Anna Cora Mowatt
Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie (1819-1870) was a playwright, performer, poet, novelist, essayist and memoir writer who began publishing her work while still a teenager. Fashion is generally considered the best nineteenth century comedy, and her invaluable Autobiography of an Actress provides humorous and penetrating insights into the theater of her time.
Anna was born in Bordeaux, France, on March 5, 1819, to an American family that returned to the United States when she was six. Married at fifteen to James Mowatt, a New York lawyer who soon went bankrupt, Anna published numerous periodical articles as well as “compilations” on such subjects as knitting, housekeeping and etiquette to support the family. She also began giving public readings, primarily of poetry.
Mowatt’s influence on the theater extended beyond her writing. In June of 1845 she became a professional actress, an unprecedented move in a day when performers were social outcasts drawn either from the lowest classes or from the children of those already in the profession. Mowatt enjoyed a successful performing career for nearly nine years and helped modify cultural attitudes toward actresses.
After the death of her first husband, Anna married William Foushee Ritchie. She made her last stage appearance in 1854, the same year she published her revealing memoir Autobiography of an Actress, but continued to write fiction and short sketches. In 1865 she left Ritchie and moved to England, where she died on July 21, 1870.