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Although it focuses on early German (rather than American) films, and
although it is --at present-- only available in German, by far the best
book-length study of gender politics in early cinema is Heide
Schluepmann's Unheimlichkeit des Blicks. Das Drama des fruehen deutschen
Kinos [Uncannyness of the Gaze: The Drama of the Early German Cinema].
 
If you do read German, you might also want to explore the new journal
devoted to research on early cinema: KINTOP. Jahrbuch zur Erforschung des
fruehen Films, published by Stroemfeld/Roter Stern in Basel/frankfurt a.M.
 
Hope this is of some use for what sounds like an interesting project.
 
 
                Tom Levin
 
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