In 1952, Doriot Anthony Dwyer (whose father was Susan B. Anthony's cousin -- I love that little detail) became the first woman to be the principal of a woodwind section in a major symphony orchestra. You can see her performing in the video below:
Here's a smidge of Linda Dempf's article about the Women's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago:
In addition to the general resistance women faced in working outside the home, women were perceived as lacking the physical strength required for playing instruments other than the piano, or lacking the stamina to withstand lengthy orchestra rehearsals. A woman's constitution was perceived as "frail" and she might wither under the tyrannous glare of the conductor. Many instruments—such as the double bass, winds, brass, and percussion—were deemed inappropriate for a woman, not only because of the physical exertion they required, but also because a woman might look less than ladylike while performing.Links:
Women responded to this exclusion and lack of opportunity by playing in all-female ensembles...by the 1930s, there were nearly thirty all-women orchestras across the United States.
* Helen Kotas (1916-2000): A Pioneer by Heather Thayer, Horn Call
* Helen Kotas Hirsch by Lowell Greer
* Doriot Anthony Dwyer by Susan Fleet
* Sculpture for Doriot by Homer Gunn
* A brief timeline of women orchestral musicians in the U.S.
* The Cleveland Women's Orchestra, the last of the all-women's orchestras still around today, is in its 76th year.
* Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras by Dr. Antoinette Handy
* This list shows the relative representation of women and men in European orchestras in 2005 (some U.S. orchestras are also included). Honestly, I was shocked by the ones at the bottom, like the Vienna Philharmonic (99% male). That's old news for some people, but I had assumed that women were better represented everywhere.
* Here's a 2009 update to the last list -- interesting because it shows the changes between 2005 and 2009.
* Unrelated to the above, but still notable: Women's Orchestra at Birkenau
* First woman to conduct a symphony orchestra in the U.S.:
Mary Davenport-Engberg, Bellingham, Washington, 1914.