Women performers played a vital role in the development of American and transatlantic entertainment, celebrity culture, and gender ideology. Sara E. Lampert examines the lives, careers, and fame of overlooked figures from Europe and the United States whose work in melodrama, ballet, and other stage shows shocked and excited early U.S. audiences. These women lived and performed the tensions and contradictions of nineteenth-century gender roles, sparking debates about women's place in public life. Yet even their unprecedented wealth and prominence failed to break the patriarchal family structures that governed their lives and conditioned their careers. Inevitable contradictions arose. The burgeoning celebrity culture of the time forced women stage stars to don the costumes of domestic femininity even as the unsettled nature of life in the theater defied these ideals.
A revealing foray into a lost time, Starring Women returns a generation of performers to their central place in the early history of American theater.