A History of Legitimate Theatre in St. Joseph, Missouri, 1865-1900

Date of Graduation

Fall 1972


Master of Arts


Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Byrne Blackwood


It is the purpose of this study to provide a written history of legitimate theatre in St. Joseph, Missouri from 1865-1900. The major sources of information in compiling this study were the newspapers during this period and the three Historical Societies of St. Joseph. This study is about St. Joseph, Missouri which was one of the original and most important frontier cities, and to many settlers, the gateway to the West. Through these gates passed some of the finest theatrical talent of the period. The Tootle's Open House was probably most responsible for the high quality of entertainment in the city. With the finest theatre building in the area, it was only natural that the finest professional talent appear there. Tootle's Opera House set the standard, the pace, and the stage for theatre to come. It laid a foundation for good theatrical entertainment which was to bring St. Joseph a wealth of theatre in the years to follow. From 1865-1900 the United States witnessed one of the most prolific eras in professional theatre throughout the country. Never before or since has the entire nation had such an opportunity to attend professional performances of legitimate theatre presented by the best stars of the country. The development of legitimate theatre in St. Joseph is, of course, a reflection of American theatre of the period. St. Joseph's geographical location and the frontier caused it to receive the theatre companies slowly; however, this location and its importance to the westward movement also caused it to see more theatre in the era than any other midwestern city of its size. It can be seen in this study how St. Joseph began its theatrical "career" in 1865 with the touring stock companies. In the year 1872, with the opening of Tootle's Opera House and the Metropolitan Theatre, the growth of legitimate theatre really began in earnest. The development can be traced as the legitimate theatre progressed from stock companies to star companies to combination companies and finally the syndicated circuits. Today none of the theatres mentioned in this study are in existence as theatres. Tootle's Opera Hourse still stands at the corner of Fifth and Francis Street as the Pioneer Building (a four-story office structure). The one time home of the Biojou Theatre (later the Lyceum Theatre) is still recognizable as a theatre but has been converted to a parking garage.

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


© Lawrence J Karasz