Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 18, 2013

The `Pride of Punchard'

Former All-Girls Band hits a high note in town

Andover Stories Elaine Clements, Andover Historical Society
The Andover Townsman

---- — 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.

The money raised purchased the fabric for the girls’ uniforms, but the girls still had to sew the uniforms themselves, “with the assistance of their mothers,” the Townsman reported. Some girls learned to sew in addition to learning their instruments. One headline read, “… Girls Organized Band to Play at Football Games; Have Natty Uniforms.”

The Punchard High All-Girl Band debuted to great acclaim during the 1940 fall football season — just a year after Miss Sweeney first proposed the band. At their first half-time performance during a game against rival Amesbury High School, the girls marched in formation to form first an “A” for Amesbury and then “P” for Punchard.

The All-Girl Band quickly became the “Pride of Punchard.” The group drew crowds that overflowed the bleachers at Punchard High’s Playstead, and performed at events around town, including the Policemen’s Ball. Such was their popularity that two dropped batons at one half-time performance was news. The poise and grace of the girls who quickly retrieved their batons and resumed their performance was noted as an illustration of how lessons learned by band members would serve them well throughout their lives: “Life demands the ability, when you drop your baton, to be able to make the most of it.”

Generations of Andover women were members of the band, as the daughters of former members took up their instruments. The 1970s brought many changes and in 1972 the All-Girl Band merged with the Andover High School Golden Warriors Marching Band.

The Andover Historical Society is proud to be the steward of some of Punchard High’s All-Girl Band stories, and invites former All-Girl Band members to share their stories and memories to keep the Punchard High School All-Girl Band’s story alive for future generations.

Coming next: Andover’s Boxing Camp