Mrs. Wilkins Dances

in Whose Fair?

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780226293103
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226293127 | DOI:
Mrs. Wilkins Dances

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This chapter suggests how we might think about photography in its multiple contexts, focusing on one photograph: a remarkable shot taken by Jessie Tarbox Beals entitled “Mrs. Wilkins, Teaching an Igorrote-Boy the Cake Walk.” This astounding depiction of a white woman dancing with a dark, almost naked Filipino youth, suggests the need to inquire closely into ways that the visitors might have comprehended the omnipresent enactments of racial sentiment at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The photograph challenges us to rethink generalizations about race made by contemporary historians. While it is unusual, it offers heightened possibilities for demonstrating what a deep reading can accomplish. To understand this photograph, the chapter explores the varied historical contexts within which it might have been viewed at the time, linking it, as well, to other transgressions of racial codes that exploded on the fairgrounds. It examines the overtones of American racial thinking current at the time as they were reflected in and challenged by Mrs. Wilkins's dance.

Keywords: photography; St. Louis; dance; Filipino youth; Jessie Tarbox Beals; race; white woman; photograph

Chapter.  11124 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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