Question: Liza, in The Life Fantastic, you refer to The Gerry Society when Teresa’s age comes into question. What was The Gerry Society?
Answer: The Gerry Society was founded in 1875 after a woman named Etta Wheeler, who had suffered living with an abusive foster parent, asked why there was a Society for the Protection of Animals (ASPCA)—but nothing similar to protect children? Her question led to the formation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC). One of its founders was named Elbridge Gerry, so the organization was also known as the Gerry Society. Gerry wanted to keep children away from what he called “immoral activities”—such as amusement parks, penny arcades, and live theater. In New York City, children under sixteen were prohibited from performing, and theater owners risked being fined by the Gerry Society if they allowed them onstage. This is why Teresa, in The Life Fantastic, pretends that she is sixteen—and why she and Maeve have to be careful when her younger brother Pascal juggles during Maeve’s performances with her dogs.