How Women Worked in the US Silent Film Industry
This project began just after the centennial celebration of the motion picture, during a distinct turn to historiography in the field, and in the light of intriguing new evidence that continues to surface. We set out to prove that women were not just screen actresses in the silent era, in the two decades before the advent of synchronized sound motion pictures. Carrying over the impetus from the 1970s, we looked first for evidence that they had worked as directors but in the process we found that they had been not just directors. Women’s participation in the first two decades was both deeper and wider than previously thought. In addition to costume designer, as one might expect, the researchers on this project found, as one might not expect, camera operators as well as exhibitors (theatre owner and/or theatre manager). In her groundbreaking business history of women filmmakers in the silent era, Karen Mahar adds the colorist and the film joiner as well as the supervisor and the executive producer to this list.1 At first, many jobs were not necessarily gender-typed, she says. In the first decade, however, some departments became exclusively organized along gender lines, with editing or joining being the most visibly gendered work.
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