Guide to the Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868) Collection, undated, 1862-1868


Processed by Felicia Herman

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



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Machine-readable finding aid created by Felicia Herman as MS Word document, August 1995. Finding aid was encoded by Marvin Rusinek on September 24, 2009. Finding aid written in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator:Menken, Adah Isaacs (1835-1868)
Title:Adah Isaacs Menken Collection
Dates:undated, 1862-1868
Abstract:The collection consists of playbills of "Rookwood" (1864?) and "La Juive" (undated); letters to "Dear Brother Ed" (1862), Henry Francis Keenan (1862) and J.C. Hotten (1868); two photograph Cartes De Visite and a photograph and negative of Menken with Algernon C. Swinburne.
Languages:The collection is in English.
Quantity: 4 folders in a consolidated box (4 folders)
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
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Biographical Note1

Adah Isaacs Menken was born in Milneburg (a suburb of New Orleans), Louisiana, in 1835. Learned in Bible, literature and languages (including Latin and Hebrew), she served at one time as a teacher in a girls' school. Menken married Alexander Isaac Menken in 1856, and the couple lived first in New Orleans (where Menken began performing to earn money) and then in Cincinnati. She began publishing poems (some in Isaac Mayer Wise's Israelite), and she lobbied intensely for Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild to be able to claim the seat in the English Parliament which was being denied him because he was a Jew.

Menken and her husband divorced (by rabbinical divorce), after which she moved to New York and had three unhappy marriages (to non-Jews).

Menken's fame as an actor spread with her portrayal of Mazeppa in the adaptation of the Byron play in 1861. Literary men, including Mark Twain, and later Charles Dickens and Charles Reade, flocked to her side. During the great Exposition in Paris, "she became the darling and the rumored mistress of kings and princes; and she cultivated her intimate and ambiguous friendship with the elderly Alexandre Dumas. She returned to London and was involved with the poet Swinburne. In 1868 she left for Paris again, to appear in a new production; but very soon the ailments that had set in years before brought on her death, in an attic room opposite the theatre. Among others, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited her; and the poet Thomas Buchanan Read was with her to the end. A rabbi attended her last hours."

Two volumes of Menken's poetry were published, Infelicia (1868) and Memoirs (1856).

1 Source: The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 7.

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Scope and Content Note

The Adah Isaacs Menken collection contains photographs, correspondence and ephemera relating to the life of one of the most famous actors in 19th-century America. Included are photographs of Menken and Algernon C. Swinburne, a photograph of Menken in costume, letters written by Menken, and playbills from two plays, in one of which Menken starred.

The collection is valuable to researchers studying 19th-century American theater and Jews and women in American theater.

The documents are in English.

The collection contains 10 items.

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The collection is organized into a single series.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

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Related Material

The library of the American Jewish Historical Society contains several volumes by and about Adah Isaacs Menken. These include: Adah Isaacs Menken, Infelicia. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1869, 1881 and 1888).

There is also a photograph of the tombstone of Adah Isaacs Menken (taken in 1933) in the collection of Alice Davis Menken (P-23), who was a daughter-in-law of a brother of one of Adah Menken's husbands.

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Digitization Note

Box CB 5 Folder 3 has been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Adah Isaacs Menken Collection; P-559; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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Acquisition Note

Gift of Mrs. Elsie Sang, 1986.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.


Adah Isaacs Menken collection, undated, 1862-1868

.25 linear feet. Box 1.
Scope and Content:

See Scope and Content Note.

CB 5 1 Photograph and Negative undated request_box

1. photograph of Algernon C. Swinburne and Adah Isaacs Menken
- with description pasted on back describing the photo and with a description of her book Infelicia, which might possibly have been partly written by him
2. page from a book with copy of this photograph on it and a small description
3. negative of this photograph

CB 5 2 Photograph Carte De Visite undated request_box

1. of AIM in costume [as Diana?], holding bow and arrow
2. of Edward James sitting in a chair, with inscription "Truly Yours, Ed James"

CB 5 3 Letters 1862, 1868

1. letter (and transcription) from AIM to "Henri" - Henry Francis Keenan, September 5, 1862

  • - transcription has a short description of Keenan and of why this letter was of interest:
    • - Keenan was her former page, a journalist and novelist
    • - she mentions "Orpheus C. Kerr," the pseudonym of Robert Henry Newell, who was to be become one of her husbands
    • - her sister, Anne Campbell Josephs, "Joe," died April 28: "I am now indeed alone."
    • - her manager was cheating her and was often drunk, so she fired him

2. from AIM to "brother Ed," December 9, 1862

  • - she's playing to full houses in Baltimore
  • - a benefit was help for her, and she had $1500 worth of diamonds presented to her: "It was the greatest present ever got up in Baltimore, and no humbug about it either."
  • - "Some day, Ed, I am going to be the greatest artiste in the world, and then you will be proud to have me for your/affectionate sister,/Adah"
  • - he seems to be handling her business affairs

3. from AIM to J.C. Hotten, March 17, 1868

  • - with description of the meaning of the letter
  • - she's waiting for proofs of her book (most likely Infelicia), and wants to know when he's going to advertise it
  • - she's also upset about her portrait which will go in the book - "it looks affected. Perhaps I am a little vain - all women are - but the picture is certainly not beautiful"

  View the folder 
CB 5 4 Playbills 1864, 1866 request_box

1. from La Juive, May 21, 1866

  • - she's not in it
  • - it's at the Academy of Music
  • - there's a handwritten note on the bottom, "The Academy was burned down this [run?]"

2. from Rookwood!, or The Yorkshire Highwayman, January 7, 1864

  • - AIM is Jack Palmer and Dick Turpin
  • - in rehearsal is 3 Fast Women, in which AIM will "appear in 9 Characters, 5 Songs and 3 Dances"

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