Skipping The Bobby Pins

The Iowa State University Cyclone Football ‘Varsity’ Marching Band, ISUCF’V’MB for short, has over a century of history surrounding it. Like many college marching bands, women were not commonplace until Title IX put an end to sex discrimination in education in 1972.

With that said, it was not uncommon for women to be found in marching bands across the nation during WWII, and Iowa State was no different. While women had previously participated as majorettes as early as 1928, the War created additional roles for women, especially as bell players in the front ensemble.

Lorna Livingston, née Wilhelm, joined the Cyclone Marching Band as a bell player in 1944, one year before the end of WWII. In 1946 the men came back from war and the director at the time, Alvin R. Edgar, told the women that they were no longer needed, except for the two bell players, one of which was Lorna.

Shalyn Nystrom and Lorna Livingston taking in the 2019 Iowa State Homecoming atmosphere before taking the field to march their halftime performance. Photo credit: Shalyn Nystrom

During the Saturday morning rehearsal for the first home game of the Fall quarter, the two bell players stood directly in front of the marching block. All were to remove their ‘Policemen Style’ hats as the band was introduced as, “Iowa State’s 120-piece ALL MALE Marching Band”. Clearly that just wasn’t true as Lorna and Helen were standing in front, playing the bells! Lorna suggested to Helen that they skip the bobby pins for the announcement at the game. When that announcement was made, their long dark hair fell to their shoulders for all to see.

As you can imagine, Mr. Edgar was not amused and the two were released from their marching band duties. It wasn’t for long though, because no matter how much Edgar advertised and auditioned for the two bell players’ spots, he could find no men to transpose the Bb cornet music and memorize it in time to march for the next performance. Lorna and Helen were asked to come back permanently on one condition – that they wear white trousers, and march at the front of the block, before the twirlers. This way Edgar could still boast an “all male” marching band.

A 1953 glockenspiel player takes the field. Even years after Lorna played in the band, bell players were still dressed in white drum major uniforms.

34 years later, in 1980, Lorna made it back to Iowa State for the first alumni marching band reunion. The director at the time noticed that her name tag said she had been in the band 1944-1948 and questioned how that was possible since there were no women in the band at that time. She was quick to correct him and told him her story. Finally he understood why every time new uniforms were purchased for the band that the bell players always had to have white drum major pants.

Lorna continues to remain active in music. In addition to playing in multiple community bands around her home in Minnesota, she has been one of only eight to make it to all 39 Iowa State Alumni Band reunions. At the young age of 93, she has marched at each halftime performance. She is also the newest Honorary Member of the Theta Xi Chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, at Iowa State University.

I can’t help but draw parallels between Lorna and Wava’s time in their college marching bands. The two were states apart, but both did so much to advance the ideals of women in marching bands at the time. Lorna’s story truly shows how women in music started emerging all over the country during World War II. The Alpha Chapter of Tau Beta Sigma was installed March 25, 1946 and it was just one semester later that Lorna said no to her bobby pins.

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