Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gladys Kirksmith, rediscovered

There is a certain sense of hopefulness that I bring with me every time I check my mailbox.  Maybe it's because I'm far from home and living by myself that I hope for that connection.  I find myself wondering, "Will that care package my mom mentioned arrive today? What's next on my Netflix list? Will my sister send me the pictures she promised?" Needless to say, I get pretty excited about mail (excluding the monthly electricity bill).  I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when the January issue of the ITA Journal, which was paired with a bank statement and credit card application, was waiting for me in the mail.  I must say that I was instantly intrigued by the cover.


One of the feature articles in January's issue was "Discovering Miss Gladys" by Marta Jean Hofacre.  Former trombonist, Hofacre currently works at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS). She haphazardly discovered this glass plate image, who she later learned was a Miss Gladys Kirksmith (c. 1895-1979).  With further research, Hofacre discovered that Gladys had many musical sisters.



Known as the "Dainty Half Dozen", these sisters played in a family orchestra. The parents of these women were origianlly from Ohio, but later moved the family to Iowa.  The musical family later became active in vaudeville and circuit chatauqua.  

Circuit chatauqua stemmed from 19th century lyceum series (started in NY), which strove to provide educational and cultural outreach services for adults, usually in remote Midwestern towns where such opportunities were rare.  According to John Tapia, who has done research on circuit chatauquas, the Kirksmith sisters created "...masterful music rendered without the aid of a man." 

I won't spoil the article for those of you who want to check it out for yourselves, but I really enjoyed discovering this Miss Gladys and her musical sisters.  The photographs of these ladies are quite stunning.  The particular photos I posted are courtesy of the VHS and were taken by Walter Washington Foster in 1915.  The fact that a woman had a professional career as a trombonist in 1915 is quite remarkable to me.  I would definitely like to delve further into this topic in the future!


  1. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    The photographer was actually Walter Washington FOSTER. He was a superb artist. If you'd like to know more about his photos at the VA Historical Society, go to, search the collection, museum search using walter washington foster in the artist search field.

    Or better yet, visit the VHS in Richmond!

    MJ Hofacre

  2. I beleive I know where one of her trombones are. a friend of mine is in posesion of a horn that has " made for Gladys on the bell. It would appear to have been made by Olds and is quite well made. silver with gold wash. John

  3. Tommie KirksmithJune 14, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    Miss Gladys and her musical sisters had a brother, Karl Kirksmith, who enjoyed an international reputation as a cellist. Karl Kirksmith was my father-in-law. Photos of the Kirksmith sisters are on one side of our hallway and their brother Karl occupies the other side, along with his son, my late husband Jack. Jack played the French Horn.
    Back to the Kirksmith sisters, folks used to drive by the farm to see their laundry strung up to dry! Mental picture of all those petticoats? LOL!

  4. Tommie Kirksmith
    did you know that Karl and his wife Netta at one point in the 1940's owned part of a Las Vegas casino?
    bob stoldal

  5. Pauline Kirksmith, one of the "Six Kirksmith Sisters" is my Grandmother. I was quite young, but I do remember "Auntie Gladys". It's really wonderful to have come across this page!