Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez in America

By Sarah McCleave

Lola’s determination to try her luck in America demonstrated her capacity to take on new challenges and her quest for adventure. In her initial four-year sojourn to that country (1851-1855), she traversed a goodly span of the still-expanding United States, developing her skills as an actress and a lecturer while still remaining active as a ‘Spanish dancer’. This blog will focus on the kind of reception she attracted, particularly in the print media.1) Lola had already been an occasional subject of interest in the American press since her London début, where her persona as a “Spanish danseuse who has created a great sensation” was lauded for demonstrating a “bewitching” softness and suppleness (Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, 29 July 1843). Symptomatic of her status as a celebrity, Lola received more intense coverage during her turbulent period in Munich. Philadelphia’s Public Ledger offered a terse account of the Munich riots that served mainly to apportion blame:

Lola Montez the dancer, by her impudent conduct and unpopularity, has occasioned a riot at Munich which compelled her to leave.2

Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 20 March 1848

Lola’s peregrinations since fleeing Munich eventually led her to Paris by late March 1851. She subsequently prepared her return to the stage, placing herself under the tutelage of dancer turned impresario Charles Mabille, who choreographed a tarentella as well as Bavarian, Hungarian, and Tyrolean dances for her. She made important contacts with Americans such as Edward Payson Willis, younger brother of the editor and author Nathanial Parker Willis; Lola also intrigued James Gordon Bennett, editor and publisher of the New York Herald – who would lead his peers in providing Montez with what amounted to free publicity throughout her American period. The younger Willis had encouraged Lola to make an American tour; she duly made provision for this when, on 26 August 1851, she signed a six-month contract with the Parisian-based agents Roux et cie (later reneged in favour of Payson Willis). On 12 September Lola offered a private preview of her repertory at the Jardin Mabille, before undertaking what would be her final European tour through parts of France, Belgium, and what is now Germany.3)

Lola’s arrival Stateside was already anticipated. On 22 August 1851, the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel and Gazette dismissed her as a “notorious courtesan concerning whose probable visit to this country much has been said of late”. By the time Lola had disembarked the Humboldt in New York city on 5 December 1851, her arrival had also attracted the attentions of thespian-turned-caricaturist David Claypoole Johnston (1798-1865). Johnston was inspired to comment on Lola’s capacity to disrupt and to stimulate through a pair of images: directly below we have ‘Lola coming!’ which depicts a pert dancer aloft a departing boat, cheerily saluting a group of variously stunned or bereft men of high station, including an openly distraught king Ludwig (presumably the weeping figure with handkerchief).

1851 Caricature of Lola Montez by David Claypoole Johnston. Private collection.

Johnstone also marked Lola’s arrival with ‘Lola is come!’ (see featured image, above). News editor Bennett takes pride of place to our right, in what would have been the best seat in the house for enjoying Lola’s “bewitching” postures up close — and for determining whether she sported knickers or not. We have an anonymous puritan in the audience, showing both disapproval (through the tract in his hand) and fascination (the expanded iris of his one visible eye as he stares through his fingers at the audacious dancer). It is not known whether the stage manager to the left – keenly anticipating his acquisition of 50% of the proceeds – is Broadway Theatre manager Thomas Barry (at whose theatre Lola made her American début on 29 December 1851) or merely a figure representative of his profession.4)

Lola’s performances attracted both advance notices and reviews in the press. Of the latter, one of the more favourable notices lauded her “great ability” in the pantomime sections of the ballet, Betley the Tyrolean, claiming Montez the equal to the “versatile and expressive mime artist” Céline Céleste. (Céleste had toured the US on several occasions, most recently in 1851.) 5) Montez’s dancing made an impression as “decidedly unique and original”; her acting displayed a capacity to make an ungratefully-written character appear interesting  although her voice lacked projection in its upper range. As to her person, Montez of the “remarkably beautiful” eyes also possessed a “good” figure, “incomparably graceful” action and a “most radiant” smile. (The Mississippi Free Trader, 26 January 1853). On 19 January 1851 , the same paper had already reported on Lola graciously sharing the tributes and bouquets of an enthusiastic audience with her colleagues; this action endeared her to the audience still further.

Tonight she will perform a pas seul … [she] will be original. She copies from no one; she is herself alone.

Mississippi Free Trader (Natchez), 19 January 1853, p. 2

Whether Lola’s authenticity as a performer was mirrored in her off-stage persona is debatable. The generosity she displayed on the Natchez stage may have been calculated to stimulate positive publicity, but if so was certainly not a one-off: the “much beloved” Lola had been reported offering “unbounded” acts of charity to the poor whilst resident on Lake Geneva in 1848; in 1852, she offered a charitable performance for the Disabled firemen at Philadelphia’s Walnut theatre. For the latter act she was rewarded with a formal presentation that was duly recorded in the press.6) And while her regrettable temper underpinned her most audacious actions – including her tendency to brandish whips, pistols, or poison when editors or theatre managers treated her unfavorably 7) – she also demonstrated genuine courage, as this anecdote regarding an encounter with a group of army officers reveals:

Lola Montez is bound to keep herself before the public. It is related that while she was in Montreal she visited a well-known confectionary establishment on Notre-Dame street, and while there was annoyed by the entrance of several young army officers, who, under the pretence of buying something, gazed pertinaciously and unpleasantly at her. After submitting awhile, Lola walked up to the mistress of the saloon and asked, “Madam, how much do these persons owe you?” Her only answer at first was a look of surprise, but on the question being repeated, she was told “One shilling and sixpence.” “Here it is, then,” said Lola, “I would not wish that these gentlemen should lose a single copper in gratifying their curiosity by staring at me.” The officers retreated in confusion.

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 22 October 1857, p. 1

This tale also shows Montez harnessing her capacity to be unconventional to good effect: the socially aggressive officers could not have anticipated her response, nor could they find any answer to it apart from retreat. Within weeks of her arrival, a Milwaukee-based journal offered the following evaluation of Montez’s character:

She is daring, reckless, if you will, and is unwilling to be bound down by the ordinary rules of the social compact. If a gentleman should insult her, she would shoot him, and not expect any one to do it for her.

Wisconsin Free Democrat, 21 January 1852

After four years supporting herself while cultivating her celebrity status in the United States, on 6 June 1855 Lola left her final residence in San Francisco for pastures new — boarding the Fanny Major bound for Sydney.


  1. For a most engaging use of press reports to forge a narrative of Lola’s American years, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez a Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 283-330. This blog has also conducted an independent investigation of America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex). All newspaper references in this blog are taken from this subscription resource.
  2. The Philadelphia Ledger returned to the subject of Lola whenever she became associated with violent scandal: see the article ‘Lola Montez and the Jesuits’ (3 May 1852) that reports on the forcible ejection of an Italian count from her suite at the Howard Hotel; the incident culminated in a pitched row between two groups of men that the paper was happy to report on while painting Lola as a vengeful harpy.
  3. These events are detailed in Seymour, pp. 268-279. While Seymour’s index tentatively attributes the poet Victor Mabille as Montez’s coach and choreographer, it seems far more likely that the dancer Charles Mabille (1816-1858) assumed this role.
  4. It is not possible to identify with confidence Lola’s contact from among several roughly contemporaneous actors known as Thomas Barry. The Irish actor-manager Thomas Barry (1743-1768) was born too late; Thomas Barry Sullivan (1821-1891) was not based in the US at the correct time. It is not known whether the Thomas Barry managing New York’s Broadway theatre in 1851 also managed a Boston theatre in 1856, see
  5. For the review of Montez see Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), 18 March 1852. For the evaluation of Céline Céleste and her American dates, see J. Moody, 2006, Céleste [married name Céleste-Elliott], Céline [known as Madame Céleste] (1810/11–1882), actress and theatre manager. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 25 May 2023, from
  6. For Lola’s actions in Lake Geneva, see the Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), 1 August 1848; for the Philadelphia episode, see the Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 2 February 1852.
  7. For two of her challenges to men of the press, see the Albany Evening Journal, 18 August 1853 and 16 December 1854; for a charge of assault and battery raised in regards to the manager of the Varieties theatre, see the Mississippi free Trader of 26 April 1853.

Next post

The next post will consider Lola Montez’s reception in Australia.

Historical biography Uncategorised


Augusta Maywood (1825-1877?)

By Lynn Matluck Brooks

Franklin & Marshall College

As the early United States was forming its own cultural products, the ballet stage was dominated by French performers. The artistry, renown, and earnings of some of these imported ballerinas inspired young Americans with stage ambitions. Among these, Augusta Maywood became one of the earliest home-grown ballerinas of repute (see Fig. 1), debuting with a competitor to that title, Mary Ann Lee, in The Maid of Cashmere, as the opera-ballet La Bayadère was called in their joint season (December 1837 to January 1838) at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia. The young dancers—Augusta was twelve, Mary Ann thirteen or fourteen—appeared in the opposing roles of Zelica/Zoloé (Maywood) and Fatima (Lee).[1] For the preceding year or two, they had been students of Philadelphia dancing master P. H. Hazard, who claimed Paris Opéra training. Both girls’ tuition under Hazard was paid for by Philadelphia theatre manager Robert Maywood. Augusta, born in New York City, was his adopted daughter (he married her actress-mother after Augusta’s parents divorced); she spent most of her youth in Philadelphia. Her exposure to the stage from childhood surely contributed to Augusta’s theatrical savvy, compensating for her short period of formal study. Charles Durang, an astute observer, remarked on her “natural abilities for agility and grace.” Another Philadelphia critic wrote that Augusta’s début “created quite a sensation in the public mind,” owing to her “precision” as a dancer, despite her youth, and her possessing “the mind and the science of the artiste.”[2]

Figure 1: Augusta Maywood as Zoloé, New York Public Library. Public domain.

Durang wrote, “Augusta Maywood really was a prodigy. […] At one bound this talented girl stood beside the best terpsichorean artistes that we had in the country.”[3] He shrewdly added that, “With the furore this precocious child of dance had elicited, it would have proved good policy, while the excitement raged, to have starred her through the country.” Instead, her parents hastened her to Paris to study at the Académie Royale, “losing the pecuniary rewards which a tour in the United States would clearly have gained.” But perhaps manager Maywood saw that, with the polish of the French academy and the lustre of a Paris Opéra début, the still-malleable Augusta would be unbeatable as the first and greatest ballerina the U.S. had produced. In Paris, “her improvement was wonderful,” Durang wrote, and she was granted a coveted début at the Opéra, which “resulted in a brilliant triumph.” A reporter for Philadelphia’s National Gazette obtained entry to “the dancing room of the Grand Opera” to see “the little prodigy who had aroused such just admiration” in her U.S. début.[4] He praised “the exhibition of her highly developed powers, that attracted yesterday,” on the Opéra stage, “the zealous admiration of her graceful associates, and excited, naturally enough, the vanity of her skilful master, M. Corallie [sic], principal ballet master in the Academie Royale.” Perceived as a modest, dutiful American daughter, Augusta, this commentator assured readers, showed “no vulgar display of person, no attitudinizing appeals to the coarse sensualist; she moves in a region far beyond this—where all is grace and beauty—realized as those ideas can only be, if ever, of the soft, swelling movements of a buoyant and exquisitely formed girl, whose look of youthful innocence dispels every unchaste vision.”

Paris critic Théophile Gautier saw Augusta differently at her Opera debut of 25 November 1839, when she danced in the canonical ballets Le Diable boiteux and La Tarantule.[5] He noted her “distinctive type of talent,” which revealed “something brusque, unexpected and fantastic that sets her utterly apart” from the stars or aspirants of that theatre. She “has now come to seek the sanction of Paris, for the opinion of Paris is important even for the barbarians of the United States in their world of railroads and steamboats.” Americans—be they “Indians” or entrepreneurs—were all, to the refined continental viewer, savage. Still, “for a prodigy, Mlle Maywood really is very good.” And, blending together his conceptions of American industrial drive and the barbaric U.S. population, Gautier found Augusta “very near to being pretty,” with her “wild little face, […] sinews of steel, legs of a jaguar, and agility not unlike that of a circus performer.” Beyond her wild animal qualities, she faced the Paris audience with perfect tranquility: “You would have thought she was simply dealing with a pit full of Yankees.” We can also gather from Gautier details of Augusta’s technical accomplishment: “almost horizontal vols penchés,” turns in the air, “tours de reins,” her “small legs, like those of a wild doe,” striding like Marie Taglioni’s. In December 1839, Augusta’s name appeared on the payroll of the Paris Opéra.[6]

The wildness Gautier perceived in La Petite Augusta won out in her nature over the “innocence” American commentators initially praised as they read their desires onto the young ballerina. In 1840, still a teenager, she eloped with her Paris Opéra partner, Charles Mabille (1816-1858), bore a child, abandoned husband and baby, and toured throughout Europe—Lisbon, Vienna, Budapest, and Milan, dancing with the most renowned ballet stars in works by leading choreographers, often in starring roles. Augusta settled at La Scala, Milan, in 1849, ascending to prima ballerina assoluta there before retiring in 1862. She often danced in other Italian cities as well in this period but, apparently, Miss Maywood kept abreast of doings back home: among her many triumphs in Italy was her balletic staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, created soon after its U.S. dramatization (1853).[7] She also toured with her own ballet troupe and starred in her greatest hit, the ballet Rita Gauthier, by Filippo Termanini, based on Dumas’s La Dame aux camélias.

Figure 2) Maywood by Bedetti, NYPL. Public Domain.

Figure 3. Maywood in Rita Gaulthier by Bedetti. Biblioteca nazionale universitaria – Torino.

Although Robert Maywood joined Augusta in Italy while she was touring (sometime during the period between 1852 and 1855) and lived there at her expense for a few years, she eventually sent him back to the U.S. where he died in obscurity. But long before that point, U.S. commentators had excoriated Augusta’s independent streak, damning their former darling for abandoning her doting parents, then her husband and child, and yet somehow, infuriatingly, being rewarded with success. Philadelphia theatre manager Francis Wemyss wrote of his dashed hopes for an American theatrical model in Augusta: “She has deserted her husband, and the heartless letter in which she recommended her child to the care of its father, at the moment she was abandoning him for the arms of a paramour, proves that her heart is even lighter than her heels. The very brilliance of her opening in life has been her ruin; the stage again pointed at as impure and immoral”[7]—this the greatest of her sins for Wemyss. Augusta, “who would have been the pride” of the stage “as an American artiste—who had gained the highest honors abroad—has become its shame: and thus I draw the veil upon her and her crimes for ever, hoping she may never attempt to appear upon the stage of her native country again.” Durang’s condemnation was at least as indignant: “let us draw the veil of oblivion over our regrets, over her and her crimes. In her lovely villa on the beautiful banks of the Arno, in sunny Italy, where she resides in seeming happiness, she may yet die in the conscientious throes of a guilty heart.”[9]

Instead, Augusta retired to Vienna, where she taught dancing– later lived peacefully in a villa on Lake Como.


[1] This season is covered in Charles Durang’s History of the Philadelphia Stage, between the years 1749 and 1855, arranged and illustrated by Thompson Westcott (Philadelphia: Thompson Westcott, 1868), vol. 4, ch. 50-51; the Public Ledger newspaper, Philadelphia; and the same city’s Weekly Messenger. See also Costonis, Maureen, “’The wild doe’: Augusta Maywood in Philadelphia and Paris, 1837–1840,” Dance Chronicle vol. 17, no. 2 (1994): 123-48; and Winter, Marian H., “Augusta Maywood,” 118-37 in Chronicles of the American Dance, ed. Paul Magriel (1948; New York: Da Capo Press, 1978). Documents on Maywood are available at New York Public Library-Performing Arts, Dance Clipping File, Augusta Maywood, *MGZR.

[2] Dramatic Mirror (20 November 1841): 113.

[3] Durang, History, vol. 4, ch. 51, p. 147-48.

[4] “La Petite Augusta,” National Gazette (18 December 1838). The reference in the next line is to renowned choreographer and dancing master, Jean Coralli, with whom Augusta studied for a year and a half in Paris, along with her classes from another great artist of the ballet, Joseph Mazilier (Costonis, “The Wild Doe,” 129-30).

[5] Gautier, Théophile. Gautier on Dance, ed. and trans. Ivor Guest(London: Dance Books, 1986), 79-80. The ballets mentioned were created for Fanny Elssler: Le Diable boiteux (1836, Paris Opera), music by Casimir Gide, choreography by Coralli; La Tarantule (1839, Paris Opera), libretto by Eugene Scribe, music by Gide, choreography by Coralli.

[6] Augusta Maywood’s contract with the Paris Opéra for the period 1st December 1839 to 30th November 1840 is preserved at the Paris Archives Nationales, AJ/13/195, Personal dossier, “Maywood, Mlle.” Annotations on it reveal that her core salary of 1500 francs was doubled to 300o francs during the signing session that involved Augusta, her mother Louisa Maywood and Director-Entrepreneur Henri Duponchel.

[7] Parmenia Migel Ekstrom, “Augusta Maywood,” in Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 518.

[8] Wemyss, Francis. Twenty-Six Years of the Life of An Actor and Manager, v. II (New York: Burgess, Stringer and Co., 1847), 293.

[9] Durang, History, vol. 4, ch. 51, 148.


Fig. 1). “La petite Augusta, aged 12 years, in the character of Zoloé, in the Bayadère,” by E. W. Clay, New York, 1838. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed 22 May 2022.

Fig. 2.) “Augusta Maywood,” by Augusto Bedetti, Ancona, c. 1853. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed 22 May 2022.

Fig. 3). “Atto 1. nel ballo ‘Rita Gauthier’” by A. Bedett[i], c. 1856. Biblioteca nazionale universitaria – Torino – IT-TO0265, identifier: IT\ICCU\TO0\1860890.