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2020 Abstracts

Feminism and Women's Suffrage in the Work of George M. Cohan

Filip, Sofia (University of Utah)

Faculty Advisor: Titrington Craft, Elizabeth (College of Fine Arts, School of Music)

During the early 1900s, the rise of the American women’s suffrage movement coincided with a rise in contemporary theatre across vaudeville and Broadway stages. The work of George M. Cohan, an Irish American playwright, actor, producer and composer, grew to popularity throughout the United States during this time. With his emphasis on comedy and contemporary plots, Cohan’s plays, musicals, and songs revolutionized theatre and continue to influence modern artists. Much of Cohan’s work reflected social change and historical events such as feminism, immigration, political movements, World War I, and the Women’s Rights Movement. Although his portrayal of war, patriotism and immigrant identity is clearly stated throughout a number of Cohan’s plays, his messages about women, feminism and women’s suffrage are less obvious and change drastically throughout his career. Considering the popularity and extensive career Cohan held, examining these works for the portrayal of women enhances how we see the impact of Cohan’s work on society and vice versa. Specific pieces for this research were collected from the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and various university archives. Manuscripts such as Little Johnny Jones, The Whispering Friend, and Little Nellie Kelly were examined for elements of women’s suffrage, feminism, and sexism, and span the length of Cohan’s career. Other materials such as interviews and sheet music were also analyzed for these elements. This research will examine the contextual portrayal of women, feminism and the women’s suffrage movement throughout the plays, musicals, and songs written by George M. Cohan. Lastly, it will also present any patterns and shifts in Cohan’s messages about women throughout his career.