Kith and Kin: How Ruth Ellen Gould Dolese and Edith Dunham Foster Created the Educational Film Catalog

by Martin L. Johnson (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Abstract: The emergence of the educational film field in the 1910s coincided with what André Gaudreault has called the ‘institutionalization of the cinema’. The commercial side of the industry was well capitalized and set about creating a distribution system predicated on rapid exchange, and disposal, of reels for theatrical exhibition. But groups interested in educational uses of the cinema — schools, churches, civic organizations, and prisons — were ignored by the industry, as were their desires for balanced programs that were invested in capturing the diversity of human thought and experience. In the United States, two women, Ruth Ellen Gould Dolese, of the General Film Company, and Edith Dunham Foster, of the Community Motion Picture Bureau, brought order to an unruly American cinema by collecting, classifying, and cataloguing films. In this paper, I recreate the social and intellectual histories of these two women, who helped make film legible as an educational medium.

Martin L. Johnson is an Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His first book, Main Street Movies: The History of Local Film in the United States, was published by Indiana University Press in 2018.