I recently connected with a couple who are also looking at early women in recording history and I learned of two women I hadn’t come across before: Ursula Greville and Gloria Chandler.
Leslie Gaston-Bird (of Mix Messiah Productions) told me about Ursula Greville. Ursula now holds the title of earliest female recording engineer (in a traditional sense). She was a British singer who became an engineer and co-owner of Synchrophone, a company that made music recordings (12″ records) for short films (16mm). They have an interesting story: In the 1930s, the major record companies were seeking fees from cinema owners and they managed to change copyright law to do it. (This was the Mechanical Copyright Act, which was created 1911 and amended in 1934.) Small theaters couldn’t afford the fee. Synchrophone was created in 1934 and had the record label “Octacros”where cinemas could buy the records and have the rights to play it for a year. More on that story can be found here.
My guess is Ursula got into recording more of as a business opportunity than a deep interest in becoming a recording engineer (which is the case for many of these early women; Mary Shipman Howard is an exception). Her husband (John Kenneth Curwen, a publisher) purchased Synchrophone (a company that had been around since 1919) in 1930 and the intention was to take over a vacant record factory.
She was described in a newspaper article as “fearless” and it seems to fits her character to try something new. Ursula became magazine editor (of the Sackbut) when she was in her 20s and with no prior experience and she embraced it. I have come across a couple references by record collectors which say the recording quality of Synchrophone’s records is poor. In one case, they were recording an organ that was moved from another theater the weekend before the recording. The sound went into the auditorium “via ducts which entered through a grille in the roof” (Tuddenham).
Synchrophone didn’t survive into the 1940s and Ursula moved to the US during World War II. Like most of the early female engineers, her recording career lasted less than a decade.
Paul Nunn reached out to me about Gloria Chandler, who he’s been researching. He’s got notes about her on his website and has some of her digitized recordings there. Gloria worked on educational radio-like theater stories that were targeted to children. She had a record label, Gloria Chandler Recordings. Amazingly, Gloria had at least one title which was engineered by Mary Howard Recordings (another early woman I already knew about). Gloria was from Chicago but worked for Dorothy Bullitt of King Broadcasting. We’re adding Gloria to the list as producing in 1945.