Charlotte Saunders Cushman

Biography of Charlotte Saunders Cushman

Charlotte Saunders Cushman (July 23, 1816 – February 18, 1876) was an American stage actress.

She was a descendant in the eighth generation from Pilgrim Robert Cushman who brought the family name to the United States on the Mayflower. Robert Cushman was a leader and great advocate for emigration to America. He became a preacher in the colonies, and was known for giving the first sermon in America. Charlotte's father, Elkanah, rose from poverty to be a successful West Indian merchant. Charlotte was a remarkably bright, sportive child, excelling over her schoolmates and developing a voice of remarkable compass and richness, with a full contralto register. Two friends of her father, one of them John Mackay, in whose piano factory Jonas Chickering was then foreman, provided her with musical instruction. Cushman was forced to take on serious responsibilities at a very young age. At the age of thirteen, her father underwent serious financial troubles and shortly after died, leaving his family with nearly nothing. This caused Charlotte to find her way to bring income to her family. Though Cushman was an incredibly great student and achieved much academically, she left school to pursue a career in the opera.

When Mrs. Joseph Wood visited Boston in 1834, Capt. Mackay introduced Cushman, who sang with her in two of her concerts. Through Mrs. Wood's influence she became a pupil of James G. Maeder, a lady's musical director, and under his instruction made her first appearance in opera in the Tremont Theatre as the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro with great success, and her second as Lucy Bertram in Guy Mannering. She went with his company to New Orleans, where her voice, which had been strained by the soprano parts assigned to her, suddenly failed. Seeking the counsel of James H. Caldwell, manager of the principal theatre of New Orleans, she was advised by him and by Barton, the tragedian, to become an actress, and given the part of Lady Macbeth to study, in which she made her appearance with complete success in 1835.

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