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Hermit and Crow

 Organization

Hermit and Crow began when a cohort of theatrically-inclined male students were disappointed to see the end of annual Trig Cremation shows of Northwestern in the mid-1910s. These students, including Owen L. Coon (http://findingaids.library.northwestern.edu/catalog/inu-ead-nua-archon-392), then established Hermit and Crow—with a name that no one could explain even at the time of the group’s inception in 1915— to produce all-male comic musicals written by Northwestern students. While the musicals were widely acclaimed by the student body, the faculty of Northwestern was less enthusiastic about the new dramatic society, given that Hermit and Crow consistently toed a thin line between coyly risqué and morally objectionable (at least from the perspective of Reverend Amos Patten, the chaplain of Northwestern who railed against the group in chapel in 1915).

As Hermit and Crow was an all-male organization, the female acting parts were performed by men singing falsetto in women’s dresses. While men playing women's parts was not scandalous in and of itself, men dressing up "in the scanty attire of chorus girls" did create tension between the actors and the Northwestern administrators. Conflict with the faculty began in Hermit and Crow’s first year (1914-1915) when, in order to promote their first show, “Celebrities,” Hermit and Crow created a cartoon titled "Boys Will Not Always Be Boys." The cartoon, which featured the men of Hermit and Crow dressed as the provocative women seen on the cover of their songbook (in Folder 6 of this collection), so scandalized some professors on campus that Rev. Patten ordered the promotional placards containing the cartoon to be stripped from campus. Ironically, as a Chicago Tribune article from May 8, 1915, observes, “hundreds of co-eds were soon scattering over the campus tearing down the posters…[to keep] for their rooms,” and the vacant slots left by the stolen placards were soon filled by illustrations of scantily clad women in bathing suits and gymnastics dress advertising the University’s Women's Athletic Association.

From that point onward, all Hermit and Crow shows were subject to pre-approval and censorship by the Northwestern faculty. Many of the early shows, like “Celebrities” in 1915, “Wishing Rose” in 1916, and “Honeymoon Hotel” in 1917, were censored by the faculty, who also disallowed female students from any involvement in the group and freshmen from taking principal parts in the shows.  The risqué reputation Hermit and Crow had gained from its start also led to the group’s hiatus from April of 1917 through January of 1920, in deference to the solemnity imposed by World War I. The group eventually reassembled and staged its first post-war show, “For Heaven’s Sake,” in March of 1920.

The next school year (1920-1921) saw Hermit and Crow reach new heights of popularity and success when they staged two shows rather than a single annual review. “The Love Thief” (December 1920) and “Nine O’Clock Town” (May 1921) brought unprecedented crowds as well as unprecedented financial success. Since its first show in 1915, Hermit and Crow had been plagued by financial difficulty that was only exacerbated by its tense relationship with university administrators who did not wish to fund the group. The financial stability gained by these shows was, however, insufficient to keep the group afloat much longer. Hermit and Crow staged two more shows, “Back to Earth” in 1922 and “Why Worry?” in 1923, that failed to bring in enough receipts to cover their production costs. The group tried to stage one last show in 1924, titled “Let Her Go,” but was unable to complete production or secure an affordable venue.

Articles from The Daily Northwestern describe Hermit and Crow as “defunct” and “disbanded” as early as 1925. Students loyal to Hermit and Crow possibly tried to revive the group, as Joe Miller, Northwestern alumnus and long-time Waa-Mu director, stated in later years that he had participated in a Hermit and Crow production in 1926 that “fizzled.”  Like the legacy of “Trig Cremation” that originally morphed into Hermit and Crow, Hermit and Crow’s remaining members eventually became the men of the “Men’s Union,” which, in turn, became the “Mu” in Waa-Mu. Waa-Mu, which annually stages student-produced, student-written musical shows, was formed from the merging of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) and the Men’s Union (MU), which had both put on musical shows before their integration in 1929.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Hermit and Crow Collection

 Collection
Identifier: 31/6/126
Abstract Hermit and Crow was an all-male theatre organization that was active at Northwestern University from 1914 until roughly 1924. The Hermit and Crow Collection is a sparse aggregation of all materials relating to the group from the Northwestern University Archives general files. The collection is predominantly clippings from various newspapers, clippings from the Northwestern yearbook (Syllabus), and songbooks and programs from the group's shows.
Dates: 1914 - 1971; Other: Majority of material found within 1914 - 1925