Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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July 18, 2013

The `Pride of Punchard'

Former All-Girls Band hits a high note in town

The story of Punchard High School’s All-Girl Band is well known to many in Andover. The Andover Historical Society’s collection includes a number of band-related pieces that illustrate the All-Girl Band’s history and impact in the community.

A scrapbook from 1940 to 1942, possibly assembled by band founder Miriam Sweeney, includes newspaper clippings and personal letters of thanks addressed to Miss Sweeney. The society’s collection also features a broadside promoting a fundraiser, photographs of the band and a uniform and plumed hat from 1940.

In the 1930s, Andover’s Punchard High had a traditional marching band, but Miss Sweeney, the supervisor of music, found that its ranks dwindled every fall as the boys left the band to join the football team.

When Miss Sweeney proposed an all-girl band in 1939, 64 girls — nearly the entire female population of the school — signed up. Most new band members had never played a musical instrument, so they had their work cut out for them. The girls practiced diligently. As one parent wrote in a note to Miss Sweeney, “Eileen practiced at our home for five days last week.”

Learning to play their instruments was only one challenge the girls faced; they needed to raise money for instruments and uniforms as well. The girls ran a fashion show at Memorial Auditorium that was sponsored by the Cherry & Webb store. Recent Punchard alumna Miss Betty Carter worked with Cherry & Webb and personally selected the clothes that were modeled. The fashion show raised $250. Other fundraising efforts included a penny drive that raised $90 and a Benefit Tea Dance, at a steep ticket price of 25 cents, that raised money for the instrument fund.

By the end of the school year in 1940, the girls had raised $1,213. Conservatively estimating inflation rates the past 70 years, the equivalent today would be more than $15,000.

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