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Women’s History Month

All-Star #18: Catherine Littlefield

Women’s History Month

All-Star #18: Catherine Littlefield

A governor. The world’s first computer programmers. Lawyers, doctors, writers, artists and activists. Philadelphia’s history is full of incredible, history-making women whose stories, unfortunately, are often all but missing from the history books.

It shouldn’t take a dedicated month—Women’s History Month—to recognize the contributions of these heroines. But in honor of the occasion, we scoured history to find several badass Philly women to celebrate for our Women’s History Month All-Stars.

RELATED: A cadre of visionary women are behind Guild House Hotel—a newly opened boutique hotel that celebrates the history residing in our buildings by giving props to the early feminists who initially occupied the property.

18

Catherine Littlefield

Philadelphia Ballet Founder

Catherine Littlefield

Philadelphia Ballet Founder

1905–1951

Dance teacher Caroline Littlefield had spent her career training talented Broadway and film stars like Ann Pennington and Jeanette MacDonald. So it was no surprise that her daughter Catherine, whom Caroline began training at only 3 years old, would go on to be one of the premier American ballerinas in the 20th century.

At age 15, Littlefield performed for New York producer Florenz Ziegfeld, who was so impressed that he put her in the Broadway show Sally in 1920. At this time, her mother, Caroline, became ballet mistress for a Philadelphia opera company and Catherine became their lead female ballerina. Later, she would serve as choreographer.

In 1935, Littlefield and her mother founded the Littlefield Ballet Company, later known as the Philadelphia Ballet. Caroline served as director, Catherine as choreographer and lead dancer, and Dorthea Littlefield, Littlefield’s younger sister, was the company’s first soloist.

The company was the first American ballet company to achieve fame at a national and international level. Composed largely of U.S. trained dancers—most of them from Philadelphia—the company performed ballets with American music and characters.

The Philadelphia Ballet disbanded after many of the male dancers went into the military at the start of World War II. Littlefield then focused on choreographing broadway shows and even worked in TV for a period of time.


EDUCATION

  • Studied with Russian ballet masters Lubov Egorova and Ivan Tarasoff.


ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Served as lead female ballerina and choreographer for the Philadelphia Opera Company
  • Performed in and choreographed broadway shows
  • Founded the Littlefield Ballet Company, later the Philadelphia Ballet, with her mother
  • Directed New York’s Roxy Theatre ballet corps.


FINAL WORDS:
“Littlefield was amongst the first choreographers to bring concert dance to broader venues, and her legacy lives on today in her enduring influence on generations of American ballet dancers,” the biography Catherine Littlefield: A Life in Dance says.


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