Progressive compromises : performing gender, race, and class in historical pageants of 1913



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This dissertation explores embodiments of citizenship in three historical pageants of 1913. As historical pageantry reached the height of its popularity in the early twentieth century, the form was criticized by those who felt it represented a limited understanding of community and citizenship. Historical pageants came to prominence at a time in the nation’s history when lynching plagued the south, women agitated for the right to vote, and labor unions organized to demand better working conditions. Popular historical pageants presented a history which ignored these pressing social issues and supported the status quo. As a result, while pageants gained popularity the form was taken up by groups seeking to use pageants for different political purposes.

My dissertation interrogates embodiments of citizenship in Progressive Era pageantry through three case studies: W.E.B. Du Bois wrote and staged Star of Ethiopia, devoted to re-telling African-American history; John Reed organized members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) for a performance of The Paterson Strike Pageant to aid laborers on strike; and Hazel MacKaye staged Allegory in support of women’s suffrage. While each pageant aimed to promote diversity, once each pageant’s historiography landed on live bodies, the gaps between what the pageant argued for and who the pageant simultaneously excluded were made visible. Allegory crafted an argument for white women’s suffrage by excluding recent immigrant and women of color; Du Bois sought to promote the African American middle class by denigrating the working classes; John Reed painted an image of the IWW as a fully united working class while ignoring the racial and ethnic differences that had led to tensions among the group. Despite their progressive intentions, once each pageant moved its political arguments on stage, the choices they made in performance belied their inclusive aspirations.