Once Upon a Time

Early school music supervisors came and went

This 1920 picture of the Quincy achool orchestra shows Frances Maud Harding in the back row, second from left. | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Jul. 28, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Jul. 28, 2019 12:39 am

Part 2 of 3

Elizabeth Beckwith, born May 19, 1868, was Quincy Public Schools music supervisor for a short time, but she remained in the Quincy schools throughout her career.

Beckwith graduated from Quincy Senior High in 1888. She returned in 1890 to accept a teaching job at Jefferson School with a salary of $350. She continued to teach in Quincy throughout her life, moving from Jefferson to Madison School before becoming music supervisor in 1911. In 1912, she requested to be reassigned from music because a throat condition would not allow her to continue those duties. After returning to teaching, she became principal of Washington School in 1916, an office she held for the five years before her unexpected death in 1921. Almost immediately after she died, a large group of people petitioned the school board to rename Washington School as Emma Beckwith School. They were not successful.

After Beckwith stepped down in 1912, Suzette Decker, from Delevan, Wis., became music supervisor with a salary of $900. Decker organized music classes at the high school and helped students put on performances at the schools. She resigned after a year.

On Aug 23, 1913, the board of education asked Frances Maud Harding to be music supervisor with a salary of $950. Harding had been teaching in the Quincy schools since her temporary appointment as fourth and fifth grade teacher at Madison School in 1894. She moved on over the years to teach seventh and eighth grade at Webster School. She had left Quincy in 1912 to teach in Seattle but accepted the offer and moved back to Quincy. Finally, Quincy Public Schools had a music supervisor who would stand the test of time.

Maud Harding, born in 1872, was a graduate of Quincy Senior High, furthering her education at Western Illinois University and earning her master's degree from Cornell University. Even before her appointment as music supervisor, she had been organizing student concerts for her seventh-graders at Webster School. Her dedication to teaching was evident from the student concerts she directed to the talks she gave on the importance of music in the schools.

One of the biggest contributions to music in the schools is Harding's organization of students in a school orchestra, which mostly performed at school plays and functions. It is unclear when the orchestra first started, but it was mentioned in publications as early as 1911. On April 21, 1917, it was reported that the student orchestra greatly entertained the audiences at these events and was a great contribution to their success. In 1920, the same year Paul Morrison organized the band, Maud Harding's orchestra was first pictured in the yearbook, featuring fewer than 20 students.

Morrison came to Quincy Senior High from Jacksonville High School in 1916. He was hired as an English and history teacher with a salary of $950 and was not planning on a career in music.

Born Oct. 16, 1885 in Newman, Morrison graduated from Illinois College in Jacksonville in 1911. His involvement in music was more of a hobby, and he often played the cello and piccolo at local concerts through the years. Morrison married Frances Eldred on Aug. 14, 1924, in Quincy. As his duties with the school band increased, he furthered his music education by attending the University of Illinois and studied at the Vandercook School of Music in Chicago.

The school band originated in the Parliament Club in 1920. The original plan of forming a club orchestra evolved into forming a school band. There were many promising student players, including four coronets, two trombones and a clarinet player. Two "husky" boys from the chorus were drafted to play bass horns while a violinist and a pianist were picked to play French horn and altos. Leadership was needed in organizing the band, and Morrison volunteered. The first step was to learn to play the scales, and the second was to have daily rehearsals after school. The different sections began by practicing separately before all sections of the band practiced as a whole.

The 24-member band made its first public appearance at the Lions Club at the end of the month, playing two marches and a waltz. Its performance inspired more students to join the band.

The high school band became popular after its creation in 1920, with more than 50 students in the band in 1921. The band quickly became a part of school life as it played at every football and basketball game and at other sporting events.

The band culminated the 1920-21 school year with a concert May 6, 1921, at the Empire Theater.

The uniforms for the first year were white duck cloth trousers, any dark coat and a white canvas cap. In 1922, the band bought uniform coats and caps but continued to use the white trousers. In 1926, the Parent Teacher Association raised money to purchase new band uniforms, which included a cape.

The band's first contest was in 1925 at the inaugural state contest in Champaign with a prize of $300. The band would go on to win first place at the Illinois State Fair from 1925 to 1927. In 1927, the band attended the Illinois State contest, where it won first place in marching, moving on to national contests at Council Bluffs, Iowa. The band continued to grow in numbers and experience in the early years, with more than 80 students by 1930.

On June 30, 1927, Maud Harding and Paul Morrison were named full-time music teachers, with Morrison relinquishing his other teaching duties. At this time, a separate wooden building was built between Webster School and the old high school on 12th and Maine to house the music program. Harding would continue in her role as music supervisor until her retirement on June 9, 1939. She died Oct. 5, 1955, and is buried in Woodland Cemetery.


Melissa DeVerger is a librarian and a Quincy native with an interest in history.



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