All of the women in this section were remarkable for their exceptional skills as performers. The prints in this section also emphasize their physical attractions.


[Fanny Kemble] Painted from recollection by
T[homas] Sully. Childs & Inman, c. 1833.

Fanny Kemble was born into a very famous family of English actors and went on to become one of the best-known actresses of the nineteenth century, in both the United States and Great Britain. This lithograph was published in 1833, just a year after she came to the United States with her father to perform on American stages. In 1834, she married Pierce Butler, heir to one of the largest slave plantations in Georgia. Kemble found herself ill suited to the life of a slaveholder’s wife. She was particularly horrified by the realities of American chattel slavery, which she observed first hand after she moved to her husband’s plantation in the 1830s.

After the birth of her two children, and as tensions in her marriage continued to build, she took up writing and an interest in politics. Her experiences and observations of plantation life led her to become a staunch supporter of the antislavery movement. Kemble left her husband, returned to the stage, and published her plantation diary in 1863 in both the United States and Great Britain, hoping that it would discourage Britain from coming to the aid of the Confederate states in the American Civil War.

Thomas Sully, who created this portrait, was the British-born son of two actors. The family immigrated to the United States in 1792, and Sully grew up to be one of the most celebrated American painters of the nineteenth century.  His exceptional artistic skill can be observed in paintings of many Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams.

Detail from [Fanny Kemble]
c. 1833, 44 x 31 cm



Fanny Elssler in the character of La Sylphide. Eliphalet M. Brown, 1842 or 1843.

Fanny Elssler was one of the most celebrated dancers of the nineteenth century. Austrian-born, she took Europe and the United States by storm. After seeing her American debut in 1840, one critic wrote of her dancing, "It is as if a mortal were gifted with a new natural quality of motion, and, following no teacher but will, were suddenly to float nimbly along before our eyes, as if wafted gracefully by a zephyr. We have never had dancing to be compared with this before." 1

Detail from Fanny Elssler in the character of La Sylphide 1842-3. 42 x 27 cm


Miss E. Calhoun: the celebrated lion queen. Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr., Sarony & Major, 1848.

This large-size lithograph combines fine printing with a dynamic composition. The scene depicts a number of exciting novelties: large and powerful predatory animals from exotic and faraway places, along with a woman who is herself powerful enough to tame them. This advertising poster promised the public the thrilling spectacle of a woman in the role of lion tamer, a role generally reserved for men. In addition, the scantiness of her costume (which today seems hardly worth mentioning) was itself provocative—and reason enough for many to purchase a ticket.

Detail from Miss E. Calhoun:
the celebrated lion queen

1848. 53 x 67 cm


Miss Helen Potter, in Her Personations of Celebrities. Joseph E. Baker, c. 1887– 1898.

Potter was known as an impersonator, but it might be more accurate to say that she reenacted the performances of some of the most popular lecturers and actors of the nineteenth century. The array here includes the lecturer Anna Dickinson and top actors Charlotte Cushman, Mrs. Scott (Sarah) Siddons, and Olive Logan. Potter also performed as John B. Gough, a very passionate and famous temperance reformer who gripped audiences with his oratorical lecture style but was also known for his prodigious drunkenness. Opposite the portrait of Gough (bottom center) is a portrait of "Heathen Chinee," a popular white colloquial epithet for Chinese immigrants. In spite of the character's disrespectful name, this impersonation seems to have resulted from Potter's genuine efforts to accurately convey her impressions of a Chinese man. Potter's own notes indicate that the character should be dressed as "a Chinese man of rank, or mandarin," and she billed this part of her performance as "an extract from a Chinese play." She told the tale of a beautiful woman imperiled by a flood who is eventually saved, speaking not in English, but in her own musical interpretation of the Chinese language. Potter’s performance appears to have been an effort to recreate faithfully the performance of a Chinese actor onstage in a Chinese play, rather than a caricature. Considering how widely Chinese and other Asians were disparaged in nineteenth-century American popular culture, Potter's impersonation seems extremely sympathetic.

Detail from Miss Helen Potter, in her
Personations of Celebrities

c. 1887-98. 28 x 18 cm


Augusta in the role of the Bayadere. Alfred M. Hoffy after a sketch by Heidemens. John T. Bowen, 1837.

This lithograph shows Caroline Augusta Josephine Thérèse Fuchs, Comtesse de Saint-James, known as Mademoiselle or Madame Augusta, dancing the title role of La Bayadere, a ballet based on Hindu religious tales.

Detail from Augusta in the role of the Bayadere
1837. 41 x 28 cm



1. Barre Gazette, Barre, Massachusetts, 22 May 1840.


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