Marching into History: The Sisterhood of the Stephen F. Austin Scottish Brigade 

By Vince Lee

The famed star formation of the Scottish Brigade is shown on the first reunion program for Beatrice Lytle, 1970. All photos courtesy of the Stephen F. Austin High School Scottish Brigade Drill Team and Alumnae Association Records, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

On June 23, 1972, nearly thirty-five years prior to the passage of Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or educational program that receives federal funding, there was the Scottish Brigade Drill Team. Beatrice Lytle, the group’s sponsor, organized the Scottish Brigade Drill Team in September of 1937 in conjunction with the newly built Stephen F. Austin High School in Houston’s East End. The high school’s namesake, Stephen Fuller Austin, referred to as the “Father of Texas,” was of Scottish descent. The Scottish Brigade Drill Team represented its namesake’s heritage by wearing the customary Scottish Brigade uniform – green coats with white belts, tartan plaid pleated skirts, white leggings, and green feathered hats – all worn while performing and marching in formation to the syncopated cadence of drums, accompanied by bugles and bagpipes.

Beatrice Lytle, founder and sponsor of the Scottish Brigade, 1937-1960.

According to its constitution and bylaws, the Scottish Brigade Drill Team’s purpose was “to represent the school at athletic events, at civic and charitable projects, and on patriotic occasions; to foster good fellowship; to develop leadership; to encourage good conduct and good scholarship; to promote good sportsmanship.”

The purpose and values embodied in the constitution were progressive and forward thinking during the middle of the 1930s. Opportunities for young women in co-curricular activities at school were limited at this time. long before passage of Title IX, which brought societal change and recognition for women by ensuring they could participate on an equal footing with men in educational activities.

The 1937 Scottish Brigade drew a lot of interest and applications from young women enrolled at the school. The inaugural group was made up of 157 Brigadiers and twelve court officers, consisting of the colonel, lieutenant colonel in charge of records, majors, captains, and the sponsor of the organization. Martha Jo Hulcy was appointed as major to lead the group, Bernice Evans was captain of the drill corps, and Lee Dell Barker was captain of the drum and bugle corps. Lieutenants were Wanda Roberson (flags), Robin Moncrief (drums), Annie Stanford (bugles), Dot Lemke (Company A), Ella Burndrett (Company B), and Wenono Fay Herly (Company C).

With the formation of this new group came the need for uniforms and instruments to outfit the Brigade. With no money in the school budget to purchase equipment for the group, it was determined that the Scottish Brigade needed to raise at least $1,500 prior to its first performance.

Scottish Brigade Uniform and accompanying bugle, undated

As documented in the “Friends of Austin” Scottish Brigade Memory Book, the Scottish Brigade’s first act before the members ever set foot to perform in a parade or at an athletic event, was to raise the money they so desperately needed. To do this, they enlisted the help of the community and documented it in the Memory Book. Each of the 157 Brigadiers went door-to-door to obtain signatures from individuals and organizations who were willing to pledge $1 each to support Austin’s Scottish Brigade.

Holger Jeppesen, Houston Independent School Board member and president, was the first patron to sign and pledge his support in the Memory Book for Major Martha Jo Hulcy, kicking off the fundraising drive for the Scottish Brigade in 1937. An array of signatures soon followed in the pages of the Memory Book showing support from the parents of Brigadiers, relatives, and Austin High School faculty to friends, neighbors, businessmen, and companies in the community. Many of the names that appear represent a veritable who’s who of Houston community leaders and businesses: Jesse H. Jones (politician and entrepreneur), G. A. Loescher (Stephen F. Austin’s first principal), Dora B. Lantrip (Eastwood Elementary School’s first principal), Krupp &Tuffly (iconic Houston building and shoe store), Battelstein’s (leading Houston department store), Stowers Furniture Company, and Prince’s Hamburger to name but a few.

Martha Jo Hulcy, the first Colonel of the Scottish Brigade, 1937-1938.

The fundraising drive for the Scottish Brigade began October 16, 1937, and concluded on May 26, 1938, when the women obtained the necessary signatures and funds to complete the Memory Book. To commemorate the momentous occasion, the closing remarks in the Memory Book read, “The names inscribed herein will remain in our hearts. ‘Friends of Austin.’ By the efforts of those Brigade members, whose names head pages.”

The fundraising drive for the Scottish Brigade began October 16, 1937, and concluded on May 26, 1938, when the women obtained the necessary signatures and funds to complete the Memory Book. To commemorate the momentous occasion, the closing remarks in the Memory Book read, “The names inscribed herein will remain in our hearts. ‘Friends of Austin.’ By the efforts of those Brigade members, whose names head pages.”

The Scottish Brigade’s first public appearance in full dress uniform occurred on November 11, 1937, at the Armistice Day Parade. The Brigade marched through the streets of downtown Houston, where the crowds became enthralled with this new group of young women, who were marching smartly and in formation decked in their Scottish attire.

The ensemble was completed when the Brigade ordered eight bagpipes with the Memory Book funds. The sophomore group learned to play the instruments, and they debuted the bagpipes at the Austin-Davis football game on October 2, 1938.

You may wonder what it was like to be a member of the Scottish Brigade. Apparently it took a lot of hard work and dogged determination according to the account in the Scottish Brigade Anthology: “Eight weeks of drilling, morning and night–eight weeks of missing all of the social activities of the new school fall season–these persistent girls who had begun drilling in the first few weeks, with neither a name, uniform, or equipment decided, were now ready to launch.”

To know the Scottish Brigade is to know Beatrice Lytle, its founder and sponsor. The group reflected her values, discipline, and ideals. Described by many former Scottish Brigade members who served under her tutelage, she could be a taskmaster, a perfectionist, inscrutable, and impossible to please. These are some of the terms commonly used. Members expressed a shared fear of not living up to her expectations or disappointing her during a performance.  Despite her tough persona, Lytle was also warmly remembered as a counselor and teacher who cared and shaped the Brigadiers’ lives in innumerable positive ways after graduation.

In a heartfelt tribute given to Ms. Lytle upon her passing in 1992, former colonel of the Scottish Brigade, Rilda Richardson Whitmire felt she discovered the secret as to why. “I came upon a paper, in Miss Lytle’s handwriting, where she outlined her goals for the organization. The two main categories were ‘Success’ and ‘The means of attaining a positive philosophy of success.’ Under the latter she listed cooperation, group loyalty, a sense of responsibility, leadership, self-control, courtesy, sportsmanship, and friendship. It certainly struck me that this was someone who definitely accomplished what she set out to do, for these are the very values that so many Brigadiers, over the years, have said that they gained from their participation in the organization.”

Colonel Rilda Richardson, 1954-1955.

To many of the young women who were fortunate enough to be selected and serve in the Scottish Brigade, the group, because of its strong inner core of values which reflected their founder, was more than just a drill team, it became a life-changing and life-shaping experience that served them well for the rest of their lives.

Over the next forty years, the Scottish Brigade performances were mainstays at Austin High School football games, the Shrine Ball, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Parade, festivals, drill team competitions, and city and state parades where they represented the school and their community. During World War II, the Scottish Brigade scoured the community, going through garages, yards, and vacant lots in search of scrap metal that could be contributed to the war effort. The 1950s were a golden age for the Brigade with numerous half-time performances at football games in their full regalia of kilts, straight lines and intricate formations, and flags flying, accompanied by the drums’ cadence and bugles blaring. The 1960s began with a major change for the group; with her increasing responsibilities as a full-time counselor at Austin, Beatrice Lytle stepped down as the group’s sponsor, and the school installed Betty Blakely as the next sponsor.

Betty Blakely and Parthenia Papuga succeeding sponsors of the Scottish Brigade, 1960-1978.

The 1970s brought even more changes, Ms. Lytle retired from Austin High School on June 30, 1970. Parthenia Papuga replaced Ms. Blakely, becoming the third and final sponsor of the Scottish Brigade during its storied run. With the changing times and demographics of the East End area, longtime families moved to the suburbs. In their place, came new students, representing a diverse population, who were less interested in drill team activities of the Scottish Brigade. With the dwindling enrollment of young women who participated in the Scottish Brigade, the difficult decision was made to disband the group in March of 1978, leaving tears, heartache, and unfulfilled dreams for those who served on the final team.

Barbara Root Corrington, a member of the 1978 Bugle Corp, reflected, “This was a change I did not want to face. It was personally devastating to me. I was a junior and finally at the age to go for Colonel or Lt. Colonel of Reserves (both held great appeal). Never would I go on the Senior trip to Bandera, never would I experience the one installation which I had worked so hard toward over four formative years.” Despite the heartache, Corrington fondly remembered her time with the Scottish Brigade as “the family which brought me immeasurable love and a lifetime of values.” She proclaimed, “Once a Scottie, Always a Scottie.”

This sentiment reverberated among all the young women who served in the Scottish Brigade, throughout its forty-year history at Stephen F. Austin High School. Whether they were a Brigadier during the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties or even seventies, this common thread tied them together despite the different eras in which they served. There was a sisterhood and a common thread of values, traditions, and feelings about representing their school and community during each performance. It meant collectively being a part of something special and larger than themselves. As a new colonel once stated in her goals for the coming year, “We will resemble a great chain, and each link depending on the other for security and strength.” It was this uninterrupted chain that bound them together throughout their march into history.

Scottish Brigade in formation, circa 1939-1940.

Special Collections in the M. D. Anderson Library is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information on how to view the Stephen F. Austin High School Scottish Brigade Drill Team and Alumnae Records or visit the archives, go to

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