Margaret “Peg” Woffington
1718 – 1760 A.D.
Margaret or Peg Woffington, an English actress, of Irish parentage, born at Dublin. After playing a number of years in the Dublin theatres, she went to London in 1740 and became the reigning favorite at Drury Lane and Convent Garden. Her famous part was Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple, the exquisite art of her male characters being especially remarkable. She also played fine ladies, like Better Modish and Lady Townley, and impersonated most of the heroines who then ruled the stage, in comedy. Her last appearance was a Rosalind in As You Like it, in 1757, when she suddenly broke down in the epilogue, and was led from the stage.
Countless stories are told of her love affairs, and of her generosity and kindness of heart. She educated her sister Mary, and cared for her pensioned mother. She built and endowed by will some almshouses at Teddington, where she lived quietly after her retirement.
Much of her charming personality is revealed in Charles Reade’s novel by of Peg Woffington and the play Masks and Faces.
Augustin Daly, the New York manager, in 1888, published his tribute to Woffington, in which he says:
“In her childhood she had run barefooted through the streets and along the quays of Dublin, a bricklayer’s orphan and a peddler of fruit and vegetables.
“In her womanhood she was courted by the representatives of the highest circles of London as the first actress of the age, and as brilliant hostess among the most noted of her time. By people of rank she was esteemed for the sparkle of her wit, the refinement of her tastes and the variety of her accomplishments. When she first came to London to play in its foremost theatre she had but a single robe for tragedy parts – yet she lived to set the fashion in gowns for the women of England, and evinced such exquisite taste in matters of attire that, at one time, little that was novel was worn by ladies of quality unless Woffington had introduced it.
“By the poor she was held in affection for her benevolence and charity toward all who needed help. In the number and excellence of her amiable qualities her frailties were forgotten.”
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.