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"Gasps of Violet Ink:" Female Adolescence, Personal Archives, and Movie Fandom in the United States during the 1910s


My dissertation argues that, during the second decade of the twentieth century, adolescent girls helped shape America's film fan culture. Though many film histories address the contributions of female audiences during the silent era, seldom are girls recognized as an independent and vital target demographic. In my dissertation, I propose that seminal conceptions of affective movie fandom and film consumption are interlaced with the emergence of a new life- stage: that of female adolescence. In 1904, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall defined adolescent girls as highly susceptible, romantic, and rabid consumers. A decade later, popular newspapers and fan magazines represented the typical "movie-mad" fan as a white female consumer in her teens. Surveying early-twentieth-century psychology and educational literature in tandem with press depictions of screen-struck girlhood, I propose that the birth of a commercial film fan culture is intrinsically linked with the rise of female adolescence.

However, I also suggest that the relationship established between the first generation of adolescent girls and a burgeoning film industry was rather complex and symbiotic. Exploring the letters girls sent to the press in tandem with their unpublished fan archives--private movie scrapbooks, journals, collages, and correspondence--my work sets out to document the voices of the first movie girl fans. To reclaim a marginalized history of girl agency and authorship, I privilege previously unexamined autobiographical materials--such as personal diaries, published collages, and suicide notes--authored both by individual girl fans and girls-only film collectives during the 1910s. By examining girls' first-person fan testimonies side by side press representations of movie-loving girlhood, my research seeks to challenge a long-standing, albeit constructed notion, that early Hollywood was built fundamentally on male agency and mature labor. Marked by material loss, much of our contemporary understanding of American silent cinema has been biased by surviving accounts relayed by renowned filmmakers and film critics, most of them adult males. However, as my archival research evinces, during this transitional decade adolescent girls' fan practices, their affect, and their craft labor importantly impacted the ways American film was produced, promoted, and consumed.

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