This chapter considers aspects of public charity work undertaken by actresses in the 1910s, focusing on their work selling for charitable causes within the commercial sector at Harrods department store in London. Charity labour has been overlooked in understandings of the theatre industry during this period, yet the considerable amount of voluntary work that actresses undertook was significant to the continuing improved social and cultural position of the British stage more generally. Charity work at home and overseas brought an increasing level of professionalisation to actresses’ work in the voluntary sector and wider recognition of the charitable activities they undertook.
There are an extraordinary number of autobiographies written by British female theatre professionals working during the period. This generation of actresses and female performers were concerned, in part, with locating themselves in a public culture of self-affirmation and reflection. Their autobiographic writing evidences an awareness of the growing interest in their activities as public figures and practitioners, in a labour market where women were now becoming firmly professionalised. The chapter explores how their ‘autobiographic confessional histories’ can be read as a body of work, as cultural interventions that make an explicit contribution to our understandings of the development of professional theatre practice more generally, during the era.