Cushman, Charlotte

Cushman, Charlotte (Saunders)

(1816–76) stage actress; born in Boston, Mass. One of the first major native-born American actresses, she began as an opera singer but turned to acting after she overstrained her voice; the vocal damage left her with a husky, veiled quality that she used to great advantage, often playing male roles. Her earliest triumph was as Lady Macbeth in 1836. By 1842 she was managing as well as starring at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. Earnest and ambitious, she went off to England on her own and in 1845 instantly became the toast of the London stage, although some found her style exaggerated. She acquired a large range of classic roles—including Romeo and Hamlet—but her most popular role was as Meg Merrilies in an adaptation of Scott's Guy Mannering. Until 1870, she lived in England or Rome, only appearing in America on tour; returning to the U.S.A., she performed occasionally, climaxing with a triumphal farewell tour in 1874–75.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.