A History of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Band

By Sullivan, Jill M. | Journal of Band Research, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

A History of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Band


Sullivan, Jill M., Journal of Band Research


The existence of women's military bands in the United States during World War II is not well-known in the instrumental music community, and little published research mentions these ensembles (Jones, 2001; Sullivan, 2006; Woodbury, 1995).1 This is the case not only in music history, but also within the history of their own military branches, where the women's bands are often long forgotten. Margarette Chavez, a retired Chief Warrant Officer in the United States Marines Corps and a former writer for Leatherneck Magazine-the official Marine Corps magazine-wrote about the only women's Marine Corps band: "A smashing success during World War II, their unique story receives little mention in the annals of the Corps."2 When contacting the Naval Historical Branch and the United States Navy Band in Washington, D.C., to secure information about the all-women's WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) bands during World War II, I found a similar circumstance within the Navy. Although the contact personnel at these institutions were unaware of the existence of such ensembles, after diligent research, I discovered that there was indeed a WAVES band as well as several WAVES drum and bugle corps. The contacted offices of the Navy-parent organization to the Marines-had forgotten their women's ensembles completely.

When reporting on compensatory research in music education, Lamb, Dolloff, and Howe (2002), in a chapter titled "Feminism, Feminist Research, and Gender Research in Music Education," did not address women's roles in the band movement most likely because this phenomenon is not well known and consequently not often documented. They state, "Authors of historical accounts have been men, and they have mainly used secondary sources that neglected women."3 They go on to recommend: "This history needs to be reconstructed, using many primary sources, a variety of methodologies, and available research from other fields."4 With the vast present-day participation of women in bands and instrumental music education, it is vital that women's contributions to the history of this field be researched and published. These efforts to reconstruct music history should include biographies of the women who forged frontiers.

Not only does most research overlook women's bands, but there is little extant research on the history of U.S. military bands in general. I located only a handful of dissertations or theses (Carpenter, 1970; Dyess, 1988; Harris, 1977; McCormick, 1970; Weiss, 2004) on military bands, and of these, four out of the five focus on the history of the most prestigious bands, all of which are located in Washington, D.C.5 Consequently, this area provides many opportunities for future research.

The purpose of this investigation was to reconstruct the history of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Band (MCWRB) that existed from 15 November 1943 through 3 December 1945. I used primary and secondary documents along with interviews of band members to corroborate facts between written sources and aging memories.

Method

Primary sources used to reconstruct the history of the band were: correspondence between United States Marine Band members and the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Band members; military documents such as press releases, service records, correspondence, tour itineraries, personnel requests, and pages from the U.S. Marine Corps Band Log; military books; a detailed personal diary of performances and events associated with the band; newspaper articles; concert programs; sound recordings; a movie; and photographs.

In addition, I interviewed forty-one members of the MCWRB-most were octogenarians-asking questions pertaining to childhood music experiences, music backgrounds, education, family background, motivations for enlisting, military experience, military band events, pre- and postwar occupations, postwar events, hardships associated with their military service, and the lifelong impact of their military band experience. …

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