15 photographs, 14 illustrations, 1 appendix, index
Breaking every prescription of ideal femininity, American actresses of the mid-nineteenth century appeared in public alongside men, financially supported nuclear and extended families, challenged domestic common law, and traveled the globe in the transnational theater market. While these women expanded professional, artistic, and geographic frontiers, they expanded domestic frontiers as well: publicly, actresses used the traditional rhetoric of domesticity to mask their very nontraditional personal lives, instigating historically significant domestic innovations to circumvent the gender constraints of the mid-nineteenth century, reinventing themselves and their families in the process.
Nan Mullenneaux focuses on the personal and professional lives of more than sixty women who, despite their diverse backgrounds, each made complex conscious and unconscious compromises to create profit and power. Mullenneaux identifies patterns of macro and micro negotiation and reinvention and maps them onto the waves of legal, economic, and social change to identify broader historical links that complicate notions of the influence of gendered power and the definition of feminism; the role of the body/embodiment in race, class, and gender issues; the relevance of family history to the achievements of influential Americans; and national versus inter- and transnational cultural trends. While Staging Family expands our understanding of how nineteenth-century actresses both negotiated power and then hid that power, it also informs contemporary questions of how women juggle professional and personal responsibilities—achieving success in spite of gender constraints and societal expectations.