This 25-second "kinetoscope" shot on Vitagraph's roof-top studio in New York City by Thomas A. Edison Inc. in 1898/1899, sheds light on shifting notions of girlhood at the turn of the 20th century. In Victorian children's stories, a father who buried his head in a newspaper was a standard trope that spoke of paternal preoccupation with the pressing demands of the world beyond the home at the expense of a sad yet submissive daughter. Tricking father into thinking that a fly is tickling his neck, the middle-class girl in this short narrative reveals a number of different profound social forces at work at the dawn of the modern age: the erosion of paternal authority and the ascendance of an active, assertive, and imaginative girlhood.
The mischievous boy who was as devilish as he was delightful had appeared widely in literature (e.g., Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn), American genre painting, and popular culture (including Edison's 1904 films based on the turn-of-the-century cartoon character, Buster Brown). However pervasive among boys and as a symbol of boyhood, there was no counterpart among representations of girls in American culture. This film of the female troublemaker reveals the ways in which girls were expanding their boundaries as well as the growing acceptance of a broader range of roles for girls, including comedy. Little Mischief's prank not only tickled her father, but turn-of-the-century viewers.
Little Mischief, Children and Youth in History