Mad About Majorettes

In 1938, the University of Maryland Student Band unveiled its coed drum majorettes for the first time.  This was another big first for the band, with women instrumentalists having joined in 1936.  Making their debut on the field prior to a football game against Western Maryland in October 1938, the ladies quickly found themselves at the center of controversy.

Drum Majorettes, 1951
Drum Majorettes, 1951

The Washington Times fanned the flames by mentioning the majorettes in several articles, according to Musical Ambassadors of Maryland: A Centennial Celebration, a 2009 book about the marching band’s history.  The Times focused on the ladies’ physical appearance, including their heights and weights, and commented archly that their first appearance “startled several thousand spectators last Saturday when they appeared at the head of the band…in resplendent uniforms consisting of brass-buttoned jackets, plumed hats, and black boots, but very little else.”

The press was not the only entity questioning the propriety of the majorettes and their outfits, with Dean of Women Adele Stamp actively involved in a hurried re-working of the majorettes’ uniforms.  Miss Stamp did not believe that majorettes should exist, and for a time she seems to have gotten her way.  The following year, 1939-1940, the only women in the band were instrumentalists.

Yet the issue would not die, as a October 1945 letter from Adele Stamp to UMD President Curley Byrd makes clear.  Stamp writes: “The question of drum majorettes has also come up again.  Can we not settle this once and for all?…You will recall the furore (sic) that was created the time they appeared at the Western Maryland game…I am opposed to drum majorettes.  I think they have no part in a college program and I know of no well-known or reputable state university that has them.  They savor too much of the Atlantic City parades and the bathing beauty contests.”

Drum Majorette Jean Weaver and Drum Major Mike Board, 1961.
Drum Majorette Jean Weaver and Drum Major Mike Board, 1961.

Whether the ladies’ roles as majorettes simply offended Stamp’s sensibilities, or whether she was concerned about their being exploited (or some combination thereof) we’ll probably never know.  But the majorettes did re-appear, and by the early 1950s they were around to stay.  Happily, they are no longer referred to as drum majorettes, but drum majors like their male counterparts, with the focus is solely on their leadership, and not on their outfits.

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