18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Friday, April 4, 1913: We practiced for the last time tonight. Am glad it is over. This certainly has been a late to get to bed week for me and I am beginning to feel the effects of it. They blackened me up tonight. I had an awful time a-getting it off my face afterwards.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
Whew, I find diary entries like this one really difficult—and hope that you can help me figure out the best way to think about it.
I want to feel happy that the dress rehearsal for the class play went well—but I also want to look at this entry within the larger context of social history. Let me try to explain–
Grandma played the role of Chloe the servant in the class play. This entry confirms what I think many of us suspected—Grandma wore blackface when she played this role.
According to Wikipedia, blackface was a type of makeup that performers used in the late 19th century and early 20th century to “create a stereotyped caricature of a Black person.” It is very controversial; and “played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions worldwide, but also in popularizing black culture.”
A hundred years ago, blackface was accepted and audiences thought that blackface characters were funny. Grandma probably enjoyed hamming it up as she played the role of Chloe. (Back in January when the play was cast, she’d written, “I am Chloe the negro servant. That was the part I really wanted.)
The civil rights movement in the 1960s brought about so many positive changes. At that time Grandma would have been in her 60s and 70s. Did she ever think back to when she was a teen who played Chloe in blackface?. . .
You may enjoy reading a previous post that I did on a related topic: