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Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie’s Life in Richmond

John S. Wise

In 1901, Congressman John S. Wise wrote the following for a publication of the Mt. Vernon Association, recalling memories of Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie from his boyhood days in Virginia.  Wise, himself, had a rather interesting history.  He was the son of Henry S. Wise, governor of Virginia from 1856-1860.  As a cadet at VMI, he fought at the Battle of New Market.  After the war, though, Wise joined the short-lived Readjuster Party which allied with African-Americans to pass reforms and pay down the state’s war debt.  He also fought against the constitutionality of the state’s poll tax which disenfranchised poor and Black voters. Eventually, Wise left Virginia politics to practice law in New York.  He also became a very successful author.

Hon. John S. Wise’s Memories of Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie

"You have asked me to give you briefly my recollections of Mrs. Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie, and I do so most gladly, for she made a very deep impression upon my childish memory.

“When I first became acquainted with Mrs. Ritchie, my father was Governor of Virginia, and I was a boy about ten years old. She and her husband, the late William Foushee Ritchie, lived in a little rose embowered cottage on the west side of Ninth Street, beyond Leigh, in Richmond. It stood in a large yard, and was surrounded by trees and flowers and foliage, which made it, while very simple, very beautiful.

Ritchie Cottage in Richmond, VA“Although it was not a very fashionable locality, they were visited there by "everybody who was anybody” in the city, and entertained most delightfully. She had a fondness for open air gatherings, and her gardens, lit up with colored lanterns, and provided with tea tables under the trees, were much affected by upper-tendom in the summer evenings in the fifties.

“As I recall it, I first saw Mrs. Ritchie when I was sent to her home with a note inviting her to some entertainment, or possibly in response to some inquiry of hers about the Mount Vernon enterprise, in which she was deeply interested. She was then in the full bloom of mature womanhood. Her face and form and complexion were beautiful; her manners extremely gracious, and her voice charming. She met me at the door and conducted me into a beautifully arranged study, or reception-room, where her husband, a large, ruddy man, sat with a bandaged foot supported upon a stool. He was suffering with gout. Her tenderness and petting of Mr. Ritchie amused me greatly. I remember that among other terms of endearment she called him her 'great big baby,' and when I saw her caressing him and soothing him in his paroxysms of pain I felt that even gout was not without its compensations.Anna Cora Mowatt, circa 1858

“They were childless; but she had a passion for children, and was seldom without the companionship of one of her little nieces, Ogdens, of New York. She made a great pet of me, and I, in turn, became immensely infatuated with the little Ogden (name now forgotten) who happened, at that time, to be locum tenens in her household. This affection was transferred from time to time, much to her amusement, as her nieces successively arrived at her home, and my love affairs with the successive Misses Ogden culminated in a passionate attachment for one about seventeen years old, who personated the Peri in a series of tableaux gotten up by Mrs. Ritchie, representing Paradise and the Peri, presented in the ballroom of the old Ballard Hotel in aid of the Mount Vernon fund.

“These tableaux were exquisite in design and execution, as indeed were all the efforts of Mrs. Ritchie. As scenes followed each other she repeated the appropriate verse of the poem. The angel was the beautiful Annie Gardner, afterwards Mrs. Rennolds, and Mr. Percicore presented the devil.

“Mrs. Ritchie was a very intellectual woman, and wielded great influence in her day in social circles in Richmond. I have not known anyone there since who gave such a stimulus to and created such an interest in literary and dramatic culture. She undoubtedly did much towards the cultivation of the late John R. Thompson and other young men, his contemporaries. Upon several occasions she read or recited from Shakespeare's comedies to large companies assembled in the parlors of the Government House, and her elocution must have been far above the ordinary, for, even child as I was, I was charmed and enchained by her grace, her striking and correct emphasis, and her really eloquent interpretation and delivery. Mrs. Ritchie was above the suspicion of lightness in her private life, and was an honor to the profession in which she had been conspicuous in her youth. Women admired her and delighted in her society, which is always, in my judgement, the most reliable endorsement a woman can have; and men simply adored her, always looking upward. I was never in her society without receiving some flattering word or tender look, or gracious courtesy, which made me even then regret that there was no child of her own to be blessed with the mother-love, the womanly tenderness and feminine refinement with which her whole being overflowed. Unquestionably, Mrs. Ritchie was one of the most potent influences in the Mount Vernon movement, and by the power of her beauty, her grace, her intellect, and her altogether charming personality, she did perhaps more than any other woman in Virginia towards what was accomplished.

 “Bless her sweet and charming memory! May it live always associated with the name of Mount Vernon, the shrine of great Virginia's greatest greatness!”


--The Report of the Virginia Board of Visitors to Mount Vernon For the Year 1901; Showing the History of the Ladies Mount Vernon Association of the Union and Virginia’s Connection Therewith and Action of Congress and Legislature of Virginia Touching Removal and Remains of Washington.  J.H. O’Bannon, Superintendent of Public Printing: Richmond, 1901. Page 57-59.


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For more in-depth information and analysis
Mowatt's life and career, read
The Lady Actress:
Recovering the Lost Legacy of a Victorian American Superstar

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