Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu

MARIA BROOKS (1794 or 1795 – 1845)

Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 754; also 1855 ed.

ANNA CORA MOWATT (1819 – 1870)

The daughter of an American export agent, Anna Cora Mowatt spent the first eight years of her life in France , learning to read and performing Shakespeare at home with her sixteen siblings. At fifteen she eloped with lawyer James Mowatt, with whom she lived in Long Island and threw parties for the upper crust of New York City .

Her first published work, a story in verse called Pelayo, or The Cavern of Covadonga (1836) by "Isabel," garnered negative reviews, to which she replied in her more successful 1837 book Reviewers Reviewed. As her husband lost money and declined in health, she turned to literature and performance to support herself, her husband, and their three adopted children. A series of public readings stirred up enough scandal – female performers almost never came from the middle or upper classes – to be enormously well-attended, and she also earned money through the frequent publication of her poems, articles, and manuals in periodicals.

Fighting recurring bouts of consumptive illness, Anna Mowatt turned to playwriting, and achieved lasting success with her satirical comedy about high-society New York , Fashion (1840). Shocking the Long Island bourgeoisie, she accepted an offer to appear on the stage in 1845, and performed leading roles in the United States and Europe until June 1854.  Widowed in 1851, she remarried and moved to Richmond following her retirement from the stage.  Unhappy in her marriage to newspaper editor William Foushee Ritchie, she returned to the North at the outbreak of the Civil War, and later lived abroad.

In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe described her in his “The Literati of New York City. No. II,” in Godey’s Lady’s Book, v. 32, p. 267:

Her figure is slight, even fragile. Her face is a remarkably fine one, and of that precise character best adapted to the stage. The forehead is, perhaps, the least prepossessing feature, although it is by no means an unintellectual one. Hair light auburn, in rich profusion, and always arranged with exquisite taste. The eyes are gray, brilliant and expressive, without being full. The nose is well-formed, with the Roman curve, and indicative of energy. This quality is also shown in the somewhat excessive- prominence of the chin. The mouth is large, with brilliant and even teeth and flexible lips, capable of the most instantaneous and effective variations of expression. A more radiantly beautiful smile it is quite impossible to conceive.

Other portraits appear in:

Anna C. Mowatt. Autobiography of an Actress (1854), frontispiece.

Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck, eds. Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855), vol. 2, p. 623.

Abner D. Jones. The American Portrait Gallery (New York, 1855), p. [743].

Abner D. Jones, ed. The Illustrated American Biography, vol. 3 (1855), p. 255.

Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, vol. 10, no. 17 (Apr. 26, 1856), p. 268.

The American Phrenological Journal, vol. 25 (Jan., 1857), p. 12.




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