Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudevilleby M. Alison Kibler
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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.
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.
What People are Saying About This
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.--Choice
In this fascinating and thought provoking study . . . Alison Kibler reveals the centrality of female performers in the negotiation of contested cultural categories like 'high' and 'low,' 'respectable' and 'offensive.' Her examination of the intersection of gender, class, and ethnic issues enables her to move beyond the official story of vaudeville as a sanitized entertainment venue to explore a richer and more complex history.--Susan A. Glenn, University of Washington
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.--American Studies
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
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.--Library Journal
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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