Just Where did the Majorettes Come From?
For a moment, let’s imagine that it’s on a warm afternoon in July, 1872. You buy a copy of the July 13 issue of Harper’s Weekly. As you read the magazine which is quiet popular, you notice a full page copy of Julian Scott’s illustration “The Mighty Drum Major”. The page is has a picture and story of drum major who is pictured leading a marching band on parade.
The drum major is carrying a large baton, which is also known as a mace, and is used to give signals and commands, indicate the beat and tempo of the music, and, sometimes, to indicate other impressive gestures or movements.
During the late 1800s, cigar smokers had the opportunity to buy a cigar brand called “Drum Major”. The brand’s labels featured a picture of a drum major, and it sometimes the label changed to include a picture of a female drum major. A female drum major?
In 1890, there is a boy won a prize at a certain county fair, and decided to give it as a gift to his girlfriend. The gift was a pair of figurines in the form of drum majors – a boy and a girl. The maker must have seen it practice which a girl could do although was a reserve for men.
Photos of a parade in Denver, in early 1900s, had images of a lady on a horse in front of a marching drumming band. There are possibilities that she may have been a drum majorette. That’s the name often used to identify a female drum major. You need to note that some drum majors performed their baton instructions and duties on horseback. Also in the same parade there was an all-female marching band, which was dressed in ankle-length dresses. During those days, there were a few such bands and they did include lady drum majors.
There was an organization called “Modern Woodmen of America” which had some very popular male marching groups. In year 1900, one of these groups posed for pictures. Some young children were present and there was a girl who stood by the head of the group holding a small broom like a baton, and posed like a drum major. Was she imitating what she’d already seen?
Around 1903, several early movie show posters, and post cards, featured an image of a lady drum major. They may have done so as part of advertising bargain, but again advertising is meant to influence people and therefore the picture must have had an impact on the growth and development of female drum majors.
Drumming bands by then had been growing both in numbers and popularity, and could be found just about anywhere as they played and marched in parades. Drum majors were popular and would be seen on magazine covers, and that included the July 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal. Ladies Home Journal? This is because ladies were very much the admirers of drum majors.
Being part of a band was being promoted as a being both good and a worthwhile activity, and the band was advertised as the “gang” for boys to belong to.I bet you know about girls and love for gangsters.
In 1927, Ed Clark, who went on to launch a baton-manufacturing company, turned a pool cue into a baton for his daughter. Kitty Clark was a drum major with the Elkhart High School band. Girl drum majors had been born.
They’d be known as drum majors, then the more “feminine” drum majorettes, then simply as majorettes. They’ve since be referred to using several terms which include: drum major girls, baton twirlers, twirlers, or baton girls. However the word “drum majorettes” is still the preferred term, and at times it is shortened to “drummies”.
Around the time Ed Clark made Kitty’s baton, or just shortly after, you’re where a band is lining up for a parade. The band’s drum major hasn’t arrived. They’d need a replacement. But who? You hear someone suggesting Mabel be asked to take his place. She knew how to be a drum major. Somebody persuades Mabel to lead the band, which she does a bit reluctantly. What you see her do next makes history.