As a first-year at Radcliffe College, Sally Faith Dorfman ’71, went to the audition in disguise. She wore her baggiest sweater and hunched to conceal her figure. She tied her long hair in a low ponytail and tucked it into her shirt. When she logged her name, she signed in as “Sal.”
In the fall of 1967, Dorfman saw an ad in The Crimson from the Harvard University Band that stated the band was in need of more flute players. Dorfman, a flautist, thought she might try out.
But there was a catch. The band, at the time, was all male. Dorfman thought she might as well try out. “It didn’t say, ‘no girls need apply,” she explains.
The band members weren’t fooled by her disguise. The faculty director took her off to the side and explained that women couldn’t join the marching band. But the wind ensemble group was open to women, he offered.
This began Dorfman’s three-year struggle to join the Harvard University Band. It wasn’t until the fall of 1970 when Dorfman was finally allowed to play with the band at football games and became the first woman to join the Harvard University Band.
In the spring of 1969, over a year after Dorfman’s audition, a male flautist from the band told her his flute was broken and asked if he could borrow hers to play in the Phi Beta Kappa processional at graduation. Dorfman saw her opportunity.
“I said, ‘if my flute is good enough, I go with it,” she recounts with a laugh. “He said, ‘I kind of thought that would be your answer.’”
Dorfman led the Phi Beta Kappa processional that year as an alternate for the male flautist, but the band wouldn’t let her formally join until the spring of 1970, when she was admitted to the concert band only. She could play with them on the stage, but they made it clear that she wouldn’t march with them on the football field.
In a 1970 Crimson article, the band’s manager said it refused to admit women because “our looseness and lewdness are just too sacred to us… we play at boxing matches and hockey games and our annual banquet has always been a stag-type affair.”
In the fall of 1970, it finally changed the policy: — Yale’s band went co-ed, and Harvard band leaders wanted to keep up. Dorfman could finally join.
However, once she was admitted, Dorfman didn’t always feel included. “There was rampant sexism,” she says. “There were some people who I’m sure bitterly resented it because they wouldn’t be comfortable being as coarse in my presence. But there also were people that I’ve been friendly with for years.”
But Dorfman joining the band made the organization become a more inclusive space. George L. Russel ’75, a trombone player, noticed the band’s increasing acceptance of female members.
“It seemed like we were normalizing things, and we were a force for equity and equality because we were so visible,” Russel says.
In 1979, Diane Feldman ’80 became the first female manager of the band. “There had to be a first female band manager at some point, and I just happened to be it,” Feldman puts it.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the band had its first full-term female drill master, the band member tasked with creating an entertaining show and announcing during games. This October, the band celebrated its 50th anniversary of co-ed membership with a panel on the organization’s history. Kelli M. Aquino ’22, the band manager, reflected on the lack of female representation in the drill master position.
“The whole trope of ‘women aren’t funny’ kind of was that last bastion that still remained within the organization,” Aquino says.
For its 50th anniversary celebration, the band also dedicated its halftime show at the Harvard v. Cornell football game to Dorfman herself to commemorate the band going co-ed.
For Dara M. Badon ’22, the band’s current drill master, listening to the stories in the panel helped her think about making the band more inclusive in the future. “This was the first time, as far as Kelli and I know, where there was a space and a celebration dedicated to something very specific, like this historical part of our history,” she says. She hopes the band has more spaces for reflection in the future.
For Dorfman, listening to the experiences of other women in the band was encouraging. She says, “I think we’ve all come a long way, in the right way.”