Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville

Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville

by 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807876053
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 10/12/2005
Series: Gender and American Culture
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

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

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

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

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

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

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