I-48408.1 | Misses Annie Blake and Emma Devoy costumed, Montreal, QC, 1870

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Misses Annie Blake and Emma Devoy costumed, Montreal, QC, 1870
William Notman (1826-1891)
1870, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
17 x 12 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  female (19035) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Before television, radio and movie theatres, travelling vaudeville shows were the main form of popular entertainment. In Canada more women than men were drawn to the theatre business, but those who sought fame and fortune on stage were forced to travel to either the United States or England. Canada would not have its own established theatre companies until after the Second World War.

In 1896 Canadian actress May Irwin planted the first on-screen kiss on the cheek of actor John C. Rich. On stage the kiss was "deemed hilarious" writes historian Paula Sperdakos, but "on the screen it was considered shockingly torrid lovemaking. It was denounced by the clergy, and produced demands for censorship of those new-fangled, soul-destroying living pictures."

Few achieved the star status Irwin enjoyed. Instead, female stage performers were looked upon as little better than dance-hall girls. Acting was not the problem. Families, schools and clubs regularly staged theatricals. It was the life they led. Working long hours side by side with men and travelling unchaperoned meant that women who chose acting as a career traded opportunity for respectability.

Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    These women could be local amateur actors or they may be travelling performers who decided to have their portrait taken before moving on to the next city.

  • Where

    This is a classic Notman studio portrait.

  • When

    This portrait was taken in 1870.

  • Who

    Misses Annie Blake and Emma Devoy pose for what might be an early example of what is known in the theatre business as a head shot.