The Designer as Activist

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


While Robert Edmond Jones’s design for The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife looms large over American theatre history, one of his earlier designs arguably occupies a larger place in American cultural history. Before his Broadway debut, Jones designed the Paterson Strike Pageant (1913), a performance including many Greenwich Village (Village) artists and sponsored by the International Workers of the World (IWW). Working in collaboration, artists and union organizers held the event in New York’s Madison Square Garden (Garden) to bring attention to the strike by silk mill workers in Paterson, New Jersey. Jones not only designed the large-scale scenery for the pageant, but also the publicity image printed on posters and programs, a forceful symbol of worker solidarity (see fig. 3.1). Later adopted by the IWW to publicize subsequent events, the image became an icon of the US labor movement and its struggle to secure workers’ rights during the early twentieth century.


Stage Designer Labor Movement Progressive Politics Theatre Artist Factory Owner 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Patricia Hills, Modern Art in the USA: Issues and Controversies of the 20th Century (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001), 4–5.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jacqueline Jones, A Social History of the Laboring Classes: From Colonial Times to the Present (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1999), 175.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1996), xix–xx.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Jan Cohen-Cruz, Local Acts: Community-BasedPerformance in the United States (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 1–2.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Orville K. Larson, for example, writes that the communist John Reed “conscripted” his friend Bobby after finding him sleeping on a park bench, insinuating that the former took advantage of Jones’s poverty and political naïveté. “Robert Edmond Jones, Gordon Craig, and Mabel Dodge,” Theatre Research International 3, no. 2 (1978): 126.Google Scholar
  6. Dana Sue McDermott notes that the designer “was never known to be involved in political activity at any other time,” characterizing his contribution as merely a favor to his friends Reed and Dodge. “The Apprenticeship of Robert Edmond Jones,” Theatre Survey 29, no. 2 (1988): 201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 10.
    See Arthur Feinsod’s discussion of Jones’s contributions to the Washington Square Players and Provincetown Players in The Simple Stage: Its Origins in the Modern American Theatre (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992), 143–44.Google Scholar
  8. See Brenda Murphy’s The Provincetown Players and the Culture of Modernity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  9. Robert Karoly Sarlos’s Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Granville Hicks, John Reed: The Making of a Revolutionary (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968), 40.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Percy MacKaye, The Civic Theatre (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1912), 15.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Christine Stansell, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000), 41.Google Scholar
  13. George Chauncey writes that the neighborhood was called the “Ninth Ward” by the Italian immigrants who inhabited it at the turn of the century and only became known as the Village after the “self-styled bohemian ‘Villagers’ who moved there.” Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of a Gay Male World 1890–1940 (New York: Basic, 1994), 228.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Joyce L. Kornbluh, ed., Rebel Voices: An I.W.W. Anthology (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1964), 199.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Mabel Dodge Luhan, Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan, ed. Lois Palken Rudnick (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999), 188.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Linda Nochlin, “The Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913,” in Theatre for Working Class Audiences in the United States, 1830–1980, eds. Bruce A. McConachie and Daniel Friedman (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985), 88.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Anne Hurber Tripp, The IWW and the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 141.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Linda Nochlin, “The Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913,” Art in America 62 (May/June 1974): 64.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Martin Green, New York 1913: The Armory Show and the Paterson Strike Pageant (New York: Scribner, 1988), 197.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    William D. Haywood, The Autobiography of William D. Haywood (New York: International Publishers, 1929), 262.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    “Program of the Paterson Strike Pageant,” republished in “Paterson Strike Pageant,” ed. Brooks McNamara, The Drama Review 15, no. 3 (1971): 61–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 28.
    “The World’s Greatest Labor Play,” in “Paterson Strike Pageant,” ed. Brooks McNamara, The Drama Review 15, no. 3 (1971): 67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 30.
    Allen Churchill, The Improper Bohemians: A Re-creation of Greenwich Village in Its Heyday (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1959), 80.Google Scholar
  24. 32.
    S. E. Wilmer, Theatre, Society and Nation: Staging American Identities (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 39.
    Scott M. Cutlip, Public Relations History: From the 17th to the 20th Century (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1995), 187.Google Scholar
  26. 41.
    Steve Golin, The Fragile Bridge: Paterson Silk Strike 1913 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1988), 161.Google Scholar
  27. 42.
    Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1906–1926) (New York: International Publishers, 1973), 169.Google Scholar
  28. 43.
    Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “The Truth About the Paterson Strike,” address, New York Civic Club Forum, January 31, 1914, reprinted in The Drama Review 15, no. 3 (1971), 70.Google Scholar
  29. 45.
    Carole Klein, Aline (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 62.Google Scholar
  30. 49.
    Linda J. Tomko, Dancing Class: Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Divides in American Dance, 1890–1920 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 85.Google Scholar
  31. 51.
    John P. Harrington, The Life of the Neighborhood Playhouse on Grand Street (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007), 120.Google Scholar
  32. 52.
    Pamela Cobrin, From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880–1927 (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2009), 132.Google Scholar
  33. 54.
    See Cheryl Black’s chapter “Designing Women” in her book The Women of Provincetown, 1915–1922 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  34. 65.
    Irene Lewisohn, “The Playhouse as Laboratory,” The Settlement Journal (March-April 1915): 14.Google Scholar
  35. 66.
    Don Stowell, “Unionzation of the Stage Designer—Male and Female,” Theatre Design and Technology 38, no. 10 (1978): 8.Google Scholar
  36. 70.
    Suzanne Stutman, ed., My Other Loneliness: Letters of Thomas Wolfe and Aline Bernstein (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), 61–64.Google Scholar
  37. 73.
    Mike A. Barton, “Aline Bernstein: A History and Evaluation,” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1971, 15.Google Scholar
  38. 76.
    Elmer Rice, Minority Report: An Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963), 328.Google Scholar
  39. 78.
    Scott Miller’s Rebels with Applause: Broadway’s Groundbreaking Musicals (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2001).Google Scholar
  40. John Bush Jones’s Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  41. 79.
    Loren Kruger, The National Stage: Theatre and Cultural Legitimation in England, France, and America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 168.Google Scholar
  42. 80.
    Ilka Saal, New Deal Theatre: The Vernacular Tradition in American Political Theatre (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 123–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 82.
    Nelson Lichtenstein, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 20.Google Scholar
  44. 83.
    Hallie Flanagan, Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1940), 35.Google Scholar
  45. 97.
    Arthur Arent, “The Technique of the Living Newspaper,” Theatre Arts 22, no. 11 (November 1938): 821.Google Scholar
  46. 108.
    Barry B. Witham, “The Economic Structure of the Federal Theatre Project,” in The American Stage: Social and Economic Issues from the Colonial Period to the Present, eds. Ron Engle and Tice L. Miller (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 201.Google Scholar
  47. 111.
    Jerry Leon Davis, “Howard Bay, Scene Designer,” PhD diss., University of Kansas, 1968, 193.Google Scholar
  48. 112.
    Howard Bay, “Testimony of Howard Bay, Accompanied by His Counsel, Ephraim London,” Before the Subcomm. on Un-American Activities, 83rd Cong. (January 18, 1954).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Christin Essin 2012

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations