The early days

To provide a specific date for the emergence of the cinema usherette is challenging. However, photographic evidence* shows that some cinemas had a defined, uniformed workforce as early as 1910. We also know that the presence of a female in the theatre itself was recognised as an advantageous asset in the U.S. at this period. “Female ushers were introduced into movie theaters as a refining element as early as 1910.” ** Equally, their appearance coincided with the emergence of safety regulations that were brought about by the 1909 Cinematograph Acts and the concerns relating to the potential risk of fire because of the flammable nitrate film stock. Portsmouth Corporation (U.K.) minutes reveal that applications for Cinematograph Licences had to comply with a number of stringent regulations. These included the installation of swing fire doors and the order that “not less than two attendants for the first 100 persons thereof, and one extra attendant for each additional 100 persons or part thereof beyond the first 100 attending a performance shall be on duty inside the premises…” ***And, with many cinemas having a capacity that exceeded 1800, it is possible to speculate that hiring females (as with the majority of occupations at this time), would have been the cheapest option. It is clear though, that by the early 1930s the usherette was an established part of the cinema workforce and a significant contributor to its collective identity. 

*See section on uniforms in the Gallery
**Lant, Antonia, (2006, pg 579) Red Velvet Seat, London: New York, Verso
***City of Portsmouth Council Minutes, U.K. (1930, p1129)

Leave a Reply