Music for the Injured Soldier: A Contribution of American Women's Military Bands during World War II

By Sullivan, Jill M. | Journal of Music Therapy, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Music for the Injured Soldier: A Contribution of American Women's Military Bands during World War II


Sullivan, Jill M., Journal of Music Therapy


This study is an investigation of the contributions of women's military bands in the United States to the reconditioning of the injured American troops during World War II. Primary and secondary sources revealed that these bands welcomed home hospital ships, performed for convalescing soldiers in hospitals, and provided music for hospital dances. While each of the bands investigated served in similar capacities, only one, the 403rd Women's Army Corps (WAC) Band, was stationed at a hospital. While entertainment by women's bands was an important part of the Army Reconditioning Program for the injured, the study also revealed a working partnership that developed between these musicians and the medical community. Sixty years after the war, band members believe their performances in hospitals were the most important contribution of their service. Some historians have concluded that music used in military hospitals during the war was the impetus for the music therapy profession.

As the end of WWII approached, many American hospitals instigated music performances to help with the rehabilitation of the large number of wounded soldiers-671,801 individuals in all by 1945-marking the beginnings of the music therapy profession.1 In a work published in 1966, Otto Helbig wrote that the U.S. Surgeon General in October of 1943 sensed "the importance of music in the lives of soldiers" and therefore, "directed that consideration be given to music as an integral part of the recondition program [of injured soldiers] ."2 Dale B. Taylor (1981) mentions, in an overview of music in hospital treatment in the first half of the 20th century, that during WWII "the military began to examine the usefulness of medical applications of music for use in hospitals for wounded and disabled veterans."3 However, "Music in hospitals, at the request of the Surgeon General, was never labeled 'Music Therapy' because the word therapy infers scientific study."4 Dorothy Schullian also recognized the use of music in the military hospitals but did refer to it as music therapy: The tragic years of World War II witnessed an amazing growth in the interdependence of music and medicine. The growth was apparent in particular in the heightened role played by music therapy in military hospitals."5

In 1942, a Music Advisory Council of the Joint Army and the Navy was initiated by the Secretaries of War and the Navy to coordinate recreational and education programs within the armed forces. This council-made up of civilian and military personnel-met to advise the armed forces in the development of such music programs for the convalescing soldiers in hospitals. Two notable figures who served on the committee were Howard Hanson, director of the Eastman School of Music, and Earl V. Moore, director of the School of Music at the University of Michigan.6

The Army Service Forces (ASF) was one organization responsible for providing music activities to the injured troops and developed "Music in Reconditioning in ASF Convalescent and General Hospitals," a program to implement music in all parts of the soldier's healing process: physical reconditioning, occupational therapy, education, and recreation.7 Women's military bands were utilized at this point to entertain the injured troops. These ensembles, assigned to perform in hospital auditoriums and wards were later recognized by the Army as a valued partner that provided therapeutic services by performing for and interacting with the recovering soldiers.8

Performing music in hospitals in the U.S. was not something new. Bands had been used in this venue since the American Civil War, and convalescing soldiers welcomed the distraction provided while the doctors appreciated the medical benefits. Civil War hospitals either had a permanent civilian band or a regimental band assigned to perform for the injured. Kenneth Olson quoted a Civil War volunteer who wrote the following about one band's performance:

Lieutenant Colonel Kimball marched the Regimental Band all the way from camp on Sunday to play for the sick boys. …

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Music for the Injured Soldier: A Contribution of American Women's Military Bands during World War II
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