The Women’s Glee Club (1902–1982)

Beginnings (1902–1947)

In the Fall of 1902, the Men’s Glee Club was not functioning, so Kate Condit, a piano instructor at the College, formed the “Ladies’ Glee Club,” the first women’s glee club west of the Mississippi.[1] The ensemble was determined to give their own Home Concert because, the members said, “When the men can’t, the women will!”[2] They were received enthusiastically in their inaugural effort on 16 February 1903 in Holmes Hall. Despite their strong season, the group disbanded and was not established permanently until February 1913, just one month before Kate Condit passed away. Byrde Eustis conducted that year; she was succeeded by Professor Fred Bacon, who directed the ensemble for the 1914-15 academic year, and Professor Walter Hartley, the College Organist, who took over as the permanent conductor in the fall of 1915. The Women’s Glee Club gave an annual Home Concert and other performances in the area every year but did not go on as many tours in the 1910s as the men did. They started touring regularly by 1922.

In 1923 Professor Arthur Babcock became the group’s conductor. Seven years later, in 1931, direction was given over to Professor Ralph Lyman, marking the first time that the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs were led by the same person since Fred Bacon did it briefly in 1915. Although both ensembles were conducted by Lyman, they continued to tour separately, Lyman with the men, and Dorothy Leezer (Neibel) ’23, the assistant conductor of the Women’s Glee Club, with the women, and to sing separate Home Concerts. Both groups toured annually, except in the early to mid-1940s with the outbreak of World War II. The Women’s Glee Club also participated in the Pacific Southwest Intercollegiate Glee Club Association annual competition under the direction of Babcock and Lyman, and with Lyman, they won first place three times.

In preparation for his retirement, Lyman gave the direction of both Glee Clubs over to Professor Arthur Hitchcock in the fall of 1947. There are few surviving historical documents or narratives relating to the Women’s Glee Club during this early period. It clearly played an important role in the musical life of the College, but its opportunities for music making were limited. The annual tours were typically less extensive than those of the Men’s Glee Club, and the women generally sang fewer local concerts each year. No doubt the 1932 national championship propelled the Men’s Glee Club to institutional prominence in a way that the women’s group could not match. In that same year the Women’s Glee Club, which some thought was musically stronger than the Men’s Glee Club, also won the Pacific Southwest Intercollegiate Glee Club Association annual competition, but there was no national competition in which it could compete.

Transitions (1947–51)

In the fall of 1947, Lyman handed the Glee Clubs over to Professor Arthur Hitchcock ’24, who directed the them for just four semesters. Perhaps Hitchcock’s biggest accomplishment with the Men’s Glee Club was conducting them in its first international concert, at the First United Church in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, during its spring 1948 tour. When the College decided not to rehire him in 1949, Hitchcock joined the faculty at Portland State University.

With Hitchcock’s departure, the College hired Edgar vom Lehn, who was teaching at the nearby Webb School. Professor vom Lehn was the first conductor since Fred Bacon to combine the Home Concerts of the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs, which became the common practice until the ensembles combined in 1982, and in the process did away with skits and solo pieces. Unfortunately, vom Lehn was in the unlucky position of closely following the beloved Prof Lyman; moreover, his leadership style was not the right fit for the ensembles. These issues led to his quick departure in 1951.

The William F. Russell Years (1951–82)

For 31 years, Professor William F. Russell led the Pomona College Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs…


[1] Information for this section comes from The Student Life, vols. 14–38; 1902–26); The Metate of Pomona College, vols. 9–53 (1903–47); Merwin Murphy, Prof Lyman of Pomona College (Alhambra, CA: 1979); Frank P. Brackett, Granite and Sagebrush: Reminiscences of the First Fifty Years of Pomona College (Los Angeles, 1944); personal correspondence of several business managers of the Women’s Glee Club; extant programs of Women’s Glee Club concerts; and other materials in the Music Department archives. The notion that Pomona’s Women’s Glee Club was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi comes from Brackett, p. 197. [back]

[2] The Student Life, 12 February 1903. [back]