A Woman to Know: Charlotte Cushman

Neither Cushman nor her circle of friends forgot to live. — write Julia Markus, on Charlotte

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

She played Juliet. And Romeo. And Hamlet, legendarily. As the first "superstar" actress of her time, Charlotte had her pick of roles — male and female alike. She eventually managed her own theater house in Philadelphia, still making time to take the stage as both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself.

Charlotte's personal life was itself a kind of theater — her tumultuous affairs with numerous female lovers were the objects of gossip within performance circles and play-going society. She entertained relationships with journalist Matilda Hayes, artist Harriet Hosner and sculptress Emma Stebbins. She toured these women through London and Rome, where her same-sex partnerships were welcomed by a well-cultivated community of artistic ex-pats.

But Charlotte ultimately returned to America, alone, fighting breast cancer but still fielding autograph requests from admiring fans. The Washington Theater advertised her farewell tour as the work of "the greatest living tragic actress." She closed her career with a final reading at the Globe Theater in Boston — as Lady Macbeth, of course.

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** Thank you to Jeremy Gable for recommending Charlotte's insanely awesome life. Please send your own recommendations for women to know! You can browse the archive here for ladies featured previously. Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she might show up in a future edition! **