University life and culture of the Arden Club at SMU reflects a microcosm of the broader political and arts landscape of the city of Dallas. My era of study for the Arden Club was 1920-1921. This is a time in American history where the country is thriving in the dawn of the roaring 20s. There is a surge of economic prosperity which resulted in urban growth and an increase in the arts. Social correlations between politics and the arts allow us to observe the rise in social reform when the arts are thriving.
In the 1920s the feminist movement is at its peak in America. As women continue to fight for their rights, America’s artistic identity is also thriving through theater and music. The more involved in the arts a community is, the more connected they are with the social welfare of their community. Art allows us to express ourselves more freely and in a way theater allowed women leaders to rise up, specifically leaders like Mary McCord. Mary McCord was the director and founder of the Arden Club in SMU and without her initiative there would not have been an Arden Club, much less a theater department at Meadows. The fact that the leader of this artistic movement was a woman and not a man reflects the rising impact women were having in society. Mary McCord was a leader on SMU campus and her leadership reflected the rise in women leadership in the city of dallas.
In a 1921 June release of the Dallas Morning News the paper announced the premiere of “The Winter’s Tale” with its cast and a show synopsis of the plot. In the description of the characters the author references the female lead before the male which is important to notice. The article highlights the lead roles of Gus L. Ford and Katherine Hurt equally, mentioning where they are from, their lead roles and past theater experience. This time period in America reflects the height of the women’s rights movement and through this small article, we have a tiny glimpse of gender equality in the theater plane of Arden Club and Dallas. If she had been belittled despite her role as a lead character that would have been historically disappointing. The fact that the author praises both the male and female roles equally reflects the city’s equal appreciation for excellency in the arts for both males and females. Also, the face of Katherine Hunt is on the front of the article, and not the male lead actor which gives her even more recognition and elevating her status as a female lead actress. Another key actress was Margaret Hyer. She appears in many of the programs and minutes during her time at Arden Club, as part of the crew and cast. She was a leader in their troupe and encouraged others to speak their minds freely.
The most iconic piece of music in this era of American history is Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. The Rhapsody is an emblem of diversity and metropolitan growth in America. It represents the social movement aiming to accept and welcome people of diverse backgrounds. Immigration rates increased during this era, even further promoting colorful cultural landscape. In a way, music keeps us connected with our humanity. The sensitive side of our beings that connect with others is cultivated through the arts, and reminds us that we are all human no matter our differences. By combining the classical composing technique and new jazz styles, the composer supported cross cultural integration of music which is another reflection of social reform.
The majority of the plays performed by The Arden Club in this era were of the timeless works of William Shakespeare. On June 13th 1921 there was a picture taken of Katherine Hurt with another young boy on the steps of Dallas Hall. The photo shows them in the middle of a performance with exquisite costumes adorned with precise design. The attention to detail and quality of the costuming is impressive in itself but also considering the novelty of the club in 1921, it reveals the genuine passion and care they gave to every element of their production. Hurt is adorned in embellished The use of classical Shakespearean theater has created a culture of tradition and conservation of the arts that persists even today. While The Arden Club was an artistic light for the SMU community, Dallas was also thriving through the construction of the Majestic Theatre which was built in 1921. The Majestic Theatre was part of a street that was called in that time “Theatre Row”. Some important people that performed in the Majestic are Ray Bolger, Sally Rand, Duke Ellington, and Bob Hope; the same Bob Hope after which the main theatre in Meadows is named after today. The influences of the Arden Club and theater arts in the 1920’s have created repercussion across the decades that overflows into the artistic landscape today. Today Dallas has the largest arts district in the country. The growth in our city has resulted in a vibrant arts economy that has flourished significantly faster than our neighbor city, Fort Worth. The urban vibrancy of Fort Worth is not as developed as Dallas and the development of the arts have had a foundational impact to our history.
“Arden Club At SMU to Give Play Tuesday.” Dallas Morning News, 12 June 1921, p. 12.
“Hundreds Attend SMU Sessions.” Dallas Morning News, 18 June 1921, p. 16.
Students, Southern Methodist University. “Good Sized Audience at Club Plays.” The Campus,
23 Feb. 1921, p. 1.
“Theater Would Be An Asset for Dallas.” Dallas Morning News, 14 Feb. 1921, p. 4.