Eloise Milam, music teacher and founder of the Melody Maids, was born Bonnie Eloise Rush on September 18, 1908, in Anahuac, Chambers County, Texas. She was the daughter of Cosby C. and Mary Alice (Farris) Rush. The family moved to Oregon for a time before settling in Beaumont, Texas. Eloise took piano lessons when she was five and had a strong affinity for playing and singing. She attended Beaumont High School and sang in the chorus there. After graduation and during college, she continued to sing in church and participated in many music organizations, including performances with the Beaumont Light Opera Company. She married Mason Thomas Milam on June 1, 1933. They had one son.
The family made their home in Beaumont, where Eloise Milam worked as a private music teacher and gave voice lessons. During World War II she did her part to support bond rallies to aid the war effort. In 1942 for one such rally at Beaumont’s Jefferson Theater, she was asked to provide entertainment. She brought forth her voice students as a choral group and dubbed them the “Melody Maids” as the name to give to the local newspaper. Thus began a longtime organization consisting of teenage girls that became much beloved in the Beaumont area and around the world.
Initially the choral group sang songs on the Beaumont docks to greet incoming sailors. As their popularity grew, the Melody Maids performed at military bases and military hospitals. Their tours took them across the United States, throughout Europe, and even to the Far East. With Milam as director, the girls wore identical costumes and performed shows that demanded a variety of songs with multiple costume changes. She emphasized the importance of morals, manners, and music and taught her students not only the fundamentals of music but the rules of proper etiquette, fashion, and the art of conversation. During its early years, the group was self-sustaining and had to raise its own money for travel through fundraising events such as bake sales and style shows. The Entertainment Branch of the Department of Defense financed the tours of the Melody Maids after 1956. The group became the most-requested performers of that branch and continued to sing for troops until 1972.
Milam was also a composer and wrote twelve songs that comprised her musical production called Song Saga of Spindletop—a work performed in 1951 for the fiftieth anniversary of the Spindletop oil discovery. The Melody Maids subsequently performed her musical on the television program We, the People in 1952.
The Melody Maids included generations of alumni who remained devoted to Milam and praised their founder as a mentor. Former Melody Maid president Charlene Leonard commented, “There’s nothing to build self esteem in young girls than for someone to have confidence in you.” Another former Melody Maid described Milam as a “model of womanhood” who shared with her students the knowledge of “how to be a lady—walk, talk, sing.” Many alumni established the Melody Maid Foundation to sponsor the Eloise Milam Scholarship at Lamar University.
Milam’s many honors include receiving the title of Honorary Texas Ranger from the Texas Rangers in 1945; she was the first woman to be so named. In 1961 American Legion Post No. 33 honored her with the Distinguished Service Award. The Daughters of the American Revolution gave her the DAR Honor Medal in 1981.
In 1990 the Julie Rogers Theatre in Beaumont opened the Eloise Milam-Melody Maid Rose Room, a museum and archive to house memorabilia of the group. The Melody Maids held annual reunions and, in tribute to Milam, performed Song Saga of Spindletop for her in 2000. The energetic Milam, described as a “fireball,” remained active in music and civic affairs in Beaumont and often performed music at the Hotel Beaumont, an assisted-living facility for seniors, up to a few weeks before her death. She died in Beaumont on October 3, 2008, at the age of 100. Her husband had preceded her in death in 1991. She was survived by her son, four grandchildren, and several great grandchildren.