Historic Photos: 1923 Dance Pageant held in Benicia

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.

The Pageant grounds, Benicia Historical Museum

1923 Solano Historical Pageant

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.

Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum

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.




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Tuesday Teaser: Ballet, Rodarte, and the Kingdom of Style

Last week, Fashion blog Kingdom of Style put up a thoughtful and visually stunning post on the connections between the design duo known as Rodarte, Black Swan and the links between dance and fashion. It highlights a new collaboration between ‘big name’ fashion designers and the English National Ballet.

Coupled with the coverage of the capsule collections Rodarte made for Pitti Uomo and Pitti W, it turned into quite a Rodarte-focused week around many blogs (see Exhibiting Fashion and The Fashion Informer for examples).

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Dance Costumes Collection at the Bancroft, 1913-1945

Last week  I came upon the most marvelous collection of Dance artifacts while I was doing a bit of research via Calisphere (a digital consortium of primary sources via the University of California) and the California Digital Library. The beauty of these illustrations stopped me dead in my tracks. Called the Paget-Fredericks Dance Collection, it includes about 2,000 drawings, photographs, paintings and memorabilia that date from between circa 1913 and 1945.

It is the collection of San Francisco born artist Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks (for those interested, the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library also houses a collection of his papers dating from 1920-1960). He was a student  of Léon Bakst, and “his dance drawings and paintings were exhibited in Europe and the United States”(via the finding aid). He later published a book, I Shall always Love the West: Impressions of the Incomparable Anna Pavlova during her several Visits to California (1952).

Nearly 400 of these works are available online through the Online Archive of California (OAC). It includes works depicting great as well as unknown dancers in the 20th century – such as Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova and Ruth St. Dennis.  Though not available, researchers should note that the collection includes illustrations of Adolph Bolm and Louisa Casati, among others. Happily, this collection also includes set and costume designs for Swan Lake at the SF Opera House, a number of productions at the Greek Theater in Berkeley and for a number of ballets and performances.

As I was scrolling through the collection, I came upon what appears to be a gold mine: “1964.020, Historic Dance Costumes“: this section included costumes belonging to Loie Fuler, Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan (even Marie Taglioni’s fan!) are included here (These are a part of 30 dance costumes on long term loan from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). Sadly, no photographs of these pieces are included online.

In total though – it’s a vast collection – and I hope to find some time in the near future to see if any of it relates to my current research (which it might!). I could spend hours going through these photographs and illustrations, but I’ve chosen just a few to highlight here. Some of them have no captions, dates or titles. But some of real gems – including some pithy ones like “Isadora–far too heavy… if only she would cut down and diet!”.

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Natacha (Rambova) in the News

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times brought with it a mention of Natacha Rambova – the woman whose fashion and costume design career I’ve been researching for the last eight years. It always thrills me to come upon new (or not-so-new research). Times reporter, Chris Erskine, took a road trip to Crown Point, Indiana where Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino were married.

(Lake County Courthouse, in the county seat of Crown Point, Ind., is where silent star Rudolph Valentino was wed. Via the Los Angeles Times)

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