Anna Cora Mowatt essay by John Cline

As stated in the text (The Lady Actress), actors and actresses were viewed as low and common person (2). Notable scholars commented freely on how the American public did not seem to accept theatrical expectations as proper. Actors and actresses alike were thought to be of low moral character, free-spirited and drunkards. Another scholar, Clara Morris, retorted that actors were not taken seriously because they were “buffoons” (p. 3). Because of this negative stereotype, actors were seen as having no social standing. To add to this chagrin, actors and actresses were also openly ridiculed in religious setting by figures such as Reverand Robert Hatfield, who declared the theater the “haunt of sinners” (p. 4).

This “vagabond lifestyle,” to obviate, did not make theater a socially accepted career or for women. During this time period, women were stigmatized as having their place in the home, which was considered the “womanly sphere” of house and home (p. 2). The text almost suggests that women were not supposed to have a social life outside of the home, thus suggesting this to be the main reason why theater attendance would be considered taboo. Also of note is that those who attended the theater were not considered “decent” people. A lady actress during this time was considered unfeminine.

This time period was characterized by the ending of the Victorian era, which had celebrated women’s work as good household management. Domesticity was shown to be the only appropriate working task for women. To have women take a place on the stage, or in any career for that fashion, seemed almost intolerable as it presented a trespassing into men’s economic territory.

Reprinted with permission


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