st Air Evacuation Squadrons, Heavy, and the 622nd Air Evacuation Squadron, Light, all activated on 11 November. 6 “Heavy” squadrons were those that would fly multi-engine cargo transport planes; the “Light” squadrons were to have their own smaller single-engine airplanes capable of carrying no more than three patients. The “Light” squadron idea was abandoned eventually, because these planes were going to the Navy rather than to the Army Air Forces. 7 Table of Organization 8-447 issued in tentative form in November 1942 and finalized in February of the next year established the Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron with a headquarters section that included commanding flight nurse and chief nurse; and four evacuation flights of six flight nurses and six enlisted surgical technicians, each flight commanded by a flight surgeon. Flight teams consisting of one flight nurse and one surgical technician were to be placed aboard transport planes as needed, and when personnel were short or when casualty loads exceeded available teams, the flight nurse and the surgical technician could fly in separate planes. 8

The Army Surgeon General, who was always short of nurses, opposed the decision to use female flight nurses, but the Air Surgeon felt that flight nurses should be used in the air evacuation program, since they were the most highly trained medical personnel available for these missions. After the war, Colonel Erhling Bergquist, who had been Command Surgeon for the Ninth Troop Carrier Command and later for the First Troop Carrier Command in Europe during the war, defended the decision: “We felt that if in this country a group of healthy individuals could fly around in commercial airlines having a nurse attend them, our wounded certainly were entitled to the same consideration.” 9 He was referring to the airline policy before the war to hire only registered nurses as flight attendants. When the need for nurses to work in civilian hospitals and to serve in the armed forces became urgent during World War II, the airlines substituted college education for a nursing diploma as a prerequisite for work as a stewardess. 10

During the months when the air evacuation program was being organized, the Office of the Air Surgeon received letters from nurses inquiring about air evacuation duty. United Airline stewardesses from California, a nurse from New York who was working toward her private pilot’s license, nurses from Georgia, Louisiana, and Nebraska, and a congressman in Washington, DC – likely on behalf of some of his constituents – all wrote to the Air Surgeon to request applications for and particulars about this new field of nursing. Replies contained essentially the same information: All nurses for air evacuation units would be obtained from nurses of the Army Nurse Corps, and to be eligible for air evacuation duty, a nurse must enter the Army Nurse Corps through the usual channels. Nurses were not accepted exclusively for air ambulance work, but volunteers would be assigned to this duty at a later date when the need arose. War Department Memorandum No. W40-10-42 dated 21 December 1942 spelled out the qualifications for air evacuation nurses and the application procedure to be followed. Only those applicants who were members of the Army Nurse Corps would be favorably considered. Applicants had to be twenty-one to thirty-six years old with a weight between 105 and 135 pounds, had to be physically qualified for flying, and had to certify willingness “to be placed under orders requiring frequent and regular participation in aerial flights”. 11

Starting in October 1942, marriage did not make a nurse ineligible for military service. Single nurses who married while on active duty remained in the military at the discretion of the Surgeon General and, generally speaking, only physical disability and incompetence were grounds for dismissal. By the end of the year, married nurses who met all other requirements for military service could join the Army Nurse Corps. Every nurse agreed to serve for the duration of the war plus six months. By default, a married nurse retained her maiden name while in service unless she specifically requested a name change. 12

As the war continued, the need for an air evacuation system overseas became more urgent. At Bowman Field on 10 December 1942 the 507th, 620th, and 621st Aeromedical Evacuation Squadrons, Heavy, were re-designated the 801st, 802nd, and 803rd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadrons [MAETS] as outlined in Table of Organization 8-447. 13 The 801st and 802nd squadrons, which included flight nurses among their members, were hastily trained in the essentials of air evacuation – an “admittedly meager and inadequate” preparation for the work ahead. 14 One 802 MAETS flight nurse recalled that at Bowman Field

The curriculum was nowhere near complete – except for Chemical Warfare – “GAS will be used in this war” was repeated time and again and with emphasis by Captain Gray – and we learned all there was about the recognition of the various gases, how to put on a gas mask and how to treat patients who were contaminated. That class, physical exercises, and marching rounded out our brief education. 15

On Christmas Day 1942 the first of these squadrons, the 802 MAETS, departed Bowman Field for North Africa to provide air evacuation support for the Tunisian Campaign. 16 Former stewardess Ellen Church, now recovered from an automobile accident and a lieutenant in the United States Army, was among the flight nurses in that organization. 17 Just over three weeks later the 801 MAETS left Bowman Field for the South Pacific where American troops were still engaged in the battle of Guadalcanal. 18 Flight nursing in the United States Army Air Forces had become a reality.

To be continued


1          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to David N.W. Grant, 24 Jul 1942.
2          David N. W. Grant, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 3 Aug 1942.
3          Wood S. Woolford, letter to Victor A. Byrne, 17 Jul 1942. [AFHRA 280.93–5]; “History of the School of Air Evacuation,” 1 Aug 1943, 2-4. [AFHRA 280.93–3]; “History of the School of Air Evacuation,” n.d., in “School of Air Evacuation,” Army Air Base, Bowman Field, KY, 9 Dec 1940–Apr 1944; Jan 1944–Jun 1945, 1-3. [AFHRA 280.93–12 v.2]; Robert F. Futrell, Development of Aeromedical Evacuation in the USAF, 1909–1960. Historical Studies No. 23 (Maxwell AFB, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University; Manhattan, KS: Military Affairs/Aerospace Historian, 1960), 73–74.
4          “Men Nurses and the Armed Services,” American Journal of Nursing 43 (Dec 1943): 1066–69.
5          Mae M. Link and Hubert A. Coleman, Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955), 367.
6          “Medical History, I Troop Carrier Command,” 30 Apr 1942–31 Dec 1944, 50–52. [AFHRA 250.740]
7          Ibid.; “History of the School of Air Evacuation,” 1 Aug 1943, 2–4. [AFHRA 280.93–3]; Futrell, Aeromedical Evacuation, 73–74.
8          Frederick R. Guilford and Burton J. Soboroff, “Air Evacuation: An Historical Review,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 18 (Dec 1947): 609; Futrell, Aeromedical Evacuation, 78–79; “Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron,” Table of Organization No. 447, War Department, Washington, DC, 15 Feb 1943.
9          Erling Berquist [Ehrling Bergquist], “Discussion,” in David N. W. Grant, “Air Evacuation Activities,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 18 (Feb–Dec 1947): 182–83.
10        “Fly Again!” RN (Dec 1945): 40; “Nurses Released From Airline Positions,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 108 (Mar 1942): 207–208; “Discontinued for the Duration,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 108 (Apr 1942): 268; “War-Time Needs Come First,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Apr 1942): 449–50; “Airline Nurse Stewardesses Released,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (May 1942): 577–78.
11       “Nurses for Air Evacuation Service,” Memorandum No. W40-10–42, War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, 21 Dec 1942.
12       “Married Nurses Retained in the Army,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Nov 1942): 1322; “Married Nurses for the Army Nurse Corps,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Dec 1942): 1451; “Married Nurses in the Army,” American Journal of Nursing 43 (Apr 1943): 306.
13       “Post Diary,” Air Base Headquarters, Bowman Field, Louisville, KY, Dec 1940–Aug 1945, 49. [AFHRA 280.93–1]
14       Futrell, Aeromedical Evacuation, 80.
15       Clara Morrey Murphy, “First unabridged rough draft of Symposium speech, Nov 12, 1992, 50th Anniversary.” [AMEDD]
16       “Medical History, 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Squadron,” 10 Dec 1942–30 Jun 1944, [1]. [AFHRA MED-802-HI]
17       Church, who had been chief stewardess for Boeing Air Transport for eighteen months, was grounded following an automobile accident.
18       “Post Diary,” Air Base Headquarters, Bowman Field, Louisville, KY, Dec 1940–Aug 1945, 51. [AFHRA 280.93–1]