This month’s release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, adds several plays with all-female casts. Three such works are highlighted here.
Written by George Melville Baker and first published in 1865, “Using the ‘Weed’” takes place in a small boarding school for young ladies. There are seven characters including Miss Betty Bookworm who is the principal of the school, her assistant Mrs. Starch, three young ladies, and the twin sister aunts of student Clarissa Harlowe Smithers.
Clarissa is a playful girl who takes pleasure in rattling her spinster guardians. To the distress of her classmates, she is dedicated to her sewing machine:
Mary. I declare, Clari, you will wear yourself out at the sewing machine.
Fanny. Your devoted attachment to that useful but tiresome instrument is really surprising.
Clarissa. Law, girls, I shall never tire of it. You know it is a novelty to me.
Fanny. Novelty! Why, I imagined there was not a family in the world without one.
Mary. Mother has had one ever since I can recollect.
Fanny. The idea that a young lady, with such a romantic name as Clarissa Harlowe Smithers, should become such a devoted slave to the needle and treadle is very surprising.