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Music Club: 1905

Washington, D.C., circa 1905. "Central High School Orchestra." Anyone out there with some old Central yearbooks? Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1905. "Central High School Orchestra." Anyone out there with some old Central yearbooks? Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


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Shame we don't see that anymore

The patterning and lace on the girls blouses is just gorgeous.

Granted, like many red-blooded males, I like a nice bare female arm, or dare I say it, shoulder even (gasp!). But there's a certain grace and distinctly feminine appeal about those blouses that would be neat to see come back in style.

Just so long as the old bathing suits never come back.

Safety sleeves

Wow, if some of those girls fell overboard, the sleeves on their blouses would save them, kind of a 1905 version of water wings. Or fill them with helium and get some Mary Poppins action going.


Those aren't just mandolins, they're "taterbug" mandolins, as in Italian-style bowl-backed mandolins. A few years later, and these folks would probably be playing Gibson carved arch-topped A or F style mandolins invented by Orville Gibson of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He started making them in the 1890s, was bought out by the century's end, and the team of investors who took over then promoted the mandolin orchestra heavily ... and sold a lot of mandolins, mandolas, mando celli, and even mando basses. Think Meredeth Wilson's "Music Man," and you'll have some idea of how mandolin orchestras popped up all over America in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The Vagaries of Fashion

Possibly in 2009, Silver, but in my 1980's school picture I'm wearing a blouse not too different from some of these girls'. And although I used Aqua Net and a clip-on bow instead of rats and a silk ribbon, my hair was just as big and ornamented. Unfortunately, my school had no mandolin ensemble.

Some schools - most notably West Point - have or have had the tradition of wearing the class ring on the left hand.

Fashion Constants

It is kind of strange that, in looking at the girls' outfits, they seem rather dated and not modern in any way. However, the young man in the front row on the left is wearing a pair of shoes that look EXACTLY like the shoes that I am wearing at this very moment.

Are men that stuck in a fashion rut?

Gibson Girls

These Gibson Girl-era ladies always break my heart. So lovely. My fave
here is the lass at far left, center row. Sigh. I do find myself wondering
what these same young ladies would like in today's dress, but still
the age they were in this photo.

Mondo Mando

Those are mandolins rather than balalaikas or lutes. (Google the images and you'll see the differences.) Mandolins and violins share the same tuning and, I suppose, players can play the same music without transposing the score. So, 16 members of the music club: six violinists, six mandolin players and four who have no instruments in the picture. Pianists? Harpists? Drummers?

The Obvious

With just one glance, I can see that this was a high strung group.

From the front row

Play "Free Bird"!!!

Pompadour and Circumstance

This seems to be more of a lute and violin ensemble than a full orchestra. I love the pompadours and puffed sleeves on the young ladies. There was a joke around this era that if sleeves got any bigger, women would have to go through doors sideways.

It's interesting to see that four in the photo (men and women) are wearing rings on their wedding fingers. Did they all get married really young, or perhaps those are class rings.


Now THIS looks like a lively group! Maybe it's just a lucky bit of lighting, but I don't see a single pair of eyes not set to maximum sparkle. I love the contrast between the stiffer athletes we saw in the other school groups and the slightly too-large collars and jaunty, looser ties of these orchestra boys.

Also note they're dutifully observing the 1:2 boy-girl ratio of school performing ensembles.


I'm amazed at the number of boys and girls here who appear to be wearing engagement or wedding rings. Looks like two girls and two boys. Was it that common, to marry while still attending high school? By the way, my grandmother was 15 when she married in 1911, in a small town in East Texas.

I also notice what appears to be scratch highlighting on some of the girls' faces.

[Those are marks from an ink pen. In the positive image the dark ink looks white. - Dave]

String Section

Wow, violins and balalaikas?! What unusual arrangements those must have been!

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