Emerging in the 1850s, elocutionists recited poetry or drama with music to create a new type of performance. The genre—dominated by women—achieved remarkable popularity. Yet the elocutionists and their art fell into total obscurity during the twentieth century. Today we barely remember the ubiquity of the genre. Indeed, we barely remember elocutionists at all.
Marian Wilson Kimber is working hard to revive awareness of this pop culture phenomenon of yesteryear. Her recent book The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word explores the world of these forgotten performers, their art, and their appreciative audiences. Now Wilson Kimber has opened up the wayback machine to give we twenty-first century people a look at the elocutionists in action. How? She became an elocutionist. Well, kind of. Not exactly. But in the neighborhood. Living the scholarship, Wilson Kimber has dropped four videos onto YouTube recorded at a recent elocutionist’s recital at the University of Iowa. The first is above. The rest are available via easy links. If you think entertainment in the late 1800s consisted solely of Wild West Shows, shooting passenger pigeons, and hog calling, think again!