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Dean of the Women Playwrights: Martha Morton (1865–1925)

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Abstract

In August 1892, the American Dramatist Club gathered in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, for their monthly meeting. Martha Morton, an up-and-coming playwright, was the invited guest, but while the men met at the Grand View Hotel, Morton lunched with their wives in a nearby cottage.3 Fifteen years later in March 1907, the American Dramatist Club finally broke their long-standing men-only tradition by inviting established women dramatists to join them for their yearly dinner at Delmonico’s. It was at this auspicious event that Morton, now known as the “Dean of the Women Playwrights,” announced the formation of the Society of Dramatic Authors, consisting of thirty women and one man. In her address to Club members Morton concluded: “Gentlemen, we are not going to blame you for something of which you are entirely innocent—about which you were never even consulted—your sex—we are not going to ostracize you because you are merely men—we invite you all!. … All dramatists are one in their work; therefore, as moderns we make no restrictions of nationality or sex.”4 Shortly thereafter, the two groups merged into the Society of American Dramatists and Composers, forerunner to today’s Dramatists Guild.

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  • York Time
  • Veteran Woman
  • Truth Teller
  • Adirondack Mountain

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A woman, by her sex, is debarred from being “in the swim,” as the vulgar parlance has it. This is a very serious difficulty a woman has to overcome, and there is no doubt that this explains why so few women have succeeded in writing for the stage.

—Martha Morton, 18911

It is very hard to tear one’s self from a task that is so pleasant as the work of playmaking.

—Martha Morton, 18962

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Notes

  1. Lucy France Pierce, “Women Who Write Plays,” The World Today 15 (July 1908): 725.

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  2. Ada Patterson, “A Chat with the Dean of America’s Women Playwrights,” Theatre 10 (October 1909): 130.

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  3. John Maddison Morton, obituary, New York Times, December 22, 1891, p. 2.

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  4. According to Phyllis Hartnoll, ed., The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 366, Thomas Morton is best remembered for creating Mrs. Grundy, symbol for conventional British propriety; Mrs. Grundy was a character who is discussed but who never appears in the comedy, Speed the Plough (1800). His best-known work was most likely The School of Reform (1805).

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  5. Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century (New York: 1893), 525.

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  6. The charity was for the Monteviore Home for Chronic Invalids. See: “The Travesty on ‘May Blossom,’” New York Times, May 2, 1885, p. 8. “Burlesquing ‘May Blossom,’” New York Times, May 4, 1885, p. 5. George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), 13:496.

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  7. The Academy of Music was located on 14th Street, two blocks east of Union Square. Mary C. Henderson notes in The City and the Theatre (New York: Back Stage Books, 2004), 100: “Until the late 1860s, the Academy marked the northern end of the theatrical zone.”

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  8. Martha Morton, Hélène Buderoff; or, A Strange Duel (New York: John W. Lovell, 1889); A Strange Duel; or, Hélène Buderoff (New York: Lovell, Coryell & Company, 1895).

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  9. Gerald Bordman, The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 173.

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  10. John Chapman and Garrison P. Sherwood, The Best Plays of 1894–1899 (New York: Dodd, 1955), 34.

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  11. Martha Morton, A Bachelor’s Romance (New York: Samuel French, 1912), 6.

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  12. J. T. Grein, “Mr. John Hare in ‘A Bachelor’s Romance’” (January 9, 1898), in Dramatic Criticism (London: John Long, 1899), 26; Athenaeum, January 15, 1898, p. 96.

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  13. Einar Lauritzen and Gunnar Lundquist, eds., American Film-Index 1908–1915 (Stockholm: Universiry of Stockholm, 1976), 31. 125. Dramatist (January 1915): 596.

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  14. Martha Morton, Her Lord and Master (New York: Samuel French, 1912), 33.

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  15. Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1869–1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 562–63.

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  16. Clayton Hamilton, “Imitation and Suggestion in the Drama,” Forum 42 (November 1909): 440.

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  17. New York Tribune, October 5, 1909, sect. VII, p. 1. Dixie Hines and Harry Prescott Hanaford, eds., Who’s Who in Music and Drama (New York: Hanaford, 1914), 259.

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  18. Ada Patterson, “The Story of a Successful Woman Playwright,” Theatre 7 (November 1907): 302.

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© 2007 Sherry D. Engle

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Engle, S.D. (2007). Dean of the Women Playwrights: Martha Morton (1865–1925). In: New Women Dramatists in America, 1890–1920. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230609365_2

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