Mystery History – Solved!


MysteryHistory 090611a


I know what y’all are thinking: you’re a week late!  Thank you for your patience & understanding with this canine. This mystery took some time for me to solve, LoL!  Therefore, lettuce get to it by first taking a look at the reader guesstimates about these vintage lady bloggers, I mean broomers, above.


Most commenter’s had no clue but weren’t gonna come right out and admit it like my stylistic friend Erika.

Petrea took a wild shot of it with both guns a blazin’: “It’s 1913 and these women are training to be Pasadena’s first and last Witch Brigade!”  In that case the poor gentleman they have on the ground must’ve been either their pimp or a sacrifice.

Ever patient Bellis claimed it was the original “Real Housewives of Pasadena” from 1905.  I didn’t know that. I’m sure Bellis could even tell when the first TV appeared.

Karen the Painter of Landscapes kept on swinging hoping to connect with a homer. You know, sometimes that works.

And I can tell that Diane, like the good author she is, put in her research time on this particular mystery.

KB, not to be mistaken for a mountain biker, recognized this crew as the Merry Maids. If she uses them her home must always have that new horse barn smell.  Nevertheless, the maidens in the photo do resemble her girlfriends here.

And Justin de Pulled Porker, a rare local with an interest in our history, hinted you could find this photo in one of his history books. Yes, that’s where I first found it! And here it is in the expanded version from the book Early Pasadena written by a Pasadena Museum of History historian:


Pasadena BroomBrigade 1886a 


The book is excellent & entertaining. But I chose to use the top photo because I couldn’t find the book version above online. The one I used first appeared, as far as I know, in the LA Times back in 2008. And spread online from there.


Anyhows, the envelope please.  And the winner is…………

Karen Winters! For her answer of:

Participants in the first Doodah parade? A cobweb Flash Mob?  Wait a minute…The Pasadena Broom Brigade at Williams Hall – the Pas History museum had a pic of it in an exhibit a few years ago. 

Williams Hall is at Colorado and Fairoaks, and when our daughter was little someone actually invited us upstairs in that building to watch the Doodah parade – some 25 yrs ago or so!


See. It does pay to give more than one answer! Yes, the photos of these attractive young ladies in their Sunday best hold our local broom brigade – The Pasadena Broom Brigade. Here pictured in 1886.

Karen is a painter, another of our artistic loco blogger’s.  I like to check in on her work to see what local subject has captured her paint brushes. I recommend you do so also.  Prior to turning on her artistry full-time she was an author and Emmy Award winning broadcast journalist/producer.  Karen will be receiving her Fabulous Prize shortly. I’m happy to hand them out especially since they’ve all been to locals.


These military style female groups appear to have originated shortly after the Civil War throughout the nation.  Perhaps Americans where overdue for a good time after fighting each other and this was one outlet used to destress while doing social good.  Historian Joseph Thatcher wrote that these Broom Brigades (BB) were founded by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WTU) and were based on a US Army drill manual.  Even Las Vegas, Cafe Pasadena’s Believe It or Not!, had a BB in 1882 per Military Images Magazine!

Mark Twain too, took note of this new modern woman in his Life on the Mississippi: “In the West and South they have a new institution–the Broom Brigade. It is composed of young ladies who dress in a uniform costume, and go through the infantry drill, with broom in place of musket. It is a very pretty sight, on private view.  I saw them do everything which a human being can possibly do with a broom, except sweep.  But I know they could learn.” (my italics)

As usual, very astute observations by Mr. Twain.



There doesn’t appear to be a single reason why women formed these brigades.  A fun, relaxing pastime to enjoy after the war was one. To show support for the men in the war was another. Some ladies may simply have admired the precision drills of the military and desired some of that maleness in their life. Often it was done for some higher good such as fund raising for a good cause.  But if in fact the WTU was the founder of BB’s then it was their idea these would instill discipline into girls so they could better resist the temptations of the day: alcohol, sex, and tobacco! If military discipline worked for the male, the logic was why not the female!

Here is a link to a recent news video showing the experience Oregonians had with their BB: KDRV 


When it came to Pasadena’s BB, it was one of several pastimes locals used to amuse themselves.  J.W. Wood the Pasadena historian, pharmacist, and politician in his excellent “Pasadena CA Historical & Personal” from 1917 wrote:  “Upon one occasion the girls organized a leap year party and called upon the young men at their homes or places of abode  (some of them abode in caves). They made many calls, ending up at Carmelita, and enjoyed themselves immensely, of course.”   Wow. Sounds like the new modern woman was more liberal & aggressive two centuries ago.

Next he tells of another amusement:  “Following the Baying Hounds was an exhilarating pastime and  much indulged in by the good riders of early days (and nearly all were – men, and women). After these outside recreations, they  gathered under some friendly tree, where, spreading covers  upon the ground, they ate their lunches there and enjoyed  themselves, al fresco.”

And, “speaking of ladies as equestrians…in fact, everybody rode and some kept hounds, for there were plenty of  jackrabbits and wildcats.”   Interesting. In the future whenever I see the lady equestrian with her kept hound at her side I will be better equipped to understand her motivations.

Wood briefly described the Pasadena BB as “a composite of young ladies who, in costume and with brooms, performed a very attractive drill, etc., at Williams Hall.”  Williams Hall – on the northeast corner of Colorado & Fair Oaks – sounds like the Town Hall of its time beginning with the 1880s.

Everything that was anything, everyone who was anyone in town eventually did their business on the William Hall’s floors. Even politicians and religious services put in their time at the Hall. In an 1891 LA newspaper report we read of a Miss Bierer lecturing at Williams Hall on Good Health & a Clear Complexion: How Obtained!  The proceeds were put into the organ fund of All Saints Episcopal Church.  

By the way, Williams Hall also housed Pasadena’s first theater – The Parlor. The location certainly was the rite spot to be  in the city. Mercantile Place/Alley ran behind Williams Hall & block. Location, location, is how I would put it. There is much to tell about Colorado & Fair Oaks but I need to press on focused just on the BB.

In Early Pasadena Pasadena’s BB are described as “trained to do military-style drills – with brooms – by Lieutenant Rockwood, a retired military man…the girls performed at fund-raising events held by the Pastoral Aid Society of Presbyterian church.”  Sometimes the girls would auction off their brooms too.

One research source offered that without these BB’s many of these girls, since they were from rich families, would have gone through life without ever touching a broom!  That should put to rest Petrea’s belief these may have been witches!


Didn’t find much information on BB’s yet I still struggled to edit this down to size.  You know, wouldn’t it be a fine idea, for historical purposes, to bring back the Pasadena Broom Brigade!  We have some wonderful women today who would fit in nicely. (imho) You might even know a couple of them.

There you have a bit more of Pasadena’s history. I hope in the near future we can have a bit more interest from locals in the history of Pasadena.






Gotta Take Cover! Stay Thirsty My Friends



Some sources for further reading

Early Pasadena: Cedar Imoden Phillips, Pasadena CA Historical & Personal: J.W.Wood

Life on the Mississippi: Mark Twain, History LA County Blog: Vickey Kalambakal

Yesteryear News Blog, Oregon Historical Society


11 responses to “Mystery History – Solved!

  1. I’ve always preferred, “History is a lie agreed upon.” Speaking of which, there’s a myth about how some housewives with brooms protected their village during the French Revolution.

  2. I was one of those you mentioned who took one look at this picture and had no clue. So, I came back for my history lesson – and you did not disappoint. I agree with Petrea: you’re doing an excellent job. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

    • Thks, PDP. But this post still needs a lot of editing. And I wish this didn’t take me as much time as it did. Especially since these history posts, and history websites in general, get relatively little reader response.

      • Well, they’re my favorite, but I guess they’re not everyone’s favorite. Too bad. Still, you don’t have to do them, you know? It’s a lot of responsibility to take on. I, for one, appreciate it.

        • Agree, but History is something we have no option to ignore. But the PIO is coming back maybe as early as the 1st week of Oct so I only have a couple more to do. Besides she does a much better job than me!

          I passed by the Pasa Museum of Hist the other day. Gates open, parking lot totally empty.