Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Catherine Keyser


This project focuses on popular female entertainers--Olive Logan, Annie Oakley, Annette Kellerman, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and Gypsy Rose Lee--who wrote and performed solo works at some point from the 1880s through the 1950s. Whether adopting the guise of a monologist, dancer, swimmer, or stripper--these women risked scrutiny and reaped the rewards of presenting themselves to a public through physical and textual performances. I read the publicity surrounding these performers and their written works--memoirs, magazine articles, and self-help manuals--as performances of the celebrity self. In each case, they were well aware of how their publics perceived them, so they used their performances and their writing to intervene in the ever-growing public discourses of magazines, newspapers, and newsreels. Their acts and their publications became spaces where they could legitimize their celebrity status while also combating gossip about themselves.

I am interested in how these women used their bodies in their physical performances and written work to produce and promote themselves as celebrity subjects in light of the growing significance of the image. These competing representations of the celebrity self work to legitimize, undermine, or supersede the images provided by the media. I answer the question, "What role/roles do bodies play in the creation of subjectivity, the crafting of persona, and the production of celebrity?" Additionally, these performers were public women at historical moments when middle class women's public

participation increased via their membership in the workforce and their involvement in leisure activities. Performers offered women models as professional women and leisure ladies that helped to shape changing discourses on femininity, female embodiment, and female sexuality.

This work lies at the intersection of performance studies, gender studies, and celebrity studies within the modern period. My work examines the role performance played in the development of the modern celebrity. Fundamentally, I am staking out a larger space for the consideration of celebrity theory within the realms of performance and gender studies, a move that will allow us to further develop our understanding of the interrelatedness of subjectivity, publicity, and celebrity and the relation of each to the body.