Youth Labor in Portland

Underage Workers in Early Exhibition


Though it may not come as a surprise, in the early days of vaudeville there were many instances of criminal or suspicious behavior that was inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) associated with theaters. Not surprisingly theaters at this time were not seen as a regal experience as they once come to be seen. Bookending the era of cinema palaces, were times of social distrust of theater chains and the people associated with their activities. Many were often seen as delinquents or those who encouraged distasteful behavior against the status quo of the time. However, by no means were these claims entirely incorrect. 


It was not an unlikely occasion for movie-goers to encounter some type of interesting situation, which may or may not be either against the law or counter to what many see to be acceptable. One example of such distaste was child labor seen in vaudeville productions, even within the Portland area at the turn of the 20th century. I had discovered one article in my time researching in which it described a handful of shutdowns in a single day. This occurred at 4 or 5 theaters in the area of Downtown Portland, including the Pickford theater (formerly known as the Star theater). In most cases, there was no sense of harm upon the children, as often they were family run shows where parents were involved. However, theaters were very frequently seen as dangerous places for children to be as they could be taught bad habits or develop negative mindsets based on their association with the theater industry. In many instances, the local police were brought in to ensure no children were to be present in any further shows, let alone in the theater at all.