TABLE OF CONTENTS
Adah Isaacs Menken Collection:
An Inventory of the Adah Isaacs Menken Collection at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Archives, 1855-2004, undated, bulk 1855-1907
Adah Isaacs Menken, an actress and poet also known as Adelaide McCord and Ada Bertha Théodore, was probably born Ada C. McCord on June 15, 1835 to Richard and Catherine E. McCord in Memphis, Tennessee. Menken's life before her stage career is difficult to document because her elaborate stories about her personal history indicate a variety of names, ethnic backgrounds, birthplaces, and genealogies. The first documented evidence of her presence in Texas appeared in a Liberty Gazette advertisement on October 8, 1855, announcing that Ada Bertha Théodore would be giving readings of Shakespeare. Subsequent issues of the newspaper contained poems and essays attributed to her and datelined Austin City and Washington, Texas.
On April 3, 1856 in Livingston, Texas, she married Alexander Isaac Menken, a Jewish theatrical musician from Cincinnati, Ohio. She made her theatrical debut in 1857 as Pauline in The Lady of Lyons at Shreveport, Louisiana and then appeared in Fazio, as Bianca, in New Orleans. After two years of limited engagements at small theaters in New Orleans, Shreveport, and Nashville, Menken urged her husband to take her to his family in Cincinnati. There she embraced Judaism, occasionally claiming to have been born a Jew. In March 1859, Menken made her New York debut as the Widow Cheerly in The Soldier's Daughter. She also published a number of poems in the Cincinnati Israelite. Her husband's family, however, did not appreciate Menken's unorthodox career. The couple secured a rabbinical diploma dissolving their marriage, but she continued using Menken as her stage name. Menken subsequently married and divorced three more husbands and gave birth to two sons, both of whom died in infancy.
Menken continued to write poetry and play minor roles until June 1861, when she was called upon to star in Mazeppa; or The Wild Horse of Tartary, a melodrama based on a poem by Lord Byron that opened at Albany's Green Street Theatre. Already accustomed to male roles, Menken strapped herself to a horse for the climax. In flesh-toned tights underneath dim stage lights, she appeared nude. She became an overnight sensation. During the next few years, the drama played the major northeastern and midwestern cities, toured the West, and was a great success in Europe. Menken soon received the highest pay ever earned by an actress.
Always longing for recognition as a poet, Menken associated with many of the literary personages of her time. In the West, she mingled with authors Samuel Clemens and Bret Harte, and poet Joaquin Miller. In Europe, she purportedly had affairs with French novelist Alexandre Dumas, père, and with English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. French novelist George Sand was godmother at the baptism of her son Louis. Menken's own book of verse, Infelicia (1868), was published posthumously and dedicated to novelist Charles Dickens.
Menken spent her large earnings from the theater on luxuries and gave generously to friends, struggling actors and artists, and charities, leaving her with little at the end. In the winter of 1867-1868, she attempted without much success to revive Mazeppa. Afterward, she returned to Paris and went into rehearsal for a revival of her other mainstay, Les Pirates de la Savane, but complications arose from an injury she had sustained while performing in London. Her last performance was on May 30, 1868. She died on August 10, 1868 and was buried in Paris.
(Source: Pamela Lynn Palmer, The New Handbook of Texas (Austin: The Texas State Historical Association, 1996), IV, 622-623.)
Adah Isaacs Menken was a poet and an actress living and working in southeast Texas, New York and Paris for much of her career. This collection was compiled to document portions of her career, focusing primarily on her time in Texas. Materials present include publications, photocopied articles, correspondence and a literary production. Dates covered are 1855-2004, undated, bulk dating 1855-1907. The collection includes several early editions of Infelicia, a volume of poetry by Menken. Much of the photocopied material covers the mid-1850s, while she was active in Texas. During this period, essays and poetry attributed to her were published in the Liberty Gazette, a weekly newspaper published in Liberty, Texas.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
Restrictions on Access
Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center reading room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
Under the Copyright Act of 1976 as amended in 1998, unpublished manuscripts are protected at a minimum through December 31, 2002 or 70 years after the author's death. The term of copyright for published material varies. Researchers are responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
(Identify the item), Adah Isaacs Menken Collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: 1980.35, 1986.292, 1994.63, 1998.256
This collection was created by staff using material from the holdings at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center. The Atascosito Historical Society donated Enchanting Rebel on June 20, 1980; the 1902 edition of Infelicia and Biography of Adah Isaacs Menken (1869) on December 31, 1986; and the 1888 and 1890 editions of Infelicia on February 28, 1994. Houston and Charlotte Daniel donated the 1868 edition of Infelicia on December 31, 1998.
Finding aid by Lynda Young, 2004
Updated by Lisa Meisch and Lynda Young, 2005
Revised and updated by Lisa Meisch, 2012
Coded in XML and edited for DACS compliance by Laura Saegert, March 2013