Music Therapy During the World Wars

Women in the Military
Music Becomes an Official Part of Reconditioning Soldiers
The Formation of Army Bands
Music’s Recognition in Official War Documents
The 403rd WAC ASF Band
Impact of the 400th WAC Band’s Conductors After World War II
Red Cross Recreation Workers in the Post-War Era (1945-1950)
References

Women in the Military

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin D Roosevelt facilitated the formation of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), in passing legislation that allowed women to serve in a temporary auxiliary to the Army on May 14, 1942. Public Law 554 stated that this organization was the only group of women allowed to serve with the Army. Other branches of the military formed divisions for women also: the Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), the Coast Guard Semper Paratus (SPARS), and the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, (MCWR). Since these organizations allowed women to actually be part of their respective branches, not simply auxiliary, the Army changed its women’s organization to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), to allow for more involvement. Posters of “Rosie the Riveter” and “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” encouraged women to enlist (Sullivan, 2007).


Music Becomes an Official Part of Reconditioning Soldiers

In 1942, the Secretaries of War and the Navy recruited notable figures in the music world to form a Music Advisory Council of the Joint Army and the Navy. Composer and director of the Eastman School of Music, Howard Hanson, and director of the School of Music at the University of Michigan, Earl V. Moore, both served on this committee (Sullivan, 2007).

Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk

Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk advised that music become an official part of the army’s reconditioning program in October 1943.  This was not necessarily regarded as music therapy, rather a part of recreation for the soldiers (Sullivan, 2007). Military officials recognized the effect music had on the morale of their troops. Maintaining high morale was of utmost importance for the wounded soldiers. Military morale was described by Major Harold Kent as, “…the influences which give a soldier confidence in himself, confidence in his comrades, and confidence in his leaders” (Robb, 1999).

The Formation of Army Bands

The Army had created 239 different jobs for women. One of these was serving on an all-women military band. Each division of the military had one of these bands. In 1944, the Army made these bands a part of the Army Service Forces, and changed the name of the bands to “WAC ASF Bands.” They were given the job of entertaining injured soldiers as they arrived back in the United States and performing concerts in the hospitals. Authorities in the hospitals noted that not only was the music beneficial to the soldiers’ morale, but being around females provided psychological benefits as well (Sullivan, 2007).

Mary Nelson Waterman conducting the 400th Band

Officer Mary Nelson Waterman was one of the conductors of the 400th WAC Band. She described the bands duties:

“We were always on call to go and greet the ships, often it was very early in the morning… I was amazed at how much it meant to those people for us to be able to do that” (Sullivan, 2007).

Music’s Recognition in Official War Documents

The “Music in Reconditioning in ASF Convalescent and General Hospitals” program was developed by the Army Service Forces (ASF). They made use of Women’s military bands to entertain the injured soldiers. Realizing that medical treatment alone was not enough to help the injured troops, 1945 War Department Document, TB MED 187 stated:

“Music should be provided along with other activities offered to patients because it is one of the most effective vehicles for bringing a group together, for releasing emotions, and for creating a spirit of fellowship and esprit de corps… If he simply listens to music, his interests are broadened and his sense of well-being is generally increased (Sullivan, 2007).

The 403rd WAC ASF Band

A smaller group of vocalists performs in a hospital ward

There were seven full-time women’s bands, but only the 403rd WAC ASF Band was permanently assigned to play regularly in a hospital.  From 1944 to 1945, they were stationed at Stark General Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. In addition to performing for physically injured soldiers, the women had concerts in the psychiatric enclosure as well. Conductor Florence Love had hospital patients join in the music making, enhancing its therapeutic abilities. (Sullivan, 2007).

An injured soldier participates in the music making

Adah Straus, the assistant director of the 403rd Band wanted to increase the band’s contribution, so she went to the Special Services and Morale Army School. Here, she learned about appropriate music for the convalescing soldier. Most importantly, she learned that comedy and music combined had the ability to greatly boost soldiers’ morale. Upon her return, she formed “Straus’ Hungry Five.” This group entertained the soldiers with musical-comedy acts. Patients in hospital beds were able to participate in the comedy skits.

Straus’ Hungry Five

On a larger scale, Straus developed the “Gay Nineties Revue” to provide comedic entertainment in the hospital auditoriums (Sullivan, 2007).

Impact of the 400th WAC Band’s Conductors After World War II

Joan A. Lamb

Most women involved in World War II bands considered playing for the convalescing soldeirs their most important contribution to the war effort.  After the world war, many these women continued to contribute to the medical community through the practice of music therapy. Conductor Joan Lamb was so influenced by her experience in working with injured soldiers during the war that she decided to make music with the disabled a part of her career after the war. She taught band and orchestra in a junior high school, and encouraged students with disabilities to be a part of the music program, along side children who were not disabled. published “A Study of the Uses of Music Therapy in the Junior High School and Other Institutions.” Conductor Mary Nelson Waterman traveled around the country teaching music to seriously disabled individuals (Sullivan, 2007).

To learn more about Dr. Jill Sullivan’s research click here: Women’s Military Band Research 


Red Cross Recreation Workers in the Post-War Era (1945-1950)

Recognizing a need for activities for the convalescing and ambulatory veterans of the war, universities began training people to work with disabled individuals on a recreational level. Since not all hospitals were fortunate enough to have their own band in residence, the American Red Cross trained some recreation workers to provide music to the patients. The goals were to lift spirits, distract from pain, address homesickness, and most of all, provide a social activity for the patients. The Red Cross hired individuals who had musical backgrounds to train for these positions (Robb, 1999).

The American Red Cross Encouraged women to join

One such person was Marian Erdman. Following the intense six-week training program, Erdman was assigned to the Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. In addition to occasional visits from an Army Band, patients at this hospital were provided with dances, musical parties, variety shows, and sing-a-longs all organized by Erdman. She also recorded a radio show so that multiple bed-ridden patients could be reached at once. Playing sentimental, “sweet” dance music helped the soldiers deal with their emotions. Many Red Cross recreational programs even provided the soldiers with guitars and pianos for their own use. Some hospitals had enough instruments to form a whole orchestra (Robb, 1999).

Some victims of World War II’s neuropsychiatric casualties

In some neuropsychiatric wards, the men could not be reached in any way other than music. In Vaughn General Hospital in Hines Illinois, a neuropsychiatric ward contained many men who would do nothing but lie in bed, motionless and speechless. However, upon hearing music, they would sing and dance along (Robb, 1999).

While the Red Cross recreation workers did not formally call their musical work “music therapy,” it certainly had therapeutic value. Marian Erdman says: “Performing for them, we didn’t know the word music therapy. Although in retrospect, it certainly was” (Robb, 1999). Erdman’s work was unique and commendable because she was creating a position for herself in a time before music therapists had official professional associations. In providing the soldiers with music therapy, Erdman set a precedent for the utilization of music therapists in hospitals (Heller, 2000).

 

References

Heller, G. N. (2000). History, Celebrations, and the Transmission of Hope: The American Music Therapy Association, 1950-2000. Journal of Music Therapy, 32(4), 238-249.

Robb, S. L. (1999). Marian Erdman: Contributions of an American Red Cross Hospital Recreation Worker. Journal of Music Therapy, 36(4), 314-329.

Sullivan, J. M. (2007). Music for the Injured Soldier: A Contribution of American Women’s Military Bands During World War II. Journal of Music Therapy, 44(3), 282-305.

 

By: Claire Growney

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