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Women Who Rock: Lydia Thompson

March is National Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a lady we admire each weekday. Since today is the last day of this awesome month, we’ll be going out with a bank, spotlight FIVE women who rock.

LYDIA THOMPSON (1838-1908)

Born in 1838, Eliza Hodges Thompson was a London dancer, actress and theater producer. As a teenager, she toured as a dancer throughout Europe, starring in many successful burlesque shows around London. She won notoriety for introducing burlesque to America in 1868. Thompson traveled the states with her troupe, the British Blondes, from 1868-1874. Their first hit show, “Ixion,” was a comedy that featured cross-dressing women playing men’s roles.

Thompson’s shows included a mix of pantomime, burlesque, improvisation, singing, dancing and racy costumes. The scantily clad dancers wore skirts that were above the knee and flesh-colored tights. While they never appeared in the nude, the shows were popular because they were sexually suggestive and drew attention to the female body.
Thompson’s performances were a radical change from the typical Victorian fare that had women covered up from head to toe. The shows were not scripted and broke the rules of gender and class. Profitable shows run by women were unheard of before Thompson’s troupe became popular.

Many women produced shows modeled after the British Blondes, each seeking to outdo the other by being more risqué. Meanwhile, Thompson’s performances drew large crowds of middle-class men and received plenty of criticism, but it only made her troupe more famous. She returned to England in 1874 and continued to star in and manage productions until 1904. She died four years later.

Further Reading:

  • Lydia Thompson: Queen Of Burlesque by Kurt Ganzl
  • Wikipedia: Lydia Thompson
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