The late 19th century was a time of great upheaval for women as they struggled to break free from the passive, dependent existence even strong, healthy women were often expected to lead. The American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman describes in a preface to her short novel, The Yellow Wallpaper, how in 1887 she went to a noted specialist in nervous diseases after suffering from what she describes as “a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia.” His advice was “to 'live as domestic a life as far as possible,' to 'have but two hours' intellectual life a day,' and 'never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again ...'” Physical culture was one strategy women could use to explore their hard-won, new-found freedom of movement and thought.
Going on the stage, however, is never without risks, as a group of young Vancouver women found in 1894 when they put on a show at the Y.M.I. Hall. After an enthusiastic preview by a World writer of a minstrel performance being mounted “by the ladies of one of the West End churches,” the review which followed in the same newspaper on January 31 must have been a disappointment, since by the reviewer's own account, “the audience seemed to enjoy it, and if they did they got their 25 cents worth, so that they at least should be satisfied.” The singing is actually described as being “very good”, and it's only the jokes that “were something terrible, and had they been gotten off by a masculine troupe there would have been a catastrophe.”
Perhaps there's something else bothering our reviewer, who concludes his report with some advice: “On account of the respectability of their families the young ladies' names are withheld, but it is to be hoped that some other means will be resorted to for the purpose of raising funds for church or charitable work than young ladies imitating traveling cork-blackened minstrels. The World's advice to such is don't do it again.” It would seem that in this writer's view, respectable women should not try, try again but just give up! (next page)
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