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Article from

The Theatrical Times

No. 107

Saturday, May 20th, 1848

Memoir of Mrs. Mowatt


Anna Cora Mowatt, the clever authoress and actress, was born in Bordeux.  Mr. Ogden, her father being the well-known capitalist in the Miranda expedition, which ultimately involved him in ruin; he was the father of seventeen children, the tenth of whom is Mrs. Mowatt.  At about six years of ag she returned with her family to America, during the voyage she lost two of her brothers, who were swept overboard.  While settled in New York, she became acquainted with a rich lawyer (Mr. Mowatt, her present husband), and was married to him at the early age of fifteen.  Having heard Vandenhoff deliver several dramatic readings in various cities of the Union, she entertained the idea of publically giving a series of them herself, the taste or them being very great in America.  Accordingly she made her debut in one of the largest buildings in Boston, before a crowded and brilliant assembly, with entire success, the people overwhelming her with their applause.  In the spring of 1845, she wrote her first comedy, “Fashion,” which was accepted by the manager of the Park theatre.  In Philadelphia it was also produced, and with great success.  The managers of the Walnut Street Theatre, where it was produced, invited Mr. and Mrs. Mowatt to witness its performance. After the play, the audience having discovered that the authoress was in the house called for her most enthusiastically, which she acknowledged from a private box.

Illustration of Anna Cora Mowatt from The Theatrical TimesThe great success of this piece induced her to adopt the stage as a profession, consequently she made her debut at the Park Theatre, as Pauline, in “The Lady of Lyons.” Firm and collected as the young actress had been during all the necessary preparations, her courage failed her at the last moment, when dressed as Pauline, she seated herself on the couch on which she is discovered as the curtain rises.  The moment the tinkle of the bell was heard as a signal for the curtain to rise, the full importance of the step she had taken, rushed upon her mind; she felt as if she were losing all self-possession, a horrible stifling sensation oppressed her, and starting up she exclaimed – “No, no! Not yet! I cannot!”  Everything seemed to swim before her eyes, and for a few seconds, she totally forgot what she had to say and do.  The actors and the manager in the utmost alarm, crowded round her, trying in vain to sooth and reassure her.  How it might have ended there is no knowing, had not one of the first comedians, who had rallied her in the morning on being frightened when the trying moment came, to which she had indignantly replied that her motives would give her courage, made his way through the surrounding and terrified crowd, saying in his most comical manner, “Didn’t I tell you so!  Where’s all the courage now?”  There might be little in the words themselves; but the ludicrous expression of his countenance and manner restored her at once. She remembered her resolution; she thought of her husband and her father, who, with the rest of the audience had heard the bell ring, and must now be alarmed at the delay.  “Let the curtain rise,” she said, and the manager, dreading a relapse took her at her word.  The audience received her with the utmost enthusiasm.  When the play was over she was summoned before the curtain, when the stage looked like an unbroken parterre; bouquets, wreaths of silver, and garlands of laurel covered it, even the ladies rose “en masse” to salute her, a compliment which had never before been paid to any actress in that theatre.  The next morning the public papers, contained long and laudatory articles and most glowing descriptions of the scene.  The wonder of all was, that a woman, without long years of study, stepping at once, as it were, from private life upon the stage, should obtain such success.  But had she not been preparing and studying from her very childhood, and that with natural gifts, which, like inspiration, made the true rendering of theatrical character at once correct and effective?

From this moment her fortune was made.  Highly profitable engagements were offered to her all over the country, and at once giving up their house in New York, Mrs. Mowatt attended by her husband, commenced travelling.  Her reception in New York was but a foretaste of what was to follow, for in every considerable city in the Union her success was equally great.  Within the first twelve months she played above two hundred nights, and her popularity was greatly on the increase.  From all quarters of the Union she received invitations, most of which were accepted.  In the year 1846, Mrs. Mowatt, after having gone the tour of the United States, made the acquaintance of Mr. Davenport, in whose company she commenced her second theatrical year; this gentleman was held in high esteem by the American public, and in concert with Mrs. Mowatt he grew more and more in favor.  After a series of engagements of the most profitable description, and accompanied by every possible token of public admiration and esteem, Mrs. Mowatt returned to her father’s house in New York, then her only home; and in July, 1847, her husband sailed for England to make arrangements for her appearance in this country.  It was believed that the voyage would perfectly establish her health, and her countrymen wished that she should receive the stamp of approbation from the parent-country, the opinions of which the venerate so highly.  Mr. and Mrs. Mowatt accompanied by Mr. Davenport, arrived in Liverpool on the 15th of November, and on the 7th of December they made their first appearance in this country, at Manchester; their reception of the American strangers was of the most cordial and flattering kind; on the 5th of January, they made their appearance at the Princess’s theatre, in the “Hunchback,” where they continued for several weeks, during which time she appeared, among other characters, in Juliet, in Rosalind, in “As You Like It,” as Beatrice in “Much Ado about Nothing.”  She is at present engaged at the Olympic, where amongst other characters she has sustained that of Edith in “The Lords of Ellingham.”


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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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