The Birth of Film: Women as Audience
Loew's Palace Theater
Loew's Palace Theater in Washington, DC.
Library of Congress, LC-H25- 91926-G.
Theater owners used a variety of tactics to win the patronage and approval of middle-class female customers. Marketing techniques involved use of existing mediums with which middle-class women were already familiar. One example used by producers was to place ads and coupons in women’s magazines that advertised moving pictures that specifically targeted homemakers, who already spent many of their days shopping in department stores.

Taking advantage of this trend, theater owners actually partnered with department stores to make movie-going a seamless part of the shopping routine. This partnership involved promotional tie-ins and added conveniences. Some movie theaters even went so far as to provide women storage space where they could leave their purchases while they viewed films. They also set aside special time for women viewers (and their children) to come to theaters, promoting afternoon matinees just for women, or roping off sections of the theater where women could view films without having to worry about the perceived dangers of hetero-social mixing. To further link movie-going to the burgeoning consumer culture, many theaters began to sell promotional items or souvenirs related to films in gift shops outside the theater so patrons could take a part of their film-going experience home with them afterwards.

Loew's Palace Theater
Loew's Palace Theater in Washington, DC.
Library of Congress, LC-DIG-hec-20746.

Theater owners did not just focus on linking movie-going to the familiar act of purchasing consumer goods; they also sought to re-imagine the physical space in which they displayed their films in order to dispel notions of movie-going as a dangerous activity fit only for the lower-classes. Once again, they appealed to the tastes and mores of their female customers when considering how to make movie theaters a respectable public space. The most immediate noticeable change was in the physical design of the theaters themselves—movie theaters were redesigned to emulate the appearance of high-class stage theaters and opera houses. These more traditional theaters had often been viewed as places of social interaction, not just artistic performances, and this was another quality theater owners sought to recreate. They built their new movie palaces with grand lobbies large enough for socializing and decorated them with mirrors that promoted public display. As a result, movie theaters became a place of social display. Women often dressed up in their best to attend movie screenings, expecting to see and be seen.

Going beyond redesigning the physical space of movie theaters, theater owners also hired female employees to demonstrate that movie-going was a safe activity. Female ushers and ticket-takers put a feminine face on the business itself. Theater owners often employed women in ticket booths as well. Ticket booths were the first experience any patron had with a movie theater, and therefore hiring a woman to sell tickets immediately added the legitimizing factor of a female presence. Employing women at movie theaters followed the logic that if theaters employed tasteful women, then the theater must be a safe place for women to patronize..