288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 illus., notes, bibl., index
Gender and American Culture
Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville
1999 Emily Toth Award, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association
A disrobing acrobat, a female Hamlet, and a tuba-playing labor activist--all these women come to life in Rank Ladies. In this comprehensive study of women in vaudeville, Alison Kibler reveals how female performers, patrons, and workers shaped the rise and fall of the most popular live entertainment at the turn of the century.
Kibler focuses on the role of gender in struggles over whether high or low culture would reign in vaudeville, examining women's performances and careers in vaudeville, their status in the expanding vaudeville audience, and their activity in the vaudevillians' labor union. Respectable women were a key to vaudeville's success, she says, as entrepreneurs drew women into audiences that had previously been dominated by working-class men and recruited female artists as performers. But although theater managers publicly celebrated the cultural uplift of vaudeville and its popularity among women, in reality their houses were often hostile both to female performers and to female patrons and home to women who challenged conventional understandings of respectable behavior. Once a sign of vaudeville's refinement, Kibler says, women became associated with the decay of vaudeville and were implicated in broader attacks on mass culture as well.
"By addressing issues of gender, class, and ethnicity, Rank Ladies reveals an interesting interpretation of vaudeville's role in the development of mass entertainment, and highlights the centrality of gender to social changes around the turn of the century."
"Kibler displays a masterful command of existing scholarship on vaudeville and the broader trends of theater and popular culture in which it participated."
--American Historical Review
"The great strength of Kibler's book lies in its meticulous scrutiny of underused primary sources. . . . The result is a complex account of how marginal audiences helped to shape even the most upwardly mobile entertainment forms."
--Journal of American History
"Kibler has an excellent command of her material and knows how to argue for its significance, showing how the question of gender revises conventional interpretations of vaudeville."
--Women’s Review of Books
"Provides useful insights that challenge some analyses by previous writers. . . . Thorough and discursive notes, excellent bibliography."
"A valuable and entertaining narrative from which [Kibler] draws perceptive insights and conclusions on the culture of the time that are relevant in any age."
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