Mary P. Burrill

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Mary P. Burrill
Born Mary Powell Burrill
(1881-08-00)August , 1881
Washington, D.C., USA
Died March 13, 1946(1946-03-13) (aged 64)
New York, USA
Occupation Playwright, educator
Nationality United States
Alma mater Emerson College
Information
Genre Drama
Notable work(s) They That Sit in Darkness (1919)
Aftermath (1919)

Mary P. Burrill (August 1881 – March 13, 1946) was an early 20th-century African-American female playwright and educator who also inspired Willis Richardson and other students to write plays.

Biography[edit]

Mary Powell Burrill was born in August 1881 in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John H. and Clara E. Burrill.[1][2] In 1901, she graduated from M Street High School (later Dunbar High School) in Washington, D.C.. When her family moved to Boston, she attended Emerson College of Oratory (later Emerson College), where she received a diploma in 1904.[3]

In 1919, two of her best known plays were published. They That Sit in Darkness was published in Margaret Sanger's progressive Birth Control Review, a monthly publication advocating reproductive rights for women. The other play, Aftermath, was published in Liberator, edited by socialist Max Eastman.[2][3]

The story of They That Sit in Darkness focuses on the effects of having multiple children to a young mother. Despite repeated warnings from midwives for the mother to "be careful" she continues to have children with dire consequences.[4] Sandra L. West of Virginia Commonwealth University in a brief essay on Burrill described the work as controversial for its time because the play advocated birth control as a means to escape poverty long before women were given reproductive rights.[2]

Aftermath is set in rural South Carolina and involves a soldier who discovers that his father has been lynched after he returns from fighting overseas. It was produced by New York City's Krigwa Players in 1928.[2][5]

For many years, Burrill taught English, speech and drama at Dunbar High School. While there, she encouraged several of her students to write plays. One of her prized students was Willis Richardson, who would later become the first African-American dramatist to have a play produced on Broadway. Another was May Miller, who published her first play, Pandora's Box, while still a student at Dunbar.[3]

Upon her retirement from teaching in 1944, Burrill moved to New York City, where she died on March 13, 1946.[3] She is buried in Washington, D.C's Woodlawn Cemetery.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Twelfth Census of the United States (1900) [database on-line], Washington, District of Columbia, Enumeration District: 45, Page: 15B, Lines: 73-76, household of John H. Burrill". United States: The Generations Network. 1900-06-16. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  2. ^ a b c d West, Sandra L. "Mary Powell Burrill 1884?-1946 on North American Women's Drama website". United States: Alexander Street Press. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  3. ^ a b c d Perkins (Ed.), Kathy A. (1990). Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays Before 1950 (First Midland Book ed.). Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 53–56. ISBN 0-253-34358-5. 
  4. ^ Perkins (Ed.), Kathy A. (1990). Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays Before 1950 (First Midland Book ed.). Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 67–74. ISBN 0-253-34358-5. 
  5. ^ Perkins (Ed.), Kathy A. (1990). Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays Before 1950 (First Midland Book ed.). Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 75–?. ISBN 0-253-34358-5. 

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