It was the week before the 1938 Big Game at Cal, and the atmosphere in the Stanford Band Pavilion was glum. A representative from the campus Women’s Conference had interrupted a rehearsal session to advise the all-male Band that it should no longer be led by its adopted drum majorette, 17-year-old Maxine Turner of San Leandro High School.
The concept of a female drum major at football games, twirling and prancing and doing back flips on the turf, was still new and a little risqué in collegiate circles. No Stanford woman seemed interested in the job; even Cal did not have a drum majorette. Turner had volunteered her services, and her mother made her flashy costumes and drove her to rehearsals and games at no expense to the University. Now, the women’s group was calling this “conduct unbecoming and unrepresentative of Stanford women.”
After the conference representative left, two Band drummers who were also Chaparral staff members—William J. Moir III, ’37, MBA ’39, and I—hastily composed an open letter, which the Band members approved. It said, in essence, “No Maxine, no Stanford Band at Big Game.”
A Band manager, Edward York, ’39, and I took the letter to Harry Press, managing editor of the Stanford Daily.Press, ’39, delighted with a good story for a dull football season, immediately teletyped the news on the United Press wires and put it in the Daily with editorials titled “Victorian Squaw Squalls” and “100 Men and a Girl.” Headlines the following morning in the San Francisco Chronicle (“Women’s Council Fumbles One”) and other papers drew surprise and amusement from around the state.
The news also brought a welcome increase in Stanford’s lagging ticket sales for the game. Ticket buyers hoped to see the “forbidden” Maxine in person if the Band decided to march. Berkeley Bowl was sold out quickly.
Embarrassed, the Women’s Conference hastily contrived a compromise, writing Turner a letter of apology and welcoming her to accompany the Band as a “guest drum majorette.” Student body president H.B. Lee, ’39, who had earlier endorsed the women’s stance, wrote his own apologetic letter. And so, at the last minute, the Band called off its strike.
Turner, ever cool, stayed in the background until Big Game day. At halftime, when the Stanford Band marched onto the field, the spectators rose in unison as she appeared. Confetti rained. The roar reached beyond Emeryville. Even Cal students, loath to praise Stanford performers, began fervently chanting, “Maxine, Maxine, Maxine.”
As expected, Stanford lost the game (6-0). But Maxine Turner, brilliantly twirling her baton, won the day.
— Marco Thorne, '39, MA '40