Interview: In A Man's World
Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave
Oakley poses for a portrait
Annie Oakley's life spanned years of tremendous change for American women. By the time of her death in 1926, Americans were celebrating the liberated, urban-focused, modern times of the Jazz Age. Women had won the right to vote, wore less restrictive clothes, and followed a changing ideal that was loosening some of the restrictions on women's roles and behavior that had reigned through the 19th century. Though she excelled in shooting, a sport that was traditionally a male domain,Annie Oakley did not align herself with the feminists of her day. Program interviewees Paul Fees, Shirl Kasper, Joy Kasson, Virginia Scharff, Mary Zeiss Stange, Elliott West, and R. L. Wilson explore Annie Oakley's attitude toward women's issues. Questions
How would you characterize the changes for women during Oakley's lifetime? Shirl Kasper, Biographer: She's born before the Civil War. She's born in the Victorian era. And she lives into the modern area, 1926. So much changes during her life. She is a Victorian woman. And yet she seems like a modern woman. She's kind of both... All kinds of things are happening in America. The Industrial Age has come. We're getting all kinds of new machines. We're getting telephones and we're getting sewing machines and we're getting movies, and women are parading for their political rights... Gender expectations are changing. You know, in the Victorian era... women are supposed to be true women. They're supposed to be pious and pure and domestic. They stay home. The husband goes out into the world. Elliott West, Historian: During the late 19th century there were of course women who could be seen on the streets carrying placards and holding conventions for women's rights, advocating greater participation of women in all areas of American life. And there were women, of course, who conformed to a Victorian image, women corseted and always on the verge of a swoon. But most women, as common sense would tell you, fell in between those two extremes. Most women were also caught up in these changes and so that meant, I think, that most women were trying to decide exactly where they stood on the spectrum between those two poles asking themselves what they thought about this, how they felt about this. And what someone like Annie Oakley did was give them an image of someone who really fell between those two poles, who could be seen as reflected in both of those two extremes. Someone therefore that these women could identify with. Was it forward-thinking for Buffalo Bill to hire a woman shooter? Paul Fees, Historian: Before Annie Oakley
was hired for the Wild West show, there were no acts that incorporated women. There were no narrative elements that featured women... Annie Oakley paved the way. The presence of a strong woman -- that is, a western woman, a self-reliant woman -- allowed the show to begin to experiment with narrative elements such as the attack on the settlers' cabin, to make use of one of the strongest American narrative myths, the myth of captivity, and to allow women to begin to show themselves as strong, self-reliant, western, to begin to show themselves as capable of competing with and working with men. Joy Kasson, Historian: I think the idea of a woman shooter, before Annie Oakley, might have seemed to be more along the lines of the freak show. As Dr. Johnson famously said about the dog that walks on its hind legs -- it's not whether it does it well --it's that it does it at all. Virginia Scharff, Historian: Annie Oakley was a self-made woman and a self-made American if ever there was one. This is somebody who triumphed over the most horrible childhood you could imagine, picked up a gun and made her fortune first as a market hunter, and then as an entertainer. She understood the importance of marketing herself. And so when it came to joining the Wild West and...
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