Thursday, September 22, 2011

Annie Russell and the Consumptive Ethos of America

            From the 1880s to the 1890s, the consumption rate progressively increased in America as the establishment of the gilded age progressed. Consumption was a main part of the American life during the 19th century, more so than any other century due to the birth of the industrial era. With the birth of the industrial era was a new way of life, of luxury and leisure time. People had the means and the opportunity- at least some people- to become as rich as Andrew Carnegie. Annie Russell was one of many people who reaped the benefits of the opportunities given during the Gilded Age.
            Annie Russell first started on the stage when she was just eight years old- 1871- but it wasn't until the 1880s her career took off. Plays such as Esmeralda and Mice and Men gave her ample recognition. She appeared on the stage in many plays until she retired in 1918. The picture located in Rollins digital archives show Annie Russell as Peggy in Mice and Men. The theatre company gave the actors decent to elaborately made costumes for each play so as to attract attention from the audience and to help the actors/actresses fit in their roles. This costume demonstrated the excessive means companies went through to please the masses not only for the benefit of the people but for themselves so as to bring them profit.
People of the middle class and upper class were able to take an interest in plays such as the ones Annie Russell starred in because of the increased amount of leisure time they were afforded. Being part of those two classes meant that you didn't have to work as hard as those of the lower class. People were willing to spend copious amounts of money to be able to experience social activities such as the theatre and opera. People of the late 19th century consumed in large rates. Those who had the money, consumed more than the lower class; indulging in nonessential commodities, which is why a place like Winter Park was so popular. Those who had the money to do so were free to shop or buy a home in the attractive setting.
Winter Park was home to expensive shops, high priced homes, and beautifully designed architecture. The addition of Rollins added to the large consumption rate, offering people a means to 'consume' education right in the comfort of their city limits.  Rollins College also brought an influx of new residents, which brought profit to the local shops on Park Avenue.  Annie Russell, who was part of that influx of residents, was originally born in Liverpool, England and came to America – specifically New York- in her early adulthood; later, she moved to Florida to teach at Rollins, where Annie Russell theatre was established in her name.
 Consumption played a role in all aspects of life in America, from education and acting, to food and housing. With consumption brought competition between companies and consumer demand. Those who had the most leisure time and money were determined to be part of the middle or upper class due to the wealth generated during the gilded age. Owning a business, being in a higher position than the common worker, or being a white- collared worker meant earning higher wages which then contributed to the consumption prominent in the 1890s.

1 comment:

  1. Anne Russell is great subject explore questions of consumption. A successful actress, her career represented the kind of opportunity for success most women could not hope to imagine. At the same time, she struggle with loss opportunity related to her gender and expectation imposed due to her middle-class social rules.