Organizing White Femininity through Amateur Theatre: Pageants, Residential Gardens, Department Stores, and the Drama League of America, 1912--1946

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The turn of the twentieth century in the United States witnessed social events that disrupted and transformed existing racial categories. Increased immigration from Europe and the Great Migration of African Americans realigned the boundaries of whiteness. Other scholars have studied how certain social structures played a role in the racial formation of whiteness, but the selection of their archives privileged the actions of men. How did Anglo American women in the United States contribute to the racial formation of whiteness in the early twentieth century? How did women use spaces gendered as feminine to construct social and the cultural definitions of whiteness? In this dissertation, I argue that amateur theatre was a primary site where women performed and shaped whiteness. At the time, amateur theatre was emerging as a ubiquitous institution in American social life. It was an immediately gendered space connected to the social reform spearheaded by women. At the same time, the United States experienced the rise of mass production and consumption. Material objects and things filled homes in a new way. Building on literature that has explored the role material culture played in the racial formation of whiteness, I argue that amateur theatre provided a gendered space for women to gather and organize racialized objects. Assembling and performing with the racialized objects that existed in their everyday lives brought order and definition to whiteness. Through amateur theatre, women staged racialized utopias that were ostensibly hopeful. I interrogate how gender played a role in shaping such “white hope” by analyzing how amateur theatre operated in relation to other femininely-gendered spaces, including para-educational groups for children, gardens, and department stores. For case studies, I have focused on the efforts of local chapters of the Drama League of America. The Drama League was a federation of clubs spread throughout the United States that emerged from the women’s club movement. Originally dedicated to reforming professional theatre, the organization eventually played a larger role in supporting amateur performance and the Little Theatre Movement. I analyze the histories of the chapters located in Washington, D.C., Pasadena, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.