Charlotte Saunders Cushman
1816 – 1876 A.D.
Charlotte Saunders Cushman, a distinguished American actress, born in Boston, a descendant of Robert Cushman, one of the Puritan founders of the Phymouth Colony. Having a fine contralto voice, she made her début as a singer in 1834, but her voice failing, in 1835 she undertook her first dramatic part, Lady Macbeth, which remained one of her greatest roles.
She now began an engagement at the Park Theatre, New York, which lasted a number of years, and during which she played many parts, her most startling success being made in the old gypsy, Meg Merrilies, in a stage version of Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering. Miss Cushman’s uncanny charm, wealth of picturesqueness and depth of senile feeling, made this a portraiture of terrible effectiveness.
In 1844 she visited England and met with great success; while there she played Romeo to her sister Susan’s Juliet. She returned to America in 1849, but revisited Europe several times. In 1856 she went to Rome, where she had a home for years. She was honored in the most cultivated society of Europe and America, not only as a great artist, but as a good woman. during the Civil War she showed her patriotic spirit by giving performances for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission, contributing in this way over $8,000.
In her later years she was known as a public reader, with singular interpretive powers.
Her last appearance on the New York stage, November 7, 1874, when she played Lady Macbeth, was a memorable occasion. When the curtain fell, a body of eminent citizens, with William Cullen Bryant as spokesman, came upon the stage and presented the actress with a laurel crown.
Charlotte Saunders Cushman never married, and died in Boston, February 18, 1876.
Lawrence Barrett said of her:
“A plain face, but of a noble expression; her form tall and elastic, her gait majestic. Her acting was of the restless type – repose she never attained to nor seemed to desire. When reproached by a friend for her constant action, she replied tat Siddons was so beautiful of feature that she could well be content to stand still and be gazed at. But it was not so with herself; she must occupy the eye with action and movement, for if she were still her beauty would suffer from criticism and half her influence would be lost.
“She was the greatest Lady Macbeth of her age, and Meg Merrilies will forever be associated with her name.
“Charlotte Cushman left the stage better than when she found it, and her influence upon the time has been felt in the better taste which is apparent to all who study the drama’s history.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.