Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[H]ighlights the centrality of gender to social changes around the turn of the century.

American Studies

Kibler displays a masterful command of existing scholarship on vaudeville and the broader trends of theater and popular culture.

American Historical Review

The great strength of Kibler's book lies in its meticulous scrutiny of underused primary sources.

Journal of American History

Kibler has an excellent command of her material and knows how to argue for its significance.

Women's Review of Books

Thorough and discursive notes, excellent bibliography.


Library Journal
These two volumes examine the historical impact of women in the entertainment industry, offering perceptive comments about American culture in the process. Sochen (history, Northeastern Illinois Univ.) divides performers into various groups: black women vaudevillians, bawdy women entertainers, the entertainer as reformer, child stars, and women comics, to name a few. She examines a potpourri of stars within these contexts, including the details of their careers, the obstacles they encountered, their personal histories, their impact on the public, and their relevance to the eras in which they performed. Many were symbolic of Eve (the seductress), Mary (sweet and innocent), or Lillith (the career woman), while others violated these conventional female boundaries. Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ethel Waters, Mae West, Eva Tanguay, Shirley Temple, Dinah Shore, and Roseanne Barr are among those discussed. Popular entertainment collections should find this work useful. Rank Ladies, on the other hand, focuses more exclusively on women in vaudeville, discussing their history, specialties, difficulties, and triumphs as well as their place in society in the early part of this century. Women performers gradually introduced more complex elements to the vaudeville stage--e.g., classical music, satire, theatrical adaptations, and inventive material--that challenged previous standards. Curiously, this produced a mix that was at once successful, provocative, and threatening, changing the composition of audiences, the philosophies of theater managers, the texture of the vaudeville art form, and the nature of the entertainers' work environment. Kibler (Ctr. for Women's Studies, Australian National Univ.) has done an impressive job not only of researching her subject but also of fluidly weaving it into a valuable and entertaining narrative from which she draws perceptive insights and conclusions on the culture of the time that are relevant in any age. For scholarly audiences and those interested in early 20th century American culture.--Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807848128
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 5/31/1999
  • Series: Gender and American Culture Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

M. Alison Kibler is assistant professor in American studies and women's studies at Franklin and Marshal College.

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Table of Contents



1 Introduction
2 Ladies and Nuts: Cultural Hierarchy and Mass Appeal in Keith's Vaudeville Audiences
3 Ladies of Rank: The Elinore Sisters' Ethnic Comedy
4 A Has Been Old-Lady Star: Julia Arthur in Vaudeville
5 The Corking Girls: White Women's Racial Masquerades in Vaudeville
6 The Upside-down Lady: Ruth Budd's Circus Acrobatics in Vaudeville
7 Artists and Artisans, Rats and Lambs: The White Rats, 1900-1920
8 Conclusion



Caricature of Yvette Guilbert
Cover of Keith News, October 19, 1908, featuring B. F. Keith; his son, A. Paul Keith; Edward Albee; and Charles Lovenberg
Eva Tanguay
Lillian Shaw
Eugene Sandow
Kate Elinore and her younger sister, May
Caricature of Kate Elinore
Julia Arthur as Clorinda Wildairs in A Lady of Quality, circa 1897
Julia Arthur in Romeo and Juliet, 1899
Julia Arthur as Hamlet, 1923
Cover of the sheet music for "Mammy's Carolina Twins," featuring Josephine Gassman and her pickaninnies," 1899
May Irwin, 1897
The Minstrel Misses, 1903
Ruth and Giles Budd, the Aerial Budds, circa 1910
Ruth Budd in her white union suit, circa 1916
Ruth Budd as Darwa, the female Darwin, from her feature film, A Scream in the Night (1919)
George Peduzzi (known as Karyl Norman or the Creole Fashion Plate)
Cartoon supporting the Associated Actresses of America (AAA), the ladies' auxiliary to the White Rats
Cartoon depicting one of the main reasons for joining the AAA—the vulnerability of the female performer on the road
Cartoon showing the debutante's rise in vaudeville at the expense of the veteran male vaudevillian

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