Experimental Marriage: Women in Early Hollywood

April 8–October 9, 2022
A cropped poster of two 1920s couples dancing while one partner looks on disapprovingly at the other two.

In the early days of the American film industry, it was common for women to hold a variety of jobs, including those of producer, director, editor, and writer. The unregulated, nonunionized status of this burgeoning field during the 1910s and ’20s meant that there were fewer barriers to entry; this allowed women the opportunity to excel both on and off camera, particularly on the coasts in California, New York, and New Jersey where new cinema hubs were being developed.

This exhibition focuses on lobby cards advertising Hollywood and East Coast movies made largely by women for women. Typically issued in series of eight, lobby cards functioned as static trailers, showcasing key scenes within a film in order to highlight the plot and lead characters. As their name suggests, they were often displayed in the lobbies of theaters, enticing viewers to come back and see the next film. The particular movies advertised here cover three main topics: women with agency, women who work, and marriage or divorce (or both). Each story was either written, directed, produced, art-directed, edited, or had costumes designed by a woman, and would have been promoted to a predominantly female audience.

Melissa Walker is a Brooklyn-based artist with a lifelong dedication to the art of printmaking and poster history. Melissa currently works at Chisholm-Larsson Gallery, one of the oldest and most respected poster galleries in New York City. Previously, they served as the inaugural Collections Manager at Poster House.

This exhibition comes to Poster House through a generous loan from Dwight M. Cleveland.


Selected Images

A photographic lobby card of a woman surrounded by a group of men.
A Virtuous Vamp, 1919
Designer Unknown
A lithographic image of a woman looking at an object through opera glasses on a red background.
Adam's Rib,, 1923
Designer Unknown
A photographic lobby card of a man and woman looking exasperated.
Flirting With Love, 1924
Designer Unknown
A lobby card featuring three women carrying a large object.
Girls, 1919
Designer Unknown
A lobby card featuring a man and a woman surrounding the title of the film.
Oh, You Women!, 1919
Designer Unknown
A lobby card of a couple pouring liquid into a variety of empty bottles of alcohol.
Six Best Cellars, 1920
Designer Unknown
A lobby card featuring a woman in a men's tuxedo in a lavish living room.
The Amazons, 1917
Designer Unknown
A lobby card featuring a woman in a dress laying down on pelts while a man tries to revive her.
The Weaker Sex, 1917
Designer Unknown