Written by Special Collections & University Archives Student Aide, Megan Williams
Over the summer the University of Mary Washington received a unique transfer from the Music Department to University Archives. James Baker, founder of the College-Community Symphony Orchestra and former Music Department Chair, and his family generously returned a piece of UMW’s history by donating the bass drum from the Mary Washington College (MWC) “All-Girl Marching Band.”
All-Girl Marching Band’s bass drum
Spanning from 1940 to 1958, the Marching Band was considered a “decided novelty” in the days before almost every high school had a marching band (Alvey 1974, 205).
The “All-Girl Marching Band “ in Fredericksburg at the annual Dog Mart, 1955
The founder of the “All-Girl Band” was Ronald W. Faulkner, who came to the college in the fall of 1937. Faulkner was a native of Greely, Colorado, a graduate of Julliard School of Music, and a flutist for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra (Alvey 1974, 204).
Professor Ronald W. Faulkner Battlefield, 1947
When he came to MWC, Faulkner was given the specific task of organizing the instrumental instruction program. In this position, Faulkner was successful in establishing a program. In fact he established a concert orchestra, dance orchestra, and the marching band (Alvey 1974, 203-204).
When the MWC “All-Girl Band” made its first appearance in 1940, everyone across campus was talking about it. The band “made a colorful appearance,” in their white skirts, blue jackets, white boots and the helmet headdress (Alvey 1974, 205). At the band’s first appearance a “rather prim lady on the faculty complained about the shortness of the skirts.” In response to this comment Mr. Faulkner famously remarked, “I’m glad she doesn’t have to wear one” (Alvey 1974, 206).
The “All-Girl Marching Band” posing in their new blue and white uniforms for the 1955 Battlefield.
The “All-Girl Band” had appearances outside of campus. During the years of World War II, the band played in many parades and rallies throughout Virginia. However, they primarily played in Richmond, Washington D.C., and Fredericksburg. For a number of years the band led Thalhimer’s Toy Parade. This parade occurred after Thanksgiving and marked the beginning of the holiday season (Alvey 1974, 208). The Thalhimer Toy Parade was one of many parades that the “All-Girl Band” performed in. Unfortunately for the “All-Girl Band” they were no longer unique by 1958. This lead to the marching band being discontinued, and the College putting more focus into the concert band (Alvey 1974, 408).
Band members posing with the bass drum, other instruments, and trophies.
Once the band was dismantled, the bass drum was stored in Pollard Hall until the 1980s when the building went through a major renovation. During this time, the College had a number of things scheduled to be replaced and updated, most notably the instruments. One of the items was the “All-Girl Band” bass drum. Luckily for Special Collections and the University Archives, President Anderson gave the drum to Dr. Baker who safely kept it through these years.
The thing that makes this drum unique is the signatures. The signatures on the drum include Al Hodge (Captain Video), Bert Parks, Hopalong Cassidy, Johnathan Long, Aldo Ray, Van Johnson, and Bing Cosby. It has been difficult to determine when and where the band got the signatures; however, the Battlefield, the University’s yearbook, has been a useful resource.
From looking at the Battlefield each year from 1940 until 1958 an estimated date range has been determined for when the drum got its signatures. The first signatures to appear on the drum were of Bing Crosby and Van Johnson, an American actor. These signatures are visible in the 1956 Battlefield.
The band posing for the 1956 Battlefield. In this image, the bass drum is featured with Bing Crosby’s and Van Johnson’s signatures.
In 1957, the following year’s Battlefield features the drum with the additional signature of Aldo Ray, an American actor. In the last year of the “All-Girl Band” (1958), the Battlefield photo features the band in one of their signature formations, a heart. As a result of the placement, it is difficult to tell what signatures are on the drum.
The band posing in their signature heart formation. Battlefield, 1958
If anyone has information about the Mary Washington College’s “All-Girl Marching Band” or the bass drum, please contact us at email@example.com. And if you are interested in viewing the drum, stop by Special Collections and University Archives during our open hours from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Tuesday through Thursday or email us if you would like to make an appointment.
Alvey Jr., Edward. History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972. Charlottesville, VA: University Press, 1974.