Social Customs and Daily Life Research Guide

A Brief History

Widespread professional operatic activity in the heartland of America in the late nineteenth century formed the hub of social and cultural life in many communities. In the spring of 1869, Kansas City hosted its first professional opera performance when the Brignoli Italian Opera Company presented Gaetano Donizetti's Don Pasquale, in Italian. A new chapter in the town's cultural history began in 1870, with the opening of the Coates Opera House, a fully equipped theater with ample seating capacity. Located at what became the intersection of Tenth Street and Broadway, the opera house was situated across the street from the city's finest hotel, also erected by Coates, on the edge of town. The new place of amusement ensured its popularity by catering to female patrons. Aware that women had rarely attended theatrical events in Kansas City prior to 1870, the management of the Coates encouraged female attendance by introducing matinees for women and children. Soon the Coates Opera House became a gathering place for Kansas City society and remained the community's premier theater until the end of the century.

As a thriving commercial center, St. Louis attracted nearly all the major organizations and prominent singers who toured across America. By 1886, grand opera was firmly established as a staple in the city's cultural diet, there having been visits by one or more professional troupes in every year since the close of the Civil War. The operatic engagements of 1886 capped an unbroken succession of annual visits to St. Louis by professional companies stretching back fully twenty years. These visits continued with regularity for the remainder of the century. St. Louis patrons showed great enthusiasm for opera, as evidenced by the amount of attention paid to the art by the press and public, not to mention the generous number of engagements accorded the city by the troupes themselves.

Articles from Missouri Historical Review and Missouri Times


Many of the State Historical Society of Missouri's holdings are included in the SHSMO online catalog. Numerous titles can be found by typing the keywords "daily life," "customs," and/or "social customs" into the catalog search bar.


The State Historical Society of Missouri's manuscript collections contain personal papers and other materials, which either report or depict daily activities, social customs, and other aspects of social interaction at all levels of society. Examples of such collections include the Ula Sharon Robinson Bergfeldt Papers offering personal and professional materials of a professional dancer, teacher, producer, and founder of the Kansas City Dance Theatre that outline social life in Kansas City, and the Cornett Family Papers providing letters and records that document the agricultural background of northern Missouri.

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Beginning with the July 26, 1808, issue of the St. Louis Missouri Gazette, SHSMO’s newspaper collection offers researchers a wealth of information about the day-to-day lives of Missourians and the political, cultural, economic, and religious events that have influenced them. Available in 1,270 bound volumes and on over 56 million pages of microfilm, these Missouri newspapers document events and public opinion from the state’s rural environs to its largest metropolitan areas. A dynamic collection, some three hundred current newspapers, from every Missouri county, are added to the collection each week.

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Oral Histories

Several State Historical Society of Missouri oral history collections document the daily life of Missourians.

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Highlighted Collections


The images in the State Historical Society of Missouri photograph collections provide a striking visual documentation of Missouri's people, places, and events. Explore a small portion of the photograph collections online.

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  • 417: Springfield's Lifestyle Magazine. Springfield, MO.: Whitaker Pub. [H268.04 Sp84f]
  • Ozark Hills & Hollows. Exeter, Mo.: Exeter Press. [F586 Oz161]
  • St. Louis Life Magazine. St. Louis, MO.: Mesa Marketing. [H235.04 Sa24Li2]