The Oak Grove Girls Band

“In Buttons and Bows They Beat and Blew”

The Oak Grove Girls Band

Few people today will have any idea who, or what, the Oak Grove Girls Band was.  But between 1911 and 1914 this group of girls was a local sensation.

Oak Grove Girls Band photo 17 Feb 1911

The brain child of local resident Louis E. Armstrong the band consisted of twelve to 16 Oak Grove girls between the ages of 7 and 15. Armstrong “corralled a bevy of Oak Grove beauties” and organized them into “a kind of a band” in June 1910. The band, led by Ben Driscoll, made its first public debut at Concord School Dec. 20, 1910, subsequently playing at the Multnomah Co. Fair in Gresham, the Canby Fair, Rose Festivals, Elks Conventions, and community affairs and parades.

Photo of the Oak Grove Girls Band ca. 1912

They “became famous up and down the coast as the Oak Grove Girls Band – the first and youngest of its kind.”   It was reported that it was “the only organization of its kind in the state of Oregon,” and that “there are only four or five other little girls bands in the United States.”  Newspapers in Portland, Gresham, Oregon City and elsewhere published the schedules that included when the band would be playing.

Oak Grove Girls Band ad 1911- cropped

The majority of its life the band was led by Professor Ben Driscoll, “a musician from the old Baker Theatre” in Portland (established in 1901).  Driscoll and his wife Cerena lived in Portland and he would have commuted to Oak Grove via the Oregon City trolley.  At various times others such as Roy Searles and Professor York of Portland led the band while Louis Armstrong served as Business Manager and Treasurer.  Parents often accompanied the band to its performances.  In 1915 the band was merged with a Portland group and ceased to exist as its own band.

Members of the band held at least two reunions – one in 1954 and another in 1960 –  the women bringing their instruments and posing for photos.

Oak Grove Girls Band reunion; 25 April 1954

From the newspaper websites of The Historical Oregonian 1861-1987 and Historic Oregon Newspapers, combined with various genealogy websites, we know the names of most of the girls in the Oak Grove Girls Band.  In alphabetical order by their last names they were:

Hester Armstrong Hyde [dau. of Louis & Mattie; hus. Albert J. Hyde]
Ethel Bigham Lowry [dau. of John B & Cora; hus. Charles A. Lowry]
Madge Ellis Shrock [dau. of Arthur & Maud; hus. Melvin John Shrock]
Edith Griffith Williamson [dau. of Ernest & Agnes; hus. Harold]
Frances Griffith Crampton [dau. of Ernest & Agnes; hus. Don]
Margie McLees Dye [dau. of Edward & Lizzie; hus. Ernest H.]
Maud B. McLees Pomeroy [dau. of Edward & Lizzie; hus. Omer L.]
Katie (Kathryn) Oetken Shrock [dau. of Wm F. & Emelia Oetken; hus. Marvin]
Dorothy Spidell Mewhirter [dau. of Charles & Nancy; hus. Max]
Jesse Spidell McArthur [dau. of Charles & Nancy; hus. Leslie McArthur]
Ada Starkweather Johnson [dau. of Harvey & Mary Alice; hus. Louis M.]
Jean Starkweather Vermilye [dau. of Harvey & Alice; hus. Hobart P.]
Edith Turner DeWert [dau. of Nelson & Louise or Charles & Ann; hus. Elmer E. DeWert]
Bessie Vigles Moltzner [Mary Besse Vigles; dau. of James and Anna; hus. Jay S. Moltzner]
Ellen Worthington Oetken [dau. of Theodore R. & Mary; hus. Wm.]
Ruth Worthington DeFord [dau. of Theodore R. & Mary; hus. David]

 

Mike Schmeer
Chairman, Oak Lodge History Detectives
April 2017

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2 Responses to The Oak Grove Girls Band

  1. Eunice & Joe Tursi says:

    Love seeing these old pictures and reading about them! Thank you!

  2. Herb Oetken says:

    I was not aware of the Oak Grove Band. Two of my aunts were members; Kate Oetken Shrock & Ellen Worthington Oetken. I knew Ruth Worthington DeFord and knew of the Starkweathers, who lived on Oatfield Road just north of Oak Grove Boulevard on the east side of Oatfield.

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