Working on my digitization project yesterday, I came across this announcement printed in a theater program for a production of Shakespeare’s King Henry V performed at the Hollis St. Theatre here in Boston in April of 1901.
TO LADY PATRONS
The established rule at the Hollis St. Theatre, requiring ladies to remove their hats, bonnets, or other head-dress while witnessing the performance, applies to all parts of the auditorium, including the boxes and loges. It is essential to the comfort and convenience of all of our patrons in general that this rule be strictly enforced.
Ladies who are unwilling or unable to conform to the rule are earnestly requested to leave the Theatre without delay, and to recieve the price of their ticket at the box office.
I’m sure someone who knows a great deal more about theater history than I do could talk at more length about the shift in attitudes this represents in the cultural acceptance of women attending the theater and, bless me, being encouraged to sit in a public space with bare heads! I think my favorite bit is the “earnestly requested,” as it has such a polite imploring tone. Contrast that with the “turn off your cell phone” announcements today, which are so often couched in cajoling humor. Not that one method is better or worse, but I do think it says something about the audience that the managers of the theater expected their plea to be taken seriously.