Photographs from the Marilyn Smithson Hodgson’s School of Dance and Expression, 1913-1941

Photographs from the Marilyn Smithson Hodgson’s School of Dance and Expression, 1913-1941

Finding Aid

Collection No. P3
D.C. Community Archives


The Marilyn Smithson Hodgson School of Dance was established around 1912 and existed as late as 1956. As a District resident, Madolin Smithson trained and performed with a local dance troupe in her youth. Around 1912, she began giving dance lessons at “academies” located throughout the city, among them was the Naval Lodge Hall at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Miss Smithson married Joseph F. Hodgson around 1918. Her younger sister Lilla Smithson became an instructor at the school in the early 1920s. She choreographed and continued to perform prominent roles in the schools’ annual shows throughout the 1920s. Lilla Smithson married and became Lilla S. Hipsley around 1925.

The school appears to have been primarily a dance school for children but also taught young women in ballet, tap and modern dance. Annual well-attended spring recitals took place in a number of nationally known and community-based District establishments, including the National Theater, the Belasco Theater, Willard Ball Room, Masonic Auditorium, and the Takoma Park Pool.

The school’s residence studio, established in the late 1910s, was at 1320 Longfellow St. NW, with instruction also provided at other locations such as Masonic temples and parish halls. In 1933, the school opened a new larger studio at 1200 Delafield Place NW where it stayed until closing.[1]

Processing Procedures

The photographs, clippings, and programs were originally in scrapbooks. Photographs and some of the programs were removed from scrapbook pages to enhance their physical preservation. Copies of the clippings were made. Photographs are arranged in envelopes by similar stage design, performance, single and group performers, and non-dance portrait photos and snapshots. Since none of the photographs are dated, dates are approximations based on clippings, styles of dance, costume and fashion. 

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists primarily of photographs of dancers from the school with some dance programs and clippings about the school’s performance recitals. They were all originally in scrapbooks. The photographs depict a wide range of dance costumes and dance styles, including ballet, tap, modern, ethnic and exotic. The photographs are stylized and staged shots and appear to have been taken after or before, rather than during performances.

The collection contains mostly black-and-white photographs, but also has a sizable amount of painted black-and-white photographs.   A few non-dance individual portraits and snapshots are also included. Performance programs provide interesting information about the range of performances, performers, and venue for the schools’ annual spring recital. 

The recital was first titled the Annual Spring Carnival but was known at various times as the Children’s Spring Revue, the Juvenile Spring Revue, and the Annual Spring Recital. Names of dancers mentioned often in the records are Lilla Smithson (Hipsley), Jane Howard, Lorraine Mae Nicholson, Ruth Schenkle, Cush family members, Mayerhoffer family members, Ronnie Cunningham, Dorothy Schenken, Zelda Wightman, Jack Hodgson and Elmer Hipsly, to name a few.

Series Descriptions

Series I: Singles, ca. 1910s-1940s, 1 box.

Contains photographs of individual dancers in ballet, tap and modern dance costume. Photographs of Lilla Smithson, dancer with the troupe and sister of Mrs. Hodgson, are of particular significance. The photographs are arranged by date, individual dancer, age range, and similar stage design. See Series IV: Painted Photographs for additional individual shots.

Series II: Groups, ca. 1920s-1940s, 1.5 boxes.

Contains photographs of large and small dance ensembles and couples in ballet, tap, modern, and ethnic costume. The photographs are arranged by decade and then by similar, dance style, stage design or performance. See Series IV: Painted Photographs for additional group shots.

Series III:  Non-Dance Portraits and Snapshots, ca. 1930-1940s, ½ box.

Consists of studio portraits, snapshots and miscellaneous photographs of individuals in street clothes, rather than dance costumeIncluded are a photograph of World War II soldiers on review at Camp Carson, Colorado in 1943; snapshots of WWII-enlisted men and women; a Christmas card with a painted photograph (undated); and a wedding portrait. Painted portraits were placed in this series, not Series IV: Painted Photographs. Photographs are arranged by date and then type.

Series IV: Painted Photographs, ca. 1920s-1940s, 1 box. 

Consists of hand-painted black-and-white photographs of dancers in costume, both in groups and individually. The photographs are arranged by group or single shots, by date, and then by dance style. Some painted photographs are still attached to original album pages due to preservation concerns -- these appear at the end. 

Series V: Clippings and Programs, 1 box.

Consists of original clippings and programs (some still attached to scrapbook pages) for the company’s annual spring recitals. Of interest is a program for “The 1940 Red Cross Aquafette,” a popular local fundraiser for the Red Cross during WWII. The clippings and the programs provide the names and accomplishments of dancers at the school.

Box Inventory

Series I: Singles 

Box 1

  • Lilla Smithson, ca. 1910s
  • Girls, miscellaneous, ca. 1920s (2 envelopes)
  • Women, ca. 1920s-1930s
  • Boys and men only, ca. 1930-1940s
  • Individual women dancers, ca. 1940s (4 envelopes)
  • Women, similar design/performance, ca. 1940s (5 envelopes)
  • Girls, similar design/performance, ca. 1940s (6 envelopes)

Series II: Groups 

Box 2

  • Women’s ensembles, ca. 1930s
  • Couples and trios with boys and girls, ca. 1920s-1930s
  • Women’s ballet, ca. 1930s
  • Wedding scenes with children, ca. 1920s
  • Groups with similar design/performance, ca. 1920s-1930s
  • Tap, ca. 1930s-1940s
  • Girls’ ballet, ca. 1930s-1940s

Box 3

  • Groups with similar design/performance, ca. 1940s (11 envelopes)
  • Children, ca. 1940s
  • Ethnic dance, ca. 1940s
  • Modern & miscellaneous, ca. 1940s
  • Couples, ca. 1940s

Series III: Non-Dance 

  • Portraits, ca. 1920s-1930s
  • Portraits, ca. 1940s
  • Miscellaneous, ca. 1940s
  • Snapshots, ca. 1940s
  • Wedding portrait, ca. 1940s

Series IV:  Painted Photographs 

Box 4

  • Groups, ca. 1920s-1930s
  • Groups, ca. 1940s (2 envelopes)
  • Singles, girls’ toe, ca. 1930s-1940s (3 envelopes)
  • Singes, girls’ tape and other, 1930s-1940s
  • Singles, Women’s tap, ca. 1930s
  • Singles, Women’s toe, ca. 1940s (4 envelopes)
  • Original pages with painted photographs from album, ca. 1920s-1940s

Series V: Clippings and Programs 

Box 5

  • Programs, 1913-1941
  • Copies of clippings, ca. 1907-1942
  • Original scrapbook pages, ca. 1907-1942 (2 folders)
  • Original cover to scrapbook
[1] Performance Programs, 1913-1941; The Washington Times, May 14, 1907; Census, 1910; city Directories, 1913 and 1924.

Prepared by Faye Haskins, March 2000

DC Public Library, Special Collections
D.C. Community Archives

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