An American Antebellum Child-Actor Contract: Alfred Stewart and the Shift from Craft Apprentice to Wage Laborer

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


On July 27, 1857, Mrs. Hannah Stewart of Cincinnati, Ohio, signed a contract with Robert G. Marsh of New York binding her son Alfred to perform for two years with a theatrical troupe Marsh managed. This was an economically pivotal time for boy workers in all walks of life as traditional apprenticeships mutated into cash wage jobs. The Marsh-Stewart arrangement encompasses elements of both the traditional craft apprenticeship and its successor, the wage job. The case of Alfred Stewart illustrates how the US antebellum theater aligned with contemporaneous industries in treating child performers less like artists and craftsmen and more like laborers. The contract illuminates the dissolution of apprenticeship as the dominant path to an adult acting career.


Child Actor Child Worker Original Contract Habeas Corpus Apprenticeship System 
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© Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow 2014

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  • Shauna Vey

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