Today in Theatre History: FEMALE USHERS FIRST INTRODUCED–December 16, 1903

The ladies of the Majestic–and their manager.

On this very day in theatre history–December 16, 1903–the Majestic Theatre on New York’s Columbus Circle became the first playhouse in the United States to employ female ushers in an effort to demonstrate how safe and respectable the theatre had become for female attendees.  That the novelty also attracted a sizable male crowd was just an “unexpected” perk, of course…

Why female ushers?  Simple.  Playhouses had long sought to make themselves more socially acceptable (and profitable) by attracting women and families.  Female ushers provided a concrete demonstration that the facility was safe and respectable.   Plus, the recent creation of cinema was beginning to have its influence on theatre attendance.  Managers were actively looking for ways to attract new audiences to their venues.  Columbus Circle–north of the current Broadway district–was projected to be the next center of the city’s theatrical industry.  So in 1903 the builders of the new Majestic decided to situate their new theatre there.  It didn’t work out that way, of course, as Broadway continued to expand around the Times Square neighborhood.  The Majestic, renamed the Park in 1911, continued to serve as a performance space off and on until it was torn down in 1954.  Not surprisingly, sensing an important and profitable trend, cinema owners soon began employing female ushers as well, effectively appropriating the Majestic’s innovation while claiming film to be as respectable and safe as theatre.  By the 1920s, female ushers were common in most mainstream playhouses and cinemas.  But it all began at the Majestic on this day in theatre history.

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