Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Scrapbook as Public Sphere: The Women's Club Year in Review
Jennifer Horne

Last modified: 2010-05-12

Abstract


The handmade scrapbooks lovingly assembled by cinephiles and adorers of movie stars are personal and often idiosyncratic artworks, film-cultural cabinets of curiosity. As artifacts, personal scrapbooks are striking for the way that each one shapes and is shaped by a keenly felt division between the private life of the spectator and the public lives of celebrities and performers. The collages on each page can offer historians shards of print ephemera thought to be long lost (Abel), or offer instances of discourse otherwise unrecorded (DeBauche); the historian’s instinct is to view the scrapbook bricolage through the optic of an individual’s privately held affections.

My contribution to this panel focuses on scrapbooks of a less personal sort, where the line between public and private is less sharply inscribed: the yearbooks created by clubwomen who participated in Better Films committee work for the National Board of Review. Regional chapters of the massive General Federation of Women’s Clubs in the 1920s and early 1930s worked to advance an amorphous Better Films agenda, sponsoring screenings and discussions and, most of all, pressuring exhibitors to clean up the movies. My presentation focuses on yearbook albums held at the Margaret Herrick Library, in collections at the University of California - Santa Cruz, and at the archives of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Washington, DC. The cultural work that women’s clubs performed is a history that cannot easily or entirely be recovered. Though the image of society women scrapbooking calls to mind the feminized domestic arts activities that characterized the informal educational work of women’s groups of the nineteenth century (e.g. quilting bees, sewing circles, bible study), the clubwoman’s film yearbook documents and fashions an activist viewing community, one circumscribed by civic improvement and uplift, aesthetic standards, and a fair dose of morality. As I will describe, Hollywood and the women’s clubs appear in these mounted clippings files as public spheres of cultural influence, providing a significant new frame for our understanding of women and the silent screen.


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