My small hometown of Benicia, CA has a historical museum whose website includes several groups of ‘mystery’ vintage photographs. Though places, dates, and people aren’t always known. These photographs provide a remarkably clear record of what people were wearing in times gone by. I’d guess that the majority of the photographs on this website come from the interwar years, specifically the teens and twenties. There are pictures of the Benicia High sports teams, old cars, the fire department, and something called the “John Laurence Molfino Biography.”
My personal favorite though, is the selection of photos of a pageant dance held in an open field in 1923, that was VERY well attended.
According to the Oakland Tribune, the 1923 Solano County Historical Pageant was attended by 10,000 people. It seems that this Pageant was put on by a federation of several different women’s social clubs. Held in Benicia on May 11, 1923, the pageant included nine different episodes and required nearly five hours to watch the entire show.
Both the Solano Republican and the Oakland Tribune indicated that the dance director was Mrs. A. G. Bailey of Suisun. Though not all of the costumes are of this style, the photos I’ve included here SO strongly resemble the costumes and dance styles of Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller – I can’t help wonder if either of them were involved somehow. Both women were in the Eastern Bay Area in the teens and twenties. At the very least, I suspect Mrs. Bailey had seen them perform. Interestingly, the composer of the music for the pageant, Dr. Douglas Wright, was from Berkeley – where much Bohemian artist activity was centered.
The Solano Republican goes on to explain that “The cunning little costume drawn by Miss Doddson is simple, but altogether charming.” Emma Doddson of Suisun was, in fact, the Artistic Director, for the entire show. I would guess that it was her vision that created these designs. Interestingly, the publicity manager – Miss E.C. Stove, arranged for rotating exhibits (including dresses) to travel to all the different towns involved to attract attendees.
Sabine Goerke-Shrode*, did a good bit of research on this event, and found in her 2004 article that a good portion of the remaining design, writing, organizing and construction work was done at Armijo High School. Other photos in this collection show young girls in traditional ballet costumes, as well as in period costume (as well as performers dressed as military, spanish and native american costumes).
Those interested in reading more about the Pageant itself can download this coverage of the event from the Oakland Tribune in 1923 (Click here to download the PDF). I’d love to hear from anyone who might have additional information on these photographs and as always, anyone with ideas is welcome to comment. For more of the photos, please visit the Benicia Historical Museum.
*Additional photos on Pageant can be found here.
1. Goerke-Shrode, Sabine. “Helping to make their Communities Better,” Historical Articles of Solano County, September 19, 2004.
2. Goerke-Shrode, Sabine. “Pageant showed panorama of early Solano” Historical Articles of Solano County, October 3, 2004.
3. Goerke-Shrode, Sabine. Images of Fairfield. Arcadia Publishers, 2005.
4. Henry, Rideout and Wadell. Berkeley Boehia: Artists and Visionaries of the Early 20th Century. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2008.
5. “10,000 see pageant at Benicia,” Oakland Tribune, May 20, 1923, pg. A.