Documenting Women’s Roles in Hollywood

Film and television entertains us all and are significant to American culture.  Whether through comedy, drama, or music, perspectives of our culture can be studied by observing what entertained us in the past.  The American Heritage Center’s vast entertainment collections exemplify multiple facets of American identity, but women in entertainment and their roles in the industry is one I find particularly fascinating.  The educational website “Women and Hollywood” notes that, while it may appear that women contribute equally to the film and television industry, in reality they are still underrepresented in Hollywood.  The Center contains several collections that feature women that were part of the industry or have information about their role in the industry, here are a few examples:

While leading ladies on the silver screen appear to be flawless and their work effortless, the tenacity and hard work it requires to “make it” is often overlooked.  June Knight’s collection features diaries where she describes her daily routine of rehearsals.

June Knight_Box 1_Folder 6_Diary

Entries from one of June Knight’s diaries.  June Knight Papers, #5731, Folder 6, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

More can be learned about the experiences of actresses from costumes, photographs, diaries, scripts, and other materials housed at the AHC.  From actress’ collections, information about American culture can also be learned.  From costumes, we can glean information about material culture, and from scripts and production materials, we can discover how women were perceived in the mainstream through their portrayal on film.  In addition to June Knight, the American Heritage Center also has the collections of actresses Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, silent film star Jean “Babe” London, and Carroll Baker. Not to be missed are the records of organizations that study the industry, such as the Women’s History Research Center, a group created by women’s rights activist Laura X.

William Dozier_Box 18_Folder 6_Catwoman.jpg

Found in the collection of television producer William Dozier, the caption for this photograph of Julie Newmar and Lesley Gore shows the production’s marketing strategy using the beautiful femme fatale.  William Dozier Papers, #6851, Box 18, Folder 6, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

womens history research center

Women & Film was a magazine that had a short run in the early 1970s.  This magazine incorporated second wave feminist theory and the film industry.  Women’s History Research Center resources files, #5879, Box 88, Folder 7, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The accomplishments of women aren’t just on the screen, but behind it as well.  Women have contributed to writing some our favorite scenes, examples of which can be found in the papers of screenwriters Diana Gould and Camille Marchetta, two women who wrote for the 1980s hit television series Dynasty and other successful programs.

Women in the film and television industry have contributed greatly to American entertainment and culture, and it is exciting that through the Center’s collections their impact is made visible.

–Amanda Stow, Reference Archivist

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