Henry Knepler discusses the role of women in American society
BROADCAST: 1969 | DURATION: 00:55:20
According to Henry Kneplers book, " The Gilded Stage," back in the 1600's, highly regarded women were either actresses on the stage or they were aristocrats or nobility. Knepler said the role of primary grade school teachers were women. Currently, there's some discrimination going on, as Knepler pointed out that one never sees a male airline stewardess.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Though we live in the year 1969, the last third of the 20th century, the role of the woman-- even the phrase itself, the role of the woman-- is as yet undetermined. We know that among young women here in America and elsewhere and in all societies, they're still battling away particularly quite militant on the question of 'are we just objects? Are we sex objects? Are we just things? Are we just the cooks, the domestic sweet little homemaker? Or are we something else more? And our guest is Henry Knepler. You may recall Mr. Knepler, who was head of the Department of Philosophy--
Henry Knepler Language, literature and philosophy.
Studs Terkel Language, literature, and philosophy at the IIT, wrote a very excellent book, "The Gilded Stage," published by William Morrow, that dealt with four remarkable actresses Rachel, Ristori, Bernhardt, and Duse. And on-- the program, as I recall, ran over the hour. We didn't quite finish it and I thought as Mr. Knepler and I were talking about his book, "The Gilded Stage," the subject of the actress being one of the earliest of the emancipated women entered our discussion and I thought perhaps it might be a good subject for another program and thus it is this one, women and their continuous battle for free expression and free-- of life-- certainly equal to that of the male of the species. Perhaps we could begin by hearing the last part of this conversation concerning "The Gilded Stage." We didn't hear Bernhardt and Duse during the discussion concerning the book "The Gilded Stage." There was a sort of a history. The book is quite remarkable. That's more than just about four actresses. It's about the customs and the mores and the social aspects of the periods in which these actresses lived. Rachel, Ristori, a generation or more before Duse and Bernhardt, who were contemporaries, and who-- Mr. Knepler was speaking about Bernhardt and her effect, her dynamic effect, upon the societies and places where she was and the more gentle, quiet Duse and we lead into this now. See Bernhardt was still the personality on the stage, was she not? Whereas Duse became--
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel Gautier. Became [Emmy?]
Henry Knepler She really felt that she did become that.
Studs Terkel And also it was not accidental that she did Ibsen, then. She did Nora.
Henry Knepler No it wasn't. Actually Nora was not her favorite role. Her favorite role was Ellida Wangel in "The Lady From The Sea" and that she still performed in this country on her last tour in 1923-24.
Studs Terkel But, Shaw compares Duse and Bernhardt and it's Duse that he leans towards. Shaw did. He writes in "The Saturday Review" in 1895. Shaw wrote in Mr. Knepler's book, "The week began with the relapse, the relapse of Sarah Bernhardt into her old profession of serious actress and the contrast between Duse and Bernhardt is as extreme as any contrast could possibly be between artists who have finished their 20-years apprenticeship in the same profession under closely similar conditions." And he describes the dazzling approach of Bernhardt with the naturalness of Duse, without makeup. Without makeup. "The truth is that in the art of being beautiful, Madame Bernhardt is a child beside her." Is Shaw responsible for that comment that in Duse he saw her wrinkles, her wrinkles were her credentials of humanity.
Henry Knepler Yes, it's a lovely, it's a lovely word.
Studs Terkel But through it-- so in Duse we have then someone who really was a vanguard actress--
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel When it came to naturalistic acting.
Henry Knepler I think that, of the four, Rachel was undoubtedly the greatest. But I also think that in terms of our own feelings about the stage today Duse comes closest to what we would accept now as great acting.
Studs Terkel Today.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel Of course and in Duse's case you also write of "the lady of quivering nerves" on stage, but also in life, her tragic love for d'Annunzio.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel A remarkably brutish man.
Henry Knepler A disgusting man. I've rarely come across-- at least I was relieved to find that his poetry is also not particularly good. It's sort of very overblown and his plays were [rooted?] in his own time and are forgotten today.
Henry Knepler She did them all.
Studs Terkel Because of her infatuation for d'Annunzio, she did d'Annunzio's play and she flopped in all of them.
Henry Knepler She flopped in all of them. The only one that succeeded succeeded without her. That's an accident, an accidental and very unpleasant situation. But d'Annunzio, who had a really extensive sadistic relationship with lots of women had that same relationship with her and she asked for it. There's a marvelous description of a few harrowing days spent with Duse and d'Annunzio that Romain Rolland has left behind. They spent a while together in Switzerland and he found d'Annunzio, strangely enough, a charming companion alone. In the presence of women he was completely insufferable.
Studs Terkel So you mentioned Romain Rolland. Willa Cather. Again we come to--
Henry Knepler Willa Cather was a great admirer of Duse's.
Studs Terkel Yeah. We come to all the minds of the time and what it is these actresses were able to do, to evoke in them. The critic Herman Bang writes about Duse. This to me-- you talk about Stanislavsky-- how she made, in Mr. Knepler's book, how she made objects come alive. He says, "a rose, a handkerchief, a chain came to life under her hands and while she herself remained silent, almost motionless, these inanimate things act for her. One remembers, for instance, the flowers she held in the scene with Armand's father," as Marguerite Gautier. "At first while Marguerite's happiness seemed secure, the flower stands proudly on its stalk, its petals stretched toward the light. But when doubt enters her mind, then fear, and finally when her last hope vanishes, the flower begins to droop as though touched by frost. The petals shrivel, the stem grows limp, and the flower withers. By an imperceptible movement of her hands Duse caused the flower to die of Marguerite's grief. It was an extraordinary effect impossible to describe in words." It's a remarkable review, by the way.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel This is a, but this a, the power of Duse on the stage.
Henry Knepler Well, of course, also to bring it back to the fact that, as international stars, they have to use non-verbal means to quite a large extent to convey to the audience what they wish to convey and to Duse that was a very natural thing.
Studs Terkel And as we're talking to Mr. Knepler, to Henry Knepler, and his book is "The Gilded Stage," we've just begun the talk and I notice the hour. It's incredible. And this was toward the end of the hour of our previous conversation. Mr. Knepler is now with me here in the studio this morning and you will recall when we had finished this conversation, the thought occurred, the actress being so much a figure in her, of her time and you-- this led you to thinking about how she was one of the earliest of the emancipated women, the actress.
Henry Knepler I would say the second. The oldest, of course, is the world's oldest profession. And, actually, if you go back as far as one can know in Greece or even--
Studs Terkel Yes, but the world's oldest profession though, that's exactly it, she was the sex object almost in dramatic form.
Henry Knepler Yes, yes, of course, but that was because you have to distinguish between two things: the sex object and, at the same time, the way a woman can support herself without being dependent on the man and the first women who were able, as far as Western history is concerned, to support themselves-- I suppose any, I really don't know too much about Africa and Asia-- were the women who either belonged to the oldest profession or the second oldest profession, which was acting, and the two got mixed up at many times.
Studs Terkel Oh this is interesting. So the prostitute and the actress and this-- since the oldest, the prostitute, and then you want to speak of ancient Greece, I know you have some theories about this. Also as the priestess-prostitute too.
Henry Knepler Well it's, it is clear, first of all, that in ancient Greece, in other words, in the plays of Sophocles or Euripides or Aeschylus, just as much as in the plays of Shakespeare or Ben Johnson, women did not act. Women were not on the stage for those great occasions in the amphitheaters in which these tragic plays were performed. But there was a lot of other, you know, other artistic activity going on, singing and dancing and so on, and that all was-- women were in on that already. And so in antiquity, again, the arts and, in other words, acting and singing and dancing and prostitution were the only real fields open to women besides getting married and having children and running the house.
Studs Terkel And then being dependent for livelihood upon the man.
Studs Terkel But this point you make here that's rather, that explains a great deal now-- for years, we know, the actress-- a respectable girl could not be an actress in society for many years.
Henry Knepler It's only very recent--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Henry Knepler That an actress was really, has become respectable so to speak.
Studs Terkel Was it because of this association of the first and second oldest professions? This is rather interesting. I hadn't thought about the fact these two were the first.
Henry Knepler I suppose yes, though of course there are large lapses. For example in the Roman Empire the theater disintegrated. It became, in a sense, ultra realistic. If you saw-- if somebody was supposed to be torn apart by a bear he was torn apart by a bear in the Coliseum. I mean literally. And by that time, of course, you have nothing artistic anymore involved in the matter and so that sort of thing disappeared. The Dark Ages, the years from the collapse of the Roman Empire, disintegration, to the rise of really more or less organized Medieval civilization, people had other things to do than worry about anything other than merest livelihood. Though, even then in the tenth century, it's an exception, of course, now that to my mind almost a freak, in the tenth century you have the record of a German nun, Hrotsvitha, who wrote plays and presented them to the then Emperor and these plays are preserved and they were in Latin, of course, but this is an exception.
Studs Terkel Well since you mentioned, here was an artist, a nun in the tenth century writing plays. We think of women creative spirits, they have been and then of course that leads to another subject: Sappho. Sappho, the poet, you see.
Henry Knepler Yes. Yes, again, Sappho may be an exception. We don't know much about her.
Studs Terkel But then again, we think of Sappho. We also think, by the very nature, of lesbians to some extent too, don't we?
Henry Knepler Yes. Yes, so there are-- that that gets into another area.
Studs Terkel No it doesn't, but the fact is, woman as a woman, 'normal,' quote unquote. Then this has always been the problem of the creative figure, independent of man, has always had this particular burden to bear. She is called some sort of name, either prostitute or considered abnormal, you see.
Henry Knepler Yes. It is not until the Renaissance that the first stirrings of change occur in the western world. The first again were in the theater. The first women who made their way independently, who had their own incomes, their own reputations, not dependent on somebody else, in other words, on a man's reputation, were in the theater. And that happened on the continent, in Italy and in France much earlier than in England. Much earlier. It happened towards the end of the Middle Ages. In Italy the commedia dell'arte had women and there was for instance the woman, a woman named Isabella Andreini, who became very, very famous. The first really great actress. She went to Paris, was received by Queen Marie de' Medici and who, of course, as an Italian, liked the commedia dell'arte-- but that's another topic, incidentally, because there is a, one clear and obvious exception to all this and that is the the highly placed woman, the aristocratic woman, the woman of nobility, or the Queen, like Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, about whom we just have the play and the movie--
Studs Terkel "The Lion in Winter."
Henry Knepler "The Lion In Winter." Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was obviously a major intellectual force in the whole, in her own time.
Studs Terkel She was. Well here you have someone of power, someone-- a member of royalty, high aristocracy, or royalty. This is a special, this is a woman in a special category.
Henry Knepler Yes. She doesn't really-- she arrives at that by birth, not by anything that she has done on her own. But then you have actresses in the commedia dell'arte and you have actresses in the 16th century in France and, except for England, this has been spreading fairly much. In England you have no women on stage at all in the time of Shakespeare or after and the big change there does not come until 1660 when the Restoration took place--
Studs Terkel Wow.
Henry Knepler The monarchy is restored, and all kinds of continental influence is seeping in. And within that same year, 1660, when Charles II becomes King, Oliver Cromwell's revolution is over, Charles II becomes king, you have in the same year the last major boy actor, the last major boy who performs women's roles, Edward Kynaston, and the first major woman on stage, the first major women entering into the acting profession.
Studs Terkel Also of course, this is also the time, since you mentioned the Restoration, it was a time also of sexual freedom, among others, that came into play of course.
Henry Knepler Oh yes. Great-- after this, a real outburst after the Puritans.
Studs Terkel So Nell Gwynn was an actress, but Nell Gwynn was also a factor in government too to some-- indirectly.
Henry Knepler Nell Gwynn was a mistress of Charles II, like many other actresses, and she is more famous and more remembered as that, but one should remember that she was, for a while, maybe the number one comic actress on the stage in London. And other women, like Mrs. Betterton, for example, who was maybe the most influential actress of that time, was no mistress of anybody's except her husband, Mr. Betterton. So that isn't, I mean, in other words, you begin to have the kind of existence that we can look on as an emancipated existence.
Studs Terkel Then it's through the actress, the beginning then, the actress aside from the prostitutes down through the ages earning her own livelihood her own way. The actress, through her art-- not that the other doesn't consider her form an art, as many did-- but through her art, the actress, she was the beginning, then. She was the vanguard figure in the fight for the emancipation of women.
Henry Knepler There were also beginning to be a few writers. In Madame Scudery, actually Mademoiselle Scudery, in France in the 17th century and then Mrs. Aphra Behn, a playwright and novelist in the Restoration, again, in England, writing some of the most salacious comedies in, for the Restoration stage and being essentially a very unhappy woman. I don't know what became of Mr. Behn, but he disappeared very early and she wrote plays, which at least have historical significance and we're quite popular in her time. And she was not looked down upon and made her way very well.
Studs Terkel So this is, these beginnings then, this, as this was happening, then, women were beginning to enter other professions, trades, kind of work that hadn't been theirs.
Henry Knepler After the, after the sexual comes the intellectual. It's still, of course, exceptional because Aphra Behn had to be quite an exceptional woman to make her way in a man's world so completely and in the 18th century there are a few more who do that, especially towards the end of the century. There is the famous Mary Wollstonecraft, who was the first real female emancipationist you might say. She wrote a book on the emancipation of women, the first one do so, and she married a very--
Studs Terkel The mother-in-law of Shelley.
Henry Knepler Yeah. The mother-in-law, the mother of Mary Shelley, the mother-in law-of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet, and therefore also the mother of the woman who was a writer in her own right, Mary Shelley, and wrote "Frankenstein." Most people forget that a woman early in the nineteenth century created that thing which is still with us.
Studs Terkel So we're coming to the matter of Mary Wollstonecraft. Now one of the earliest then. Here now the whole idea was now quite conscious, the idea of women's rights, women's suffragism.
Henry Knepler Well the difference between a woman like Aphra Behn and Mary Wollstonecraft is that Aphra Behn was trying to be like a man. She was moving in a man's world. She sometimes, in fact, had her plays published under a pseudonym, under a male pseudonym, While Mary Wollstonecraft is maybe the first-- in England-- the first woman who wants to be a woman and wants to fight for that right.
Studs Terkel Well this is, this is interesting now that we have these creative artists as Aphra Behn using a pseudonym. George Eliot, of course, and George Sand, of course, pseudonyms, male pseudonyms. In contrast, in America later on, the Lucy Stone League was formed in which women even married and insisted on the use of their maiden names, the most notable being Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. Madam, Madam Perkins, they say. So this is interesting. This is but the beginning. The pseudonyms, making it in a man's world until Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest.
Henry Knepler Well one couldn't really say that she made it, that she made her way for that. It's merely that she was the first one to fight for it. They didn't get there, but she fought.
Studs Terkel You were saying so she was the one then who was the first fighter that we know of.
Henry Knepler Yes. She was she fought for, she fought for women's rights and much before her time, but not really that much either because a new term was creeping in together with the French Revolution, which had essentially a much greater impact on England than the American Revolution, the idea, the term became "bluestocking," the women, the intellectual women, the women, in other words, who didn't want to fit into the pattern of home and kitchen and children were the "bluestockings," the intellectual types, and some of them rose rather high. And actually one, maybe one thing that should be thought of as a kind of bridge between the society that wanted women in their place and the woman who didn't want to be there was the salon, the idea of the intellectual home, so to speak, where people came and were very, very intellectual. The most important, the most famous lady of the salon, the most famous, you might say, salon-keeper was Madame de Stael, whose father had been the Minister of Finance of the last king of France before the revolution, Louis the XVI, Necker, and she herself lived partly in Paris, partly in Switzerland, mostly in Paris and kept the most famous salon. She was a thorn in the flesh of Napoleon, and cordially hated by him, and eventually even briefly exiled.
Studs Terkel What were her, Madame de Stael's, what were her-- she was obviously a celebrated figure, intellectual-- what were her political thoughts? Was she a dissenter? Or was she more or less just-- why did she cause Napoleon so much trouble?
Henry Knepler Well she was opposed to Napoleon because she was simply opposed to his kind of dictatorship. She, this is also personal. It's hard sometimes to separate the personal, on that level, the personal from the intellectual. But she was his opponent as was the other famous lady of, the famous lady who had a great salon in Paris, Madame Recamier, whom I mention in "The Gilded Stage." She was, she had a salon actually from the Directorate, from the Directoire, on in the 1890s [sic] on until, oh until the 1840s through the whole Napoleonic era, briefly being exiled again herself, through the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, through the Orleans monarchy or at least almost through the whole Orleans monarchy. She died in the late 1840s. Now these salons-- there were some others whose hostesses were less famous-- these salons were great intellectual and political and cultural forces. And so, in a sense, indirectly, women like Madame de Stael, who was a writer in her own right, and Madame Recamier, who was less so, did what Mary Wollstonecraft wanted women to do. They were a considerable force, but they were a force in an acceptable manner of staying within the social framework, being acceptable, of course, being the host of the greatest men of that day as well as women. They were intellectually emancipated, but they were socially quite within the framework of the society.
Studs Terkel Yeah. See that's it. Now Mary Wollstonecraft though was a step beyond the two celebrated ladies in that she wanted the women themselves to be fulfilled as beings, aside from being intellectually acknowledged the peer of men or the hostess for somebody. Se wanted more than that.
Henry Knepler Equality. She wanted equality. And, of course, women in a sense had equality and in a sense didn't. They were very-- they could be very powerful, but they did not have the kind of legal or other status, especially-- in many ways the legal status is an important question, the holding of property, for example, which was almost impossible in most countries at most times until the 19th century. Women couldn't hold any property.
Studs Terkel I was thinking as you were talking to Mary Wollstonecraft and her leading this movement that was nebulous and beginning but had voices such as hers in America, about that time was Margaret Fuller, roughly about that time, the great literary critic for Horace Greeley. And Margaret Fuller traveled through various parts of the world and knew Browning and Barrett, Carlyle didn't like her, and George Sand. And she also wrote, if I could read this part, your thoughts on this, Mr. Knepler. Margaret Fuller writing in the early part of the, middle of the 19th century. No, early part, 1843, something around there: "It is not the trenchant breath of poetic incense that women want. Each can receive that from a lover. It is not lifelong sway. It needs but to become a coquette, a shrew, or a good cook to be sure that. It is not money nor notoriety nor the badges of authority that men have appropriated to themselves." And she writes further, "It is for that which is the birthright of every being capable to receive it: the freedom, the religious, the intelligent freedom of the universe to use its means to learn its secret as far as nature has enabled them with God alone as their guide and judge." And she writes, "You cannot believe it, men, but the only reason why women ever assume what is more appropriate to you is because you prevent them from finding out what is fit for themselves. Were they free, were they wise fully to develop the strength and beauty of woman, they would never wish to be men or man-like. The well-instructed moon," and then she writes in what Mr. Knepler calls the nineteenth-century style, "The well-instructed moon flies not from her orbit to seize on the glories of her partner. No, for she knows that one law rules, one heaven contains, one universe replies to them alike. It is with women as with the slave..." and the quoting of Goethe. It's German. Would you mind reading the Goethe quote?
Henry Knepler [German]. "In front of the slave when he breaks his chain the free man does not shake." The free man is not frightened, in other words, the really, truly free man is not frightened by somebody--
Studs Terkel Tremble not before the free man, but before the slave who has chains to break.
Henry Knepler Oh it is translated.
Studs Terkel Yea, but it was changed to 'break.' But that's the-- isn't that amazing, though, that Fuller and Wollstonecraft, both different parts were, this now was quite conscious and also the association, by the way, of the fettered woman with a slave. We know that the abolitionists in America also were suffragists at the same time. Both was going on at the same time here. Many abolitionists were also speaking women's right to vote, the ballot.
Henry Knepler Well it-- the the whole question in the nineteenth century, which was because it was a great century of economic change, was not that women didn't have enough power. It is that women didn't, just couldn't go into most places, that it was the ordinary woman. It's not the extraordinary woman like Madame de Stael or Aphra Behn or Margaret Fuller one has to worry about. It's the ordinary woman, the woman whose talents are not so exceptional. These women had to be concerned with their rights and with their possibilities, with their chances to lead lives of their own instead of merely being tied to the man's apron strings, so to speak.
Studs Terkel So now it began. I mean now it was that-- we're talking about the ordinary woman now becoming--
Henry Knepler There were lots of extraordinary women.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Henry Knepler Jane Austen and Fanny Burney, the novelists. There were the great actresses like the eighteenth-century great actresses like Mrs. Siddons, Fanny Kemble, in the early nineteenth and so on.
Studs Terkel And the writers, the Bronte sisters and--
Henry Knepler And the Brontes later on. That's alright.
Studs Terkel Now, was the ordinary woman-- now we come to continent and Britain and here-- was there now-- there was no movement extent, was there not? To some extent, you know.
Henry Knepler Yes. It comes from the bluestockings. It comes from the intellectual women of the early 19th century of whom Byron made such fun. He thought the whole thing was contemptible. And from them, through the century, is that thread of continuing pushing towards a better existence for the average person. Towards more freedom, towards property rights, towards having legal equality, in other words, equality before the law. And finally to obtain the necessary power to have that equality, which requires [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel You know, a militant woman today might say 'now look at Byron.' So here she'll say, 'see how far we have to go?' She'll say 'there's Byron, who fought for the freedom of Greece, who from a foreign land, England, came to Greece to die of freedom and yet ridicules the idea of women and equality.' So. See. Yeah.
Henry Knepler Well we have an even more illustrious example, much more recent, a man who is almost sacrosanct. In truth nothing bad should be said of him and that is Winston Churchill. In the early part of the--
Studs Terkel Oh a few bad things can be said about him. It's ok.
Henry Knepler I admire Churchill.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Henry Knepler In many ways, but it is very clear that in the beginning of this century he was-- I don't know quite under which government and before the First World War-- he was in a position as Home Secretary to do something about it and he impeded and hindered and refused to accept and could not understand the suffragist movement in England at all. So you have a man here who certainly fought for freedom--
Studs Terkel Well--.
Henry Knepler In his later years and would never have seen incompatible his suppression of women on the one hand and his fighting for freedom for all on the other.
Studs Terkel Well some can say that Churchill after all was a believer in empire. He was-- he's not become whatever--
Henry Knepler Well freedom in selective manner.
Studs Terkel Yeah. He was a war leader, really, is was he was.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel He was nonetheless-- he believed an empire. And in Churchill you almost expect it. I'm not surprised that Churchill would be anti woman suffragism. But Byron, no. I think Byron is a more classic case.
Studs Terkel You know, an artist fighting for liberty, dying for it, you know, at the same time kidding women, you see. That there becomes the-- we go deeper and deeper.
Henry Knepler On the other hand, his contemporary and good acquaintance-- maybe not friend-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, married one of the great emancipated women of his time, Mary Godwin, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, and also supported this whole trend. He was much more of a revolutionary intellectually than Byron.
Studs Terkel Now Shelley-- now in Shelley there was-- the man, who were he in America, obviously have been, probably been an abolitionist, you know.
Henry Knepler Oh yes. Oh absolutely.
Studs Terkel In Shelley, in Shelley you had the man writing of freedom and also seeing women and their battle.
Henry Knepler Well then, of course, the Industrial Revolution itself inevitably contributed to it because it pushed women into the factories, into the mines, under inhuman conditions very often and we know, I mean, they were-- conditions were inhuman for most workers in the early 19th century and towards the middle of the century. But girls of eight or nine worked in the mines and pulled baskets with coal just as much as boys at the age of eight and nine worked. There was no difference. And women worked in the factories from dawn to dusk, 12 hour days, six days a week, just as men did and lived and died in the same manner so that the Industrial Revolution really lay the groundwork for the emancipation because when the emancipation came it came essentially, to my mind, as a as an economic matter rather than an intellectual matter or a matter of beauty or art history or anything else as it might have looked earlier. It was simply an economic matter maybe [symptomized?] in a play by Philip Barry called-- not Philip Barry, Sir James Barrie-- called "The Twelve Pound Look." The 'twelve pound look' in the woman's eye was those 12 pounds she needed from her husband to buy a typewriter and the typewriter became the symbol of emancipation because the typewriter you were no longer in the mines, you were no longer in the working class. A middle class girl, a girl of reasonably good family, in other words, could become a secretary. She could displace men in offices. She could, in other words, assume a totally different kind of role. She could get out of the bind of having to be a governess or a tutor or in some manner a shabby lady waiting on the wife of a rich man. You have those ladies in waiting, those genteel ladies, in the 18th century and in the 19th century and you had the governesses. The Bronte sisters were among them. But you now begin to have these women have roles in a middle class setting, working roles in the middle class setting, working roles no longer simply in the working class.
Studs Terkel So the typewriter-- we come to the Industrial Revolution now. Here's a new invention, the typewriter-- it's interesting about Barrie's "Twelve Pound Look"-- I remember seeing in sketch form in vaudeville days. We used to have a sketch and in an abbreviated form Ethel Barrymore played this-- I remember seeing it at the Palace, but "The Twelve Pound Look," and it was the wife freeing herself. About the same time, or prior to that rather, prior to that, was of course Ibsen and "A Doll's House."
Henry Knepler Yes. Nora, who walks out and slams the door, and there she goes. Again, a respectable middle-class wife no longer putting up with a situation she couldn't tolerate.
Studs Terkel "The Doll's House." Here then-- I forget her husband's name, the banker, the bank clerk, you know, who considered her. He was very, very nice and kind and gentle to her but treated her like a doll.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel He was very patronizing to her as, indeed, many Southern white women have been for years treated by their men too. This often-- like you hear the bitter outcry of the enlightened southern white woman speaking of this. But this is-- so we have Ibsen's "Doll's House" representing a breakthrough. A bit later, J.M. Barrie's "Twelve Pound Look."
Henry Knepler Well still and although and maybe this is part of my prejudice and partly because my reading and my own thinking has been much in the direction of the theater and of acting, my book, "The Gilded Stage," deals with four women who, above all others, maybe managed to emancipate women simply because they became so famous, because they were so adulated, they were so admired all over the world by everyone. They were the first ones who gave the theater, gave the acting profession, the kind of status it now has. I mean nowadays an actor, you know, a television star or a film, you know, they are great. They are admired people. They can be elected to national office and this is a far cry from even the late 19th century when an actress or an actor could hardly be considered part of polite society, part of acceptable, socially acceptable people. And it was not until 1914 that Sarah Bernhardt got what was an essentially, a very ordinary decoration, the Legion of Honor, but she insisted on getting it as an actress. The government of France, the Republic, would have been delighted to give it to her much earlier if she would have accepted it as director of her theater or as a professor in the Conservatoire or anything, but she said, 'No I'm an actress and if you give it to me I want that as an actress.' And so, finally, when she was in her 70s, they did.
Studs Terkel So we come to it again, the actress being the vanguard person among women, you know. And then again the question of being celebrated is there and again we return to the question the ordinary women. You spoke of the typewriter, office work, as one aspect and it was that we talked about having, that other profession, the big one, the teacher, the woman as a teacher.
Henry Knepler Yeah. Well like in-- especially, this especially true in this country-- but like in the office, for example, the women once they got in, simply because other roles were not as available to them, simply displaced men. A hundred years ago office staff was exclusively male. Today the use of a typewriter except by journalists and so on is sort of frowned upon for men. Writers too. But in an office you have-- the staff is secretarial and, of course, there the discrimination still works because this is as far as most women manage to go. They manage to be secretaries and not then suddenly move out of there into the inner office and become an assistant vice president. That is where legal laws passed in the United States recently may have their effect eventually.
Studs Terkel Of course this becomes interesting. Also the image now through commercials and television, the heroine invariably in all the commercials is the home maker, the housewife. We use the phrase 'homemaker' as a euphemism for housewife. Hardly is it the independent woman. Rarely. Always the housewife keeping house for her husband. The products most often are the domestic products. Yet, in every case, even if it isn't a domestic product, it's the housewife. Again we still have this battle.
Henry Knepler Yes. Even though women of course vote now and even though it seems, according to what I remember of statistics, that women spend much more of the money spent in general, our personal income, spend much more personal income than men do. Still that discrimination exists.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Henry Knepler And the commercial in which a man washes his hands in some special soap suds is impossible. Just as the other way around, you don't see women quite casually passed off as going to the bank unless they are to be advised by a man or something like that.
Studs Terkel Yeah. You know, a very funny thought occurs to me. It's something that happened recently. There's a young woman's group, you know, women's liberation, young girls. It's involved with political dissent generally. As you know, it's taken very many forms. So many forms. Not just music and dress and politics-- also sexual relations as well. And one is this group of young girls who had been picketing the Miss America contest and the Mrs. America contest and quite scathing signs they carry indicate that who is this girl, but mostly who are the judges? And they find that judges are old men and elderly women and there's sort of a Doris Day-type routine, you know, a sweet, genteel girl. Yet, underneath it all this girl is an object, is simply an object and recently was a celebrated case in all the papers of a girl who walked down Wall Street and she had a certain kind of figure and they-- and all the fellas gaped at her every day. She had a tight dress and they gaped at her every day. Some of the girls decided to have a young man walk down LaSalle Street and the girls gape at him. [A young computer?] And they described his various physical attributes in exactly the same way. And [to me?] quite profane.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel But it's quite remarkable. And so you see here again we have it, you know.
Henry Knepler Yes. Well this is not anything that has passed out of the picture no matter what laws will do. We have no male stewardesses on airplanes or anything like that. But to come back to the teacher, now there again to quite an extent happened what I said earlier happened with the secretary, especially in this country. The woman replaced the man. I mean the idea of the 19th, of the earlier 19th century, and certainly before that was that of the school master except for a few schools for girls, whom Thackeray or Dickens might write about, except for a few schools for girls where there were then women teachers, teaching was done by men. And today teaching is, on the secondary and primary level, done very largely by women. But the further along you go from the primary to the secondary and then on to college and university, you find that the percentage of men increases and, being myself a college teacher, I think I can say with some degree of assurance that there is a certain amount of discrimination, which is not even necessarily something that we realize or consciously wish to do, but that nevertheless takes place.
Studs Terkel You know, this is a fascinating point that it leads to, Mr. Knepler-- Henry Knepler is our guest-- and this conversation came about in really a casual discussion as a result of his being guest involving his book "The Gilded Stage," which is an excellent work indeed dealing with four actresses he talked about Rachel, Ristori, Bernhardt, Duse. William Morrow the publishers. The question of the higher up the scale and as far as teaching-- of course we know the elementary-- we always think of the of the woman, almost caricatured, the old-fashion teacher, the higher up the scale less and less and you find discriminatory aspects here whether conscious or unconscious continuously there.
Henry Knepler Well I must say I grew up in Vienna in Austria and I have never in my life had a woman teacher, not in the primary, not in the secondary level, and not since.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Henry Knepler This is an accident I think more or less. So I really don't quite know what it feels like, but there is certainly in this culture there is that discrimination.
Studs Terkel I remember and, since you mentioned Vienna, "The Blue Angel" which was a German film, UFA film, with Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich. Herr Professor.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel Jannings, you know, the the teacher, the male teacher, the authority, the authority figure too. Male.
Henry Knepler Well it's-- of course, that was a much more authoritarian society long before Hitler had anything to do with it.
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Henry Knepler And the male and and any kind of-- it's-- I think that any kind of authoritarian government might accentuate that some in certain ways. Though, again, one must say that, for example, in Russia the situation is much more fluid than it is here. The government seems to be exclusively male, but there are, for example, it seems, from what I remember, more women doctors than male doctors in Russia. And this, of course, is quite in contrast to this country where there are rather few women and I suspect a certain amount of discrimination in medical schools and after, as far as women are concerned.
Studs Terkel Thinking about teaching again, I want you to think of this theory-- someone's offered a theory. It may not be true today, but women's colleges operating, you know, the Wellesley, Smith, Vassar, the women's colleges had very enlightened faculty members and some instances, this is-- I'm talking about 30-40 years ago-- more than the equivalent of the-- same economic bracket-- male colleges and one of the theories is that while a girl of an upper income family, when she goes there, and even though she's open to this very enlightened, at times radical, teaching, after all she will only be the housewife when she leaves. Whereas the son will take over the father's enterprises. Therefore, he'd better not be exposed to this sort of-- this is just a theory someone's once offered. Rather interesting I think..
Henry Knepler It's possible. Though one must also, I think, say that-- maybe I'll get hit over the head for that-- but that women's colleges, like men's colleges, are an anachronism in this society, that everything is going to be coeducational within a very short time, certainly within one generation and there are very few of them left actually. And this too is part of the picture because surely no one can deny that women have a much more balanced role, let us say, in society today, in the western world, than they ever had before. It's not-- they have not reached the kind of equality that that we are examining here. Certainly not. But certainly the area of entry, the the direction in which they can go now, is much, much greater than it used to be.
Studs Terkel Italy, I suppose, if ever there were a Western country where-- the-- what may be a classic case, it would be Italy. I mean we think of the new-- kind of a long way to go, but the woman of Milan, the woman of Turin, in contrast, say, to the woman in Sicily. Zavanttini, Cesare Zavanttini, the film writer who worked with the De Sica on "The Bicycle Thief," and others said "When man," even so today, "When the Italian man enters his house, he leaves the 20th century and enters the 18th."
Henry Knepler Yes and that's true. Though even in Sicily there is that recent case.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Oh that's right.
Henry Knepler You know Sicily had the law, the unwritten law, of course, that a woman who was abducted by a man thereafter married him. So if you had a reluctant girlfriend, you abducted her and then she was supposed to marry you inevitably. And last-- only in the last year or so, there were two women-- the first one has just come to trial--the two women who changed it, they-- instead of marrying the man-- they sued him and they won. Naturally.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Henry Knepler Because the whole thing is so flagrant that only an 18th century kind of set up would tolerate it.
Studs Terkel Freedom like June is busting out all over.
Henry Knepler Yes they are. Even in Sicily it's busting out all over.
Studs Terkel But this is, again, Italy though was-- because Anna Magnani, the great actress, of course, is very much, you probably know, very much concerned with this very theme of the free Italian woman. And one of her early films called "Angelina," years ago was beautiful, dealt with this very theme. And so more and more, sure up North it began, but even in Sicily here as you're pointing out. I imagine this may be so in all the societies.
Henry Knepler Well it actually-- for instance, Sarah Bernhardt, who herself was not a suffragette at all, but by her very position as the foremost actress in the world in her time, the most famous actress in the world in her time, had the role to play in it and she played it joyfully, partly because it, of course, helped her reputation. It gave her a good newspaper copy. But I remember that when she landed in this country at the height of that crisis-- I think it was either her tour of 1908 or 1911-- she was received at the pier always, of course, great fanfare, bunting, flowers, flags everything, she was received at the pier by a group of the Joan of Arc Suffrage League and they carried their flags and gave her chrysanthemums in their color, which happened to be yellow. And she received them and they were photographed together and thereby the suffragettes got a lot more publicity than they usually managed to get. Sarah Bernhardt got some interesting publicity and something that was also very-- the kind of thing she liked for more than one reason. For instance, I remember seeing the general program that was sold throughout her tour of that-- throughout that particular tour. It addresses itself completely to women. But at the same time it says 'you women in America are lucky. You are much better off than women in Europe. You have got much further already. You have much more-- you have many more rights than we do in Europe.' and Eleonora Duse, whom I'm also writing about in "The Gilded Stage," is also concerned about female emancipation. She's also, of course, again as a great actress, as an economic power so to speak. Besides that, she is concerned and she establishes, just before the First World War, a house for actresses in Rome. The house didn't work out, but she wanted to create. She wanted women to work. She was very concerned about women working, about the rights of women to work because she herself, of course, worked.
Studs Terkel It's-- as you say this, you know, I couldn't help but think of another woman. And, you know, it hits every nerve-- you mentioned the House for actresses in Rome that Duse had in mind and that-- and Bernhardt, you know, aware of the suffrage movement although we're not integrally part of it. Think of Dr. Montessori. Maria Montessori, a woman doctor and how she, to some extent, revolutionized, education.
Henry Knepler Yes. She, she-- well, again, of course, that's how you get back to teaching because--
Studs Terkel Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Henry Knepler Her essential forte, her essential interest was child development.
Studs Terkel She was a teacher.
Henry Knepler And that led her inevitably to teaching.
Studs Terkel We come-- I'm sorry. We come to the actress again living today and one of the most revered British actresses, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Dame Sybil Thorndike, and I haven't the tape, unfortunately, but recalls her young womanhood as an actress, early part of the century, when she played Saint Joan for Bernard Shaw and how she chained herself. Her mother was a suffragist and she was and she was in the middle of the battles with the authorities.
Henry Knepler We have we had forgotten how fierce those battles were. They were fantastic. There were hunger strikes. England finally had a law, which was maybe the most inhuman laws that a civilized supposedly country has passed in the last century. It said that these women go on hunger strike so we are going to arrest them and if they go on hunger strike, we release them. And a few days later, when they have begun to eat, we arrest them again. And there are some of these suffragettes who were arrested four, five, six, seven, eight times. Mrs. Pankhurst was among them and her health was broken by this completely brutal manner of attempting to handle this. That was where Churchill was also involved in that law.
Henry Knepler The Asquith government, I think, was doing that.
Studs Terkel Churchill was almost a perfect case you might say. Not too far removed from the southern gentleman that is-- and keeping his wife. I'm not talking about Churchill now, but the woman generally. A certain kind of man in power who is the establishment who patronizes, you see, who at the same time not only did he patronize colonials, but patronizes the woman who is his wife or woman of the house, do you see? She's put on this pedestal, but can have-- this is Nora again. This is Nora.
Henry Knepler There is a certain colonial-- there is a certain parallel to colonial status. One can say that fairly clearly, I think, in that time.
Studs Terkel She's the colonial in the house.
Henry Knepler Yes, the colonial in the house.
Studs Terkel We're just talking-- it's just been a casual conversation with Henry Knepler. It all came about because of his very excellent book, by the way, that I suggest you read. More than about four actresses remarkable though they were, but about the societies in which they lived and how this is related to the battle that still goes on, the battle that perhaps is most dramatically represented in our century by Simone de Beauvoir and her "Second Sex" and her thoughts and women today throughout. And so any other thoughts you have? Before we hear a little song, a song of the middle of the 19th century during the Suffrage movement, latter part of the 19th century, songs put to the tunes of very familiar folk melodies. This was one called "The Yellow Ribbon" and this was the symbol of the women who were fighting for the right to vote and the symbol of the yellow ribbon.
Henry Knepler Well I have one thought only and that is if you say Simone de Beauvoir to me what it brings to my mind again, unfortunately, is that old English term, 'the bluestocking.' Because the woman who is simply, you know, just casually an intellectual like her friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, is not really yet quite accepted in the society. Somehow I have this feeling-- I may be wrong-- but I have this feeling that we are again back-- Simone-- Sartre is a philosopher but Simone de Beauvoir is a bluestocking.
Studs Terkel Well that's precisely her point.
Henry Knepler Yes.
Studs Terkel Th is precisely her point. And the word bluestocking is interesting. The first association I have with bluestocking is someone who believes in censorship. The phrase you hear 'bluestocking' now is exactly the opposite, you see. Yeah. How phrases come to my mind.
Henry Knepler No. This was the intellectual movement.
Studs Terkel The blue stocking, someone who represents society at the same time or perhaps sort of rigidity. And I guess that true historical aspect is that it was fighting for liberation.
Henry Knepler Yes, but of course the term was one of-- the connotation of the word is not favorable.
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Henry Knepler It was used by people who said 'oh those bluestocking and who cares about what they think? They are all just foolish. Why don't they go back in the kitchen?'
Studs Terkel There again, so we come back-- they want to go back in the kitchen and the women are saying 'yeah, the kitchen may be our domain. It could be man's too, at the same time the rest of the House, also outside the house should equally.' Come back to Margaret Fuller again, Mary Wollstonecraft, and to the actresses whom Mr. Knepler has written about so well. May I again-- before we hear "The Yellow Ribbon," Henry Knepler. Thank you very much. And the book that peripherally was part of this discussion, and yet a major part too is "The Gilded Stage." William Morrow, the publishers. Thank you very much.
Female Voice Singing [music] Tis just 100 years ago our mothers and our sires lit up for all the world to see the flame of freedom's fires. Through bloodshed and through hardship, they labored in the fight. Today we women labor still for liberty and rights. Oh we wear a yellow ribbon upon our women's breast. We are prouder of its sunny hue than of a royal crest. Twas God's own primal color born of purity and light. We wear it now for Liberty, for justice and for right. We boast our land of freedom, the unshackling of the slaves. We point with proud, though bleeding hearts to myriads of graves. They tell the story of a war that ended slavery's night and still we women struggle for our liberty, our right. Oh we wear a yellow ribbon upon our women's breasts. We are prouder of that sunny hue than of a royal crest. Twas God's own primal color born of purity and light. We wear it now for liberty, for justice, and for right.