Accounts of Charlotte Cushman's Life, Notes by Stebbins

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Accounts of Charlotte Cushman's Life, Notes by Stebbins


This document is a collection of different quotes given by Charlotte Cushman before her death. It is supposedly written by Emma Stebbins and ranges from family history, childhood experiences, financial struggles, to early career ambitions and engagements on stage.
The document gives an idea of what Charlotte Cushman wanted the public to remember about her. Cushman described Fanny Kemble as the "foundation" of her acting style (however, this page is crossed out). The document lists engagements and people who  she met along the way and who supported her more or less on her path to become one of the first widely known US-American actresses.


Library of Congress, Charlotte Cushman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Stebbins, Emma, 1815-1882


LoC, CCP 15: 3990-4000



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[3990] Accounts of Charlotte Cushman's Life

[3991] Notes and mento & taken from CC's own lips during our journies in 1875 [?]. Earliest rememberances in Boston. "I was born a tomboy. My earliest recollection are of dolls' heads cracked open to see what they were thinking of – possessed with the idea that dolls could and did think, – no faculty for making doll's clothes – but very capable of making their furniture – anything with toots – climbing then[?] an absolute passion. very destructive to toys – tyrannical to Bothers & sisters – but very social – and a great favourite with other children. Early recollections of the old meeting house Henry to are Pastor. (She wrote a monody on the death of this Mr Ware – now in Sallie's. possession) — Emerson was afterwards his colleague, and taught the Sunday school classes. Imitation a prevailing trait. Example, H. Ware, taking tea with her mother, sitting at table talking with his chin resting on his two hands, & his elbows on the table – C, suddenly startled by her mother exclaiming "My dear – take your elbows off the table and your chin out of your hands. It is not pretty position for a young lady" — she was sitting in exact imitation of the pastor  

[3991 reverse] I must have inherited from my Mother the voice which was at first so remarkable and which was the orgen of my introduction to the stage – she sang all the songs of the time with good voice and taste and I learned to love music in the truest way – at a Mother's side – Beside singing everything – I exercised my imitative powers in all directions, and often for myself instinctivly mimicing the tones movements and expressions & faces of those around me – this imitative faculty in especial I inherited from my grandmother – born Mary Saunders of Gloucester – Cape Ann – afterward, the wife of Erasmus Babbitt – a lawyer of [illedigble; crossed out] (or Sturbridge) Mass. through whom I am connected with Govor Marcy [sic] family – the Sargents, the Winthrops – the Saunders; and Saltonstalls of Salem and other well known families. My grandmother's faculty of imitation was very remarcable. I remember sitting at her feet in a little stool, and hearing her sing a song of the period – called the farm yard, in which she deligleted me with the most perfect imitation of every creature belonging to the farm yard

[3992] X I'm afraid I was what thre French call "un enfant terrible – full of irreistable life and impulsive will – living fully in the present looking neither before not after, as ready to execute as to conceive – full of imagination a faculty too often thearted and warped by the fears of parents and friends that it means insincerity and falsehood, when it is in reality   [3992 reverse] but the spontaneous utterances of faculties as yet unknown even to the possessor & misunderstood by those so called trainers of infancy. —  

[3993] write: This especial gift of imitating the creatures Miß C herself possessed to a remarkable extent – She could at any time set the tabe in a roar – by the most vivid representation of a hen pursued, and finally caught – or of the strange weird mistrustful behavior of a parrot – this last was inimitable. My grandmother Babbitt was also remarkably clever, bright & witty, and so dominated her household and children, that altough the qualities descended – her immediate family had little opportunity to exercise them in her presence. My Mother was this lady's only daughter. She had also one son, my uncle Augustus Babbitt who led a seafaring life, and was lost at sea. He took great interest in me, offered me prizes for proficiency in my studies, especially music and writing. He first took me to the theatre – on one of his return voyages – which was always a holiday time for me. My first play was Coriolanus – with Macready – and my second The Gamester – with Cooper and Mrs Powell as Mr & Mrs Beverly – all the English actors and actresses of that time, were of the Siddons and Kemble school – and cannot but think these early impres  

[3993 reverse] sions must have been powerful towards the formation of a style of acting, afterward slowly eliminated[?] through the various stages of my artistic career. My uncle had great taste and love for the Dramatic profession, and became acquainted with Mr & Mrs William Pelby – he for whom the original Tremont Theatre was built. My uncle having been one of the stockholders – through him my Mother became acquainted with these people – and thus we had many oppertunities of seeing and knowing something of the paternity[?] About this time I became noted in school for my reading – where before I had only been remarkable for my arithmetic the medal for which could never be taken from me. – I remember on an occasion reading a scene from Howard Payne's Tragedy of Brutus – in which Brutus speaks and the immediate result was my elevation to the head of the class – to the evident disgust of my competitors – who grumbled out – "no wonder she can read. She goes to the Threatre"!. I had been before this very shy and reserved – not to say stupid about reading in school afraid of the sound of my own voice  

[3994] and very unwilling to trust it – but the greater familiarity with the Theatre, seemed suddenly to unloose my tongue, and gave birth as it were to a faculty which has been the ruling passion ever since. Then came the circumstances in my Father's life which made it necessary that his children should be placed under conditions looking toward their future self support – reverses in business obliged us to remove from Boston to Charlestown, and I was placed at a public school. My father's name was Elkanah Cushman – born of poor parents in Plymouth Mass. who deprived of his parents at the early age of 13 – walked to Boston to seek his fortune. He was the fifth generation from the original Thomas Cushman who came over in the Mayflower, and in after yours when I was in Boston on the exercise of my profession – Theodor Parker, whose friendship I enjoyed, brought me one day a pamphlet, which he told me contained the first sermon ever printed in New England and that this sermon had been preached by this Thomas Cushman – my ancestor. The father of this Thomas, was the financier of the small colony of dissenters who assembled at Leyden – to make their final arrangements by emigrating to  

[3994 reverse] this country – he bought for them the +++ – well, and sailed in it with them – when it met with disaster, and they put back to Holland to start again, they found that in their absence the interests of the small colony had suffered so much – it was demed wise by them all that he should remain to protect and watch over their interests [illegible crossed out]. He bought the Mayflower for them, and started the+++ again – sending his son in his stead. This son, after the voyage – married Mary Allerton one of the first marriages solemnized in the infant colony. X — — I only remained at school until I was 13 years of age. The necessities of the family obliged us to take early advantage of every opportunity for selfsustainment and my very remarkable voice, seemed to point plainly in that direction — My Mother, at great selfsacrifice gave me what opportunities for instruction she could obtain for me, and then my father's friend Mr R. D. Shepherd of Shepherds Town Va. gave me two years of the best culture that could be obtained in Boston at that time – under John Paddon an English organist and teacher of singing. The  

[3995] principal teachers of his time. This was the foundation it my after success, or rather of my after opportunity – for it put me in the way of it, and even through failure, became the foundation of all my success in my profession. There was at this time a rather remarkable family in Boston of the name of Woodward. The daughters of this family sang in all the different Unitarian churches. One of them, Anne Woodward was the soprana in Henry Ware's church Rebecca, a sister sang at Dr Palfrey's in Battle St.; and Dorcas another, afterwards maried to Geo. Andrews the Comedian – sang at Dr Pierponfs in Hollis St. They were friends of my Mother, and through and with them I sang in these various choirs.— But before this, and before I had received instruction from Paddon I should mention that in my mother's efforts to advance me, and procure me musical advantages she had gone to see an old acquaintance of my fathers [sic], a retired sea captain who had invested his savings in a piano forte factory, and amused and occupied his leisure by presiding  

[3995 reverse] himself over the establishment. His foreman was a man by the name of Chickering. This founder of the great business which is now so famous all over the world! He invited me to come there to practice, and afterward procured me instruction from a protegé of his by the name of Fanner, and it was here that I obtained my first real knowledge of the science of music. The name of this good sea captain was Capt John Mackey – afterwards of the firm of Chickering & Mackey – but they associated with Mr Babcock – in piano forte manufacture. – When Mrs Wood came to sing first in Bosten [sic] the theatres gave only five representations in the week – they were not licensed for the Saty night, and that evening was usually devoted to concerts. On one of these occasions – a piano forte being wanted, they came to select one at my practising establishment, and while there, enqiries were made for a contralto singer to sing one or two duets with Mrs Wood. Capt. Mackey always good and kind, spoke of me  

[3996] after this first essay of my voice, Mrs Wood was always very kind to me, and I became her constant attendant in her walks. She talked to me much of the pity it would be to waste my voice in mere teaching and influenced greatly my determination to cultivate it for the stage X (see Mrs Wood's letter)  

[3996 reverse, whole crossed out] about this time Fanny Kemble burst like a meteor upon the American public – and +++ opportunities of seeing her act – produced the second grand impression of my life – I had real hero worship for her – and would walk for hours in Trement St. only to get the oppertunity [sic] of seeing her pass from the Hotel to the Theatre. I believe seeing FK act was the foundation of whatever style I may be said to have in acting.  

[3997] and I was sent for to go up to the Hotel and give a specimen of my powers before Mrs Wood – The voice was a very remarkable one – it had almost two registers – a full contralto, and almost full soprano – but the low voice was the natural one. It was at the Tremont House Mrs Wood received me very kindly and I rehearsed with her "as it fell upen a day." She seemed to be much impressed by the voice, for she immediatly sent up stairs to ask Mr Wood to come down, – he came and I sang again, and at the end of the duet they both seemed much pleased and both assured me that that voice properly cultivated would lead me to any height of fortune I coveted! X – After this I sang with Mrs Wood on two occasions at her concerts, and it was through her influence that I became an articled pupil to James T. Maeder, who had come with them from Europe as their musical director – afterward the husband of Clara Fisher – Under his tuition I made my first appearance at the Tremont Theatre in the part of the Countess

[3997 reverse] Almaviva in the Marriage of Figaro. It was considered a great success – second appearance was as Lucy Bertram in Guy Mannering. – With them I went to New Orleans, and sang until perhaps my youth – perhaps change of climate or perhaps a too great strain upon the upper registers of my voice – which as his wife's voice was a contralto, it was more to his Mr Maeder's [inserted] interest to use than the lower one – I found my voice suddenly failing me. In my unhappeniess I went to ask counsel and advice of Mr Caldwell, the manager of the theatre chief New Orleans Theatre. He at once said to me, "you might to be an actress and not a singer" – advised me to study some parts, and presente me to Mr Barton the tragedian of the theatre, whom I asked to hear me, and to take an interest in me. He was very kind, as indeed they both were, and Mr Burton after a short time, was sufficiently impressed with my powers, to propose to Mr Caldwell that I should act Lady Macbeth to his Macbeth. on the occasion of his (Bertram's) benefit.  

[3998] Upon this it was decided that I should give up singing, and take to acting. My contract with Mr Maeder was annulled – it being the end of the season – so enraptured was I at with the idea of acting this part, and so fearful of anything preventing my acting it – that I did not tell the manager I had no dresses to act in, until it was too late for me to be prevented from acting it – and the day before the perfomance, after rehearsal I told him – He immediately sat down and wrote a note of introduction for me to the tragedienne of the French Theatre which then employed some of the best among French artists for its company. This note was to ask her to help me to costumes for the role of Lady Macbeth – I was a tall, thin, lanky girl at that time about 5 to 6 feet in height – the Frenchwomen was a short fat person of not more than 4 ft 10 – her waist fully twice the size of mine with a very large bust – but her shape did not prevent her being a very great actress. The ludicrousness of her clothes being made to fit me, struck her at once. She roared with laughter – but she was very good natured saw my distress – and set to work to see  

[3998 reverse] how she could help it. By +++ of piecing out the skirt of one dress, it was made to answer for an underskirt, and then another dress was taken in, in every direction to do duty as an overdress, and so make up the costume, and then I essayed for the first time Lady Macbeth fortunately to the satisfaction of the audience, the manager, and all the members of the company. The season being at an end, I took passage in a sailing vessel for Phila on my way to New York – in these days travelling was a very different affair from now. etc. — Arrived in NY, I addressed a note to Mr Simpson Manager of the Park Theatre asking him for an engagement. He offered me a trial. While debating upon this – which seemed to my young imagination a great slight – coming fresh from my triumph as Lady Macbeth. I received a call one day from Mr Thom. Hamblin – then a very successful man, manager of the Bowery Theatre. He was very kind – he said that his friend Mr Barton had arrived from New Orleans, and had told him a great deal about me – he should very much like to see me rehearse  

[3999] and assured me, if it was like what his friend had informed him of – he could make as great a success for me, as he had done for another actress a Miss Vincent – who was a great favorite – This of course fired my imagination – and soothed the feelings which Mr Simpson had wounded by asking me to act in trial. — I was then too much a child to understand the advantage of having even an inferior place at the Park Theatre, where there was af that time an excellent shool of acting in a famous company, over a first class position in a second class theatre – so I acceded to Mr Hambin's wish – he heard me rehearse scenes from Lady M, Jane Shore, Belvidera, Mrs Haller etc, expressed himself satisfied and entered into a contract with me – for a three years engagement at a salary to increase ten dollars a week – each year, commencing at $ 25. I had no wardrobe for these characters – and it was decided my engagement should commence as soon as these could be prepared. Not having the means to procure this wardrobe, Mr Hamblin arranged for me with people from whom he bought goods for his theatre that I could be supplied with whatever was necessary. He would become responsible for the debt and deducted  

[3999 reverse] 5 dollars a week from my salary to meet it. Seeing thus and independance [sic] before me, I hastened at once to relieve my Mother from her position in Boston, where she was keeping a boarding house, – which with four children to support, may be imagined had not been very profitable. She made all her arrangements, broke up her house and came to me. I got a situation for my eldest Mother in a store in NY I left my only sister in charge of a half sister in Boston & took my youngest brother with me. A week before the engagement for which I was announced an NY I was one day suddenly seized with chills & fever – caused by getting overheated in a walk at Harlem. For three weeks I was very seriously ill with rheumatic fever which finally succumbed to what was then a novelty in NY, medicated vapor baths – one week after the fisrt application of this I was acting. Thus three weeks of the four which had been devoted to the commencement much of my first engagement, were extausted – and the novelties to be produced at a particular date – left me only one week to make my NY impression – for I was to act  

[4000] but four weeks in NY, and then be sent else-where – weak as I was from my illness, that impression might very easily have been impaired – but I succeeded beyond my expectations and those of my manager– acting Lady M – to Mr Hamblins M. – +++ that week I acted in Jane Shore & Mrs Haller The reaction after this first week was naturally very great. I was again in bed from great weakness. My wardrobe which I felt did not peoperly belong to me until I had paid for it, I left in the theatre, until such time as I should again need it. The piece produced the week after mine was Lafitte and in the first or second night of it, the Bowery Theatre was burned to the ground with all my wardrobe, all my debt upon it – and my three years contract good for nothing! In my miserable position, with all the dependants then upon me, I sent for Mr. D. then manager of a little theatre called the Chatham in NY and the principal theatre in Albany conducted at that time by Mr. W R Blake as stage manager. I asked him for an engagement in Albany – when I could at the same time get practice – and be sufficiently near to NY – that if an  

[4000 reverse] opening came I might take advantage of it – He gave me an engagement for five weeks – to which I proceeded immediately accompanied by my Mother and younger Brother, which later I placed at school. During this engagement I became a great favorite at the hotel where we boarded – there also boarded a number of the of the [sic] members of the state senate & H. of Rep. I became acquainted with a great many of them – who were very kind to me – It became known that Gov. Marey was a cousin of my Mother he was a man held in high estimation and this fact may have bettered my position socially, though he was then senator at Wash. It had been jokingly remarked often that more of the numbers of both houses could be found at my benefit – than at the Capitol. There I remained five months acting all the principal characters at the end of which time, I lost my little brothers by a sad accident which event made a very serious mark upon my life – much of the enthusiam and ambition which had been a most marked trait – seemed suddenly checked.

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Stebbins, Emma, 1815-1882, “Accounts of Charlotte Cushman's Life, Notes by Stebbins,” Archival Gossip Collection, accessed May 28, 2023,

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