The Cherry Sisters: From the Cornfields to Court

Karli Walleser

MC 2001

Here are the links to the various components of my project. The first is a YouTube video of a short clip from a play about the Cherry Sisters. The second is my actual project, and the third is the text of the article ran in The Odebolt Chronicle about the Cherry Sisters.

The Cherry Sisters-Karli Walleser-MC 2001

Articles in The Odebolt Chronicle on the Cherry Sisters

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6 thoughts on “The Cherry Sisters: From the Cornfields to Court

    1. Thanks for the link, Caitie! I knew nothing of the Cherry Sisters before this class. As far as Hammerstein, I knew his history with theater, as my high school put on two of his plays. I wasn’t sure how he started collaborating with Rodgers before reading this article, though. Thanks again!

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  1. Karli, this was an interesting and original topic! I had never heard of the Cherry Sisters before reading this report. How did you become interested in them? Also, you mentioned that after Jessie, Ella, and Effie died the family line died out. Do you know what happened to the other two sisters, Addie and Lizzie, or has that information been lost?

    Also, I never realized that the Cherry Sisters vs. The Des Moines Leader set the current for precedent libel cases, even after covering standards for libel cases in high school civics. Do you know if the term “actual malice” existed as a criterion for libel rulings before the case or originated as a result of the case? Finally, is there any information about how often the Cherry Sisters case is referenced in libel cases today?

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    1. Hi Katie! I had never heard of the Cherry Sisters before Professor Buttry mentioned them in class one day. They caught my interest because they were an early vaudeville group from Iowa. I have familial ties to Iowa and I have been a performer since I was three, so I immediately related to their story and I wanted to find out more.

      As far as the other two sisters, Addie died in 1942 and Lizzie died in 1936. Effie was the final sister to perish in 1944, ending their family line. I did further research on actual malice, and I can’t determine whether it was coined as a term before or because of the Cherry Sisters’ case. I think it gained steam with this case and became more of a concrete platform for libel cases after this ruling. The Cherry Sisters weren’t the first libel case either, but they are often referenced as setting the important precedent for libel cases. I think the general outlandishness of their case is what sets them apart. It’s also humorous, which helps it stand out from other libel cases.

      In my research, I found the Cherry case referenced on almost every libel website I came across. I’m not sure how often it is brought up in the modern-day law class or court case, but it was definitely the most important libel case before the Sullivan case of ’64.

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  2. Karli,

    I was surprised to see your article, I have never heard of the Cherry sisters or their feat to reach stardom. I found the topic humorous and intriguing, however it did made me think as to why the sisters may not have been successful.

    In your opinion, do you think that they were just terrible performers/vocalists, or is the issue more about the role women had in the society in the late 1890’s? It seems that the women were both older and inexperienced in the art of “showbiz”, so I personally tend to lean to the argument that their performances were as terrible as all the reviews seem to indicate. However, when i take into account the elaborate descriptions of the performances, it seems like more of the criticism was on the content of what the sisters were performing and their own appearances. Did you come across any additional information in your research about why their shows were so unwelcomed?

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    1. Hi! Drawing on my own perceptions of what makes a “good” performance, I think the sisters were genuinely terrible at what they did. Yes, they were inexperienced and older, but they reveled in the negative attention. That’s what they were yearning for: attention, whether it be positive or negative. In my research, I came across an interesting hypothesis as to the reason behind the sisters’ naivety to their atrociousness. The blogger thought the women might have been clever business women trying to make some money. They saw that they had success, even if it was only for people to have a good laugh, and they utilized that chance. All of their content was clearly outlandish and over-the-top, but when done right, these factors can make a great show. The sisters just didn’t know how to put on a good one. Some of the prejudice may have been directed at their gender, but female performers could be successful at their time, despite gender inequality. Case in point, the sisters were just plain awful at performing.

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