There is a long history of cross-dressing in theatrical productions. Ancient Greek dramas, Japanese Kabuki theater, and Shakespeare's plays all have a tradition of males performing female roles, as women were not allowed to appear on stage in these milieux. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, both men and women engaged in cross-dressing in vaudeville halls and the Pantomime tradition of Victorian and Edwardian English theater for comic effect, titillation, and as a nod to older traditions. Cross-dressing is also frequently found in the dramatic performances of same-sex educational institutions of that era, for obvious reasons.
The Filson has a collection of early 20th Century photographs from Louisville's Male High School that are as amusing as they are charming. One photograph features the Freshman class of 1903 dressed as ballerinas, while the rest comprise a series of photographs of students dressed as familiar fairytale and nursery rhyme characters such as Little Nancy (Nanny) Etticote, Polly-Put-the-Kettle-On, Margery Daw, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, and a fairy princess, ca. 1901.
These photographs are fascinating on many levels; they provide insight into theater and costume history, attitudes regarding gender and masculinity in the early 20th Century, and the preservation of traditional storytelling and the Edwardian fairytale revival. They also serve as a record of one of Louisville's earliest and most prestigious high schools.