Audience taken back in time

Michele LaRue poses after her performance of “Someone Must Wash the Dishes: An Anti-Suffrage Satire” at Waterville Library May 4. (Empire Press photos/ Karen Larsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

 

Except when we are taking U.S. History in high school or college, we may rarely consider that just 100 years ago those who were convinced that women should be given the right to vote were engaged in an intense debate with those who felt that such a step would be against nature, God and the integrity of the nation.

On May 4, Michele LaRue, a guest performer from New Jersey, gave an audience of about a dozen Waterville women the chance to go back in time and enter into the thought patterns of an early 20th Century upper class white woman in the anti-suffrage satire “Someone Must Wash the Dishes.” The satire was written by the suffragist Marie Jenney Howe in 1912. La Rue’s performance featured Mrs. Harry Horatio Hemmenway, otherwise known as “Our dear friend Alice,” as the main character.

The performance was one of a tour of 10 arranged for NCRL libraries from April 25 through May 5. In addition to “Someone Must Wash the Dishes,” LaRue performed two other in her repertoire of “Tales well told: thirty one-woman programs from America’s Gilded Age” at the various branches. She also performed “The Bedquilt” for a group of quilters in Seattle.

LaRue had her Waterville audience alternately laughing and shaking their heads at what today seems such nonsensical reasoning used by Hemmenway.

One of her first arguments was to have each audience member look at the woman next to her and ask herself if that woman, as weak as she is, could mark a ballot and drop it in a ballot box.

In order to underline the contradictory logic of the anti-suffrage movement, Howe included a series of couplets in her argument.

“If you don’t like one, you will like the other,” Hemmenway told her audience.

For example, women would vote exactly as their husbands did, simply doubling the vote and on the other hand, women would vote against their husbands, dividing the home.

The soliloquy underscores that suffrage opponents included women as well as men. LaRue said that many opponents were women who were comfortable financially and didn’t see any need for change.

Following the performance, LaRue gave background information about Howe, the satire and the suffrage movement.

Several audience members asked questions or shared experiences, and the group seemed to enjoy having some time to talk informally with LaRue. LaRue, for her part, said that it is unusual for her to have such a small, intimate audience, which happened to be all female, like the supposed parlor audience of the soliloquy. Furthermore, the occurrence in the Waterville Library, with its living room feel, gave an authenticity that is unique.

“It felt more real to me because of you,” LaRue told the audience.