Women played an integral role in the theater of the Antebellum and Civil War South. Yet their contributions have largely been overlooked by history. Southern actresses were important public figures who helped mold gender identity through their theatrical performances. Although cast in parts written by men, they subverted the norms of femininity in their public personas and in their personal lives.
Educated and often wealthy but never accepted by the landed elite, women distinguished themselves by carving out an in-between class status, and many proved to be sophisticated entrepreneurs. Southern actresses also helped shape racial perceptions and regional politics as the South entered the Civil War.