Dwyer, Doriot Anthony (1922—)

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Dwyer, Doriot Anthony (1922—)

American flutist who was the first woman to hold a principal chair in a major American symphony orchestra. Born March 6, 1922, in Streator, Illinois; daughter of Edith (Maurer) Anthony and William C. Anthony.

Was first flutist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1952–89).

Until the middle of the 20th century, symphony orchestras were exclusively male enclaves, reflecting the belief that had been held for centuries that men should play in public and women should play at home. Unionization of musicians both helped and hindered women. Unions demanded that all auditions be held behind curtains so that the judges would not be able to tell the gender of the musician playing. In this way, women were often admitted to orchestras. At the same time, however, unions espoused seniority, and in symphony orchestras those with seniority were inevitably men. As the 20th century progressed, women increasingly joined orchestras, and those in small towns and cities, whose musicians were often unpaid, sometimes were composed of one-third to one-half women members. Gradually women worked their way into over 30 major symphony orchestras in the United States. Doriot Anthony Dwyer was one such musician.

Doriot Anthony was born in Streator, Illinois, in 1922. Recognizing the exceptional talent of his daughter, William Anthony inquired of her flute teacher about Doriot's chances for an orchestra career. The teacher replied they were nil, saying, "There are no women in symphony orchestras." In the 1930s, women were not even allowed to audition so membership in these all white male clubs remained concretely exclusive. Doriot Dwyer, however, was a great niece of Susan B. Anthony , who was also a musician, and it appears their pioneering spirits were matched. "I liked symphony music," said Dwyer. "I liked being in touch with conductors and soloists and I was absolutely determined not only to be in a first-rate orchestra but also to lead the flute section—to be a principal player." Mastering the flute was one thing, entering an orchestra another. For seven years, Dwyer lived in California and wrote to major Eastern orchestras, believing that male conductors there were more enlightened. Finally, she heard from Charles Munch at the Boston Symphony.

Munch's decision to audition women was more or less a lark. Several were invited to try out on what was known as "Ladies' Day." Dwyer worked for that audition as if she were working to pass her doctorate in music. She memorized all her pieces, determined to play the perfect audition. Munch was stunned by the level of playing he discovered at "Ladies' Day." Dwyer was asked to audition a second time, but she refused, stating that her first audition should adequately demonstrate her talent. She was hired, but the management kept it a secret so as not to upset members and patrons of the orchestra; at that time, many felt that the only reason conductors hired female musicians was to sleep with them. In 1952, Dwyer's appointment as a principal player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra made national headlines, because the event was so unusual. She went on to have a long and distinguished career with the orchestra, and, as the century neared its close, women were increasingly featured in orchestras throughout the world.


Epstein, Helen. "Notes from the Orchestra Pit," in Ms. Vol 5, no. 10. April 1977, pp. 106, 108, 110–111.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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Dwyer, Doriot Anthony (1922—)

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