Charlotte Cushman was born on July 23, 1816. She was a gifted young woman who left school to pursue a career in singing. Her interest was in opera. This was a way to support her mother and sisters after their father abandoned the family.
Voice Failure Leads to the Stage
When Charlotte’s voice failed her as a soprano, she turned to acting. Obviously talented, she auditioned for the part of Lady Macbeth. In 1835, at the age of 19 years, Charlotte made her first Shakespearian appearance and was an instant hit. Charlotte’s height did not deter the audience. She often towered over the men who played opposite her.
Charlotte’s sister, Susan,was married at age 14. She was pregnant when her husband abandoned her. Charlotte looked after her sister like a mother. Later, Charlotte and Susan appeared together in Romeo and Juliet. Charlotte who had a masculine look played Romeo.
Charlotte the Lesbian
The fact that Charlotte had a number of women lovers, did not prevent the public from embracing her acting talents. Some people used the term “strong female friendships” to indicate that two women affairs were more than platonic. At this point in history, the term “lesbian” had not come into play. An artist named Thomas Scully was hired by Charlotte. It is said that the portrait was ‘very flattering’ and nothing like the real person. Thomas Scully had a beautiful young daughter named Rosalie. Both women wrote passionate letters when they were apart. In a private ceremony, Charlotte gave Rosalie a ring. She noted in her diary, “R Saturday, July 6, ‘married.’
A Marriage Not Made in Heaven!
Charlotte left America to tour London, England. Her tour was so successful that Charlotte took a female actress as her lover. In the absence of Charlotte, Rosalie died of a fever. Upon hearing of her death, Charlotte suffered a mental breakdown. Her performances were cancelled as Charlotte rested.
A New Love
In 1848, Charlotte met writer and part-time actress Matilda Hays. They developed a friendship that later blossomed into a romance. Matilda was well-known as the translator of female poet George Sand. Matilda later wrote a semi-autobiographical novel that was based on her passionate love affair with Charlotte. They toured and travelled through Europe and often dressed alike in public. Matilda wrote a semi-autobiographical Novel about her passionate relationship with Charlotte Cushman. In 1849, Charlotte and Matilda, moved to Rome. Together they became part of an expatriate American community. Amongst their friends were many lesbian artists and writers.
Charlotte on the ‘Move’ Again.
After living for five years in Rome, fell for the lesbian sculptor, Emma Stebbins. Emma was an open lesbian. Within months of moving in together, Charlotte left Emma to tour America. The “Romeo” actress fell for a beautiful 18-year-old named Emma Crow. Charlotte called Emma Crow “My Little Lover.” After the American tour, Charlotte went back to Rome. Emma Crow followed her, but as fate would have it, Emma married Charlotte nephew in 1861.
Emma Stebbins – Devoted Partner
It seems that inspire of Charlotte having an affair with 18-year-old Emma Crow, Emma Stebbins was in love with the roguish Charlotte. When Charlotte was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1869, Emma the sculptor travelled to the United States to look after her. She did one farewell tour and the audiences did not realize that she had a terminal illness. Charlotte died in 1876 at the age of 59. Emma Stebbins had put her successful career on hold to look after the women. In 1915 Charlotte was elected to the New York University Hall of Frame. To my mind, Emma Stebbins should be elected to the “Unconditional Lover Hall of Fame.” paula.
Emma Stebbins is famous for her statue “Angel of the Waters.” It is obvious that Emma S was an angel in real life.