A copy of a playbill announcing the appearance of Adah Isaacs Menken in Mazeppa, on August 27th, 1863 at Maguire’s Opera House. With a copy of a photograph of Menken, exhibited through the courtesy of the California Historical Society, FN-19627.
Adah Isaacs Menken was born near New Orleans about 1835. Facts concerning her family name and early life are obscure. She was left in poverty at an early age, and appeared on the stage in New Orleans and in other US cities. In 1856 she married Alexander Isaacs Menken, and thereafter bore his name through various matrimonial ventures, including marriage to heavyweight fighter “Benicia Boy.” While on the stage in San Francisco, Adah knew many local writers, including Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and Joaquin Miller. In 1864 she appeared in Astley’s Theatre, London as Mazeppa. In this role she appeared almost nude, strapped to a running horse. In England and France Adah became intimate with many literary men – Algernon Swinburne, Charles Reade, and Charles Dickens, to whom she dedicated a volume of verse, Infelicia. Adah Isaacs Menken played other Dickensian roles, including Pip in Great Expectations. Nicholas Nickleby was performed for her benefit in New York City in 1862.