The Rehearsal Club was the
real-life inspiration for
"Stage Door," the 1936
play by Edna Ferber and
George S. Kaufman. Before
writing the play, Ferber &
Kaufman spent several
weeks lunching at the
club, soaking up the
atmosphere. The play
was adapted for the screen
A Residential Club for Women and Girls
of the Stage
In 1913, just one year before they opened the Professional Children's School, Jean Greer Robinson and Jane Harriss Hall founded The Rehearsal Club for "women and girls of the stage." Located near the theatre district, the club would provide a place to rest and socialize, a lunchroom offering economical meals and, in Mrs. Robinson's words "give a touch of home, friendship and affectionate interest to any girl who comes under its roof." Both women had impeccable social credentials, Jean "Daisy" Robinson was the daughter of the Episcopal Bishop of New York, and Jane Harriss Hall was a much-loved deaconess of the Episcopal Church. Miss Hall had already founded one residential women's club in 1903, The Three Arts Club, which provided accommodation and social life for women studying art, music and drama in New York. Her friend Jean Greer quickly joined her in that effort, serving on the board of The Three Arts Club for over 30 years.
Through their work with The Three Arts Club, Mrs. Robinson and Miss Hall learned of the particular needs of the "women and girls of the Stage," and decided to establish a club exclusively devoted to this population. As Mrs. Robinson wrote in 1922, "the theatre is a playground where old and young alike are lifted out of their every day lives through the art of the 'Make-Believe,' and hearts are touched, and minds refreshed by the unknown friends on the other side of the footlights, who skillfully and patiently, night after night, give us their best."
With the aid of their many friends, two adjoining houses were completely renovated at 218 and 220 West Forty-Sixth Street. As The New York Times (July 6, 1913) reported, "many prominent persons are interested in it, because of the great need for such an association, and every effort will be made to establish this worthy cause on a firm basis." A lunchroom and offices occupied the first floor, with a library, music room and lounge on the second floor where tea was served from 4 to 7 p.m. Overnight accommodation was provided for 20 women on the third and fourth floors. "While on the road," Mary Chapman wrote in 1922, "we are constantly in touch with our Club members, forwarding their mail to all parts of the country and when they return to town they at once report to us for a room." That year 130 girls found accommodation at the club.
In the days when actresses were expected to supply their own costumes, the Club's society patrons donated items for the "Dramatic Wardrobe," a secondhand department where members could borrow or inexpensively purchase suitable clothing for an auditon or stage role. Likewise the cafteria provided inexpensive meals, 6 days a week, served by members of the board and their friends, "bringing us all in closer touch," wrote trustee Edith B. Riker, Chairman of the Cafeteria Committee in 1922. Long before Social Security, unemployment insurance or other safey nets existed, a Relief Committee assisted members of the Club unable to find engagements, with "gifts, loans or advice" and "it is understood that this Committee will gladly give free hospital care to any one who requires it, and the members of the Club who have received various kinds of assistance have shown deep appreciation," wrote Alice Smith, Chairman of the Relief Committee.
Through their work at The Rehearsal Club, Mrs. Robinson and Miss Hall learned of the need for a school for children working on the New York stage and within a year the Professional Children's School was established in borrowed rooms at The Rehearsal Club. -- John Tucker