Lampert’s paper explores the connection between female celebrity around the dramatic stage, the project of great woman biography, and mid-19th-century feminism. It uses Anna Mowatt’s Autiobiography of an Actress as an entry into a key historical moment in which American actresses experienmented with new forms of femininity on stage while simultaneously transforming and expanding the scope of female celebrity. Lampert argues that this expansion of female celebrity did important, if at times ambivalent, cultural and political work within the context of women’s rights and an expanding cultural feminism. Male female celebrities of the 1850s liek Anna Mowatt and Jenny Lind epitomized a sentimental femininity that can be seen as a backlash against the “gender trouble” of women’s rights and dress reform. And yet, as Lampert also argues, the range of public roles that actresses like Mowatt played onstage and offstage participated in a proliferation of images of female cultural and literary achievement and economic autonomy. The emerging image of the actress as heroine contributed to a broader interrogation of the relationship between women as prominent public figures and the advancement of women socially and politically that must be understood in dialogue with political movements for suffrage and growing calls for expansion of women’s economic rights and autonomy.
Sara Lampert presents at 1:00pm on Saturday March 3rd, 2012 in Heimbold Visual Arts Center.