Anna Cora Mowatt and What’s in a Name – Part II

Part II: All the World’s a Stage

The Victorian opulence of Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie’s name discomforts the modern ear. It’s too obviously old-fashioned.  There’s simply too much of it.  As is true of many other persons from her era, modern speakers are ill at ease with the unwieldy bulk and echoes of outdated etiquette and social stratification weighing down all those extra syllables.  This series of blog entries is devoted to unpacking some of the baggage attached to her many names and explaining my decision-making process for selecting the appellation for her I use in my writing.

Anna Cora Mowatt Signature
Anna Cora Mowatt Signature

Before I get into the heart of the topics I wish to focus on this week, I want to deal with a few issues of authorship from Mowatt’s early years that I raised last time. Rather than these questions being mysteries that required the donning of white cotton gloves and engaging in scholarly sleuthing in the dusty stacks of a university’s special collections library, it turned out that I could clear up a few of my biggest questions in a quick and anticlimactic manner by entering a search term into Google and Worldcat that I was an idiot not to have ever tried before.

First, I mentioned that in his Mowatt biography, Lady of Fashion, Eric Barnes claimed that Anna Cora used “Charles A. Lee, M.D.” as a pen name.1 Since Dr. Lee was a respected physician with several publications to his credit, borrowing his name would mean that Mowatt was engaged not only in the ethically dubious practice of pretending to be a doctor; she would also be guilty of impersonating another author.

I am still not able to track down a copy of this text.  I was, however, able to locate a listing of the publications of James Mowatt & Co. for 1844 in Freeman Hunt’s Merchant Magazine and Commercial Review.  The publication in question (which was classified as a “book in pamphlet form”) was credited as follows; “The Management of the Sick-Room, with Rules for Diet, Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent, &c. Compiled from the latest medical authorities by a Lady of New York, under the approval of C.A. Lee, M.D.”2 Therefore Anna Cora’s pen name in this case was “a Lady of New York,” not “Charles A. Lee.”

The Merchant Magazine and Commercial Review of April 1844 also lists a book-length publication by a Mrs. Barwell titled Infant treatment; with Directions to Mother for Self-Management before, during, and after Pregnancy. The description of the book’s contents reads as follows;

This first American edition of an English work has been enlarged, and adapted to the habits and climate of the United States, by a physician of New York. It has the approval and recommendation of Dr. Valentine Mott, and Charles A. Lee, M. D., which will be considered a sufficient guarantee of its excellence.3

Dr. Valentine Mott
Dr. Valentine Mott

Valentine Mott, the eminent surgeon, was one of Anna Cora and James’ doctors.  She mentions him in glowing terms several times in her autobiography.  Dr. Lee had a practice in New York in 1844.  It is quite possible the Mowatts numbered among his patients.  At first I thought that “Mrs. Barwell” might be another of the pen names Burgess and Stringer assigned Anna Cora and the mention of these two physicians in this ad copy might be nothing more than hype to sell the book.  However, I was able to locate a copy of this text online.  Mrs. Louisa Mary Barwell was a respected English author, specializing in early childhood education. The title page of the book introduces the volume as the first U.S. edition of her work.  It is prefaced by two brief statements from Dr. Mott and Dr. Lee commending the quality Mrs. Barwell’s treatise and importance of the subject matter.  The example set by Infant Treatment persuades me that James Mowatt had consulted with Dr. Lee and probably had some sort of a working relationship established concerning publishing projects.

Louisa Mary Barwell
Louisa Mary Barwell

My second discovery was more unexpected.  In my last blog, I quoted a letter from Anna Cora to James Fields dated September, 1842 in which she asked the publisher to find a home for a narrative she had produced.  Mowatt described the text as follows;

I have a moral tale for the young in hand, something in the style of those now in vogue, and I am anxious to dispose of it.4

In the letter, she goes on to offer to sell the copyright to the work.  Her only stipulation was that she did not want the text published under her name. As intriguing as the thought of a hitherto unknown children’s story authored by Mowatt was, I held out little hope that I’d ever find it.  The letter didn’t give enough clues about the narrative’s content or any ideas about a possible pen name that might have been employed.  I certainly didn’t think I’d find this story in less than two weeks.

However…

Illustration of Cecil and Fox
Illustration of Cecil and Fox

In 1843 James Mowatt & Co. printed The Little Robinson of Paris; Or, Industry’s Triumph: A Tale for Youth.  The title on the spine of the book is “Cecil and His Dog.”  The work also sometimes shows up in searches under that title.  The novel is a translation of French author, Madame Eugenie Foa’s 1840 work, Le Petit Robinson de Paris. The name of the translator/adapter is given as Lucy Landon. Although I need to do further investigation to be certain, I am already convinced that Lucy Landon is Anna Cora Mowatt.  I will devote a future blog to explaining my reasoning and discussing this novel.

[If you’re keeping score, add “a Lady of New York” to the Mowatt Pen Names column. You can pencil in “Lucy Landon” at the bottom of that list with confidence if you like. Cross out “Mrs. Barwell” and “Charles A. Lee” with a red marker.]

Camilla Crosland Toulmin
Camilla Crosland Toulmin

A couple of the names Anna Cora Mowatt liked for family and her closest friends to call her leaked into her public life.  The first was the nickname “Lily.”  She acknowledged this nickname in her autobiography when quoting the following lines from a poem dedicated to her by Camilla Crossland;

A bird — a pearl — a “lily” flower!
We love to liken thee
To something fresh from Nature’s hand
In mystic purity.
And Protean should be types, I ween,
Of thee, O richly gifted!
By triple rights and triple crowns
Above the herd uplifted.5

In a footnote, Mowatt explains;

In allusion to the pet name by which I had for some years been called by relatives and friends. The English press had also, on several occasions, used the designation of the “American lily.”6

Eric Barnes, without citing any sources, gave the following elaboration on this nickname’s possible origin, tying the appellation to the young woman’s appearance as a teenager;

Anna Cora was fourteen and still to outward appearances a child. Her chestnut hair fell in long ringlets loose about her shoulders. Her deep blue eyes, set wide apart, were serenely innocent. Because of her slenderness and the way she carried her head, slightly uptilted, and because of the fine texture of her pale skin, she reminded people of a delicate but hardy flower. In the family and to her intimates she was generally known now as “Lily.”7

Portrait once identified as a young Anna Cora Mowatt
This portrait, that once hung in Blair House, was initially identified as being the young Anna Cora Mowatt painted by J.J. Audubon. I think it may be an Ogden sister painted by C.G. Thompson.

Barnes may have based this description on a portrait today owned by the National Gallery of Art.  According to that institution’s website tracing the work’s provenance, Mrs. Augustus de Forest of New York sold the painting in 1922, identifying it as a portrait of teen-aged Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt painted by J.J. Audubon.  It eventually was acquired by the Andrew W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust who gifted the portrait to the National Gallery in 1947.  The painting hung in the Blair House in Washington, DC from 1964-1984 before art experts decided that it was not the work of Audubon.8 A print of this portrait was included in early editions of Barnes’ Lady of Fashion.

I think that there’s a possibility that the portrait might actually be a picture of some other Ogden relative painted by Cephas Giovanni Thompson.  I have formed this opinion solely on knowledge of the long-standing relationship between the portrait artist and the Ogden family and on the basis of what I think is a resemblance between an unidentified woman and her child in another Thompson painting and the young woman in the portrait.  However, I have no special expertise in art history.  I also have not done extensive research into the life and career of Cephas Giovanni Thompson.  My alternate identification of the subject of this portrait is only an opinion.  It may prove to be worth no more than the flickering pixels upon which it is printed.

Unidentified Young Woman and portrait of woman and child by Cephas GIovanni Thompson
Unidentified Young Woman and portrait of woman and child by Cephas GIovanni Thompson

While I am doling out opinions, I will register a complaint about Barnes’ choice to refer to Mowatt as “Lily” throughout his book.  Undeniably, when one spends years or even decades with one’s professional reputation and/or livelihood married to an individual research subject, a sense of intimacy ripens over that time. A scholar/biographer can know more about the focus of their study than the people that person may have slept with.  However, sustaining this sort of one-sided long-term relationship doesn’t mean that the researcher is their subject’s friend.  Our cleverness and persistence doesn’t automatically confer permission to call the subject by the names we have ferreted out. Furthermore when Barnes and other writers show off by using obscure private nicknames to refer to public figures generally known by other names, it makes quotes from their work confusing to read and requires glossing from other scholars who can’t automatically assume that all readers will know who “Poppy,” “Bibi,” or “Sunny” is.  I encourage you to resist the urge to engage in this practice in your writing.

James Mowatt often uses the nickname “Lily” to refer to his wife in the few surviving letters of his that still reside in collections.  He even employs it as a sort of title as in the following written to W.H. Chippendale from London in 1849;

“The Lily” (Mrs. Mowatt) makes her first appearance on Monday as Beatrice…9

It was this kind of use as well as the manner in which Anna Cora had referred to the nickname in the footnote in her autobiography that made me assume that the Mowatts were attempting to turn this moniker into part of her stage name.  Coming to acting via publishing, the couple was unusually alert to what we would today classify as marketing techniques.  In her footnote to Camilla Crossland’s poem, Anna Cora mentioned that some British reviewers had called her “the American Lily.”  Critics had not done so often enough for the designation to have become a readily identifiable trend that had caught on generally.  The tag, however, seems to have pleased the Mowatts.  In Victorian floriography, the lily held connotations of purity, beauty, sweetness, and refinement.  Since it was a flower often used in memorial arrangements, it suggested a touch of melancholy appropriate to represent an actress specializing in pathos and tragedy.  The lily was also France’s fleur-de-lis.

Therefore the flower served as a reminder of Anna Cora’s French birth and reinforced a link between her and Rachel of the Comedie Francais to whom she was often favorable compared. “The American Lily” was an excellent tagline to append to the name of an actress who wished to support her image as a lady of refinement, be known for her efforts as a theatre reformer, and to take on the title of the American successor to the great Rachel.  In short, this nickname was such a perfect promotional tool that I sometimes wondered if it was purposefully concocted by the Mowatts.

Madame Rachel, 1851
Madame Rachel, 1851

Supporting my suspicion was the fact that her second husband and his family never called her “Lily.”  The Ritchies consistently refer to her “Cora” as William Foushee does in this letter to his sister in 1853;

… Cora was very grateful for your kind message and asked me to return her thanks and to say how happy she will be to know you.  She is indeed a lovely creature and I know you will like her.  She is the idol of her father, mother, and sweet sisters, and her affection is as true and warm as her intellect is bright and her character is lovely.10

In 1856, Ritchie’s mother wrote of receiving a Christmas gift of a novel from her son’s wife – probably Mimic Life — in the following letter to an unknown recipient;

Have you read Cora’s Book? It is prettily written.  But what a desolate picture does it draw of a theatre of the poor actors!  She gave us all a copy for a Xmas gift.11

One of William Foushee’s younger sisters was named “Anne Eliza” so it is possible that they could have chosen to call Anna Cora by her middle name to avoid confusion.  However, the first letter from William Foushee was written before he had introduced his fiancée to his family.  It is likely she was already using the name Cora at this time.  Also, in the late 1840s, while the Mowatts were in London, some newspaper critics identified the actress as “Cora Mowatt” in reviews of plays in which she performed despite the fact she was never billed that way. When I combine the critic’s slip and the fact that “Cora” served as one of her pen names with the Ritchie’s family’s use of this name, this makes me suspect that she did not always go by her double first name in social settings.  Perhaps “Cora” was the given name she used as an adult.

Rebutting the notion that the “Lily” nickname was a felicitous invention of the Mowatts, I have seen examples of it used by friends and family at other periods in Anna Cora’s life.  Recently, I was granted access to a cache of letters between Anna Cora and a trio of her friends.  These letters date from the period after James Mowatt’s death stretching until two years after her marriage to W.F. Ritchie.

William Edward Coale was a physician who lived in Boston with his wife Kate. Mowatt seems to have consulted him on medical matters and become a friend. Dr. Coale wrote a book titled, Hints On Health; With Familiar Instructions for the Treatment and Preservation of The Skin, Hair, Teeth, Eyes, Etc.12 In other words, it appears that his specialty may have been dermatology.  After nearly a decade of dealing with the toxic chemicals used for stage makeup, it is easy to see why the actress might have sought out someone with such knowledge.  George Buchanan Coale, his brother, was a Baltimore business man who also became a friend and fan.  In their exchanges, the Coales refer to the actress by the nickname, “Lily” as in the following in which George Coale writes excitedly to his brother about getting a chance to see Mowatt’s new play;

I told Thompson some weeks ago so see that you and Kate went to see the play of Ingomar — which I believe will be brought out some evening this week. Parthenia is a character which none can play but Lily.13

In the following letter, Mowatt specifically requests that Kate Coale use the nickname;

Dearest Kate,

Shall I not call you so? I must if you write me sweet letters — or do such things as make me love you. Call me “Lily” in return when you feel inclined to love me — and call me “you” when you don’t — but only call me by my formal name when you want to start a quarrel with me.14

Mowatt does not specify what constituted her “formal” name.  Her other letters to Kate Coale are signed “Anna Cora Mowatt” or “Anna Cora Ritchie.”  This letter is signed “Lily.”  It is the only example I have of her signing her name that way from this specific time period.  In their correspondence, the Coales kept Mowatt updated about the well-being of her foster children, Willie, Johnnie, and Margret Gray while she was on tour.  They also were friends of Mowatt’s brother-in-law, Cephas Giovanni Thompson.  The Coales, therefore, weren’t merely casual acquaintances. The “Lily” nickname, then, might have been one that Mowatt shared with only a select few.

"Lily" signature
“Lily” signature

Without a doubt Mowatt’s most public-facing identifier was her stage name.  In November of 1841, she gave her first series of public readings under the name “Mrs. A.C. Mowatt.”  In June of 1845, she debuted at the Park Theatre in New York as “Mrs. Mowatt.”  On March 7th of that same year, she had already burst onto the scene as the author of the hit comedy “Fashion” under the name of “Mrs. Anna Cora Mowatt.”  Publicity and reviews for all of the actress’ appearances for the rest of her career referred to her as “Mrs. Mowatt” or “Anna Cora Mowatt.” There is only one example of a single performance for which Mowatt was billed as “Mrs. James Mowatt.”

Program for "Gulzara"
Program for “Gulzara”

Harvard Library’s Theatre Collection has what is, in my opinion, the most extraordinary piece of Mowatt ephemera in existence.  Of all the items associated with her that were lost, I am most astonished that this single sheet of paper has managed to escape the destructive forces of time.  Carefully preserved in the university’s special collections section is a printed program from “Gulzara,” the elaborate parlor theatrical that Anna Cora staged for a party she and her husband hosted at their mansion, Melrose.  Despite the fact that this little production, with its six backdrops painted by scene designers from the Comédie-Française, costumes constructed by Parisian costumiers, live orchestra accompaniment, and professionally printed program (utilizing at least five different fonts) may have had a budget that equaled or exceeded full cast shows running at the Park Theater at that time, the Mowatts’ “Gulzara” was a private social event.  Anna Cora was the hostess of this party as well as the star of the show.  It would have been bad form for her to have been identified in the program for the parlor theatrical she staged for her guests any other way than by her social title of “Mrs. James Mowatt.”

Mowatt could have chosen to use this social title as her stage name. Ellen Tree, despite having spent nearly twenty years establishing a reputation for herself as an actress, completely effaced her own identity when she married and became Mrs. Charles Kean.  Fanny Kemble, another long-time veteran of the stage, made a difficult return to the London Theatre world while in the midst of a painful divorce even more challenging by re-introducing herself to British audiences under soon-to-be ex-husband Pierce Butler’s name.  Fanny Vining, on the other hand, never appeared at the Marylebone Theatre as Mrs. Charles Gill during her brief union with the manager/actor.  Despite her great and long-lasting love for E.L. Davenport, Vining was married to him for several years and had born a couple of their many children before she began to bill herself as Mrs. Davenport.

Fanny Vining, circa 1850
Fanny Vining, circa 1850

Highest potential for name-recognition may have weighed more heavily than any rule of social etiquette in helping an actress determine how she wished to be known.  In all the proceeding examples (with the exception Pierce Butler) the husbands of these actresses were men with names well-known to theatrical audiences.  Conversely, there were so many representatives of Vining family working on the London stage in the 1840s that I have read an instance of a critic dismissively writing that a secondary lead was simply played by “a Vining” as if it the surname had become a brand name.  One can imagine why Fanny Vining might wish to hold on to identification with her successful clan as long as possible.

Close up of Playbill, 1854
Close up of Playbill, 1854

By the time she gained fame as an actress, Anna Cora Mowatt had already made a decision not to include her husband’s name as part of the pen name under which she published her play “Fashion,” and several of her other literary works.  Her choice is not an issue she discusses in her autobiography or one that she has touched on in any letter that I have read.  The decision not to use her husband’s name as part of her stage name is not paralleled by any rejection of her choice to write or go on stage on his part. James Mowatt actively supported both her literary and stage careers. He was first her publisher then her business manager during her years as an actress. The couple tended to be quite strategic about how she was presented to the public.  Therefore although I don’t have an explanation of the reasoning behind this decision in her voice, I feel confident that there were factors that she determined made “Anna Cora Mowatt” the superior option of all the possible variations of her name to present the image she wished to project to the public.  Over the course of her acting career, there are multiple examples of her signing acknowledgements, thank you notes, requests, and invitations with this formulation of her name – in other words, with her stage name – when it would have been equally appropriate to sign the socially acceptable formulation “Mrs. James Mowatt.” Perhaps for Anna Cora Mowatt, after she became a celebrity, there was no time when she was truly off stage.

Anna Cora Mowatt signature
Anna Cora Mowatt signature

Anna Cora retired from her theatrical career in June of 1854 when she married William Foushee Ritchie.  Although she did not switch to signing herself “Mrs. William F. Ritchie” at this time, she did drop “Mowatt” from her name… or at least she tried to.  Eric Barnes characterizes her request to the publishers as follows;

She did not wait either for the cool weather or the new home, for within a week she was writing Ticknor again to say that she was sending the corrected proofs of Armand and Fashion (which Ticknor and Fields were bringing out in America). Yet she was very conscious of her bridal state: “. . . would it not be well to change the name on the title to Anna Cora Ritchie?” she inquired.15

The letter apparently came too late, for she was credited as “Anna Cora Mowatt” in this collection of plays.  The rest of her Ticknor & Field publications were listed as the works of “Anna Cora Ritchie” as were her publications in the New York Ledger.  However her novels published by G.W. Carlton were listed as the work of “Anna Cora Ritchie (Mowatt.)” These works, The Mute Singer, Fairy Fingers, The Clergyman’s Wife and the posthumous Italian Life and Legends were all printed after Anna Cora was no longer living with William Foushee Ritchie.

Title page of "Clergyman's Wife"
Title page of “Clergyman’s Wife”

Anna Cora and William F. Ritchie never divorced. After 1860, they no longer co-habituated. Anna Cora lived the rest of her life in Europe. W. F. Ritchie, who was bankrupted by the Civil War, moved in with his sister, Isabella Harrison, in Lower Brandon, Virginia. It has been a matter of intense debate among biographers when and if this marriage dissolved. The question of the break-up of the Ritchies’ marriage is a complex and thorny issue that I have been researching for years. Despite the amount of reading I’ve done on the possibilities, I am still not prepared to give a definitive opinion in that dispute.  For the purposes of this discussion, I will say that she consistently signed her name “Anna Cora Ritchie” from the years 1854 to 1860.  For the last decade of her life, there are instances of her signature reading “Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie” as in the following letter to W. H. Chippendale;

May I beg you, dear Mr. Chippendale, for old friendship’s sake, to answer this letter without delay as I have no time to lose in making my arrangements…

Yours with remembrances and kindest regards,

Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie16

The “Lily” nickname resurfaces in letters Mowatt wrote in the 1860s.  While living in Florence, she became very close to the teen-aged daughters of Harriette Matteini.  Marius Blesi included several transcripts of letters between the girls and their “Aunt Lily” in his dissertation, Life and Letters of Anna Cora Mowatt.  The following was written in Paris as she departed for London;

Adieu precious friends. Be patient and hopeful.  There is a bright morning to the long dark night.

Your truly devoted aunt,

Lily17

In 1870, Anna Cora died after a long illness. W.F. Ritchie was not present, nor did he or his family make any arrangement for her remains to be returned to the U.S. for burial.  Instead Epes Sargent and Ion Perdicardis followed her final instructions, interring Anna Cora with James Mowatt in Kensall Green Cemetery in London.  Burial records show that her name was registered as “Anna C. Ritchie.”

William Foushee Ritchie
William Foushee Ritchie

[This paragraph is just one small demonstration of how confusing and contradictory the evidence of the rift in the Ritchies’ marriage can be.  Fact – W.F. Ritchie did not make the trip to England to see his dying wife. Possible Conclusion – They were divorced in all but name. Fact – W.F. Ritchie was bankrupt and ill. Possible Conclusion – Maybe he couldn’t afford to come to England no matter how much he wanted to??  Fact – Anna Cora’s last wishes were carried out by her friend Epes Sargent and handsome young playboy Ion Perdicardis. Possible Conclusion – She had definitely broken up with W.F. Ritchie and maybe had a young boyfriend?!! Fact – Perdicardis’ parents were friends of Thomas Ritchie Sr.  Possible Conclusion – Well, maybe not…? Fact – Anna Cora was buried with her first husband James Mowatt. Possible Conclusion – Then, yeah, she’s symbolically signaling that she’s broken up with Ritchie eternally. Fact – She’s buried as Anna Cora

Ritchie. Possible Conclusion – Okay, not so much…?]

As you can see, I am nearing my conclusion and I have not mentioned the names Mowatt had for herself under mesmeric influence.  I assure you that this topic is every bit as intriguing as it sounds.  Upon reflection I have decided that I could not adequately explain Anna Cora’s experiences with Mesmerism in a few paragraphs.  Therefore, we shall pass on this subject for now. Instead of trying to quickly condense her rather strange experiences in the trance state into a few quick paragraphs, I promise to devote an entire series of blog entries to properly contextualizing Mesmerism and the unusual effects she and her friends reported.  I have found primary source material in the past few years that has significantly changed my readings of Mowatt’s experiences and I will present revised views that will differ somewhat from ones that I have expressed in my initial publications on this subject.

Mowatt Playbill detail, 1854
Mowatt Playbill detail, 1854

Throughout the course of these two blog entries, it has undoubtedly become glaringly obvious to you that back in the 1990s, I made the decision to refer to Mowatt using her stage name and have stuck to that option stubbornly ever since. On second thought, perhaps only now that I identify “Anna Cora Mowatt” as a stage name will you begin to understand the reasoning behind my choice.  Mowatt achieved fame not only as a playwright — as she continues to be known today – but also as a novelist and an actress. (She had some success as a public reader, a poet, an essayist, and a newspaper columnist as well.)  Conventionally, we refer to entertainers by their stage names.  If you want to find information about Mrs. Pierce Butler, you will search under the stage name she used at the height of her fame, Fanny Kemble.  The actor who shot a U.S. president is known by his stage name rather than the more pedestrian form he typically went by on a daily basis, Wilkes Booth. Today this convention has been formalized into union rules that allow only one name per performer for the entirety of their career.  Therefore the actress who starred at age twelve in National Velvet was still called Elizabeth Taylor eight marriages later.

The primary arguments for using a stage name to identify a research subject are based in practicality.  Mowatt performed under this name for a decade. She also employed it as a pen name for her two best known works – “Fashion” and her autobiography.  Choosing it as an identifier allows me to remain consistent with primary source material and previous scholarship.  Because Mowatt has become an obscure figure in U.S. history, I fear my work would become too difficult for potential readers to locate if I switched to any other practice of naming her.

Because I am currently presenting my research as a blog, I continually jump backwards and forwards in Mowatt’s timeline.  I feel it is important in this format to choose one appellation – in this case the subject’s stage name – so that my writing will remain intelligible. When I write my new Mowatt biography, I will probably do as other writers have done and be more flexible in my naming choices in order to accurately reflect how I believe she was properly addressed during each epoch of her life.  For instance, I may refer to her as Anna Ogden during her childhood and call her Mrs. Ritchie after her marriage to William Foushee. (You can bet good money I won’t call her “Lily,” though…)

To answer the question that I posed at the beginning of this series of blogs, Mowatt did seem to give posterity an indication of how she ultimately wished to be identified.  However the instructions are so nuanced as still to be difficult to be deciphered and followed properly.  As I said, she was buried under the name Anna C. Ritchie.  However, she shared a tombstone with her first husband James.  Space was at a premium.  There probably was not enough room on the stone to present her name as she had instructed publishers to print it in the last years of her life — “Anna Cora Ritchie (Mowatt).” Mowatt is not her maiden name. She is placing this surname out of the order that one might expect a former husband’s surname to be inserted. Her name was never a hyphenated joining of the surnames of her first and second husbands. Therefore I don’t believe it was her wish to be called a combination of the two names unless it was “Ritchie (Mowatt).”

Even with today’s many idiosyncratic naming conventions, we don’t commonly include parentheticals.  We certainly don’t associate them with Victorian era names. However, I believe with “(Mowatt)” the actress/novelist was not reclaiming her first marriage but her celebrity. “(Mowatt)” was there to remind who ever encountered the name not that she had been Mrs. James Mowatt, but that what she produced was still a continuation of the works of the public figure known as Anna Cora Mowatt.

Like all celebrities, Anna Cora Mowatt had to find a balance between her own need for privacy, the public’s curiosity about her life, and her need to control narratives being spun about her by industry insiders and the press. This short history of the different ways she named herself provides a good example of the delicate ratio of revealing and concealing Mowatt utilized to create a charming public persona that ultimately allowed her to preserve a comfortable degree of privacy.  As when she invited Kate Coale to call her “Lily,” her writing and the records of speeches that she gave seem to present her life as an open book and welcome us in as a friend.  However, often there are significant details she omits to explain just as she gives Kate Coale no indication of the history of that nickname or let her friend know any of its true significance.  Even in the midst of the appearance of her most impulsive openness, Mowatt retains her deepest secrets.

I feel I must end this discussion with the following caveat – When a researcher is attempting to speculate on the wishes, motivations, or thoughts of a historical research subject, it is important to remember that we do so based only on our impressions of a persona that person has helped create. My opinions on how Mowatt might have wished to be named if she were alive today are evaluations based on my reading of texts.  These readings are colored by my preconceptions, motivations, and lived experience as a person with twenty-first century priorities and mindsets.  My conclusions are not based on face-to-face conversations with a living person.

One hundred and fifty-two years after the historical person has taken her final bow, we continue to see the fascinating, vibrant, charming, sometimes tragic, sometimes surprisingly secretive character she created for us perform on the printed page.  We can never know the real person, Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie.  We can only know her most captivating creation, Anna Cora Mowatt.

Next Time:  Another of the Lost Plays of Walter Watts – A Merry Manuscript with a Little Mystery Attached

Anna Cora Mowatt and Images of her life and career
Anna Cora Mowatt and Images of her life and career
  1. Barnes, Eric Wollencott. The Lady of Fashion: The Life and Theatre of Anna Cora Mowatt. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954. Page 81.
  2. “Books in Pamphlet Form, Published Since Our Last.” Ed. Freeman Hunt. Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine and Commercial Review. Volume 10, April 1844. Page 396.
  3. Ibid.  Page 395.
  4. Mowatt, Anna Cora. Letter to James Fields. Sept. 23, 1842.  Papers of Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie, Accession #8010-e, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.
  5. Crossland, Camilla. “To Anna Cora Mowatt.” Autobiography of an Actress; or Eight Years on the Stage. Boston: Ticknor, Reid, and Fields, 1854. Page 292.
  6. Mowatt, Anna Cora. Autobiography of an Actress; or Eight Years on the Stage. Boston: Ticknor, Reid, and Fields, 1854. Page 292.
  7. Barnes, Eric Wollencott. The Lady of Fashion: The Life and Theatre of Anna Cora Mowatt. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954. Page 14.
  8. Portrait of a Young Lady, c. 1835.” National Gallery of Art. 2022.
  9. James Mowatt to William Chippendale London 20th September, 1849. Quoted in Blesi, page 253.
  10. William F. Ritchie to Isabella Harrison, Brandon, VA. Sept. 22, 1853. Swem Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary University.
  11. Isabella Ritchie to [?,] Brandon, VA, January 15, 1856. Swem Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary University.
  12. Coale, William Edward. Hints On Health; With Familiar Instructions for the Treatment and Preservation of The Skin, Hair, Teeth, Eyes, Etc. (Ticknor & Fields, Boston: 1855.)
  13. George Buchanan Coale to William Edward Coale. February 21, 1852. Personal Collection of Margret Garrett.
  14. Mowatt, Anna Cora. Letter to Kate Oliver Coale. November 27, 1852.  Personal Collection of Margret Garrett.
  15. Barnes, Eric Wollencott. The Lady of Fashion: The Life and Theatre of Anna Cora Mowatt. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954. Page 264.
  16. Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie to W.H. Chippendale. Florence, Italy, 1864. Theatre Collection, Columbia University Library. Quoted in Blesi. Page 377.
  17. Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie to Charlotte Winchester. Paris, France. October 9, 1864. Private Collection of Mrs. Alfred E. Hammer. Quoted in Blesi. Page 380.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.