OPERA AND THEATER PIONEER
UT Chattanooga, ’28
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.
Despite racial tensions that crackled that hot Chattanooga summer, Dorothy Hackett Ward didn’t hesitate to go forward with a performance in the housing project. Midway through the play, Ward noticed some of the audience of 250 children had turned from the stage and had begun to run away. Two columns of young adults marched to the stage, attacked the actors and destroyed the set.
For Ward, the show would always go on.
Ward graduated from the University of Chattanooga in 1928 with a degree in French. She then received a master’s of fine arts in drama from Yale University. She returned to Chattanooga as a theater professor in 1938. She led the University Players and established the Harlequin Players—an improvisational street theater troupe for children—during her tenure. For many years, she served as the head of the University of Chattanooga department of drama and speech. In 1964, she achieved high distinction in being named the Guerry Professor of Drama and Speech. She retired from the university in 1975.
But her passion for drama knew no bounds. Ward helped found the Chattanooga Opera and served as its stage director for 32 years. She believed everybody should experience live theater and everyone should act in a play at least once. She created the Festival Players, a professional theater company that traveled around Chattanooga taking the stage to all people.
After her death in 2001, UT Chattanooga named its theater in her memory.