Standard Article

Women and the Silent Screen

1. Origins to 1928

3. 1915–1928

  1. Shelley Stamp

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf007

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Stamp, S. 2011. Women and the Silent Screen. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:3:7.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

Abstract

Women were more engaged in movie culture at the height of the silent era than they have been at any other time since. Female filmgoers dominated at the box office; the most powerful stars were women, and fan culture catered almost exclusively to female fans; writers shaping film culture through the growing art of movie reviewing, celebrity profiles, and gossip items were likely to be women; and women's clubs and organizations, along with mass-circulation magazines, played a signature role in efforts to reform the movies at the height of their early success. In Hollywood women were active at all levels of the industry: The top screenwriters were women; the highest-paid director at one point was a woman; and women held key leadership roles in the studios as executives and heads of departments like photography, editing, and screenwriting. Outside Hollywood women ran movie theaters, screened films in libraries and classrooms, and helped to establish venues for nonfiction filmmaking. Looking at the extraordinary scope of women's participation in early movie culture — indeed, the way women built that movie culture — helps us rethink conventional ideas about authorship and the archive, drawing in a broader range of players and sources. As Antonia Lant reminds us, the binary notion of women working on “both sides of the camera” needs to be significantly complicated and expanded in order to accommodate all of the ways in which women engaged with and produced early film culture (2006, 548–549).

Keywords:

  • female screenwriters;
  • female filmmakers;
  • fan magazines;
  • censorship;
  • early Hollywood;
  • movie theaters;
  • audiences;
  • better films movement;
  • gossip;
  • film education