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Penn[sylvania] on the picket line-- 1917.

[Detail] Penn[sylvania] on the picket line-- 1917

Dramatic Pageants

In conjunction with the massive suffrage parade in Washington on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration in 1913, women dressed in Greek togas performed a “Suffragette Tableau” as “Liberty and Her Attendants” in front of the Treasury Building. A tableau is a staged activity in which participants physically construct a scene or series of scenes from literature or history or create “frozen pictures” representing a theme or idea. Body placement, facial expressions, costumes, and props may be used to convey meaning. Participants may hold their positions for as long as 20 minutes. Tableaux were popular in the 19th century, but began to lose popularity in the early years of the 20th century.

In 1923, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the National Woman’s Party called for a celebration of equal rights. As part of the diamond jubilee celebration, members turned to a newer entertainment form, the modern “Dance Drama” with participants representing justice, truth, tillers of the soil, and warriors.

  • What purpose did such pageants as the liberty tableau and the dance drama serve?
  • In what ways did these pageants reflect on the efforts to improve the status of women in America?
  • If you were going to create a tableau about women’s rights in the 21st century, what scene would you depict? Explain your choice.
  • Imagine that you are the board of directors of an organization working for women’s rights today. What kind of entertainment or dramatic genre (e.g., music video, rap song, situation comedy) would you use to make the public aware of your efforts? Write a brief speech explaining your choice and persuading others that it will be effective.