Throwback Thursday: The Waterloo Ladies’ Kitchen Band

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

As you may know, March is Women’s History Month, so today I’d like to share the story of a little-known women’s musical group from Waterloo.

The Waterloo Ladies’ Kitchen Band got its start in the Waterloo Evangelical Sunday School, around 1926. The ladies’ class at the time had divided into two groups for a “stunt program,” and one of the groups came up with the Kitchen Band.

“Noise was made entirely on jazz bows but instruments were very cleverly manufactured,” reads a brief history of the band in the March 1932 issue of the DeKalb Barometer. “A basket formed the body of a cello with a curtain rod for a bow; funnels made improvised coronets; lard cans made base drums, and an ironing board with milk bottles made a very workable zellophone [sic] to be played with spoons.”

This first band, a small group of eight women, was apparently a hit. They performed for another meeting, and were also asked to give a program for the Waterloo P.T.A.

waterloo-ladies-kitchen-band-with-instruments

The Waterloo Ladies’ Kitchen Band with their “instruments,” c. 1935

They didn’t stop there.

Under the leadership of Mrs. Matie Hettenbaugh, one of the original members, the band expanded outside the Sunday School class, growing into a group of about eighteen women, ranging in age from thirty-three to sixty-five. They also adopted a uniform: in addition to an apron, each lady wore a white handkerchief tied around her head, decorated with a pair of crisscrossed teaspoons.

“The leader had the additional ornament of a hat feather and used a collapsible clothes bar as a music rack and bread knife for a baton.”

The Waterloo Ladies’ Kitchen Band seems to have been a popular act in their day. They performed for a variety of events and occasions throughout DeKalb County, including Old Settlers’ Day, the Waterloo Homecoming, local band concerts, and a number of graduation commencements.

The group was known for having a strong sense of loyalty, and its members were said to be “held together solely by companionship.” However, though the group was largely organized for fun and friendship, they eventually became “a leader for civic improvements” in their community.

Using funds raised from their concerts, the band sponsored a local Daily Vacation Bible School one year, and the showing of the comedy play “Aunt Lucia” at the Waterloo High School in 1929. The group also helped clear and beautify several lots and lawns in the area. They were perhaps most well-known for their efforts in tending to the Waterloo Cemetery, which wasn’t being kept up, partly due to insufficient funds.

Deciding to tackle the problem themselves, the ladies set about clearing the property, removing sixteen bags of trash in one afternoon. When they could, they hired help for the project, and when they couldn’t, they volunteered to do the work themselves, removing trash, straightening tombstones, mowing, etc. They even went around and personally solicited dues from the cemetery’s lot owners, many of whom had not been paying because the cemetery wasn’t being cared for properly.

This bit of civic improvement was considered by some to be “their prime achievement” in the community.

The Waterloo Ladies’ Kitchen Band persisted at least through 1939, when they performed several vocal and instrumental numbers at the 71st annual Old Settler’s Day in DeKalb County.

Want to see more local history? Click here to browse our online photo database, visit the official Genealogy Center Facebook page, or read some of our previous posts for Women’s History Month in DeKalb County.

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About Chelsea

I've been working at Willennar Genealogy Center for over two years now, and I've loved every minute of getting to learn more about the stories of DeKalb County and the surrounding area. I'm interested in all kinds of history, but I'm especially fond of the early film industry, old letters and journals, the DeKalb County Fair, and the Interurban line.
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