Pamela Cobrin’s book From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880-1927 (University of Delaware Press, 2009) investigates the suffragists and early feminists through the lens of performance. Broadly defining performance, she includes the amateur theatricals of Mary Shaw’s Gamut Club, the one-acts of the Provincetown Playhouse, and the suffragist parades of the early 1900s.
The book, I think, contextualizes the current arguments of theatermakers like Theresa Rebeck, who have noted that even as women rise to prominence as theater artists, their representation on the commercial stage is sorely lacking. Not only is this a depressingly persistent issue, but in Cobrin’s book there is a striking correlation between commercial theater models and male leadership. Of course, that’s just one small piece of this rich study, which shows that by performing roles in society that were usually male (directing in commercial theater) even women who did not preach from the stage were engaging in political speech and challenging the accepted gender roles.