Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pasadena's Broom Brigade

A black and white photograph taken in 1886 shows women of the Pasadena Broom Brigade--stern looking ladies in black-on-black ornamented dresses, with pillbox hats, all shouldering brooms like rifles. Ten of them line up, staring at the camera and not daring to blink, while one Lt. Rockwood sits on the ground before them, hat in hand.

This was one of many photos put on exhibit by the Pasadena Museum of History. The Los Angeles Times, in an October 18, 2009 article, reprints it as emblematic of the many historical oddities on display at the Los Angeles Archives Bazaar. No one seems to know anything about the photo.

Sillies! Haven't they heard of Google?

Google books brought up this passage from a 1917 book titled Pasadena, California, Historical and Personal, by J. W. Wood, a 19th century businessman and memoirist: "The "broom brigade" was a composite of young ladies who, in costume and with brooms, performed a very attractive drill, etc., at Williams Hall. Allie Freeman, Velma Brown, Bertha McCoy, and others whose names cannot now be remembered, were conspicuous figures in this "pageant." It made a hit."

Earlier, Wood had identified the Williams Building as part of the Williams Block, built in 1883 by R. Williams. Wood himself opened a drug store in February of that year, calling it the Pasadena Pharmacy. There's even a picture of Williams Hall, next to the Masonic Hall, on page 118 of his book.

There's also this caption in the Arcadia volume Old Pasadena by Cedar Imboden Phillips (great name!), which identifies Lt. Rockwood as a retired military fellow who trained the girls in their drills:

"The girls performed at fund-raising events held by the Pastoral Aid Society of the Presbyterian church. The brooms and other accessories were sometimes auctioned off to the enthusiastic audience, thereby raising more money for the organization. Many of these girls were of wealthy backgrounds and would not have to use brooms in their regular lives, adding a greater element of fun and exoticism to their broom-and-dustpan drills."

Well, it's not everything you might ever want to know about these women, but it's something. And since I found something to address the questions in the Times, I do not feel guilty over reprinting their reprint of the photograph. Which, by the way, is cropped. The original, reprinted in the Arcadia book, shows about 20 young ladies, including a drummer.

Is this where the founders of the Doo-dah parade found their inspiration? Are the great-grandkids of the Broom Brigade the briefcase-wielding marchers of today? Maybe there's just something in the Pasadena air.

No comments: