First Lady Florence Harding
First Lady Florence Harding operates a film camera on the White House lawn.
The First Lady’s engagement with film offered a sense of credibility to the industry.
It also shows how popular film had become by the 1920s and how women
remained involved in and out of the film studios.
Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-132073.
Women have been central to the film industry since its inception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From Nickelodeons to full-length feature films and from silent films to talkies, as writers, directors, actors, and audience members, women have influenced the trajectory of the film industry. Female stardom was an essential component of the rise of the industry, though many of these women were celebrated more for their appearances than for their acting ability.

While the popularity of certain female stars offered them legendary status, the kinds of roles they were asked to play often reinforced traditional gender roles. That story is the familiar one. This exhibit intends to reveal a lesser known part of the story. Women actually played a powerful role in shaping the early film industry. As both consumers of film and professionals in the field, both in front of and behind the camera, women dramatically affected the development of American film.