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EIGHTHWonderSamp (2)

Hello, historical fiction fans.  EIGHTH WONDER: THE THOMAS BETHUNE STORY is officially in the copy editing stage. It’s three weeks away from completion.  From there, I begin the process of building a website and deciding whether to self-publish or go the traditional publishing route.  I’m strongly leaning toward self-publishing.

This is my debut novel and the writing process has been a long, sometimes intimidating journey.  But I’ve been committed to bringing the incredible story of the blind slave, Thomas Bethune, known throughout the world as “Blind Tom” to the page.

Born blind and feeble, left in a sweltering smokehouse for dead, Thomas began playing Mozart at the age of three. His story, as seen through the eyes of the master who saved him, is a gripping, inspirational, and intriguing 19th century tale.

I hope you enjoy the read, and appreciate the great effort I put into sharing his captivating story with you.  Like many authors, it’s been a labor of love.

The book will be out in February 2016.  I’m excited, nervous, and proud to share the story of Thomas Bethune with the world.

19th Century Theater Stage Lighting, History

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A Brief Outline
of the
History of Stage Lighting

Bel Geddes, Norman. Miracle in the Evening. Garden City, NY: Double Day and Co., Inc. 1960
Bergman, Gosta Mauri. Lighting in the Theatre. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. 1977
Fuchs, Theodore. Stage Lighting. New York: B. Blum. 1963 (1929)
Hartman, Louis. Theatre Lighting: A Manual of the Stage Switchboard. New York: DBS Publications. 1970 (1930)
Owen, Bobbi. Lighting Designers on Broadway: 1915-1990. New York: Greenwood Press. 1991.
Owens, Bobbi. Scene Designers on Broadway. New York: Greenwood Press. 1991.
Pendleton, Ralph. The Theatre of Robert Edmond Jones. Middletown, CT. Wesleyan University Press. 1958

On the Internet:
Kliegl Bros.Collector’s Society

Lighting EquipmentLighting DesignersLighting EducatorsTime Line: 1880…Lighting Equipment

General Illumination: Candle – Oil Lamp – Gas – ElectricSpecific Illumination: Lime Light – Arc Light – Electric Spotlight

General Illumination
General illumination provides a diffuse, shadow less, wash of light over the entire stage space.

  • Candle
    • Italy – 1580-1618: Candles are introduced in both the academic (Teatro Olimpico) and court (Teatro Farnese) theatres.
    • England – 1600s: Used in the private (indoor) theatres and Ingo Jones’ (1573-1652) Court Masques .
    • 1660s: Reintroduced during the English Restoration.
    • Mounting Positions: Chandeliers over both the stage and the house, Front edge of the stage (footlights), and “Ladders” between each pair of side wings.
  • Oil Lamp
    • 1780s: Swiss chemist Aime Argand develops the modern oil lamp which soon replaces the candle as the primary light source.
    • Mounting Positions: The same as with candles–Chandeliers, Foot lights, and Ladders in the wings.
  • Gas
    • 1816: The world’s first gas stage-lighting system is installed at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.
    • 1817: Gas-lighting systems are installed in London’s two legitimate houses: Drury Lane and Covent Garden.
    • 1820s: Gas light is in experimental use in most countries of the Western World.
    • 1840s: Gas lighting is widely adapted and the gas table (control board) makes its appearance.
    • 1880s: The incandescent mantle (the Auer burner) is introduced producing a much brighter and safer light.
    • Mounting Positions: Footlights, Border Lights (horizontal “strip lights” hung between each pair of scenic borders), and Wing Lights (vertical “strip lights” between each pair of scenic wings). For example in the late 1850s, the stage of the Royal Theatrein Stockholm was illuminated with 562 burners:
      • 66 in the Foot Lights,
      • 8 sets of Wing Lights with 9 gas jets each, and
      • 8 Border Lights with 44 burners per position.
  • Electric
    • 1878: British inventor Joseph Wilson Swan (1829-1914) patents the worlds first incandescent electric lamp.
    • 1879: Thomas Edison (1847-1931) receives the American patent for his incandescent lamp.
    • 1881: London’s Savoy Theatre (the home of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas) installs the world’s first electric lighting system– 824- 16 candle power Swan lamps were used to light the stage and an additional 334 lights illuminated the auditorium. As Savoyproducer, Richard D’Oyly Carte, explained…

      The greatest drawbacks to the enjoyment of the theatrical performances are, undoubtedly, the foul air and heat which pervade all theatres. As everyone knows, each gas-burner consumes as much oxygen as many people, and causes great heat beside. The incandescent lamps consume no oxygen, and cause no perceptible heat.

    • 1882: The first American installation of electric lights is at Boston’s Bijou’s Theatre.
    • 1890s: By the end of the 19th century most “modern” theatres have switched from gas lights to the much safer electric lights.
    • 1903: Kliegl Brothers installs an electrical lighting system with 96 resistance dimmers (and 20 additional dimmers for house lights) at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. See the illustration below.
    • Mounting Positions: The same as with gas-lighting: Footlights, Borderlights and Winglights. When the new Stockholm Opera House opened in 1898, the stage was illuminated with a three color (white, red, and green) lighting system using 544- 25 candle power lamps per color– a total of 1632 lights.
      • 40 lamps per color in the Foot Lights,
      • 9 Border Lights with 40 lamps per color.
      • 9 sets of Wing Lights with 8 lamps per color, and


The Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

The above illustration of the “new” electrical system at the Metropolitan Opera House is from a 1913 Kliegl Brothers catalogue. Note the eight set of border lights above. the four sets of wing lights on the sides of the stage, the seven bunch lights mostly up stage, the switch board in the basement and the electrician standing in the “prompter’s box.”Specific Illumination
Specific illumination, introduced by the lime light in the middle of the 19th century, provides a sharp, highly controlled shaft of light. These shafts were used to highlight a small area of the stage, a principle actor, or create the illusion of sunlight (or moonlight). These units were typically placed in the balconies of the auditorium or the galleries on the sides of the stage house. The 1903 electrical installation at New York’s Metropolitan Opera included 14 lens boxes (spotlights), 12 powerful open faced carbon arc flood lights and 12- 12-lamp bunch lights (floodlights) in addition to the four color (white – amber – red – blue) foot lights, proscenium lights, and the eight sets of border lights.

  • Lime Light
    • 1816: The calcium light (also known as a limelight or Drummond light) is demonstrated by Thomas Drummond, it’s inventor.
    • 1837: English actor-manager Charles Macready uses a limelight at London’s Covent Garden.
    • 1870s-1880s: The limelight is in general use in “modern” theatres. By the end of the 1880s as many as eleven units were used in productions at Stockholm’s Royal Theatre .
    • 1890s: The limelight is beginning to be replaced by the newer and brighter carbon arc lamp.
  • Arc Lamp

    Kliegl No 5
    5″ 25 amp
    • 1807: Sir Humphry Davy demonstrates a carbon arc lamp powered by a 2,000 cell battery. Further development is halted by the lack of a readily available power supply.
    • 1832: Hippolyte Pixii, a French instrument maker, builds an experimental direct current dynamo (generator).
    • 1849: An arc lamp is used to create a sunrise effect at the Paris Opera’s production of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete.
    • 1878: Charles Brush develops a practical dynamo making the carbon arc lamp a workable light source.
    • 1890s: The carbon arc lamp begins to replace the calcium light in the “modern” theatre. The illustration on the left is a Kliegl No. 5, a 5″ Lens Box with a 25 amp (2750 watt) carbon arc burner (1913).
    • 1920s: The newer and safer incandescent spotlight, using a modern 1000 watt lamp, begins to replace the carbon arc for general theatrical use.
    • 1990s: Carbon arc lamps continue to be used as a follow spot until the end of the 20th century.
    • 2000s: The high intensity discharge lamp (HID) replace the carbon arc burner in most modern follow spots.
  • Electric Spotlight

    Kliegl No. 5N
    5″ 1000 watt spotlight

    8″ 1000 watt spotligiht 1936
    • 1904: Louis Hartmann builds a small (5″ lens) spotlight, a baby lens, which used a 50 candle power (approximately 50 watt) lamp for David Belasco’s production of The Music Teacher.
    • 1906: Hartman uses 4– 250 watt baby lenses (in addition to 31– 1,5000 watt carbon-arc spots) in Belasco’s The Rose of Ranchero.
    • 1907: Edison General Electric introduces the 500 watt lamp.
    • 1911: Edison General Electric introduces a “concentrated filament” lamp for use in a lens hood (spotlight).
    • 1913: Kliegl Brothers markets the No. 60, a 5″ Baby Spot built around a 100 candle power lamp. According to the catalogue, the unit provided a “mild ray of light.”
    • 1913: The 1000 watt lamp becomes available.
    • 1916: Designer Norman Bel Geddes replaces the carbon arc lamp in a lens box with a 1000w incandecent lamp.
    • 1920s: 5″, 6″ and 8″ PlanoConvex spotlights (lens hoods), using a 1000 watt lamp, begin replacing the Lime Light and Carbon Arc lamp.The illustration on the left is of a Kliegl No. 5N, a 5″ Lens Box with a 1000 watt lamp (1926). Note the similarity between the No 5 and the No 5N.
    • 1929: Kliegl Brothers introduces the Fresnel lens spotlight.
    • 1933: Both Kliegl Brothers (Klieglight) and Century (LekoLight) introduce the ellipsoidal reflector spotlight.
    • 1971: Altman Lighting introduces the 360Q axial ellipsoidal.
    • 1992: ETC introduces the Source4® ellipsoidal reflector spotlight

Lighting Designers

Adolphia Appia – Normon Bel Geddes – Robert Edmond Jones
Abe Feder – Jean Rosenthal – Peggy Clark
Tharon Musser – Jules Fisher – Jennifer Tipton
Beverly Emmons – Ken Billington

  • Adolphia Appia (1862-1928)
    Swiss writer/designer, Adolph Appiawas one of the leading visionary of the late 19th century. Many believe that the modern concept of lighting design began with his writings.In Die Musik und die Inszenierung (Music and Staging) (1899) he distinguished three kinds of stage light.

    1. Helligkeit, the “diffused light” which illuminated the general acting space,
    2. Gestaltendes Licht, the “creative light” which creates the highlights and shadows, revealing the three dimensional world, and
    3. Painted Light, the highlight and shadows painted on the scenery by the scenic artist. This static, painted light, was not a part of Appia’s vision.


    Tristan and Isolde

    Appia’s sketches indicate a plastic, three dimensional set (steps, columns, ramps, platforms) revealed in directional light. He believed that shifting light should create an inner drama which flows and changes with the texture of the music; that the intensity, color and direction of the light should reflect the changing atmosphere or mood of the work. Perhaps the best illustration of this concept is Appia’s mise-en-scene for Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde

    “The terrace in front of Tristan’s castle is modeled in light and shadows as a dream vision, in dazzling sunlight when Tistan sinks into unconsciousness, in the blood-red light of sunset fading into twilight and, finally, into a hazy darkness around the lonely, white figure of Isolde.” (Bergman. p327-328)

    Appia suggests four different lighting looks or cues:

    1. starting with (Q1) “dazzling sunlight”
    2. x-fading into (Q2) “blood-red light of sunset”
    3. fading into (Q3) “twilight” and
    4. finally (Q4) “hazy darkness.”

    This was difficult in 1899 when the primary lighting equipment consisted of foot lights, rows of border lights and perhaps a dozen lime lights (or arc lamps). 

  • Maude Adams (1872-1953)
    Maude Adams is best remembered today as the American actress who created the role of Peter Pan in James Barrie’s most famous play. According to a feature story in the January 5, 1908 issue of the New York Times, producer Charles Frohman decided, after three successive years on stage with The Little Minister, that his star needed a hobby. “‘Lights,’ thought Mr. Frohman ‘…I’ll set her to playing at light effects; the very thing for adding a new interest to this third year in one play.'” After a number of experiments, Miss Adams decided that the footlights were more of an impediment than a help. According to the Times story: “Nothing had as yet suggested itself in place of footlights. But the problem had reduced itself to the question of counteracting the force of the footlights. It must be a powerful sun-like light from above, Miss Adams knew. She saw proof of this at the Comedie Francaise one night when, lighted only by the great chandelier from above, the faces of Mounet Sully and the company grouped for the curtain call, were illumined in a finer manner than when all the border lights and footlights were in full operation.” In 1908 Miss Adams installed a 2′ deep by 32′ wide light bridge on the stage of Frohman’s Empire Theatre. The bridge would hold seven operators who could focus and refocus the seven incandescant spotlights which produced the “equivalent of 8000 candles.” The new light bridge was believed to be the “longest step yet taken toward the end so many are striving for–lighting the stage, not theatrically, but as nature lights her landscapes.” 

  • Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958)
    Norman Bel Geddes, an American theatrical (and industrial) designer, was born in Adrian, Michigan, briefly attended the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago and was an illustrator in a Detroit advertising agency. In the evenings he built a model theatre complete with a model electric lighting system. He used this model to experiment with “modern” staging. As he writes in his autobiography, Miracle in the Evening(1960), these experiments…

    made it clear that the first row of overhead lamps should be in front of the proscenium instead of behind it. Overhead lamps located at a forty-five-degree angle in front of the curtain line produced modeling in facial features, and life to the eyes, which neither border nor footlights could achieve. They were equally favorable for the figures and clothing of the players and, owing to the concentrated beam, did not strike the scenery. (p.136)

    In 1916, at the age of 23, he left the Detroit advertising world to became the resident designer for Aline Barnsdall’s short lived Little Theatre of Los Angeles. The company leased the 450 seat theatre at the Egan Dramatic School and Bel Geddes, with the aid of the company’s electrician, built a dozen spotlights by installing new 1000 watt lamps in twelve old carbon arc lamp lens hoods. According to his autobiography…

    I placed lights in the auditorium chandeliers, on the sides of the balcony rail, and put a whole line of them behind the proscenium. This was as they had been in my Detroit model. The system replaced the theater stage lighting equipment of low intensity flood lighting from foots, borders, and bunch lamps. The new method provided high intensity individual lamps, which could be focused on any area of the stage floor or scenery, in any color, with a variable amount of light due to individual dimmer control. All were operated from the stage switchboard by a single electrician. This installation, at the Little Theatre of Los Angeles in 1916, was the first use of focus lamps as the sole means of lighting the stage. Two years later I made the first installation in New York…Today [in the mid 50s] the system is in universal use. (p. 161)

    Two years later in 1918 he (1) presented a successful lighting demonstration to Broadway producer Winthrop Ames, (2) was contracted to redesign the lighting system, using new 1000 watt spotlights, for both the Little Theatre (now the Helen Hayes) and the Booth Theatre on 45th Street, (3) lit, with 18- 1000 watt spotlights, a six show, summer stock season, at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, (Sets designed by 31 year old Robert Edmond Jones), and (4) received his first New York design credit.

    Today he is primarily remembered for his massive theatrical designs, especially those for Austrian director: Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). Like most designers of the period, he created both the scenic environment and the lighting design.


    The Divine Comedy
    Probably his most famous theatrical creation was the monumental 1921 design for Dante Alagherii’s The Divine Comedy. The set for this unproduced project was 124′ wide and 148′ deep. The two massive side towers which framed the pit were each 59 feet tall. This imaginative theatrical concept exists today as a notated “script”, sketches, a scaled ground plan and front elevation, and a number of photographs taken on an 8′ by 8′ model.

    He designed two massive productions for Max Reinhardt– The Miracle in 1924 and The Eternal Road in 1937. For the New York production of Karl Vollmoeller’s word-less Biblical pageant: The Miracle, Bel Geddes converted the 2000+ seat Century Theatre into a realistic 15th century cathedral. In 1937, for The Eternal Road, an Old Testement spectacle by Kurt Weill (score) and Franz Werfel (text), he created, on the huge stage of Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhatten Opera House, a winding road which reached from the front edge of the orchestra to the “Promised Paradise.” This four hour production which had a cast of hundreds and tons of solidly-built scenery was a critical success but a commercial failure. 

    In the fall of 1931, Bel Geddes designed and staged a three act, two hour fifteen minute melodramatic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The production starring Raymond Massy ran for 28 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre. The thirteen scenes were presented on a single architectural set containing a flat neutral playing area, four large raised platforms, a series of steps, four huge towers, and a wrap-around cyc. There were ten hidden entrances into the acting space. Like other Bel Geddes designs, the set broke the proscenium line thrusting the action of the play twenty feet into the auditorium. Locations within the unit set were established through the choice of specific props and the careful focus of the beams of light.

    Six years earlier in a French production of Jeanne D’Arc, on a very similar architectural set, Bel Geddes used only 3 sections of border lights, 24- 1000 watt 6 inch “focusing” spot lights, 3- 400 watt “baby” spots and 18- 1000 watt cyclorama floods. His autobiography, Miracle in the Evening was published in 1960, two years after his death (Garden City, NY: Double Day and Co., Inc). Link to Norman Bel Geddes’ production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Robert Edmond Jones (1887-1954)
    Robert Edmond Jones is considered the father of American scene design. He graduated from Harvard in 1910, traveled to Europe to study the “New StageCraft” and returned to America at the beginning of World War I. He shocked American audiences in 1915 with his simple presentational set for Arthur Hopkin’s production of The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife(directed by Granville Barker).

    The Banquet Scene – Act III, Scene iv

    Today he is primarily remembered for the staging of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms (1924) and his vivid dramatic lighting for Arthur Hopkins’ three Shakespearean productions: Richard III (1920) with John Barrymore, Macbeth (1921) with Lionel Barrymore, and Hamlet (1922) with John Barrymore. The expressionistic production of Macbeth was performed on a bare stage under the constant gaze of three gigantic, moveable, witches masks. The primary acting areas were isolated in carefully focused shafts of light.

    For this production of Macbeth, Jones used 14- Spotlights on the First Electric, 5- Spotlights on each of the two Torm positions and 4 Baby Spots (focused on the three masks) in the foot light trough. Six lamps were used to light the Banquet Scene (III,iv) illustrated above– two down lights center, one side light from stage left and the three baby spots focused on the masks. Link to Robert Edmond Jones‘ production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database(www.ibdb.com). 

    The First Generation of Lighting Designers: Abe Feder, Jean Rosenthal and Peggy Clark 

  • Abe Feder (1909-1997)
    Abe Feder, who liked to refer to himself as a “worker in light” invented the position of Lighting Designer. After studying engineering and theatre technology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) in Pittsburgh he went to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and then on to New York City where he began a fifty year career in Light. Over three hundred Broadway shows including Nazimova’s productions of Ghosts (1935) and Hedda Gabler (1936), I’d Rather be Right (1937), Inherit the Wind (1955), My Fair Lady (1956), and Camelot (1960) carry the “Lighting by Feder” credit. Between 1935 and 1939 he lit more than 200 projects for the WPA Federal Theatre. Included in this extensive list is T.S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (1936), the Living Newspaper’s presentations of Power (1937) and One Third of a Nation (1938) and Orson Welles’ famous productions of a “vodoo” Macbeth (1936) set on a West Indies island, Dr. Faustus (1937) staged on a bare stage surrounded by black drapes, and The Cradle Will Rock (1938) which was locked out of its theatre by the government and forced to give an “outlaw” performance in the Venice Theatre. Link to the FTP Production Notebooks (prompt scripts) for Dr. Faustus (Light plot: Image #10; Focus charts: Images #12 to #39), Macbeth. (Focus notes and equipment lists: Images #9 to #16) and Power(Light plot Image #33).In addition to design, he wrote the unit on stage lighting in John Gassner’s Producing the Play (1940). He used his lighting design for Nazimova’s production of Ibsen’s Ghosts (1935) at the Empire Theatre to illustrate typical practice in the mid-1930s. The layout, which he considered “necessary for general lighting of this type of production” included..

    • 6– 500 watt 6″ Ellipsoidals on the balcony rail
    • 22– 400 watt 6″ Fresnels on the First Pipe,
    • 4– 400 watt 6″ Fresnels on the First Torm left and right
    • 2– Sections of 200 watt strip lights on the First Pipe, and,
    • 2– Sections of 60 watt foot lights.

    In addition to the general light, Feder used 2– 250 watt baby spots, 5– 1000 watt 16″ Beam Projectors, 2– 1000 watt flood lights and 7– R-40 strip lights to light the backings of Stewart Chaney’s set. In contrast he used 78 units (including 7 front-of-house) for Welles’ Macbeth and 114 (with 22 front-of-house) lamps on Dr. Faustus.Building on his theatrical experience, Feder created a second career as an architectural lighting designer. Structures which carry the Lighting by Feder credit include New York’s RCA/GE building in Rockefeller Center, the Empire State building and the United Nations building. When comparing his two professions as a theatrical and architectural lighting designer, he commented: “How can you get excited about a 50-foot stage after you’ve lit a 50 storey building?”

    In 1993 Abe Feder was the first to be honored as a USITT Distinguished Lighting Designer. His theatrical designs have been archived at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, GA. Digital copies of a number of his drawings (including light plots for My Fair Lady, Camelot and On A Clear Day…) can be viewed at Abe Feder / Springer Opera House : Lighting Design Collection

    Link to Abe Feder‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Jean Rosenthal (1912-1969)
    Today, over forty years after her death, Jean Rosenthal is primarily remembered as the Lighting Designer for some of the great musicals of the nineteen-fifties and sixties and the early comedies of Neil Simon. This list of Broadway shows includes West Side Story (1957), The Sound of Music (1959), Barefoot in the Park (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Hello, Dolly! (1964), The Odd Couple (1965), Cabaret (1966), and Plaza Suite(1968).After briefly studying acting and dance at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse and three years at Yale University she arrived in New York and became a technical assistant with the WPA Federal Theatre, Project 891. John Houseman was the producer, Orson Welles the director, Nat Carson the scene designer, and Abe Feder the lighting designer. When Houseman took a leave of absence in the fall of 1936 to stage Leslie Howard in Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Imperial Theatre, he brought Rosenthal along as the assistant stage manager in charge of lighting. When the man from the rental house, who was to install the electrical system became ill, Rosenthal suddenly became the “worker in light.” I assume the lighting system she designed was similar to the layout created by Abe Feder for Welles’ Elizabethan productions at the Federal Theatre. This was, perhaps, her earliest lighting credit.

    Following the outlaw performance of The Cradle Will Rock, John Houseman was fired and Orson Welles resigned from the Federal Theatre. These two men joined forces and created the legendary Mercury Theatre. Jean Rosenthal became their production and lighting manager. Although credited as the “Production Manager,” it is believed that she designed the lighting for the eight productions staged by the company.

    Probably her most influencial work was with the Martha Graham Dance Company (1934-1969) and the New York City Ballet (1948-1957). Her imprint on the world of dance is huge. Echoing a comment by dance designer Thomas Skelton, “Jeannie Rosenthal invented dance lighting.”

    Rosenthal’s paper work, including light plot, hookup chart, focus sheets and cue sheets for Martha Graham’s “Errand Into the Maze” (1947) and “Night Journey” (1948, revised 1960) can be viewed at TheLightingArchive.Org. (Go to TheLightingArchive.Org > Archive > Rosenthal > Martha Graham…)

    Link to Jean Rosenthal‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com). For more information on Miss Rosenthal, link to my Jean Rosenthal page.


  • Peggy Clark (1915-1996 )
    Peggy Clark‘s fascination with theatre began at an early age. She created her first “stage show” when she was only five. After seeing a performance by “America’s Puppet Master,” Tony Sarg, she built a marionette theatre from a cardboard box, a ball of string and her collection of dolls. Her original goal was to become an actress, but by the time she finished high school her interests had shifted to scene design. She graduated from Smith College with a BA in the “dramatic arts” in 1935, and an MFA in production design from Yale University three years later in 1938. Her thesis project was the scenic and lighting design for a production of Owen Dodson’s adaption of The Divine Comedy

    Wonderful Town (1953)

    After arriving in New York in 1938 she began assisting a number of prominent scene designers — Stewart Cheney, Donald Oenslager, Howard Bay, Raoul Pene du Bois and Oliver Smith. Her first Broadway design credit was for the costumes for The Girl from Wyoming which opened its 86 performance run on October 29, 1938. Three years later, in March 1941, she would design the sets for Gabrielle, an adaption of Tristan which saw a two performance run on the stage of the Maxine Elliot Theatre. Her first lighting credit was for the Beggar’s Holiday, Duke Ellington’s adaption of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera which starred Alfred Drake (as Macheath) and Zero Mostel (as Peachum) and opened a 111 performance run at the Broadway Theatre on December 26, 1946. Sets for Beggar’s Holiday were designed by Oliver Smith. Peggy Clark and Smith would work together on 43 Broadway productions. Her most famous Broadway lighting designs include Brigadoon (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), Paint Your Wagon (1951), Wonderful Town (1953), Peter Pan (1954), Auntie Mame (1956), Bells Are Ringing (1956), Flower Drum Song (1958), Bye Bye Birdie (1960), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960). Her last Broadway lighting credit was Musical Chairsin 1980. 

    During World War II she was co-designer of the Stage Door Canteen, technical director of American Theatre Wing’s Lunch Time Follies, and developed “blue prints” for overseas USO camp shows.

    In 1968 she was elected president of Local 829 of the United Scenic Artists. She was the first woman to hold this position. She also taught lighting design at both Smith College (1967-1969) and Yale University (1969-1970). One of her MFA students at Smith College, H. Lang Reynolds, was one of my mentors at Southern Illinois University in the mid 70s. Her papers have been donated to the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

    Link to Peggy Clark‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Tharon Musser (1925-2009)
    Tharon Musser was generally considered the Dean of American Lighting Designers. She graduated from Berea College in 1946 and like Rosenthal, attended Yale University (MFA: 1950) before moving to New York. Her first Broadway lighting credit was Jose Quintero’s staging of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into Night(1956) at the original Helen Hayes Theatre.Among the many musicals she designed are two of the longest running Broadway shows: Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line (1975 to 1990), which introduced a computer controled lighting system to the Broadway theatre, and Gower Champion’s 42nd Street (1980 to 1988). Her dramatic credits include Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy: Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), Beloxi Blues (1985), and Broadway Bound (1987). She has worked with the Jose Limon Dance Company, the American Ballet Theatre, and the Dallas and Miami Opera Companies.

    In 1972 she won her first Tony Award for Michael Bennett’s Follies which was followed by Tony’s for Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line (1976) and his Dreamgirls (1982). In the mid-1990s she was diagnosed with “early-onset Alzheimer’s” which made it more difficult for her to focus on the project at hand. Her last “new” Broadway credit was The Lonsome West which opened at the Lyceum Theatre in April 1999. She was honored as a USITT Distinguished Lighting Designer in 1996.

    In 2006, her Tony award winning design for A Chorus Line was re-created by Natasha Katz for the “30th” anniversary revival at the Schoenfeld Theatre.

    Virtual copies of the paper work (including light plot, hook up chart, magic sheet, focus charts, equipment list, follow spot cues, and tracking sheets for the 134 cues) for the original 1975 production of A Chorus Line is archived at the Theatrical Lighting Database. The database also includes virtual copies of the paper work for Fall River Legend (Tom Skelton, 1991), Hair (Jules Fisher, 1968) and Sunday in the Park with George (Richard Nelson, 1984).

    She died peacefully in the company of her long-time partner and assistant, Marilyn Rennagel, on April 19, 2009.

    Link to Tharon Musser‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Jules Fisher (1937- )
    In his 40+ year career, Jules Fisher, a graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon) (1960), has lit over 150 Broadway and off-Broadway shows, as well as film, dance, opera, television, and rock-and-roll concert tours. His first Broadway credit was Spoon River Anthology which opened at the Booth Theatre in September 1963. He has received 18 Tony nominations and has won 8 Tony awards, a record in the lighting category, for Pippin (1973), Ulysses in Nighttown (1974), Dancin’ (1978), Grand Hotel (1990), The Will Rogers Follies (1991), Jelly’s Last Jam (1992), Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk (with Peggy Eisenhauer, 1996) and Assassins (with Peggy Eisenhauer, 2004). In addition to his eight Tony awards, Fisher has been honored twice, in 1987 and again in 1995, by the USITT.He designed the lighting for Kevin Kline’s “Great Performances” production of Hamlet (1990) for PBS, and has lit productions of Porgy and Bess and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the New York City Opera company.

    Bring in ‘da Noise,
    Bring in ‘da Funk


    He was production supervisor (and lighting designer) for tours of the Rolling Stones (for which he won a 1976 IES Lumen Award), KISS, David Bowie, and the rock concert version of The Who’s Tommy.

    He has designed the lighting for the Radio City Music Hall presentation of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 1977 Academy Awards Show, Quincy Jones’ Reunion on the Mall concert for President Bill Clinton’s inaugural, America’s Millennium Live All-Star Concert New Year’s Eve 2000 and the concert segments of Barbra Streisand’s 1976 film: A Star is Born and the theatrical segments of Chicago: The Musical (2002), The Producers (2005) and Dreamgirls (2006).

    In 1993 he began the Broadway Lighting Master Class, a four day seminar conducted by major New York lighting designers.

    Virtual copies of his paper work (including light plot, hook-up chart, cue synopsis, cue sheets, follow spot cues, focus charts, equipment list,) for the 1968 production of Hair is archived at the Theatrical Lighting Database.

    Link to Jules Fisher‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Jennifer Tipton (1937- )
    Jennifer Tipton (1937- ), the principal lighting designer for the Paul Taylor Dance Company, was born in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of two science professors. She developed her love of dance and theatre long before college. During the summer of 1953, between her junior and senior year in high school, she studied at the American Dance Festivalat Connecticut College in New London and was permitted by her parents, to travel alone to New York, during the Christmas break of her senior year, to participate in Martha Graham’s “Christmas Course.” Although she had been dancing since the age of twelve, her goal at the end of high school was to become an astrophysicist- to become the “first woman in space.” She began her studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with a major in physics and graduated in 1958 with a degree in English.After graduation she moved to New York to continue her studies in dance and began performing with the Merry-Go-Rounders, a touring company which performed primarily for children. She became the troupe’s “rehearsal mistress” (touring director) which required her to watch the performance from the front. She began to look at the larger picture, and that larger picture was determined and controlled by the light. “I fell in love with light,” she told Linda Winer in an October 2003 interview, “and have been in love with it ever since.” The following summer she returned to the American Dance Festival and took a class in dance lighting from Thomas Skelton. She became his assistant, and as the stage manager, was soon recreating his designs on the road for the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Her first lighting design credit for Paul Taylor was Orbs (1966), a two-act dance set to the music of Beethoven. Her first Broadway lighting credit was for a production of Our Town at the ANTA Theatre (now the Virginia Theatre) in 1969.

    It was her design for Jerome Robbins’ Celebrations: The Art of the Pas de Deux (1973) at the Spoleto Festival (Italy), which brought her to the attention of the theatrical world. By the mid-1970s her work was regularly being seen on the off-Broadway stages of New York’s Public Theatre, the home of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival as well as the stages of numerous Broadway houses. By the 1980s she was regarded as one of dance’s most versatile lighting designers. Her achievements range from the “forceful, sculpted effects” in Twyla Tharp’s Fait Accompli (1983) to the “subtle, shimmering vision” for Jerome Robbins’ In Memory Of… (1985). Her work in opera includes productions of Wagner’s Parsifal at the Houston Grand Opera, Tannhauser for the Chicago Light Opera and Martin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra at the Seattle Opera.

    Tipton’s lighting has won a Drama Desk Award for Ntosake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf (1976); a Joseph Jefferson Award for John Guare’s The Landscape of the Body (1976); a Drama Desk and Tony Award for The Cherry Orchard (1977); a second Tony Award for Jerome Robbin’s Broadway (1989) and an Obie for Sustained Excellence at the New York Shakespeare Festival (1979).

    Beginning in 1981 Tipton has been a professor of design at the Yale School of Drama where she advises her graduate lighting students to “use what you have, …use it well and imaginatively.”

    According to Chris Davis, the Associate Lighting Supervisor at Queens Theatre In The Park in Queens, New York– “Jennifer Tipton is primarily a dance LD. She tends to work within a confined pallette, no color and a little color correction in either direction. Her work is all about angle, shape, and intensity, and she’s a master at it.”

    Link to Jennifer Tipton‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Beverly Emmons (1943- )
    Beverly Emmons has designed the lighting for numerous productions in Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Regional Theatres. She is a 1965 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and assisted Jules Fisher after her arrival in New York. She began working Off-Broadway in 1970. The show was Sensations at Theatre Four on West 55th Street. Her first Broadway lighting credit was A Letter for Queen Victoria which opened at the ANTA Theatre (now the August Wilson Theatre) in 1975. In the early 1980s she adapted, to Broadway, the lighting design for two London West End productions: Amadeus (1980) and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1981). Her Broadway credits include a revival of Annie Get Your Gun (1999) starring Bernadette Peters, Jekyll & Hyde (1997), The Heiress (1995), Stephen Sondheim’s Passion (1994), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1993), The Elephant Man (1983), Doonesbury (1983), A Day In Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine (1980), The Dresser (1981), and Piaf(1981).The Lortel Off-Broadway Archives list 45 Off-Broadway productions designed by Emmons between 1970 and 2005. Included are The Vagina Monologues (1996), The Elephant Man (1979), and Sam Shepard’s True West (1980). For director Robert Wilson she has designed lighting for Phillip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach (NYC, Metropolitan Opera House, 1976) and the CIVIL warS, Act V (Minneapolis, 1984). She has designed regional productions at Washington’s Kennedy Center, the Ally Theatre (Houston), the Guthrie, the Arena Stage (Washington DC) and the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis. She has taught at Barnard College, Parsons School of Design and New York University and has guest designed at numerous colleges and universities. She has designed lighting for the Trisha Brown, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham dance companies.

    She has had six Tony Award nominations, and won the 1976 IES Lumen Award, the 1984 and 1986 Bessie Awards (for “Sustained Achievement” in dance lighting), and a 1979-1980 Obie (Off-Broadway theatre award) for Distinguished Lighting Design. She has also won five Hewes Design Awards presented by the American Theater Wing.

    In the late 1980s she became the lighting supervisor for the Martha Graham Dance Company. In this position she began recreating Jean Rosenthal’s original lighting designs when the early works (1936-1969) of the Graham company were revived. During the past 20+ years she has strived to make these early design documents more easily available to student and scholars. In the fall of 2009 she created The Lighting Archive web site. The first documents to be posted were Rosenthal’s design for Martha Graham’s Errand into the Maze (1948). Emmons states “All the information to light Martha Graham’s Errand Into The Maze is contained in these 4 documents [light plot, hook-up chart, focus chart, cue sheet]. I know because I have reproduced these cues. They are just not in the formats we use today.” In the spring of 2010 she added design documents for Graham’s Night Journey (1948, revised 1960).

    Link to Beverly Emmons‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).


  • Ken Billington (1946- )
    Ken Billington is probably the most successful “young” lighting designer. After graduating from high school, he went directly to New York City where he studied at Lester Polakov’s Studio and Forum of Stage Design and “apprenticed” with Peggy Clark and Tharon Musser. As he has said, “If I’m a good designer today it’s because I learned so much from Tharon — I always say I went to Musser U.” He began as a “go for” and worked his way up to “assistant.” He observed Tharon at work and used her techniques in small off-Broadway venues. After receiving his first New York lighting credit, an off-Broadway production: Fortune and Men’s Eyes and supervising several non-union designers in Broadway houses, he got his big chance. In the fall of 1973 he received (what I believe was) his first Broadway credit for the three show season of the New Pheonix Repertory Theatre at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. One of the three productions, a revival of Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, was nominated for a Tony. 

    Velma’s entrance in “All That Jazz”
    Chicago (1996)

    Billington has designed over 75 Broadway shows, 50 off-Broadway productions, 60 operas for companies like the Houston Grand Opera, the Chicago Lyric Opera, the New York City Opera, the Christmas and Easter Show for Radio City Music Hall and Las Vegas acts for performers like Ann-Margaret, Shirley MacLaine and Liberace. He has developed a reputation for lighting big production: Sweeny Todd (1979), Discover Card’s Stars on Ice, Riverdance, and Footloose (1998); and especially star driven revivals of classic American musicals: My Fair Lady (1981) with Rex Harrison, Fiddler on the Roof (1990-2010) with Topol. and Hello, Dolly!(1995) with Carol Channing, 

    In 1997 he won the Tony for the Broadway revival of Bob Fosse’s Chicago and was honored as a USITT Distinguished Lighting Designer in 1996. In March 2010, I attended a two day USITT “Broadway Lighting Designers Seminar” presented by Ken Billington and Natasha Katz, the lighting designer for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Billington is presently an Adjunct Professor of Drama at Carnegie-Mellon University.

    The paper work, including light plots, for the Broadway, London, National Tour, and Bus-and-Truck productions of Sweeny Todd (1979) are archived at TheLightingArchive.org (Go to TheLightingArchive.Org > Archive > Billington > Sweeny Todd) The light plot and hook-up chart for Sweeny Todd were published on pages 159-160 of Leland Watson’s Lighting Design Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 1990).

    Link to Ken Billington‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com).

    Lighting Educators

    Stanley McCandless — Theodore Fuchs — Gilbert V. Hemsley, Jr — John Gleason 

  • Stanley McCandless (1897-1967)
    Stanley McCandless, architect, designer, author, illumination consultant and lighting professor at Yale University from 1925 to 1964, was probably the most influencial teacher in the field of theatrical lighting.After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1920, Mac received a Master of Arts degree in architecture from Harvard University (1923). He worked several years as an architect before becoming a lighting consultant in the late 1920s. He used an ellipsoidal reflector in the house light fixtures he designed for the Center Theatre in New York’s Radio City (1932). These units were the prototype for the ellipsoidal reflector spotlight he created for Ed Kook and Chuck Levy’s Century Lighting– The Leko.

    In 1925, he and George Pierce Baker (1866-1935), who he had met at Harvard, created Yale University’s School of Drama. The following year, 1926, he offered the first academic class in Stage Lighting. During his 39 year tenure at Yale he would teach some of America’s most important lighting designers including both Jean Rosenthal and Tharon Musser. A Glossary of Stage Lighting was published in 1926, this was followed by A Syllabus of Stage Lighting, first published in 1927, and A Method of Lighting the Stage (1932). McCandless’ method is still the basic foundation of modern stage lighting.

    He retired from teaching in 1964 and died three years later at the age of 70. His professional papers are archived at Yale University.


    • Theodore Fuchs (1904-1995)
      Theodore Fuchs, an author, teacher, and theatre consultant, graduated from high school at the age of 15 and had earned a bachelor’s degree in both Chemical and Electrical Engineering by the time he was 19. According to one source, he was a lighting design student of Stanley McCandless, before joining the staff of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He retired from Northwestern, after 42 years of service, at the end of the 1969-1970 academic year.His most significant work, Stage Lighting, was published by Little Brown and Company in 1929, making it one of the earliest theatrical lighting texts. Ten years later in 1939, Samuel French published Home-Built Lighting Equipment for the Small Stage, an expansion of Chapter Seven from his 1929 work. In the early 1950s he self published, through Northwestern University, several “books” on suggested layouts of stage lighting equipment for the school and college auditorium.

      One of his major contributions as a consultant, especially in educational theatres in the midwest, was the Plaster Cyc — replacing the traditional Sky Drop with a permanent, off-white, sand-blasted plastered rear wall.

      He was presented the USITT Award for his “lifetime contribution to the performing arts community” at the 1980 Kansas City Conference. His professional papers have been archived in the Theodore Fuchs Collection on Theatre Technology in the Lee Library on campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.


    • Gilbert V. Hemsley, Jr (1936-1983)
      Gilbert Hemsley was born in Bridgeport CN in 1936 and developed an interest in technical theatre while an undergraduate history major at Yale. He continued into graduate school and received his MFA, also from Yale, in 1960. His master’s thesis was A History of Stage Lighting in America, 1879-1917. After graduation he became the lighting designer and production manager at Princeton University before joining Jean Rosenthal’s studio as an assistant. His first Broadway credit was for a revival of Richard Sheridan’s School for Scandal presented by the APA-Phoenix Repertory Company at the Lyceum Theatre in November 1966. Paper work from this five show repertory was published in the second edition (1968) of Parker and Smith’s Scene Design and Stage Lighting.Much of his design work was created for the theatre of opera and dance– companies like the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera (for which he designed 36 productions and was appointed production supervisor in 1981), the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and the New York City Ballet. In September 1971 Hemsley was production manager and lighting designer for Leonard Bernstein’s MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, a work commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was the lighting designer/production manager of the US tour of the Performing Art’s Company of the People’s Republic of China in 1978 and the gala inaugural celebrations of Presidents Nixon and Carter. He was nominated for two Drama Desk awards: for Porgy and Bess (1977) and The Mighty Gents (1978).

      In 1970 he joined the theatre design faculty of the University of Wisconsin where he soon became one of the most popular and respected professors on campus. He continued to design, often using his students, known as “Gilbert’s kids,” as assistants, giving many of them their first experience in the real world of the theatre. Shortly after his death in 1983, the Gilbert V. Hemsley, Jr Internship in Lighting with the New York City Ballet, the New York City Opera, and the Lincoln Center Festival was established. The selected student spends nine months, June to February, working with these three Lincoln Center based companies. Probably his major legacy is the love, passion and professionalism he instilled into his students, many of whom work in the Minneapolis area. His papers, both designs and teaching documents, are archived at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research on the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin.

      Link to Gilbert V. Hemsley, Jr‘ s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com)


    • John Gleason (1941-2003)
      John Gleason was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1941 and began lighting shows as a student at the prestigious Stuyvesant High. He lit 75 shows while majoring in zoology and chemistry at Hunter College, a campus of the City University of New York. He passed the union exam during his junior year at Hunter. His committee included Jean Rosenthal, Peggy Clark and Tharon Musser. After graduation, designer David Hays hired him to assist on a production of The Changeling for the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center which was then in residence at the now-departed ANTA-Washington Square Theatre. His first design credit was for a revival of Moliere’s Tartuffe presented by the Repertory Theatrein 1965. Two years later he was named their resident lighting designer.In 1971 he joined the theatre faculty of New York University, a position he held until his retirement 26 years later in 1997. “Teaching…made me a better designer,” he told Theatre Crafts International, “I always allow my students to ask any questions they want about my work, and so I have to be prepared to answer….When I began to teach, I also started to think about what I liked about lighting….The fact that I don’t hold a nine-to-five job, that’s pretty terrific. Sometimes I get asked by my students ‘Why do you still do it?’ And I’ll laugh and say, ‘Well, think about it: where else can you get paid by someone to spend their money to fulfill your fantasies?’”

      Lloyd Burlingame, Chair Emeritus of the Department of Design at NYU said “It was our great good fortune that he came to join us and worked his magic as a master teacher of lighting for a quarter of a century…Like the great lighting artists of our time, he understood all facets of what went into making the stew of a play, dance, or opera. His critiques on scenery and costumes were often deeply penetrating. He always insisted on his students understanding the heart of a play or opera. His light labs were famous for demonstrating the importance of lighting cues in relationship to music. If I were forced to choose one aspect of his art that made him unique in his generation, it would be his sense of color. He never put a foot wrong in his imaginative color choices.”

      Costume designer Carrie Robbins spoke about their collaboration on a Broadway show which had a short run or a week or two– “I had an idea of creating a tintype / old-photo kind of look for a flashback sequence. I used a range of sepia stuff, of course, and hoped it wouldn’t be too bland or too obvious. John worked his usual color magic, which I had come to count on, and the scene came alive, chirascuro’d in rich tones of gold to deep shadowy umber. I asked him what in the world did that. ‘It’s just the right color of gel,’ he said. ‘What do they call it?’ I asked. ‘Chocolate, of course.’ Now there’s an apt name. I still to this day don’t know if he was kidding me or if there really is a chocolate gel.” (Yes, there is a chocolate gel. It was Brigham 70 and is Roscolux 99 or Lee 156.)

      Link to John Gleason‘s production credits listed in the Internet Broadway Database (www.ibdb.com)


      A Few Contemporary Lighting Educators 

    • William Warfel
      Professor Emeritus of Lighting Design at Yale University. He earned his MFA from Yale in 1957 (Thesis: Theatre fire prevention laws in model building codes) and is the author of The Handbook of Stage Lighting Graphics (1974), Color Science for Lighting the Stage (1982) and The New Handbook of Stage Lighting Graphics(1990). He is a frequent presenter at USITT Conferences. 
    • J. Michael Gillette
      Professor Emeritus of Lighting Design at the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ. He is the author of Designing with Light (1978 – 2007) and Theatrical Design and Production(1987 – 2004) 
    • Linda Essig
      Chairman and Artistic Director of Theatre at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. She was the Professor of Lighting at the University of Wisconsin – Madison from 1988 to 2004 She has designed lighting for professional theatres throughout the country and is the author of Lighting and the Design Idea (1997 – 2004) and The Speed of Light(2002). She is a frequent presenter at USITT Conferences. 
    • Ann Archbold
      Professor of lighting at University of Wisconsin – Madison. Before moving to Wisconsin she was the director of the MFA Lighting Design program at Florida State in Tallahassee. She is a member of the United Scenic Artists (#829-IATSE) and has lit approximately 400 productions of theatre, music, dance, opera, and industrials. She holds degrees from the University of Michigan and San Diego State University. She is a frequent presenter at USITT Conferences. 
    • Cindy Limauro
      Professor of Lighting at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. She designs nationally and internationally for theatre, opera, dance and architecture. Professor Limauro is a member of the United Scenic Artists (#829-IATSE), the International Association of Lighting Designers and was named a Fellow of the Institute by USITT in 2000 for Outstanding Contribution to the Theatre. She is a frequent presenter at USITT Conferences. She holds a BA (1974) from the University of Michigan and an MFA (1978) from Florida State University. Link to Cindy Limauro’s on-line portfolio(a PowerPoint presentation). 
    • Mark Stanley
      Professor of Lighting at Boston University. Mark Stanley, a member of United Scenic Artists (#829-IATSE) is the resident lighting designer for the New York City Ballet, a position he has held since 1986. He has also designed for the San Francisco Ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, the Ordway in Minneapolis, and the New York City Opera for which he was the resident designer from 1983 to 1986. He is the author of Rosco’s Color of Light Workbook (1987) and is on the board of directors of the Gilbert V. Hemsley Jr Internship in Lighting. He hold a BA (1978) from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and an MFA (1986) from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He is a frequent presenter at USITT Conferences.


    Time Line: 1877…
    The first reference to a designer is high lighted.

    • 1877- Brigham introduces Gel (color media) to the theatre world
    • 1878- Joseph Swan “invents” the incandescent lamp
    • 1879- Thomas Edison “invents” the incandescent lamp
    • 1881- London’s Savoy Theatre installs the first theatrical electrical lighting system


    • 1899- Appia’s Music and Staging is published


    • 1900- Lamp dip is introduced to color the bulbs used in the border and foot lights
    • 1903- Kliegl Brothers installs a 96 dimmer stage lighting system at the Metropolitan Opera House
    • 1904- Louis Hartmann uses a “baby len” in Belasco’s The Music Teacher
    • 1908- Maude Adams installs a 2′ deep by 32′ wide light bridge in Charles Frohman’s Empire Theatre.
    • 1908- RoscoGel is introduced


    • 1915-Robert Edmond Jones designs The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife
    • 1916- Norman Bel Geddes builds a 1000 watt Spotlight from a carbon arc lens box.
    • 1916- Bel Geddes lights the Little Theatre of Los Angles entirely with 1000 watt Spotlights.
    • 1918- Jones and Bel Geddes work together at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee


    • 1921- Robert Edmond Jones designs Macbeth
    • 1921- Norman BelGeddes designs The Divine Comedy
    • 1924- Norman BelGeddes designs The Miracle
    • 1925- Stanley McCandless offers the first Stage Lighting course at Yale University
    • 1929- Theodore FuchsStage Lighting is published
    • 1929- Kliegl Brothers introduces the Fresnel Lens spotlight


    • 1932- Stanley McCandless’ A Method of Lighting the Stage is published
    • 1933- Century (Leko) and Kliegl (Klieglight) introduce the Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight
    • 1935- Roscolene color media is introduced in America
    • 1935- Abe Feder designs the lighting for Ghosts
    • 1936- Jean Rosenthal designs the lighting for Hamlet staring Leslie Howard
    • 1937- Norman BelGeddes designs The Eternal Road
    • 1937- Abe Feder designs the lighting for the Federal Theatre’s production of Dr. Faustus
    • 1938- Cinemoid color media is introduced in England


    • 1940 – Abe Feder’s approach to lighting is published in Gassner’s Producing the Play
    • 1943- Jean Rosenthal designs the lighting for Richard III
    • 1946- Peggy Clark designs the lighting for Beggar’s Holiday


    • 1954- Peggy Clark designs the lighting for Peter Pan
    • 1956- Tharon Musser designs the lighting for Long Day’s Journey into Night
    • 1956- Abe Feder designs the lighting for My Fair Lady
    • 1957- Jean Rosenthal designs the lighting for West Side Story
    • 1959- Century introduces the 10 scene preset lighting console


    • 1960- Peggy Clark designs the lighting for Bye Bye Birdie
    • 1960- Abe Feder designs the lighting for Camelot
    • 1963- Jules Fisher designs the lighting for Spoon River Anthology
    • 1963- A 12 channel, 2 scene preset lighting console is installed in Shrycok Auditorium, SIU, Carbondale, IL
    • 1964- Jean Rosenthal designs the lighting for Hello, Dolly!
    • 1965- John Gleason designs the lighting for Tartuffe
    • 1966- Gilbert Hemsley designs the lighting for School for Scandal
    • 1966- Jennifer Tipton designs the lighting for Paul Taylor’s Orbs
    • 1966- Metropolitan Opera House installs a 228 channel, 10 scene preset console
    • 1968- Jules Fisher designs the lighting for Hair
    • 1969- Jean Rosenthal’s last Broadway design credit: Dear World


    • 1970- Gilbert Hemsley joins the faculty of the University of Wisconsin – Madison
    • 1970- Lee color media is introduced
    • 1971- Altman Lighting introduces the 360Q axial ellipsoidal.
    • 1971- John Gleason joins the faculty of New York University
    • 1972- Tharon Musser wins a Tony for her lighting design for Follies
    • 1973- Ken Billington designs the lighting for The Visit
    • 1973- Jules Fisher wins a Tony for his lighting design for Pippin
    • 1975- Tharon Musser introduces the computer-assisted memory lighting system to the Broadway theatre, the show was Chorus Line at the Shubert Theatre
    • 1975- Tharon Musser wins a Tony for her lighting design for Chorus Line
    • 1975- Beverly Emmons designs the lighting for A Letter for Queen Victoria
    • 1976- Roscolux color media is introduced
    • 1977- Jennifer Tipton wins a Tony for her lighting design for The Cherry Orchard
    • 1979- Ken Billington designs the lighting for Sweeny Todd
    • 1979- Abe Feder’s last Broadway design credit: Carmelina


    • 1980- Peggy Clark’s last Broadway design credit: Musical Chairs
    • 1981- Wybron introduces the ColorMax color scroller
    • 1982- Tharon Musser wins a Tony for her lighting design for Dreamgirls
    • 1983- Beverly Emmons designs the lighting for Elephant Man
    • 1984- GamColor is introduced
    • 1986- USITT establishes the DMX-512 dimmer protocol standard
    • 1989- Jennifer Tipton wins a Tony for her lighting design for Jerome Robbin’s Broadway
    • 1989- David Hersey uses 19 Vari*Lites (automated fixtures) in Miss Siagon


    • 1992- ETC introduces the Soure4® Ellipsoidal
    • 1992- ETC introduces the Obsession control board
    • 1993- Jules Fisher begins the Broadway Lighting Master Classes
    • 1995- ETC introduces the Express control board
    • 1997- Ken Billington wins a Tony for his lighting design for Chicago

    E-mail questions and comments to Larry Wild at wildl@northern.edu.
    Revised: June 12, 2011
    Copyright © 2001 – 2011 by Larry Wild, Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD 57401

19th century prostitution

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19th century

In the 19th century, parlor house brothels catered to upper class clientele, while bawdy houses catered to the lower class. At concert saloons, men could eat, listen to music, watch a fight, or pay women for sex. Over 200 brothels existed in lower Manhattan. Prostitution was illegal under the vagrancy laws, but was not well-enforced by police and city officials, who were bribed by brothel owners and madams. Attempts to regulate prostitution were struck down on grounds that it is against the public good. Seventy-five percent of New York men had some type of sexually transmitted disease.[1]

Fannie Porter was a well-known madam in San Antonio, Texas.

The gold rush profits of the 1840s to 1900 attracted gambling, crime, saloons, and prostitution to the mining towns of the wild west. Widespread media coverage of prostitution occurred in 1836, when famous courtesan Helen Jewett was murdered, allegedly by one of her customers. The Lorette ordinance of 1857 prohibited prostitution on the first floor of buildings in New Orleans.[citation needed] Nevertheless, prostitution continued to grow rapidly in the US, becoming a 6.3 million-dollar business in 1858, more than the shipping and brewing industries combined.

This area of Pennsylvania Avenue was known from the mid-1800s to the 1920s as “Murder Bay,” home to numerous brothels. The youth on the left was a “procurer”.

By the US Civil War, Pennsylvania Avenue had become a disreputable slum known as Murder Bay, home to an extensive criminal underclass and numerous brothels. So many prostitutes took up residence there to serve the needs of General Joseph Hooker‘s Army of the Potomac that the area became known as “Hooker’s Division.” Two blocks between Pennsylvania and Missouri Avenues became home to such expensive brothels that it was known as “Marble Alley.”[2]

In 1873, Anthony Comstock created the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. Comstock successfully influenced the United States Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery or transport of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material and birth control information. In 1875, Congress passed the Page Act of 1875 that made it illegal to transport women into the nation to be used as prostitutes.[citation needed]

In 1881, the Bird Cage Theatre opened in Tombstone, Arizona. It included a brothel in the basement and 14 cribs suspended from the ceiling, called cages. Famous men such as Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, and George Hearst frequented the establishment.

In the late 19th century, newspapers reported that 65,000 white slaves existed. Around 1890, the term “red-light district” was first recorded in the United States. From 1890 to 1982, the Dumas Brothel in Montana was America’s longest-running house of prostitution.

New Orleans city alderman Sidney Story wrote an ordinance in 1897 to regulate and limit prostitution to one small area of the city, “The District”, where all prostitutes in New Orleans must live and work. The District, or Storyville, became the most famous area for prostitution in the nation. Storyville at its peak had some 1500 prostitutes and 200 brothels.

19th century prostitution

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How 19th Century Prostitutes Were Among the Freest, Wealthiest, Most Educated Women of Their Time

Russell’s new ‘Renegade History of the United States’ recounts how prostitutes won virtually all the freedoms that were denied to women but are now taken for granted.
September 27, 2010  |  from alternet.org
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The following is an excerpt from Thaddeus Russell’s new book, “A Renegade History of the United States” (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010):

In the nineteenth century, a woman who owned property, made high wages, had sex outside of marriage, performed or received oral sex, used birth control, consorted with men of other races, danced, drank, or walked alone in public, wore makeup, perfume, or stylish clothes — and was not ashamed — was probably a whore.

In fact, prostitutes won virtually all the freedoms that were denied to women but are now taken for granted. Prostitutes were especially successful in the wild, lawless, thoroughly renegade boomtowns of the West. When women were barred from most jobs and wives had no legal right to own property, madams in the West owned large tracts of land and prized real estate. Prostitutes made, by far, the highest wages of all American women. Several madams were so wealthy that they funded irrigation and road-building projects that laid the foundation for the New West. Decades before American employers offered health insurance to their workers, madams across the West provided their employees with free health care. While women were told that they could not and should not protect themselves from violence, and wives had no legal recourse against being raped by their husbands, police officers were employed by madams to protect the women who worked for them, and many madams owned and knew how to use guns.

While feminists were seeking to free women from the “slavery” of patriarchal marriage, prostitutes married later in life and divorced more frequently than other American women. At a time when birth control was effectively banned, prostitutes provided a market for contraceptives that made possible their production and distribution. While women were taught that they belonged in the “private sphere,” prostitutes traveled extensively, often by themselves, and were brazenly “public women.” Long before social dancing in public was considered acceptable for women, prostitutes invented many of the steps that would become all the rage during the dance craze of the 1910s and 1920s. When gambling and public drinking were forbidden for most women, prostitutes were fixtures in western saloons, and they became some of the most successful gamblers in the nation. Most ironically, the makeup, clothing, and hairstyles of prostitutes, which were maligned for their overt sexuality (lipstick was “the scarlet shame of streetwalkers”), became widely fashionable among American women and are now so respectable that even First Ladies wear them.

Women who wished to escape the restrictions of Victorian America had no better place to go than the so-called frontier, where a particular combination of economic and demographic forces gave renegade women many unusual advantages.


Between 1870 and 1900, the number of farms in the United States doubled, and more land was brought under cultivation than in the previous two and half centuries. Most of this newly cultivated land was in the Great Plains and the Southwest. In addition to all of this farming, other industries developed rapidly in the West during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The largest of these were metal and coal mining in California, the Rockies, and parts of the Southwest; cattle ranching on the Plains; lumber in the Pacific Northwest; large-scale fruit and vegetable agriculture in the inland valleys of California; and oil in Texas, Oklahoma, and Southern California. Connecting these industries to one another and to eastern U.S. and European markets were railroads, which crisscrossed the West by the end of the nineteenth century. The federal government contributed to this explosive growth with massive expenditures for the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, which ran from the Pacific Ocean to the Missouri River, but also to the building of roads, dams, and vast irrigation systems without which the West as we know it could never have been created.

Towns were created virtually overnight in mountains where precious metal was discovered, in deserts near oil strikes, along cattle trails and around railroad stations, and in forests next to lumber mills and logging stands. Some boomtowns grew into the major urban hubs of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Seattle. The people who filled those towns were overwhelmingly male, since the labor that brought them there was brutal, physically onerous, and almost universally considered to be men’s work. The non-Indian population of California in 1850 was 93 percent male. In the mining towns along the Comstock Silver Lode in Nevada, a census taker in 1860 counted 2,306 men and 30 women. These were men without families, without land, without property, and without a stake in any one community. They moved from town to town in search of money. And, since most of the towns they lived and worked in were brand new, the legal apparatus was usually very weak. These were exactly the conditions that bred bad people.

The Whorearchy

With good reason, the keepers of American morality in the nineteenth century were terribly worried about all the single men in the West. One Protestant minister wrote, “Left by themselves, men degenerate rapidly and become rough, harsh, slovenly — almost brutish.” He was correct. Ironically, most of these men were white and full American citizens. But they cared little for the restrictions and responsibilities of citizenship. One moral reformer in Montana reported this about life in a mining town: “Men without the restraint of law, indifferent to public opinion, and unburdened by families, drink whenever they feel like it, whenever they have the money to pay for it, and whenever there is nothing else to do. … Bad manners follow, profanity becomes a matter of course …. Excitability and nervousness brought on by rum help these tendencies along, and then to correct this state of things the pistol comes into play.” In the silver mining boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, in 1879 there were 120 saloons, 19 beer halls, 188 gambling houses, and only 4 churches.

Into this world stepped legions of women who understood something about supply and demand. A U.S. Department of Labor study in 1916 found that in the major legitimate occupations for women — department store clerking and light manufacturing — the average weekly wage was $6.67, which at the time represented a subsistence standard of living. In such industries, jobs were few, and due to the ban on women’s labor in most of the economy, the number of available workers in the industries that allowed women was great. This oversupply of labor pushed wages down to the minimum. By contrast, women who chose prostitution enjoyed a highly favorable market for their labor. Demand was enormous and constant, especially in the West, and the pool of available labor was kept relatively small by the great number of women who internalized or feared the stigma attached to prostitution. According to historian Ruth Rosen, who pioneered the social history of prostitution in the United States, “The average brothel inmate or streetwalker” — the lowest positions in the trade — “received from one to five dollars a ‘trick,’ earning in one evening what other working women made in a week.” Prostitutes in a 1916 study reported earnings between $30 to $50 per week, at a time when skilled male trade union members averaged roughly $20 per week. In their study of Virginia City, Nevada, George M. Blackburn and Sherman L. Ricards found that prostitutes in that 1860s boomtown, unlike the stereotype of the innocent, young “white slave,” were actually considerably older on average than women of the western mining states Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada. “From the age data on prostitutes, it is clear that they were old enough to realize the nature of their behavior and also old enough to have married had they so desired, for this was an area with many unattached men. Thus we conclude that these were professional women intent on economic success.” After working as a domestic in El Paso, Texas, for $3 per week, a Mexican-born woman quit her job and “decided to become a puta” for the extra money. She later recalled, “It took me a long time to get used to having men intimately explore my body… Of course, I had guilt feelings at the beginning, but they soon disappeared when I saw my savings begin mounting up.”

Even in the tighter markets of the East, prostitutes were extraordinarily well paid. In New York City, according to historian Timothy Gilfoyle, “an affluent, but migratory, class of prostitutes flourished.” Low wages “in the factory and the household made prostitutes the best-paid women workers in the nineteenth-century city.” In studies conducted in New York during the 1900s and 1910s, 11 percent of prostitutes listed coercion as the reason for entering the trade, but almost 28 percent named the money they could earn. Members of the Vice Commission of Chicago, like many anti-prostitution reformers, faced the hard truth of the wealth being accrued by prostitutes with a bitter question: “Is it any wonder that a tempted girl who receives only six dollars per week working with her hands sells her body for twenty-five dollars per week when she learns there is a demand for it and men are willing to pay the price?” One Chicago prostitute who supported her family with her wages had an answer. She told an interviewer, “Do you suppose I am going back to earn five or six dollars a week in a factory, and at that, never have a cent of it to spend for myself, when I can earn that amount any night, and often much more?” Historian Ruth Rosen was “struck again and again by most prostitutes’ view of their work as ‘easier’ and less oppressive than other survival strategies they might have chosen.”

Prostitutes were the first women to break free of what early American feminists described as a system of female servitude. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, one of the leading feminist intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century, noted that human beings were the only species in which “an entire sex lives in a relation of economic dependence upon the other sex.” Since wages in respectable occupations were so low, the only culturally sanctioned means for a woman to attain wealth was through a rich husband. And since states in the nineteenth century granted few or no property rights to married women, even women who “married well” owned little or nothing of their own. But women who chose to be bad could live well on their own.

Prostitutes who rose to the top of the industry to become “madams” owned more wealth than any other women in the United States. Indeed, they were among the wealthiest people in the country, and especially in the West. “Diamond Jessie” Hayman began work as a prostitute in the gold country of the Sierra Nevada foothills in the 1880s, then moved to San Francisco to become one of the most successful prostitutes in the city’s history. Hayman’s three-story brothel in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco included three fireplaces, a saloon, a champagne cellar, and fifteen suites filled with imported furniture. She provided each of her employees with a $6,000 wardrobe that included a fox fur coat, four tailored suits, eight hats, two dress coats, twelve pairs of shoes, twelve pairs of gloves, seven evening gowns, and seven negligees. Hayman earned enough money from her business to buy several parcels of land in the city. After the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of San Francisco, Hayman and other madams provided food and clothing to the thousands left homeless. She died in 1923 with an estate worth $116,000.

Jennie Rogers, the “Queen of the Colorado Underworld,” owned several opulent brothels in Denver that featured ceiling-to-floor mirrors, crystal chandeliers, oriental rugs, marble tables, and grand pianos. Rogers provided her prostitutes with personal hairstylists and dressmakers, ensuring that they were among the most stylish women in the world. Her profits were so great that she was able to purchase large tracts of Denver’s most valuable land as well as several shares of an irrigation and reservoir project that not only provided the city with much of its water but also paid Rogers sizable dividends. Rogers’s major competitor was Mattie Silks, who had risen from the ranks of streetwalkers in Abilene, Texas, and Dodge City, Kansas, to become a brothel owner by the age of nineteen. Soon after moving to Denver in 1876, she purchased a three-story mansion with twenty-seven rooms, then outfitted it with the finest furnishings available.

Visitors to the Silks brothel were greeted by a symphony orchestra in the main parlor. Silks eventually opened three other brothels and purchased a stable of race horses. After her retirement from the trade, she told a newspaper, “I went into the sporting life for business reasons and for no other. It was a way for a woman in those days to make money, and I made it. I considered myself then and I do now — as a businesswoman.” Her employees, who were among the highest paid women in the United States, “came to me for the same reasons that I hired them. Because there was money in it for all of us.”

Other madams ruled major portions of the West. Eleanora Dumont purchased real estate in gold and silver boomtowns all over the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, where she established lucrative brothels, saloons, and gambling houses. Josephine “Chicago Joe” Airey used the proceeds from her brothels to purchase a sizable portion of Helena, Montana’s, real estate in the 1870s and 1880s. Lou Graham was not only early Seattle’s most prominent madam, she was also one of its wealthiest residents. Graham arrived in Seattle in 1888 and soon opened an immaculately appointed brothel in the Pioneer Square area. To advertise her business, she paraded with her employees on carriages through the city streets. Graham invested heavily in the stock market and in real estate, becoming, according to one historian, “one of the largest landholders in the Pacific Northwest.” The “Queen of the Lava Beds” also contributed enormous sums to help establish the Seattle public school system and saved many of the city’s elite families from bankruptcy after the panic of 1893. Anna Wilson, the “Queen of the Omaha Underworld,” owned a substantial portion of the city’s real estate. Toward the end of her life she bequeathed to the city her twenty-five room mansion, which became Omaha’s first modern emergency hospital and a communicable-disease treatment center.

It is unlikely that there were more wealthy or powerful black women in nineteenth-century America than Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant and Sarah B. “Babe” Connors. Pleasant was born a slave but became one of the most influential women in early San Francisco. She operated boardinghouses in which wealthy businessmen were paired with prostitutes. With the revenue from her primary business, she invested in mining stock and made high-interest loans to the San Francisco elite. Pleasant also filed suit to desegregate the city’s streetcars, making her “the mother of the civil rights movement” in California. Connors’s brothels in St. Louis were among the most popular in the Midwest. Known as “the Castle” and “the Palace,” they featured luxurious rugs, tapestries, art work, and crystal chandeliers. The parlor of the Palace was famous for its floor, which was made entirely of mirrored glass. Connors herself was always elegantly appointed with drapes of jewelry on her body and gold and diamonds embedded in her teeth. Many of the most famous songs of the ragtime genre — the principal precursor to jazz — were invented by Letitia Lulu Agatha “Mama Lou” Fontaine, who performed as the house act at Connors’s brothels.

High-end madams were not the only prostitutes who acquired substantial wealth. A middle-class reformer in Virginia City, Nevada, noted with disdain that local prostitutes were “always dressed the richest.” The historians Blackburn and Ricards concluded that while prostitutes in Virginia City were not the richest people in town, they “did amass more wealth than most of their customers. In addition, compared with other women of the city, the white prostitutes were well-to-do. This was because virtually none of the married women and very few unmarried women had any money at all. If the prostitutes came West to compete economically with others of their sex, they were successful.”

Similarly, historian Paula Petrik found that approximately 60 percent of the prostitutes who worked in Helena, Montana, between 1865 and 1870 “reported either personal wealth or property or both.” The town’s “fancy ladies” also made 44 percent of the property transactions undertaken by women and acquired all twenty mortgages that were given to women during the period. Most impressive of all were Helena prostitutes’ wages compared to male workers in the town. Petrik estimates that the average monthly income of “a fancy lady plying her trade along Wood Street” was $233. By contrast, bricklayers, stone masons, and carpenters earned between $90 and $100, and even bank clerks made only $125 per month. Moreover, “[c]ompared with the $65 monthly wage the highest paid saleswomen received, prostitutes’ compensation was royal.” At a time when leading feminists were demanding an end to women’s economic dependence, the red-light district in Helena was, in Petrik’s words, “women’s business grounded in women’s property and capital.”

Today’s women attorneys might also find their earliest ancestors among western madams, who regularly appeared in court on their own behalf and won quite frequently. Petrik found a large number of court cases in Helena in which prostitutes brought suit against one another to “settle petty squabbles among them that could not be resolved by the Tenderloin’s leaders” or to “challenge men who assaulted, robbed, or threatened them.” In half of the cases involving a prostitute’s complaint against a man, “the judge or jury found for the female complainants.” Petrik discovered in Helena “a singular lack of legal and judicial concern with sexual commerce” before the influx of moral reformers. “[O]fficers of the law arrested no women for prostitution or keeping a disorderly house before 1886, even though the police court was located in the red-light district” and prostitution had been a central part of the town’s economy for two decades. The era of legal tolerance coincided with a period in which Helena’s prostitutes suffered very little of the self-destructiveness assumed to be common among sex workers. “Not one whore in Helena died by her own hand before 1883,” and though the town’s prostitutes were “rampant users of alcohol and drugs,” there were “no reports of prostitutes dying of alcoholism or drug overdose between 1865 and 1883 in Helena.”

Some madams abused their employees or placed them in peonage, but these tended to be the less successful brothel keepers. To attract women in the highly competitive markets of western boomtowns, where red-light districts nearly always included several brothels, most madams not only paid their employees far higher wages than they would find in any other employment, they also provided free birth control, health care, legal assistance, housing, and meals for their employees. Few American workers of either sex in the nineteenth century enjoyed such benefits.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the wealth, power, and ubiquity of prostitutes caused several urban reformers to warn of a “whorearchy” that threatened to undermine the virtues of the nation. Madams led an “under-ground universe” with “a regularly organized community of thieves, who have their laws and regulations,” as George Foster put it in his 1850 novel Celio: or, New York Above-ground and Under-ground. In George Ellington’s 1869 journalistic account, The Women of New York: or, the Underworld of the Great City, madams were “female fiends of the worst kind, who seem to have lost all the better qualities of human nature.” Worse still, they had “entree to the good society of the metropolis” with “the friends and chosen companions of some of the wealthiest and most intellectual men of the city.”

Excerpted from A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell, Copyright © 2010 Thaddeus Russell.  Excerpted with permission by Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

19th Century Courting on the Plains

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Courting on the Plains: 19th Century Lakota Style

by Kathryn M. Duda

In contemporary Native American societies, the dating scene is a familiar one: dinner, movies, dancing. But things were vastly different 100 years ago. A vignette entitled Lakota Courting Scene, which is being prepared for the Museum of Natural History’s Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians (opening June 6-7), shows how young couples connected on the Plains in the 19th century.

When a young man’s thoughts turned to choosing a bride, he needed several accessories-chief among them was a courting blanket, often made for him by his sister. There was no mistaking the intentions of a well-turned-out young man with a blanket draped over his arm and headed for the tipi of an eligible young woman. Wrapping the blanket around himself and his intended, the man provided a private place for the two to talk. According to hall curator Marsha Bol, “he really created a piece of architecture,” a shield to protect the couple from over-protective parents, curious onlookers and the hot sun. The custom was called ina aopemni inajinpi, or “standing wrapped in the blanket,” and while its origin is uncertain, scholars do know that it flourished until young people began going away to boarding school beginning in the late 19th century.
This detail from a 1995 ledger by Thomas Red Owl Haukaas (b.1950) shows a Lakota courting scene to be depicted in Aloca Hall of American Indians.  Contemporary Lakota artists like Haukaas have revived the century-old art of ledger drawing that nostalgically recalls pre-reservation life.

    The practice is so old that probably no one alive today actually experienced it, but Lakota people are aware of it as a charming part of their history. The details are kept alive through the oral tradition and through ledger drawings, scenes of daily Plains life as depicted on ledger paper obtained from U.S. Army soldiers, trading posts and settlers. The scene depicted in Alcoa Hall is modeled after a contemporary ledger drawing created by Lakota artist Thomas Red Owl Haukaas. It shows three suitors-two waiting their turn while the first converses with the popular girl. Besides the all-important blanket, the exhibit contains other 19th-century materials needed for courting on the Plains. The men wear their finest clothes and beaded moccasins. One even carries an umbrella, both fashionable and practical on the treeless Plains a century ago. The men’s hair is carefully groomed, something their sisters often did for them on these special occasions, and their skin is decorated with vermillion body paint. And if a fellow needs some additional help, a courting flute is nearby for serenading. On this instrument the Lakota man would play songs believed to be irresistible to young women, and composed by a shaman according to instructions received in a dream. In playing a love song on the courting flute, the suitor emulated a bull elk that bugles to lure a mate in his direction. Young Lakota men were aware of that animal’s success in attacting females (one bull can have a herd of some 60 cows), and they hoped to supernaturally harness a bit of the elk’s seductive powers. So they carried love charms made from elk horn, wore clothing decorated with images of the animal, or decorated their courting flutes with drawings of elk. In addition to the flutes, the Alcoa Hall exhibit features a recording of a Lakota love song played by Brian Akipa, a Lakota flutemaker/musician.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries,  young men played courting flutes to attract women.  The flutes were often decorated with images of the bull elk,  an animal revered for its success with females.

    While Lakota people chuckle today about “standing wrapped in the blanket,” they are nevertheless reluctant to forget about it, realizing that like so many of their ancestors’ ways, it was an integral part of life on the Plains.

 Kathryn M. Duda is associate editor of Carnegie Magazine.


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