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Real American Girls and the American Girl in the Movies in the 1910s
November 23, 2009 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Leslie Midkiff DeBauche
UW System Fellow (2009-2010)
Communication Arts, UW-Stevens Point
In the United States in the 1910s the most popular movie stars, including Mary Pickford, Billie Burke, Irene Castle, and serial queen Pearl White (The Perils of Pauline, 1914), portrayed characters described by journalists as American Girls. These Girls, who were descendents of literary characters including Jo and Amy March (Little Women, 1868-1869), shared a set of traits. They were independent, brash, opinionated, unmarried, and white. Significantly, one of the characteristics that set the American Girl apart from other fictional American females or males was her sense of justice founded on a belief in the permeability of social boundaries regardless of how they were drawn. Championing fair play and egalitarianism, film’s American Girl conveyed the image of democracy at home and abroad. She also became its commercial ambassador. My goal is to document the role that movies, movie stars, and this character—the American Girl—(whose traits were manifested in fashion and tapped by advertisers) played in the lives of American teenage girls during and immediately after World War I.
A UW-System fellow at the Institute, Leslie Midkiff DeBauche is a professor in the Division of Communication at the UW-Stevens Point. A film historian, she focuses on American film and American culture in the 1910s and 1920s. DeBauche is the author of Reel Patriotism, the U.S. Film Industry and WWI and currently, she is researching and writing about a character type in movies of the 1910s called The American Girl. This work is interdisciplinary, and, so far, has woven fashion and advertising with movies and movie stars. DeBauche has received research grants from UWSP, the Schlesinger Library, and the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History at Duke University.