This chapter explores the personal and professional networks created by female theatre practitioners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century through a detailed case study of Gabrielle Enthoven – actor, playwright, translator and theatre collector. Born into privilege, Enthoven was the daughter of a colonial administrator who grew up in Egypt and the Sudan. She lived in Windsor, met Oscar Wilde and played with the royal children, spending her twenties messing about on boats and in theatres with the local soldiers. She then married and moved to Chelsea and began to network with theatre and arts professionals before devoting her life and wealth to creating a world-class collection of theatre ephemera that she donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Stage women, 1900–50 explores the many ways in which women conceptualised, constructed and participated in networks of professional practice in the theatre and performance industries between 1900 and 1950. A timely volume full of original research, the book explores women’s complex negotiations of their agency over both their labour and public representation, and their use of personal and professional networks to sustain their careers. Including a series of case studies that explore a range of well-known and lesser-known women working in theatre, film and popular performance of the period. The volume is divided into two connected parts. ‘Female theatre workers in the social and theatrical realm’ looks at the relationship between women’s work – on- and offstage – and autobiography, activism, technique, touring, education and the law. Part II, ‘Women and popular performance’, focuses on the careers of individual artists, once household names, including Lily Brayton, Ellen Terry, radio star Mabel Constanduros, and Oscar-winning film star Margaret Rutherford. Overall, the book provides new and vibrant cultural histories of women’s work in the theatre and performance industries of the period.
The introduction contextualises issues of professional agency in relation to the history of women theatre and performance workers in the first half of the twentieth century. It provides a framework for the book as a whole and explains the chapters and their relationships with one another.