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EJ Phillips: Her dramatic career,
cross-country travels and Golden Age of the American theatre
How a 19th-century character actress and single mother performed with the great actors in the Gilded Age, and raised a family in her spare time

Mary Glen Chitty mgchitty@gmail.com 



Plucky 19th century Canadian girl (1830-1904) finds an acting career and love in Toronto. but must support herself and her two young children  when their much older father dies in 1864. She becomes a notable Broadway actress, touring California seven times and performing for and meeting Grover Cleveland in the White House. . An indefatigable letter-writer, she left a cache of over 1,000 letters to her young adult son Albert Nickinson  which ended up in a family attic to be read and researched by the author, her great-great granddaughter. 
EJ Phillips in The Rivals as Mrs. Malaprop           
 Sarony 87 Union Sq. N.Y. 
Chestnut St Theatre Philadelphia 1877    

Table of contents book outline

Introduction About EJ Phillips

E.J. Phillips [Elizabeth Jane] was born September 7, 1830 in Chatham (Quebec) Canada, made her stage debut in 1852 in Hamilton, Ontario, half-way between Toronto and Buffalo), joined John Nickinson's Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in Toronto, and eventually became a member of AM Palmer's noted stock companies at the Union Square and Madison Square Theaters during what is described as the "golden age of American theatre". When Broadway roles weren’t forthcoming, or New York theaters were closed during hot summers  she traveled with her New York touring companies overland by train to California seven times, visiting Indian reservations and the White House, and climbed Pike’s Peak on horseback.



With EJP's career, single parenthood (after she was widowed, and possibly before she married John Nickinson -- assuming she did), and addresses in funky parts of Manhattan, I've been revising stereotypes I'd held about Victorian women. It was also a surprise to realize that her San Francisco was before the earthquake, her Boston pre-Fenway Park and her Madison Square preceded the Flatiron Building.    





About these letters  


These letters reveal an enterprising intrepid working woman who matured as a respected character actress and continued to work well into her late 60s. She was almost 53 when these letters begin in 1883, and had been in New York and with Palmer for 6 years.  


Working  in the stock companies of the Union Square and Madison Square Theatres in New York City, Elizabeth Jane (known as E.J.), performed with the greats of her day, including Booths --  Junius Brutus Booth Jr. in “Othello” (the night Lincoln was shot by his brother John Wilkes Booth), JB Booth Jr’s widow Agnes Booth and Barrymores and Drews Maurice Barrymore, father of Lionel, Ethel and  John, and James O’Neill, father of Eugene. She performed in Washington DC during  Grover Cleveland’s 1885 inauguration and attended his inaugural ball.



Cleveland inauguration souvenir program 1885             pensionbldg.jpg
                                                                                                                         Pension Building floor plan Inaugural Ball




I can remember as a child hearing exotic stories about great-great grandparents who acted. These had much more to do with the irony of Yankee (as we thought of the Canadian) John Nickinson playing in Uncle Tom's Cabin (in a family with then five, now six generations of Florida born folk, including both editors and annotators.) I had only the haziest of ideas about him and great-great grandmother EJ Phillips, until I started reading some of these letters (stored in a Styrofoam ice chest in the attic) in Sewanee Tennessee in December 1991, on the morning I planned to leave.  Mother and Daddy showed up in Boston that summer in 1992 with two boxes of letters, somewhat daunted at the prospect of dealing with this quantity. I  began transcribing at random, word- processing about five pages. Later they found another trunkful of letters and papers in a garage in Pensacola Florida.  The 1,000 plus letters fill a photocopy paper carton, not counting other artifacts and photographs. It is not just the current generations who harbor packrat tendencies.

Elizabeth Jane Phillips letter      Crystal box with engraved EJP initials    




Mary Glen Chitty 

 was born in Miami Florida and grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, spending summers in Pensacola Florida and wondering if she would ever get out of the state until she went off to college and earned a BA in Anthropology from Yale and an MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  .She is a biotech librarian, taxonomist/lexicographer, author and book reviewer for Library Journal, BioIT World, and Clinical Informatics News, and editor of the website Biopharmaceutical Glossaries & Taxonomies  http://www.genomicglossaries.com/








She pieces together a social, geographical, and theatrical history of the Gilded Age and the Victorian theatre scene from the many letters E.J. wrote describing the actress’s professional concerns, her touring schedules, house-keeping issues, boarding-house life, single-parent childrearing, mothering and grandmothering, medical dilemmas, and the rigors of long-distance travel. Her sturdy cheerfulness and unflagging interest in the scenes unfolding around her have much to teach us today  about the balancing act that is modern life. The book also details the stories of uncovering the contexts and significance of these first hand reports in an era marked by rapid changes in technologies, great volatility and uncertainty in the theatrical profession (and elsewhere) in both booming and trying economic times. 


*Prologue: Climbing Pike’s Peak August 1883 

This dramatic letter is the earliest we have from EJ Phillips, written from San Francisco during her second trip  to California.



"Well, I have been to the top of  Pike's Peak, and I am not sorry for it.  It was the grandest sight I ever saw.  Had I known what a journey it was I should never dared attempt it - but I started thinking it was about four or five miles, but when I had been traveling about an hour up the narrow path, so narrow in some places that two horses could not pass each other - I asked the guide how far it was, and he told me it was 13 miles from the place where we mounted the horses."
 Signal Station Pike's Peak 1882, Library of Congress


*The Traveling quilt  c1879-1930
"When Mrs. Phillips was "on the road" she kept a plentiful supply of unbleached muslin squares in her trunk. In her spare moments she would arrange on these squares little scraps of costume material, for those were the days when actresses made and paid for the greater part of their stage wardrobes.  To me, the most interesting thing about the quilt is that many pieces had a history. My grandmother [Hattie Nickinson Dolman] can remember where most of the pieces came from, and in many cases, just how a particular dress was made, for as a young girl she helped her make a good part of the stage wardrobe. There is a bit of burgundy-colored brocade in the quilt, which came from the Nurse's gown in 
"Romeo and Juliet". Mrs. Phillips played the Nurse to Olga Nethersole's Juliet [1894]. A piece of purple and old gold brocade comes next. That was used for a tea gown in "Captain Swift"[1888]. Agnes Booth [wife of Junius Brutus Booth Jr., brother to Edwin and John Wilkes] and Maurice Barrymore [father of Ethel, Lionel and John] were in that. The striking piece of silk, near the center, the light to dark lavender brocade, has perhaps the most interesting history of all. It was a ball gown worn to a reception in Cincinnati for the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in about 1861 [Sept 1860]. When Mrs. Phillips was playing at Pike's Opera House Mr. Pike brought the dress to her saying it was too conspicuous for his wife to wear often, and if Mrs. Phillips could use it, she might have it."
Barbara Dolman Spencer, written for her freshman English class at the University. of Pennsylvania 1930



Sue and Peggy Spencer came to Boston for Christmas 1998 and we took the quilt to Jay Penni, a neighbor of Mary Glen's to be photographed.  Sue gave me the quilt and I eventually took it to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell MA to be documented for their collection.  I'd been meaning to go there for years, and finally got there in May 2010 for a Yale Day of Service organized by Barbara Wagner. I'm told it is unusual for the provenance of quilts to be so thoroughly described.



Cast of Characters       Family tree
 Hattie Nickinson Dolman (1860-1946)  married Philadelphia lawyer John Dolman Jr. (1837-1939) in 1887. SonAlbert married  Mary Penelope Macardell Nickinson (1864-1955) in Middletown, New York on Thanksgiving 1889. 

Grandsons Jack Dolman (1888-1952) and Edward Phillips Nickinson (1890-1948) were quite young in these letters. Each died fairly young, too soon to know their grandchildren.


 I could never have produced this website without my mother's transcription of them.  Em Turner Nickinson Kuhl (1928-2000) grew up in Pensacola and delighted in the company of Albert, her grandfather.  I never knew him -- he died the weekend my parents met.  Nor did I know her father Ted. But I grew up in Florida, going to Pensacola every summer and hearing stories of lots of relatives.

Mother 1996 reading the second edition 
 Beachnuts 1999, 619 North Baylen St., Pensacola Florida  Mother and Daddy's 50th wedding anniversary party at their wedding reception house.
Only child Edward Phillips Nickinson had three children, 12 grandchildren and 20+  great-grandchildren, and now at least 11 great-great grandchildren 2009-2020.   

EJ Phillips' Early life 1830-1852  Chatham Quebec, Hamilton Ontario and amateur theatricals  1830-1852
"Her family was in no way concerned with the theatre, and she passed her girlhood in an environment that would seem to offer small opportunity for the development  of dramatic talent." EJ Phillips obituary 1904   However the amateurs of Hamilton seem to have been somewhat more progressive than theatre in Toronto, as Mrs. Malaprop was being played there by a man with a beard, while Hamilton had actresses such as EJ Phillips playing that role.

Mary Glen visited Hamilton in 2005 in search of EJ Phillips and her family.  

Toronto and the Royal Lyceum Theatre 1852- 1860 
John Nickinson

Royal Lyceum Theatre 1852-1859, 1860   

After Mitchell's Olympic Theatre in New York closed abruptly in 1850, John Nickinson formed his own company and with daughter Charlotte toured in Providence Rhode Island, Montreal, and Rochester and ended up in Toronto in 1851. In 1852 he and Charlotte took to the road again with a larger company and more varied repertoire.  The company included Charles Peters (who married Eliza Nickinson) and Miss EJ Phillips. After  the Utica Museum [Theatre] Nickinson had been managing failed in 1852 he resettled in Toronto as Manager of the Royal Lyceum Theatre and stock company.


EJ Phillips wrote at the end of her life "In the meantime I had received several offers of employment from professional companies and at last accepted one from Messrs Besnard & Nickinson to open the season in Toronto, Ont on Easter Monday 1852. .I accepted his offer and through him was introduced into the Dramatic Profession and began my professional career.    

I soon realized that acting was work not play! Day after day new parts were handed to me to study for the next night. But experience was gained and confidence strengthened and now – near the close of 38 years I still feel the benefit derived from those early struggles. During my first ten years I played in the chief cities of Canada and in the western cities of New York State. Playing with nearly all of the prominent “stars” of the time, whose kindness and encouragement are still happy memories with me, 


In 1848 wealthy landowner John Ritchey opened his Royal Lyceum  the largest and the first fully equipped theatre in Toronto complete with a balcony, dressing rooms, footlights and, an orchestra pit  In 1852 actor/manager John Nickinson, along with his theatrical company, arrived from Buffalo for a 2-week engagement at the Royal Lyceum. Realizing Toronto needed a theatrical gap to be filled for the next quarter century, most of it under Nickinson’s expert direction, the Royal Lyceum paved the way for such great international stars as Sarah Bernhardt to look upon Toronto as a prosperous high point of any tour.  The Royal Lyceum that stood approximately where the cow pasture sculpture sits today is now part of the TD Centre was in operation for 25 years before it was destroyed by fire in 1874  [Durham, Bruce Bell]


Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, 1894 notes "It was a long time after he had taken the management of the Royal Lyceum that Mr. Nickinson was able to get any of the great actors of the day to visit Toronto and play in it. Fortunately while in New York he had gained the friendship of James Wallack, the Wallack whose star was in the ascendant, and as an act of friendship Mr Wallack accompanied by James Wallack Jr. came here to play a short engagement in the summer, for the theatre was kept open the year round. Mr. Wallack played his great part of Benedick to Miss Nickinson's Beatrice...Mr. Wallack's coming broke the ice, and after that it was comparatively easy to engage stars. ... CW Couldock starred frequently ... and was a great friend of Mr. Nickinson . ...During Mr. Nickinson's palmy days Toronto had all the best opera companies....G. Simcoe Lee, Owen Marlowe, Allan Halford  and the once famous prince of burnt cork comedians Cool Burgess all took their early baths in the dramatic tub, under the managerial dictum of John Nickinson.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin  was the outstanding success of John Nickinson’s first Royal Lyceum Theatre season, which achieved an unprecedented run of nine performances, from May 31 to June 8, 1853. Toronto's first production was a tremendous hit, and the first to have an extended run. Charlotte Nickinson played Eliza, EJ Phillips Cassey, and Virginia Nickinson was Topsey.

 John Nickinson and EJ Phillips also produced and performed in Dion Boucicault's Octoroon in 1861, the second most popular  play about slavery, after Uncle Tom's Cabin.



Louisa Lane Drew [mother of Georgie Drew Barrymore, and grandmother of John, Lionel and Ethel] appeared in Toronto in 1858 with her third husband John Drew, an Irish comedian, drawing good houses with familiar Irish comedies and farces: The Irish Ambassador, The Irish Emigrant and the Irish Lion.


By July 1858 Owen Marlowe, husband of Virginia Nickinson Marlowe, was the manager of the Royal Lyceum and John Nickinson had resigned (though he became manager again in September). "But the December Aladdin holiday spectacle failed to revive the theatre’s failing fortunes" and the New York Clipper announced the closing of the Royal Lyceum Feb 19, 1859.  The Marlowes reopened the theatre in April 1859. Later that year EJ Phillips and other Royal Lyceum actors were hired by the Pittsburgh Theatre, which closed after four months. In August the Marlowes announced the closing of the Royal Lyceum having lost $1,000. In September John Nickinson was In Buffalo to see Henry T. Meech “with every expectation of getting that theatre”.  In March 1860 Nickinson once more took over the Royal Lyceum until August (when ads stopped appearing in the newspapers]. We have playbills from Rochester (1859), Toronto and Belleville, Ontario (1860),  Lockport, Hamilton and Ottawa, Ontario, Erie, Pennsylvania and Montreal and Quebec City (1861).  The Ottawa theatre closed in December 1861.  Clearly this was a very unsettled time.

John Nickinson was 22 years older than EJ Phillips.  Their relationship obviously dated from about the time EJ Phillips joined his stage company in 1852, for his letter of October 3, 1859 refers to "our seven years of past love".  The date of their marriage is less clear (and Canadian records for that time were lost in a fire).  John Nickinson Jr., son of his first marriage, wrote to the New York Clipper after his father's death that his parents had never been divorced. John Nickinson and EJ Phillips had three children -- Charles Alderman (born. Toronto, Apr. 30, 1858 - died Pittsburgh, Sept. 1859). Hattie Christine Harriet Melanie Nickinson (Dolman) (born Toronto, Aug. 24, 1860 - died Philadelphia Oct. 9, 1946) and  Albert Edward Nickinson  (born Cincinnati July 8, 1863 - died Pensacola, Florida June 3, 1948)    




Civil War in Canada
John Boyko's 2013 book  Blood and Daring: How Canada fought the American Civil war and forged a nation gives some insight. . We must also disenthrall ourselves of current myths, including that of the undefended border.  Those struggling through the Civil War years bore memories not of Canadian-American friendship and cultural integration but of more than a century of suspicion, hatred and bloodshed. ...Shortly after the war began in April  1861, Britain declared itself neutral.  The Canadian and Maritime governments dutifully echoed that official line...Many factors led Canadian to sympathize with the Confederacy. The Toronto Leader was pro-South while the Toronto Globe was pro-North. ...many young Canadian and Maritimers left home to fight.  Those who did fought overwhelmingly in Union ranks. ....Americans Frederick Douglass, John Brown and John Wilkes Booth advanced their goals while in Canada. Jefferson Davis and many of his generals sought post war refuge in Canada. ... In the summer of 1861 a placard found its way to trees and walls in a number of Toronto's working-class neighbourhoods.  It claimed a need for young men for railway work in Pennsylvania.  It seemed harmless enough in an era when so many were crossing the border for work.  However all who saw it understood that the poster was really about filling Pennsylvania regiments. Newspapers were filled with similar advertisements offering a range of American jobs. Canadian political leaders deemed them all suspicious



Mary Glen visited Toronto and cousin Sue Spencer in 2005.  They had tea with Toronto theatre historians Mary Shortt and Paula Sperdakos. We walked the Distillery district, dined on Thai on Front Street, not far from John Nickinson's Royal Lyceum site and Mary Glen went to see the seven bronzed cows, next to PriceWaterhouseCoopers that mark the Theatre's site.   


Cincinnati and Pike's Opera House  1862-1866 
Pike’s Opera House hired EJ Phillips in 1862 and John Nickinson in 1863.  What was it like for EJ Phillips and John Nickinson to move from Canada then to Cincinnati a border state? Was their move purely an economic decision?  Albert Nickinson was born July 8, 1863, while John Nickinson was in Nashville performing with other Pike's Opera House actors.

“In 1862 I was engaged for “Pike’s Opera House”, Cincinnati where I remained until the destruction of the theatre by fire on the 22nd of March 1866. The performance that night was a revival of “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. [Alice Zavistowski played Puck.] Twenty minutes after the performers had left the theatre the stage and auditorium were in flames and all efforts to save any portion of the building were in vain. During my four years at this “Temple of the Drama” I had to work very hard and in every “line of business”. From Tragedy to Comedy, Farce, Burlesque & Pantomime, “Leading Parts” Heavies, Old humour & Soubrettes – nothing came amiss. It was very seldom that I was “out of the bill”.

I remained in Cincinnati for another season playing in “Wood’s Theatre”. Scene painter ET Harvey compares the two theatres “There was a dignity about the aristocratic Pike’s which kept the general public from getting familiar with either the theatre of the company. But there was always an easy sociability about the “Old Woods,” It was built by Geo[rge] Wood, who had married Cincinnati’s greatest actress Eliza Logan. They moved to New York in the early part of the Civil War.” [and EJ Phillips wrote about  George Wood, his second wife, Henrietta Wood and their children when she lived in New York.] EJ Phillips autobiography written for AM Palmer in 1890 and found in the Harvard Theatre Collection.  

*Civil war in Cincinnati 
John Nickinson died Feb 9, 1864. EJ Phillips and Junius Brutus Booth Jr  were playing in Othello the night Lincoln was assassinated April 1865. Pike's Opera house burned March 1866.


Pike's Opera House, Cincinnati Ohio

From a chapter  “Samuel N. Pike and Pike’s Opera House” in Recollections of a Scene painter, E.T. Harvey, Cincinnati Ohio 1914 [via Google Books]. “John Nickerson [sic] was stage manager at this time. He and Miss Phillips lived together as man and wife. There was a mystery about them, however, it was hinted that he had a wife and family living in Canada. [The first Mrs. Nickinson was then living in New York.] … Miss Phillips continued with the Pike company until the theatre burned down, and if there was any scandal it was forgotten. She was a pleasant, home-like woman of about forty [33 when Nickinson died] perhaps. … She played what was called ‘Old Women and Heavies” and was very capable. After Pike’s burned she went to the Union Square, New York [12 years later] and was in all their big successes.”   


Walking through the Cincinnati airport in March 2006 I passed a large photograph of Roebling's 1866 suspension bridge, which predated the Brooklyn Bridge http://www.cincinnati-transit.net/suspension.html  and was happy to find two Cincinnati history books in the airport bookstore.  Not much seems to be left of John Nickinson's Cincinnati, but EJ Phillips almost certainly saw that bridge, the 1871 Tyler Davidson Fountain, and possibly the 1886 (posthumous) HH Richardson Chamber of Commerce building, 1874 Grand Hotel, West Fourth St.  [John Nickinson and EJ Phillips lived on West Fifth St.] Construction of the Roebling bridge was interrupted by the Civil War, so people saw only the pier foundations, begun in 1862 until 1865. Spring Grove Cemetery History had a record of John Nickinson's burial No 12758 Garden LN Section 23 Lot 1 Space 24

Single parenthood and no fixed abode 1867-1874  
from the autobiography EJ Phillips wrote for AM Palmer "The seasons of 67-68, 68-69 I was engaged in Indianapolis. March 68 I played for the first time with   Edwin Forrest [1806-1872] and did not find him as difficult to please as I had heard – on the contrary he was kind and complimentary – I played Emelia in “Othello”, “Goneril” in “King Lear” and “Servia” in “Virginius” with him. In August 1868 the New York Clipper reported WH Leake secured EJ Phillips as first old woman for the newly opened Indianapolis Academy of Music. 
My next engagement was at the “Varieties Theatre” in New Orleans which commenced in Octr 1869-1870. 1871 Engaged by Chas Pope (1832-1899) for the St. Louis “Olympic theatre”, this management having theatres in Memphis Tenn., New Orleans, and Mobile. The company was sent several times during the season to support “stars” in those cities."  In Sept 1869 she was engaged by WR Floyd (1832-1880) of the Varieties Theatre in New Orleans according to her account book, from which some of the most detailed information comes. Two small account books dated Sept 1867 through Sept 1875 record sending money to the children in Indianapolis and Suffern NY and  note "traveling commenced" May 1868 Varieties Theatre New Orleans. 

In Sept 1870 she was in New York City, New York State and the Midwest.  In Jan 1871 she joined (EW born 1936) Marston and Stone's Troupe, touring in New England through the end of May.  By August 1871 she was in Indianapolis again, and in September engaged by Charles Pope's Olympic Theatre in St. Louis, touring in Memphis, New Orleans and Mobile. In Jan 1872 she was in St. Louis and noted her second and third years with Pope, mostly in the South and St. Louis.

Sept 1873 I returned again to the “Olympic theatre” St Louis when Mr. Pope was still manager reporting with the company on trips to the Southern cities in the spring beginning and traveling with Mr. Barrett until July and again engaged with him for the season of 1874-75 which was spent traveling through the United States and Canada.  Palmer autobiography 1890

What influence did the Panic of 1893 (which started in September and lasted until 1877) have on her career?

St. Louis with Ben Debar,  (1812-1877)  was the stage manager for Noah Ludlow and Sol Smith (uncle of Sol Smith Russell) for their St. Charles Theater in New Orleans and, when they retired in 1843, he assumed ownership of their New Orleans and St. Louis 
theaters.[1] Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, he moved St. Louis, but retained ownership of the St. Charles Theater in New Orleans until 1876.[1  

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_DeBar  Accessed March 17, 2015 
John Nickinson seems to have known Ben DeBar in New York in the 1840s and Mrs. Junius Brutus Booth Jr nee Debar was at Mitchell's Olympic Theatre. 

The children began boarding in Indianapolis with the Fays, whom they had known when EJ Phillips was living and working there  1867- 1868 and in Suffern NY with the Zavistowskis, starting in February 1873. EJ Phillips had known the acting and dancing Zavistowskis in Toronto and Cincinnati.  (The Zavistowskis had been in California, Australia and New Zealand 1870-1871. ) 

She paid about  $134 for the two children's board in 1870, Sept 3-Dec 7; while in New York,  Toledo and Detroit; about  $478 in 1871, while in New England Jan-May, Sept-December New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis;  about $615  in 1872  while in Mobile, Memphis, St. Louis, New Orleans, St. Paul Minnesota, New York, Philadelphia, Louisville,  Canton and Vicksburg Mississippi, with about 19 days in Indianapolis;  $737 in 1873, with Lawrence Barrett Jan-April in the South, May in the Midwest, June to July  in New York State and New England, August to December mostly in St. Louis, with Christmas week in Indianapolis; about $848  in 1874, mostly in St. Louis, with some trips to Kansas City, Detroit, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio  and two weeks in March and two in May  in Indianapolis;  and about $376 in 1875, January-July traveling in the Northeast from late Dec- Jan. and then mostly in the South, until the three of them all moved to Philadelphia in September..

EJ Phillips and actress Charlotte Cushman


The New York Dramatic Mirror obituary of EJ Phillips mentions that she played with Charlotte Cushman. I was unable to trace this until I read John Dolman Jr.'s The Art of Acting  https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.18332/2015.18332.The-Art-Of-Acting_djvu.txt  where he recounts the following anecdote. The unwillingness to act at rehearsals is a characteristic of third-rate actors; the great ones like Garrick have generally been less temperamental about it., though some have pretended to be more casual than they really were.  Charlotte Cushman, for example, is quoted by her chief biographer, Emma Stebbins, as saying that she was content to get the general sense of her part at rehearsals; but my own grandmother [EJ Phillips, the author was her grandson Jack] who was on the stage for forty-five years, used to say that the most stirring piece of acting she ever saw was a portrayal of Lady Macbeth, in the banquet scene, done at rehearsal, in street dress, by that same Charlotte Cushman. It seems likely that this was in Chicago in the mid 870s when EJ Phillips was there with Lawrence Barrett, though it may have been elsewhere. 


Lawrence Barrett (1873-1875)  In 1873 EJ Phillips "began a three years engagement under the management of  Lawrence Barrett."  Barrett was a friend of and frequently acted with Edwin Booth.

Philadelphia and the Chestnut Street Theatre 1875-1878 

Centennial Exposition 1876  opening day

Before closing my Season with [Barrett] I made an engagement for Septr 1875 for the Chestnut Street Theatre Phila. where I appeared as “Clarissa” in “Our Boys” which was revived in the Spring of ’76 and ran through the entire “Centennial” Summer. The Chestnut Street Theatre was then controlled by FF Mackay. (1832-1923)

The [New] Chestnut Street Theatre was built in 1862 on the north side of Chestnut Street between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets, a full seven blocks to the west of the old theatre, and considered by many too far removed from the theatre district to succeed.  But "the rapid westward expansion of center-city Philadelphia  soon made the new Chestnut Street Theatre the city's most fashionably located theatrical facility. ..    However in 1878 severe internal difficulties began and the Company's previously favorable position (as Philadelphia's only first-class resident company) began to erode. Many of the company's best actors resigned. Chestnut Street Opera Househttp://www.performingartsarchive.com/Theatres/Theatres-C/Chestnut-Street-Opera-House_Philadelphia/Chestnut-Street-Opera-House_Philadelphia.htm

Golden Age of the American Theatre 
By January 1882 the number of first-class American stock companies had diminished to three (of which the Union Square was one) giving employment to about 100 actors and actresses.  "The remainder of the fraternity," wrote the New York Times, "must wander over the land for a livelihood, just as the strollers of old were wont to do" (January 1, 1882). There were upward of 3,500 theatres, opera houses, and places of amusement in the United States in 1887, giving employment to about 40,000 persons." Blum's Pictorial History of the American Theatre [1981 5th ed.] notes that "the 1880s brought to an end what historians call the 'golden era' of the American theatre and began the [single play, as opposed to a company with a varying repertory] 'combination system' that was in the next decade to kill the brilliant stock companies, bringing theatres and "the road" under the control of powerful managers and theatrical combines who found it more profitable to send complete productions on tour from city to city rather than to maintain local stock companies and mount new productions in each place. Plays were often produced more with a view to road tour profits than for their artistic merit."

EJ Phillips' career was winding down at a particularly difficult time for actors.  The rise of the Syndicate in 1896, of which Charles Frohman and AL Hayman were important participants, the decline of stock companies and the rise of the star system made life challenging for many actors. 

New York and AM Palmer1877-1893

Union Square Theatre Company 1877-1885
During my vacation in the Summer of ’77 Mr. A.M. Palmer sent for me to play Mrs. Tubbs in “Pink Dominos” which he was to produce in August. I accepted his offer and made my first appearance in the Union Square theatre in August 1877 in the above part.


Being still under engagement to [William D] Gemmill [(c. 1845- 1882] and [J Frederick] Scott of the Chestnut Street Theatre Phila. for the Fall Season. I could not remain with Mr. Palmer to travel with Pink Dominos and returned to Philadelphia to open our season. Our season was closing at the end of May 1878 I again made an engagement with Mr. Palmer to join his company then playing in Chicago, Ill. opening in the Duchess in “A Celebrated Case”. At the end of the Summer season I returned to New York and was then made a member of the Stock Company of the “Union Square Theatre” remaining there until May 1885
   Union Square Theatre


 The 1883-84 Union Square Company season opened in August in New York with Vera the Nihilist .Oscar Wilde was in attendance, but "the distinguished playwright of the future had, in 1883, much to learn about dramatic composition and [the play] was a ghastly failure". (Odell)  It ran for only one week in August 1883.

Sarah Bernhardt has told WildeClara Morris's acting was one of two things worth seeing in America. She  was his first choice for Vera. Wilde met her at a reception at the  house of David and Jennie June Croly. But Morris  turned him down. (Fitzsimmons, Wilde's Women)

EJ Phillips refers to Patience in reporting on Gilbert & Sullivan's Gondoliers in 1890.  While  It seems quite possible that she heard him speak in 1882l,  she couldn't have seen Vera as she was in San Francisco the week it was performed in New York in August 1883

Producer Daniel Frohman wrote "It is true that Oscar Wilde was proficient in all branches of literature; as a novelist, as an essayist, as a short story writer, as a poet and as a dramatist.  ... few writers have excelled him in wit, satire and in epigrammatic speeches. First, before everything else, he was a dramatist.  ... I was not fortunate enough to have known [Wilde] personally, although I produced several of his plays, the first of which ws, "An Ideal Husband" at the old Lyceum, March 12th, 1895. [Wilde's first trial was in April 1895.] My brother Charles [Frohman] also produced Wilde's plays including, "Lady Windermere's Fan." This was Oscar Wilde's first great play ...It is my belief that Wilde would have been another Sheridan if he had not fallen on evil days." Daniel Frohman Presents, 1935.

The New York Times had a number of articles on the Wilde trials in 1895 and the New York Clipper had some. Did EJ Phillips read any of  them?  She certainly kept his cigarette card and I can only imagine that she appreciated the cleverness of his plays and the beneficial effect Lady Windermere had on her career.  It has closed by the time of his trial, so it seems unlikely that his own troubles influenced her employment prospects

Madison Square Theatre Company 1885-1891   
    Madison Square Theatre program

Mr. A.M. Palmer having become manager of the Madison Square Theatre reengaged for the Fall season 1885 at this theatre, where I first appeared as “Lydia” in “Saints & Sinners”. I was now in my 10th season under Mr. Palmer’s management. An excellent proof of his amicability and my appreciation thereof. He is a warm friend to the theatrical profession. To his increasing efforts and sound judgment are due its thanks for the present state of the “Actors’ Fund of America”


Engaged  BY WS Gilbert The first New York performance of Engaged was in Feb. 1879. (It opened in London in 1877).  The production first described in these letters was the Feb. 1886 Actor's Fund benefit performance in New York.. EJ Phillips played Mrs. MacFarlane. Gilbert was already collaborating with Sullivan but this play preceded their operettas.

"Engaged [is] unquestionably the finest and funniest English comedy between Bulwer- Lytton's Money and 
Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, (1895) which it directly inspired".

Engaged by WS Gilbert 1886

Houghton Library Harvard Theatre Collection TCS 46

In the summer of 2002 I saw a performance of Engaged by the Sudbury Savoyards 


in Sudbury, Massachusetts.  I shared a pre-web version of these letters with Director Charles Berney who had found an undated Engaged poster in the Harvard Theatre Collection.  Since the poster refers to Gilbert as the author of the Mikado (which premiered in 1885) it seems to have been designed for the 1886 American production, which opened in New York and traveled to Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver and other cities.  It depicts the end of the first act, when "pistol-packing Major McGillicuddy confronts Cheviot and the straying Belinda Treherne. While his two henchman look on, Belvawney reacts and behind them all are Angus, Mrs. MacFarlane [EJ Phillips in 1886] and Maggie MacFarlane [Annie Russell in 1886]. There is also a drawing of Symperson [LeMoyne in the 1886 production] encouraging Cheviot to commit suicide."  Mr. Berney notes the resemblances between the pictures I sent him and the faces on the poster.  



* Gilbert & Sullivan  

 HMS Pinafore, Patience, Gondoliers, Mikado


EJ Phillips' colleagues, and neighbors at 475 Fourth Avenue Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Whiffen were in the original New York production-- Mrs. Whiffen the original Buttercup and Mr. Whiffen First Lord of the Admiralty.  Mrs. Whiffen writes of Pinafore in her autobiography Keeping off the shelf "in [18]'78 I was on the road again with Lingard, but the tour was cut short in Houston, Texas, and I came hurrying back to find Mr. Whiffen rehearing in a new opera called "Pinafore" written by Tom's old friend Sullivan and his partner, Gilbert.  I had heard something about its success when it was done in England at the Savoy theatre. The play in America was to be launched at the Standard theatre by a man named Duff. Duff was not paying a royalty to the authors because there was no international copyright law and an English play done in America could be produced by anyone. 


 Zavistowski "sisters" Allister Hardiman Illustration and Design, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA  Christine Zavistowski and daughters Alice and Emmeline 1872-1873 

Jim the Penman 1886-1892 


Saints & Sinners by Henry Arthur Jones 1885-1891
                                            William LeMoyne self-portrait
  “Sam Hoggard”  The “Saint” to E.J.P. “The Sinner”

Palmer’s Theatre Company 1888-1893 
AM Palmer assumed control of Wallack's Theatre in 1888 and tried to establish another stock company based there.  He produced plays in New York  through 1896. Arthur Hornblow, theatre historian and the manager's assistant play reader (1892-1894) thought  Alabama  (1891-1892) was the high-water mark of Palmer's managerial success.  "After that he lost ground rapidly and never regained it".  

Decline of stock companies  1893-1897   Depression of 1893
1893 Nov Mr. [AM] Palmer still uses my name, but I do not think it will do him any good.  I think Chas Frohman will fulfill his contract with me for this season, and then will perhaps want me for the next season.  In going to California with Palmers Co I would still be under Chas Frohman's & [AL] Hayman's management.  It is a mixed-up affair all around.  In fact a game of Battledore and Shuttle-cock.  And the Actor is the latter and the manager Battledores him where ever he pleases.

1892 -1893 EJ Phillips performs with
Ramsey Morris. And the Joseph Company

NY Times Joseph review Mar 21, 1893, Union Square Theatre "The farce in its original form has been and remains a phenomenal success in Paris. First presented there in the December of 1890, it is still running, and at the same theatre. Here, its vogue will be somewhat shorter, unkind things will be said about it ... and when hungry oblivion makes way with the vivacious bit of nonsense "Died of adaptation" will serve as sufficient obituary. 

From an undated clipping:  Joseph proves a strong card at the Grand -- a bit of Realism at Jacobs and Sparrow's.  The  House contained a large and fashionable audience last evening on the occasion of the first presentation here of the high amusing comedy Joseph by Ramsey Morris' talented New York Company.  Joseph is an adaption from the French of Leon Gandillot by Malcolm Watson of London, and the translation has been cleverly done.  Joseph is in fact one of the brightest comedies of the day, and although there is here and there a French suggestion it is at no time offensive, the humor on the whole being sparkling, hearty and wholesome.    As originally produced in Paris, Joseph was somewhat highly spiced, but it has been carefully toned down by the translator without in any way destroying its piquancy.  Mrs. E.J. Phillips was simply faultless as his somewhat domineering wife.  A more perfect bit of acting than Mrs. Phillips' personation of this character is seldom seen anywhere.  

* Oscar Wilde and Lady Windermere’s Fan 1893-1894 

Wilde is not referred to directly in any of these letters, but we inherited a cigarette card of him, and EJ Phillips was in New York in 1882 when he arrived for his first trip to America.
Between the Acts cigarette card Oscar Wild

Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience (1881) had satirized aesthetes (and Wilde).  Oscar Wilde had been sent to tour America in 1882 by D'Oyly Carte, who feared that American audiences wouldn't get the parody. Wilde lectured on art and beauty, gave interviews and was widely quoted, and tried to get his first play Vera the Nihilist produced.  

I discovered this caricature of Wilde in the Union Square Theatre boxes at the Harvard Theatre Collection, which makes me suspect that AM Palmer and possibly EJ Phillips and other Union Square colleagues went to Wilde's January 9 1882 Chickering Hall lecture on The English Renaissance delivered to a standing room only audience.

Union Square Theatre Company, Houghton Library, Harvard Theatre Collection MS Thr 4535

1893 AM Palmer offers EJ Phillips an engagement with Charles Frohman

  EJ Phillips' career was ending at the Theatrical Syndicate began, but she knew the Frohmans and Al Hayman, and worked for Charles Frohman from 1892  until 1897.  Gustave Frohman traveled with some of her companies as well.

Olga Nethersole 1894-95
 Camille, Romeo & Juliet, Frou Frou      Olga Nethersole



* Shakespeare   including bawdy aspects of Shakespeare and Shakespearean burlesques. AM Palmer produced almost no Shakespeare.  Much of EJ Phillips Shakespearean roles were in Toronto, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and the South.

1889 1890 April 29 Players Club Shakespeare’s Birthday Ladies Days



Gay Parisians 1895-1897  French Farce, by Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvailliere First performed in New York Sept 23, 1895 at Hoyt's Theatre with EJ Phillips playing Angelique. Odette Tyler as Marcella and WJ Ferguson as Mr. Pinglet.

NY Times Review Sept 24 1895 Gay Parisians at Hoyts "Mrs. EJ Phillips, as the wicked friend's over-mature wife, accomplished work that for a moment approached real comedy"  



Charles Frohman and the Theatrical Syndicate 1896
On August 31, 1896 six men gathered at the Holland House Hotel to discuss the creation of what would be named The Theatrical Syndicate. Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, Charles Frohman, Al Hayman, Marc Klaw, Samuel Nixon, and Fred Zimmerman pooled their resources--theatres that they owned, leased, and booked--to create more rational trips for theatres troupes when they were on the Road. They told the theatre world that they would rid the theatre business of managers who booked several shows a night to ensure a performance (leaving the extra shows with nothing). They promised they would help the producers cut expenses by booking the troop in a logical route with stops all along the way. The rise of the Syndicate was a logical progression now that performances were on The Road, but with this new trust, both the show and the theatre itself were controlled by one company. Soon the Syndicate had created a monopoly which only allowed performers and houses to work with Syndicate products or not at all.  Abby Manzella, The Syndicate and the Shuberts, University of Virginia 2000


New York City walking tour Mary Glen first went to New York City (for Easter) at the age of 16, staying in Chelsea and seeing snow for the very first time.  Sister Marjorie and I went in search of EJ Phillips in November 2002, and I spent a day walking from midt-town to West 12th Street in June 2003.  There was another trip in March 2005 with Bob and Linda Osborne to see  

Catherine Osborne's play production.  Another memorable trip in October 2016 involved a party at the Joseph Pulitzer mansion and research at New York Public Library and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Collection.   

Philadelphia April 1897  August 1904-
Recalled from Retirement 1898 Feb  
I was called very unexpectedly to play a part at the Broad St. Theatre -- and everything had to be given up to that. A week ago Sunday Mr. and Mrs. [Willie] Seymour called to see me -- he being here with Mr. Sol Smith Russell
 who was playing a two weeks engagement at the Broad St. Theatre.  We had a pleasant chat -- and he left about 6 PM and I did not suppose I should see him again.  -- but as I was washing the supper dishes on Monday he came in a cab -- to ask me to go with him to the theatre to play "Clementina" in A Bachelor's Romance in place of Mrs. Fanny Addison Pitt whose husband Mr. Henry Mader Pitt  had died at 3 PM that day in New York and she would have to go on to New York to attend the funeral -- so I took a couple of gowns and went. …
 Not having acted for a year and two and a half years since I studied the part -- you can imagine I had to "hustle" but everyone said I was very good and the management was very much pleased and thanked me very much




This seems to have been EJ Phillips last performance.



The NY Times report of Mr. Pitt's death was headlined AN OLD ACTOR'S SUICIDE.  Henry Mader Pitt, after a long career on the stage takes carbolic acid.  Was Once Very Successful
He Had Played in Many Well-Known Parts, but at Last Managers Considered Him Unreliable on Account of His Habits. 
Mr. Pitt did not leave a suicide note, and had been living in a boardinghouse patronized by theatrical people, with his 21 year old son, while his wife was playing the play in Philadelphia.  Mr. Pitt was found groaning in bed, a revolver on a chair beside the bed and an empty glass which had contained carbolic acid nearby.  However by all reports he had seemed quite cheerful that morning.  


Death of Mrs. EJ Phillips 1904   
The New York Times obituary (August 10, 1904) headline read OLD ACTRESS DEAD
Mrs. EJ Phillips, one of the oldest [74] actresses in this country, is dead in Philadelphia. ...In her forty-five years of stage life she was associated with nearly every prominent actor and actress of her time. During her three years with Lawrence Barrett she played nearly all the important Shakespearean roles. A dozen years ago Mrs. Phillips held a position on the American stage very similar to the one Mrs. Gilbert holds to-day. She had all the grande dame roles in Mr. Palmer's and afterward in Charles Frohman's stock companies. Like many other stage favorites her "last appearance" was predicted many years before it actually occurred. Toward the end of her career every time she came on the stage she was greeted with a storm of applause.



Joys  of research and lessons for the 20th and 21st century from the Gilded Age.  Letters transcribed 1992-1999  and researched 1992- present 

In the spring of 1992 I  poked around a little in the Research collection of Boston Public Library in Copley Square and found American Theatre Companies 1749-1887 which mentions John Nickinson (and daughter Charlotte Nickinson) as "lesser known guest stars" in the section on the "Providence Museum Company", organized in 1848 in Rhode Island "Better known performers" included Junius Brutus Booth  (and son Edwin) and Lola Montez).  However EJ Phillips was noted as a valued member of two outstanding stock companies of her day -- the Union Square Theatre Stock Company and Madison Square Theatre Stock Company, both organized and managed by AM Palmer Other sources of interest required more digging -- bound volumes of Harpers Weekly  were fun to see.

I also went to the Harvard Theatre Collection and found pictures of and references to John and Charlotte Nickinson. But it took me years to find EJ Phillips' autobiography written for her manager AM Palmer in the Harvard Theatre Collection, after it moved to Houghton Library. I also spent many hours in the summer of 2019 there and happily learnbed that use of their images is now permitted for websites.

 I've been surprised by how much I can find using Google Books and online electronic newspapers.  But I'm one of the few people who read beyond the first few pages of Google results.

Visits to the Library of Congress have also been fruitful, particularly when Linda Osborne and Sara Day were working in the Publishing Office.  One of the most exciting finds came through the LC catalog.  John T. Nagle (1842-1919) seems to be the author of  “Table showing the total number of stillbirths and deaths (with an enumeration of some of the most prominent causes) which occurred in the city of New York during the ninety- one years ending Dec. 31, 1894” [n.p.] 1896 [LC Library of Congress] and  “The status of acting assistant surgeons of the United States Army, who served in the late Civil War, being a reply to the ruling of the War Department” New York, M. B. Brown, printer, 1893 [LC] and An appeal to President Roosevelt for justice to a class of acting assistant surgeons of the United States Army who served in the Civil War [New York : M.B. Brown Press, 1908. [College Physicians & Surgeons, Philadelphia].  The Library of Congress provided several publications of Dr. Nagle, one of which included these photographs. However this took some time, since they were originally Not on Shelf and required the intervention of Linda to eventually obtain them.
  Dr. John T. Nagle              Ja  Jacob Riis                

Email and Web/Internet have been essential to this project.  I got my first computer in 1986 when I got a book contract from Greenwood Press to write Federal Information Sources in Health and Medicine.  Upon publication i vowed that my next book would not be on such an eye glazing topic.  My parents got an Amstrad computer in 1988 after a visit to Florida from my English friends Ros and Phil Davies who mentioned they had one.  Daddy got Mother a laptop in 1992 so she could work on it while they traveled to visit me and my siblings in New England [and elsewhere].and she mailed me diskettes with her transcriptions for years.  My company had a website in 1994, and I welcomed the arrival of search engines Alta Vista in early 1996, and Google in 1998.  I got my first work website in 2000 and knew I wanted to get the letters on a website, but needed the help of my programmer sister Beth Nelson who helped me buy a new computer and hosted my first website in January 2003 . I've watched web content expand and become more searchable and provide more and more history.

Email put Mother and me in touch with third cousins Peggy and Sue Spencer, great granddaughters of great grandfather Albert Nickinsons sister Hattie Dolman. In 2003 I found an article on EJ Phillips and other Canadian actresses by Paula Sperdakos, a University of Toronto theatre historian and emailed her and enjoyed her visit to Boston in the spring of 2004. 

And once EJ Phillips was on the web I started hearing from people who knew about people and topics I mentioned.  More recently I've found relevant PhD dissertations on the web, and consulted an original dissertation on manager AM Palmer while at Yale for a class reunion. Periodically I go through the now voluminous files I've accumulated, and have been rereading the original letter transcriptions and looking at artifacts such as the small account books from the 1860s and 1870s and discovering new insights. The quest continues.


EJ Phillips and John Nickinson -- What we don't know (much about)
EJ Phillips' personal life
John Nickinson and divorce?  Was he a bigamist?
EJ Phillips' relationship with John Nickinson's daughters in Toronto
EJ Phillips single parenthood
Did children Albert or Hattie ever meet any of their half siblings?
"Nerves" and aging
Childcare while working
Emigration to the US during the Civil War
Did John Nickinson attend any of his daughter's weddings?
Did he meet any of his grandchildren?  and more 




Actors and Acting  
* Acting life  

Boston, Sept. 15, 1887 The play [Domine's Daughter by David Demarest Lloyd,  with Mme Ponisi] is not bad, but the acting was.  Still it is well to see these things once in awhile.  It gives one confidence in oneself.  

Hartford, Nov. 8, 1892 I do not like our play and do not like my part, but the salary is good and I like it. The travelling is pretty severe on your young Mother, but I hope I shall be able to stand  it

EJ Phillips reviews in Hamilton and Toronto Canada  were "never enthusiastic, but were kind and encouraging" Mary Shortt   She seems to have come into her own as a mature character actress. 

 In February [1881] The Danicheff's (from 1876-77) was revived with Thorne, Parselle and Stoddart in their original roles.  "But no one could expect Mrs. Phillips, good routiniere, to replace the magnificent Fanny Morant as the Countess Danicheff, a part in which Miss Morant had been superb in the expression of haughty pride and iron insistence on the feudal rights of domination in the lives of her son and dependents".  Odell

And on Dec 5th [1881] George Robert Sim's "powerful melodrama" The Lights o' London with "the falsely accused hero, the villainous cousin, the obdurate father, the long suffering wife, the comic relief, the elaborate scenery, the frequent change of scenes, virtue triumphant and villainy foiled.  EJ Phillips played Mrs. Jarvis to John Parselle's "Dicken's like character of Jarvis "of Jarvis'  Temple of the Legitimate" and Maud Harrison their son Shakespeare Jarvis.  The play was a great success and the last time Charles Thorne and Sara Jewett appeared together, as Thorne left the company at the end of the season and died a few months later.  "Some must have missed Marie Wilkins as Mrs. Jarvis, a part she should have played admirably, whereas the competent, conscientious Mrs. Phillips lacked something of the required touches of broad comedy". Odell

Artist's Daughter by Elliott Barnes Union Square  playing Mme De Vaux. 1884 Oct 7 NY Times Review "Mrs EJ Phillips had an insignificant part, which she acted with her accustomed zeal."

But her roles and reviews improved enormously over the years.

* Barrymores and Drews
EJ Phillips knew and acted with Drews and Barrymores, particularly the good looking but rakish Maurice Barrymore. .  and Georgie Drew Barrymore, parents of Lionel, Ethel and John, and Louisa Lane Drew, mother of Georgie.

Booths    Junius Brutus Booth Jr.      Agnes Booth (Mrs Junius Brutus Booth Jr.)   Edwin Booth

Still need to visit the Players' Club Library, which has papers of AM Palmer. EJ Phillips went to the first two Ladies Days on Shakespeare's birthday in 1889 and 1890.
* Actors’ Fund Fair 1892  at Stanford White’s new Madison Square Garden
The Actor's Fund Fair was held May 2-7, 1892 in Stanford White's new (opened 1890) Madison Square Garden.  "The entire floor was laid out as a miniature village of one street in the midst of a plain.  The buildings were models of famous theatres of ancient London and older New York, and the architecture and picturesque local color of several centuries and of places far distant from each other were cleverly brought into harmony. “
Without my desire or consent, the Ladies Executive Committee made me chairman of Sub- Committee no. 24 (There are 40 sub- Comm'ees.)  And I know as much about it as a cat knows how to play a fiddle.  My only comfort being that there are many others just like me.”  The object of the Fund in giving the Fair is to realize $100,000 to establish an orphanage for children of deceased Actors

The fair began at 8 PM with its officers mounting a set of stairs into an overhanging box on the south side of the building. [Joseph] Jefferson entered moving "lightly up the stairs" with [AM] Palmer and the much enfeebled Edwin Booth, who was unable to speak publicly. Both actors were warmly applauded, and Jefferson made a brief speech. Then Booth and Jefferson bowed, hand in hand, to an applauding audience, while the band played The Star Spangled banner," and Mrs. AM Palmer waved the American flag above them.  Arthur  Bloom,  Joseph Jefferson: Dean of the American Theatre, Savannah, Frederic C. Beil, 2000


   Actors' Fund Fair Harpers Weekly May 1892


Zavistowski family in the US and Australia     John Nickinson and EJ Phillips had known and performed with the Zavistowski ballet troupe.  Christine (Aunty) and Uncle Antonio, daughters Emmeline Zavistowski Shailer and Alice Zavistowski Webb were dancers who boarded Albert and Hattie as EJ Phillips worked and traveled after John Nickinson's death in 1864. The Nickinsons knew them in Toronto and Cincinnati.

Shortly after putting these letters on the web I received several e-mails from Allister Hardiman in Australia,  wanting to know more about the Zavistowskis.  My knowledge was pretty fragmentary -- a few playbills mentioning them, some letters from Cris "Aunty" Zavistowski and some references to "Uncle" and their daughters Alice and Emmeline.  I never expected to see a picture of any of them, or to hear about their travels in Australia.  Many thanks to him for Catching Zs - the story of  the Zavistowskis and their travels to Australia, which so many of EJ Phillips' colleagues undertook, though she never seems to have left North America, and more photographs and information from censuses than I ever expected to see.  Allister's expertise in dating photographs and 

costumes has also been invaluable, as have been his alerting me about photographs of EJ Phillips for sale on EBay -- including a young c1870s New York photograph by CD Fredericks


EJ Phillips principal plays and roles


I've tried to see as many plays EJ Phillips was in -- or mentions --as possible.  Not always easy except for Shakespeare, The Rivals, School for Scandal,  Gilbert and Sullivan -- Pinafore, Patience and the Gondoliers  and Oscar Wilde -- Lady Windermere's Fan and others have endured despite being taken out of production after Wilde's conviction and imprisonment in 1895. 

The only play by Dion Boucicault I've been able to see has been The Shaughraun in Boston in  1996 -- which with lots of drinking, fiddle playing, singing and dancing gave me the insight that this was the 19th century equivalent of sit coms.  I'm still looking into the relationship between AM Palmer and Boucicault, which seems to have been contentious at times. 

New York, Feb. 18th 1887 Hattie goes to a matinee occasionally and that is about all the amusement she gets.  Yesterday she went to see Denman Thompson in the "Old Homestead"

New York, Feby 6th/[18]90   The first time [to a theater this winter] being with Neppie and her aunt to [Denman Thompson's] the Old Homestead.  Virginia Nickinson Marlowe was in the original cast as Mrs. Murdoch and her daughter Virginia as Miss Annie Hopkins.  Presumably Hattie and EJ Phillips saw both of them when they went to that play.


Mary Glen saw  Denman Thompson's Old Homestead in Swanzey NH in July 2016 with the original New York scenery -- but without the oxen used in the past. https://www.oldhomesteadswanzey.com/oxen.htm




Hard traveling, Hotels and Railroads




Hotel Life 
Portland, July 1, 1890 Since I left Boston [in May]  I have been on the move all the time, and the past two weeks have been spent on railroads & in theatres.  We are here for a week, and although we are to give eight performances, still it seems a rest to be in one spot for even a week.  





Philadelphia, June 27, 1892  I may have considerable travelling to do, but I can live at first class hotels as cheap as I can live in boarding houses in New York.





Hotel letterheads give a  real sense of the "Gilded Age" as the images on hotel stationery get larger and more opulent, particularly in the 1890's.   The frequency of "absolutely fire proof"  (Note the 1890 Nadeau in Los Angeles "practically fireproof") is a reminder of how often theatres and hotels burned down.  However few 19th century hotels survive -- even the ones still here, such as the Palmer House in Chicago and Williard in Washington DC are not the same buildings.  What is also obvious is that EJ Phillip's companies usually stayed in the best hotels in town.



* Railroads 
The expansion of the railroads was crucial to the growth of the theatrical industry.  Only the railroad was capable of conveying scenery and actors. But development of the railroad was not even.  Not until 1860 were the links complete along the  Atlantic and southern coasts from Bangor, Maine to New Orleans  "In the West, prior to 1850, there were, broadly speaking, no railroads."  By 1894 there were 175,441 miles of track in operation. (By contrast, in 1880, just before these letters begin, there were 93,295 miles.) "The English compartment coach was quickly superseded by the so-called American car, with central aisle and undivided space...The Pullman [sleeping] Car Co was organized in 1867, the same year the first hotel or buffet car was built and the first  Pullman dinner car was run in 1868. 100 Years of American Commerce, 1895 

Train travel  then and now, train wrecks      

EJ Phillips' letters give a vivid sense of the travel involved, and how California may have seemed more distant and foreign than Europe. I long to retrace EJP's travels on Amtrak - I've done the Los Angeles to San Francisco route (partly by bus) in 2001, and look forward to a Chicago to San Francisco trek via Denver and Salt Lake City, possibly to Yosemite., I went to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver/Victoria in 2014 and traveled from Portland to San Jose by train. But no Amtrak trains run through Wyoming or Idaho now.

* Boston, Massachusetts
1888 Baseball Bostons and Philadelphia     Dan Brouthers
1890 flowers in the Public Garden

1895 Harvard, Washington Elm  and Longfellow’s House, Cambridge

When I moved to Boston in 1979 I never dreamed I would read letters from a relative talking about the flowers in the Public Garden or going to Longfellow's House in Cambridge.  I still need to check out (and transcribe a letter) an excursion EJ Phillips made to City Point {Castle Island) and I haven't figured out which new park was unfinished in 1888. She almost certainly saw the State House, the Park Street Church, King's Chapel and the Granary Burying Ground.  I think of her when I walk through the Public Garden, and the Cambridge Common. Mother and I visited Longfellow's House in Cambridge in  1996. But her hotels and theaters are long gone  Her Boston baseball predated Fenway Park.  The South End Grounds opened in 1888 and burned down in 1894. 

Buffalo New York
John Nickinson played in Buffalo in the early 1850s while he was based in Toronto.  He also tried to arrange for jobs there 1859-1861 after the Royal Lyceum closed. EJ Phillips visited Buffalo in the 1890s with AM Palmer and then Olga Nethersole and the Gay Parisians. Mary Glen visited friends in 2005 en route to Toronto for a conference. Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society  http://www.buffalopresidentialcenter.org/Historical%20Society.html  is housed in the only permanent building from the 1901 Pan American Exposition. The south portico, overlooking Hoyt Lake is a scaled down version of the Parthenon.  Designed to showcase electric light and the generating power of Niagara Falls it reminded me of pictures I've seen of the Columbia Exposition of 1893

Chicago 1874 1875 1878-1881  1884- 1896 
1887 Strikes and anarchist troubles

1888 Palmer House

* 1893 Columbian Exposition  



Midway Plaisance



I've been to Chicago a number of times, but had the chance in July 2012 to retrace EJ Phillips' steps. The Palmer House she stayed at in 1888 is not the present building (but is the same site) and there is very little left of the 1893 Columbian Exposition  except the Midway Plaisance, five buildings (three of which were moved to other states) and photographs and souvenirs.  Hooleys and McVickers Theatres are no more, but the Theater District is still there.  



 Palmer House letter Sept 4 no year 3 cent stamp  Thanks to John Poss, collector of postal artifacts for the envelope addressed to EJ Phillips at the Palmer House.  Dated Sept 4 and mailed from New York, but no year.  However first class postage decreased in price from 3 cents to 2 cents in October 1883, so perhaps this was mailed in 1880 or 1881 when she was in Chicago in early September.

* Denver, Colorado 


1883 1886 1888 1890  
Harper's Weekly in 1886  described the state as being "ridiculously rich and extremely young" and as having "set about securing for herself a State- house or Capitol building in the city of Denver which shall be, as her people delight in saying 'worthy of her dignity and proud distinction as a Centennial state.':

I've only flown over Colorado, but it seems to be an important part of my planned transcontinental train trip, recreating EJ Phillips' travels more than 100 years later.  And while I don't plan to rise a horse up Pike's Peak I do want to take t

Los Angeles 
1888 1890 1896 
Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia CA  across from the Santa Anita Race Track was the home of EJ "Lucky" Baldwin, owner of the Baldwin Hotel and Theatre in San Francisco . Elias Jackson Baldwin, homespun Yankee capitalist, in 1875 paid a fantastic $200,000 ($25 an acre) for Rancho Santa AnitaQueen Anne cottage built for the fourth Mrs. Baldwin in 1885, Santa Anita Depot [reconstructed to 1890 appearance]; Coach Barn c1879 Baldwin's stylish "Tally Ho" carriage, purchased at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, is on display. 

    Lucky Baldwin's house, Arcadia CA 2013


I'm grateful to college friend Miriam Cantor and family for introducing me to Los Angeles, particularly to 19th century Los Angeles.  My first visit included a trip to the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Garden http://www.huntington.org/   Founded in 1910 it's a little late for EJ Phillips but Pasadena was charming and older than I'd expected. On other trips we've gone to the original Los Angeles Farmer's Market https://www.farmersmarketla.com/   On almost every trip we've gone to the Hollywood Farmers' Market for tamales  http://www.hollywoodfarmersmarket.net/   But the most relevant existing site is connected with San Francisco  is the Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 301 North Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia CA is about 17 miles east of Los Angeles and across from the Santa Anita Race Track . http://www.arboretum.org/index.php/ was the home of EJ "Lucky" Baldwin, owner of the Baldwin Hotel and Theatre in San Francisco .  See EJ Phillips' descriptions of driving a horse with Mrs. Baldwin in 1890. 



Quick trip to Sacramento n 2013 as well.


Middletown New York 

Son Albert moved to 1886. 
Albert Nickinson married Mary Penelope Macardell Thanksgiving 1889. 
Edward Phillips Nickinson (1890-1948)

born to Mary Penelope "Neppie" Macardell  and  Albert Nickinson                       
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Edward Phillips "Ted" Nickinson c 1891

I took a very quick driving tour of Middletown on my way home from Manya and Michael's wedding in Pennsylvania in 1999.  I hadn't brought addresses or maps and didn't find much evidence of Albert or Neppie, except the train tracks. I will have to make another trip, and would particularly like to see 15 Highland Avenue and visit the Pine Hill Cemetery (about 3 miles north of Middletown) as a number of Macardells are buried there..  I was interested to learn that the former Erie Railroad train station is now the Thrall Library, however it wasn't built until 1896.  Was this the train station when EJ Phillips had it stopped in Middletown on the way to the San Francisco and Seattle in 1890?  


New Orleans 


868-1873    1897 
My next engagement was at the “Varieties Theatre” in New Orleans which commenced in Octr 1869-1870. 1871 Engaged by Chas Pope for the St. Louis “Olympic theatre”. This management having theatres in Memphis Tenn., New Orleans, and Mobile. The company was sent several times during the season to support “stars” in those cities.  Her last visit to New Orleans was in 1897 with the Gay Parisians company.

I first went to New Orleans in 1989 and have been back several times, including one trip when Interview with a Vampire was being filmed in the French Quarter where I was staying, with straw covered streets and carriages. Haven't been back since I've learned more about EJ Phillips career in New Orleans from 19th century newspapers, and not sure how much more I could learn, but would always be up for a good reason to go to New Orleans.

New York of John Nickinsons  1837-1850 John Nickinson's later success in Toronto seems due to his contacts, particularly with James Wallack,  and knowledge of theatre in New York.  He produced plays which had recently been seen there, invited friends and colleagues to perform in Toronto and brought a new level of sophistication to Toronto dramatics.  His connections influenced the children from his first marriage and EJ Phillips' later career.
 Charles Dickens        Edgar Allan Poe 

New York 1877-1897 EJ Phillips
Statue of Liberty and Bartholdi Day  Oct 28, 1886       

Centennial Exhibition Philadelphia 1876 

The statue was presented by France, in commemoration of 100 years of American independence.  However only one arm was available in 1876.  The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty had been displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and then shipped to Madison Square New York for display.  Fundraising for the platform took some years to complete, finally being organized by Joseph Pulitzer.  EJ Phillips seems likely to have seen the arm in Philadelphia during the Centennial -- and she almost certainly saw it in Madison Square Park since she was working at the Madison Square Theatre at the time.

Blizzard of 1888 
My dear Son, Are you snowed up or snowed down or snowed under? I do not find any news from Middletown in any of the papers, although there seems to be all the other places in the State mentioned. I pray you are safe. No use to telegraph you for you would not get it. Went to rehearsal yesterday at 11. After Stage manager, prompter and the stage hands, no one was there but Mr. [EM} Holland and Mr. [Harry] Hogan and myself. The wind coming from the West made it very difficult for me to get back home, but I got here safe and have not been out since, as the theatre was closed last night, Mr. [James H] Stoddart not being able to get here from Rahway [New Jersey].  I guess he is here now, as I have been notified that we are to play tonight. Snow and sleet are falling fast, and I think our house will be slim. This is my tenth consecutive winter in the City, and this is by far the heaviest snow storm we have had. Even the elevated roads were compelled to stop running. 6th Ave surface cars not running yet. 

The Blizzard of 1888 dumped up to 50 inches of snow on Massachusetts and Connecticut, up to 40 inches in New York and New Jersey, and 22 inches in New York City, with drifts averaging 30-40 feet. This blizzard convinced both New York and Boston they needed to build subways.  

Snow in Boston was nearly three feet in January 2015 and nearly 60 inches by February – a record of more than 108 inches by March 16, before the winter was over . The ultimate total was 110.6 inches which did not melt until July. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/us/boston-snow-pile-finally-melts/index.html  While the winter of 2015 in Boston was very challenging, better weather forecasting, and equipment has kept electrical outages and deaths to a minimum.  Deferred maintenance led to three days of the Boston subway being shut down. I’ve been grateful for electricity, snow plows and being able to work from home. Also remember the Feb 2013 blizzard Nemo (over two feet) I spent in Dallas with cousin Sally Harrison, unable to fly home for several days -- and cousin Brye and Elaine’s pre blizzard of 1978 wedding in Boston (up to 3 feet) when they and the bridesmaids spent nearly a week  at Elaine’s house before being able to fly to their Aspen honeymoon.

Centennial of George Washington's Inauguration 1889
Celebrated with a "three days' festival, a naval review by
President Benjamin Harrison, a march past of 50,000 soldiers from 21 states, a civic parade of 75,000 persons and other imposing ceremonies". Kings NYC 

Public health, photography, Dr. Nagle and Jacob Riis 

EJ Phillips often mentions Dr. and Mrs. Dr. Nagle, the boardinghouse keepers at East 21st Street but never mentions Dr. Nagle’s connection with Jacob Riis. Given her interest in Henry George, newspaper reading and interest in current events it would be surprising if she was not aware of their collaboration. Dr. Nagle’s obituary (New York Times June 15, 1919) mentions how Nagle “joined the late Jacob A. Riis in his pleas for small parks in tenement districts and for the abolition of “rear tenements Riis writes in his autobiography The Making of an American how “upon my midnight trips with the sanitary police that the wish kept cropping up in me that there were some way of putting before the people what I saw there.  A drawing might have done it, but I cannot draw, never could…We used to go in the small hours of the morning into the worst tenements to count noses and see if the law against overcrowding was violated, and the sights I saw there gripped my heart until I felt that I must tell of them, or burst, or turn anarchist, or something…I wrote but it seemed to make no impression.  One morning, scanning my newspaper at the breakfast table, I put it down with an outcry ... There it was, the thing I had been looking for all those years. A four-line dispatch from somewhere in Germany,…. A way had been discovered, it ran, to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way.  I went to the office full of the idea, and lost no time in looking up Dr. John T. Nagle, at the time in charge of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the Health Department to tell him of it. Dr. Nagle was an amateur photographer of merit and a good fellow besides, who entered into my plans with great readiness... Within a fortnight a raiding party composed of Dr. Henry G. Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, two distinguished amateurs, Dr. Nagle and myself, and sometimes a policeman or two, invaded the East Side by night, bent on letting in the light where it was so much needed



 Dr. John T Nagle Jacob Riis

Philadelphia 1875-78, 1887-1904 
Chestnut Street Theatre 1875-1877
Centennial Exposition 1876

Hattie married John Dolman 1887
Baseball 1887 Philadelphias and Detroits
Jack Dolman born [1888-1952]
Elizabeth Ellen Dolman born [1891-1892]
Melanie Nickinson Dolman born [1897-1878] 
  Hattie and Jack c1889

Arrival of the 20th century 1900 
Dec. 31 Philadelphia

I made many trips to Philadelphia when I was in college in New Haven, and lived in Swarthmore the year after I graduated. I did meet cousin Barbie Dolman Spencer but not her daughters Sue or Peggy until 1998..  I hadn't been back in many years until 2002 visiting Effingham Dolman in Delaware after a meeting in Princeton NJ. He took me to Swarthmore Players Club  to see the family plaques on the recently restored seats. I went to Philadelphia for a meeting in April 2004 and met high school friend Jeffrey Ray for lunch and a visit to the Atwater Kent Museum where he worked.  We visited the Walnut Street Theatre and Washington Square.  Was in Philadelphia for an SLA/Pharmaceutical librarians' meeting in June 2011 and brought a camera and walked around with Jeff after brunch at the Bellevue and had addresses this time. More venues left to explore..  Connecting with Spencer cousins who went to West Laurel Hill Cemetery and grew up in Pennsylvania has further added to this adventure.

Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington
1890,1896, Vancouver and Victoria Canada 1896  |Tacoma Washington June 23, 1890, We arrived here last Evening about 7. We passed through a fertile country and Industry flourishing on all sides.  It is astonishing to see the many new villages being built up along the line of railroad from here to Portland. I shall try to see something of the place tomorrow. They have street cars here worked by electricity.  I shall see what I can through a side on these. There is a large Indian Reservation here that I hope to visit before leaving.

Crane & Co
 played here last week and yesterday met them halfway between here and Portland. Both companies got out of the cars, and each greeted the other very warmly and ended in singing "Auld Lang Syne" in a very high key. It was very funny, and was thoroughly enjoyed by ourselves, as well as the natives, the latter looking on in blank amazement, but I do not think there were a quarter of the number Mr. Jarrett gives in his interview with the newspaper reporter.  I think 40 would be nearer the mark than 400. Of Cranes Company whom I knew were Mr., & Mrs. [William Henry] Crane, Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Lizzie Hudson Collier, Mrs. Georgie Drew Barrymore, Mr. [George F.] DeVere and Mr. Herbert who was at the Chestnut St. Theatre [Philadelphia] during my last season at that house. 




Mary Glen's planned transcontinental train trip  Chicago to San Francisco via Denver and Salt Lake City is still in the planning stage, but I did get to Vancouver and Portland in June 2014 [traveling by Bolt Bus from Vancouver to Seattle and Portland] and then by train from Portland to San Jose California.  Wonderful to see amazing forests, geology, mountains and the Northwest.  Great to visit with   Honk! Festival of Activist Street bands  friends living in Vancouver and college classmate Karla in Portland, Oregon.  Not too much left from EJ Phillip's days, but got  a great sense of place, beautiful gardens and water views. Thanks to Karla for planning expeditions throughout Portland, opera and farmers'' markets in Astoria and environs and driving along the Columbia Gorge, visiting gardens, bookstores, wineries and having wonderful food. Powell's had Portland history books I couldn't have found elsewhere.  Need to get back to see more of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.



I was in Vancouver in June 2014 for an SLA conference  Had drinks in Gastown at Steamworks, and stayed at a hotel on West Hasting and Hornby St. Lots of new construction, but was very much in the neighbourhood where EJP stayed and performed.  Thanks to Devo Faber for photos and his gracious hospitality. No EJP letter from Victoria, but I did get there from Vancouver, by ferry thanks to Bryan Siver. Construction of the BC Parliament buildings started in 1893 and was not complete until 1897, so EJP undoubtedly saw them from the outside, but not inside as I could. Guides at the Parliament building told us that their boat would have docked right across the street.  Probably no totem poles in Victoria or Vancouver in 1896.  Tea at the Empress (1908) hotel in Victoria.


Salt Lake City, Utah 1884 1886 1888 1890 1896 
1886 Sept 14th
 Went this morning by invitation of the Mormons to hear the big organ in the Tabernacle.  It is fine! 
1888 To Great Salt Lake by special train

Haven't really seen  Sat Lake City yet. Changed planes there once. Looking forward to the great Chicago-San Francisco train trip with a stop in Salt Lake City and an excursion to the Salt Lake.

*San Francisco
 1882-1884, 1886, 1888, 1890 1896  
Telegraph Hill, Chinatown, Cliff House




EJ Phillips first trip to California seems to have been in August 1882 when she appeared in Sacramento and San Francisco in the Banker's Daughter, False Friend, Lights o' London and Daniel Rochat. We know she went in 1883, and four times after that, and according to newspapers she made two other trips --  in 1882 and 1884 with the Union Square Theatre Company. 



On my first trip to San Francisco  in September 1993 I was taken by Marj and Max Mathews to the Cliff House and Seal Rocks as they were taking me from San Francisco to stay with them  in Palo Alto.  My hotel room in the Sir Francis Drake on Powell Street had a print of the second (1896-1907) Cliff House and was located only a few blocks from the site of the Baldwin Hotel and Theatre.  It was several years before I learned the significance of these places in the EJ Phillips story.  Dick Pallowick took me to Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Telegraph Hill, the Presidio and the Civil War Fort Point. The current Ferry Building was not built until 1898 but replaced a building in the same location.

* Washington DC
  1885 1887 1891 1893 1894 1896   
1885 Grover Cleveland’s inauguration and inaugural ball  

1887 Actors’ Fund performance in DC and visit to White House  
1891 Arlington House, Lee Mansion, Soldier's Home and Lincoln Cottage


The Actors Fund group in 1887 went to the White House, the Diplomatic Reception Room in the State Department, the War Department and the Treasury Department, where the vaults were opened for them. 

College roommate Vicki Jackson included me in a tour of the White House with her family.  Linda Osborne and I toured the Old Executive Office Building [OEOB] (built between 1871 and 1888) in Jan. 1992 
https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc32.htm  It housed the State, War and Navy Departments (and the tour pointed out differing door knobs for each agency.

The Treasury Building seems to be the same one used today [which is not where money is printed.] Walked around outside, but haven't arranged for a tour yet

Alexander Hamilton statue Treasury Department 2016 

Staying at the Marriott several times, across the street from the Willard Hotel and steps from the National Theatre I could see how close both are to the White House.  I could see the Washington Monument from my hotel room, and wondered if EJ Phillips could -- of course it was not completed until 1885 and not open to the public until 1888.


The Soldiers home (established 1851) still has four of the original buildings, including what is now called Lincoln Cottage, which Abraham Lincoln used as a summer retreat during his presidency. Arlington House became a memorial to Robert E. Lee in 1955.  Arlington National Cemetery was established at the mansion in part to prevent the Lees from returning. Finally visited both of these in April 2014 with Linda and Bob Osborne.



One of my most exciting discoveries came in Sept. 2003 when I finally got around to visiting the Building Museum and realized that EJ Phillips had been there for Grover Cleveland's 1885 Inaugural Ball. when it was the Civil War Pension Building.

Washington DC, April 25th 1891 Yesterday I went to see the Soldier's Home - a beautiful place. 

Washington, D.C. Decr 4th 1894   I have the White House, Treasury Building and Park in view as I write and the theatre is next door to me.  From my window I can see the late Gen. Robert E Lee's residence across the Potomac.  Arlington the place is called and now the Soldier's Cemetery where Phil Sheridan is buried & other great men. 

Arlington House, Arlington Cemetery April 2014
General Sheridan tomb            Soldiers Home    Lincoln Cottage April 2014

 19th century medicine bore little relationship to what we know and experience today  
Aging, Dentistry, Diet and Nutrition,  Exercise, Homeopathy, Infectious diseases including tuberculosis, Mental Health, Mortality, Public Health, "Tonics"  Food

* Sarah Bernhardt’s cold prevention recipe

RUM & Drinking  Rochester NY, October 5, 1859 "I am a good boy & God willing will try to keep so for your sake.  I don't think there is much danger for happily the people here are not so fond of the Damned Liquor as in Canada."Did John Nickinson drink with Edgar Allen Poe? Was John Nickinson an alcoholic? He certainly seemed to have had a drinking problem at some points. We know that EJ Phillips didn't drink.

1886  Ramsey is ill - and is going back to San F'co.  He is suffering from the effects of what I warned him against seven years ago.  RUM. "
1895 I suppose by this time you have heard of the dreadful fate of Mr. Wm. Palmer.  I am very sorry.  He was always very kind to me!  Everybody liked "Willie", but they couldn't keep him from the cup and dissolute companions.  Too bad!  Too bad!   

Pregnancy and childbirth  Babies EJ Phillips certainly never uses the word "pregnant" but has a great many euphemisms for labor and birth – ‘picnic’, ‘squalls’, ‘trial’ and ‘the finale’. But she doesn’t avoid the subjects either and her advice seems reasonably straightforward and sensible. I’d like to know more about the contents of her recipes for morning sickness though. Are there good accounts of 19th century obstetrical practice or childrearing treatises? No mention of any of the babies being born in a hospital.  Were they all born at home? Each mother clearly had prenatal care. _______________________________________________________________________

1895 March Detroit to Albert and Neppie "So you are going through the delights of moving.  You will be astonished to find you have so much worldly goods, but will need more."

I [EJ Phillips writing to Albert and Neppie] bought a bedroom set of 12 pieces to go with the plates. [at Macy's for son and daughter-in-law Neppie]  I have not waited to hear what color Neppie would like -- but I have sent a set which would go with any color.  I gave $8 for the set.  They used to sell at $15.   

Albert and Neppie's bedroom crockery set
Caleb and Amy Rae now have the bedroom set at their Solace Farm, in Coalmont Tennessee.

Aunty Zavistowski has left your [Albert and Neppie's]  [wedding] present with me, a plated silver tray, Teapot, sugar bowl, spoon holder & cream jug. It is a very pretty present. She only regrets she was not able to give you solid silver. Sends her love and best wishes. The cream jug and spoon holder are gold lined.

Mary Glen now has the sugar and creamer,  Albert & Neppie's gold rimmed china
, and  Macardell teapo

From what I can estimate, EJP's income, while she was working steadily seems clearly middle class.  She talks about earning $65/week in 1885 (a reduction of $10/week (from 1884?).  This would work out to about $3000/year.  She does talk about being idle for four months in the summer of 1885, having "three weeks vacation" in 1887, 12 weeks in 1889 (perhaps $2000 for that year), 2 weeks in 1890, 6 months in 1891, 5 months in 1892 and 12 weeks in 1896.  She only worked about 2 months in 1897. 

EJP's first salary in Toronto in 1852 was $8/week, for 9 months ($285/year) out of which she had to buy stage clothes and pay board ($2.50/week or $90/year).   1870 Census records for Rockland County, New York show Antonio and Christine Zavistowski, daughters Emeline and Alice and EJ Nickinson and Hattie and Albert.  Dollar figures are given for real and personal value and only Antonio [$500 personal] and Christine [$15,000 real and $5,000 personal] have listings. 

What I’m still not certain of is how many weeks (including travel and rehearsals) she was actually paid for, and clearly salaries considered due were not always readily forthcoming. 

The lack of inflation (in fact deflation) would seem to support my assumption that her salary stayed fairly constant, though I suspect it went down in the 1890s.  (See the chart from The Value of a Dollar.)While there was no income tax until 1913, there were property taxes. Hattie Nickinson Dolman writes from Philadelphia in 1894 "I want to come but John has felt the hard times in his business & the house is such a tax upon us that we have nothing left for anything else."




May Robson in 1888 was paid $25/week by Palmer ($1250/year) and went to the Lyceum Company at $35/week (at most a $500/year increase). In 1888 JH Stoddart earned $150/week ($175 when traveling), about $7500/year which enabled him to support a family and buy a large farm in New Jersey.  In 1894 the leading lady (Olive Oliver) in Lady Windermere's Fan earned $40/week but EJP lamented that no one was offering her $100/week.   Certainly a number of people around her earned much less. 

Teachers, though socially middle class, earned only $250/year in the late 19th century.  In 1886 EJP told Albert that $10/week in Middletown ($500/year) was worth $20-25 in New York ($1000-1300).  In 1887 Everett Root was earning $3/week at Marshall Fields in Chicago ($150/year).  The same year Will Law in Philadelphia made $10/week ($500/year) and paid the servants $3/week ($150/year) but his prospects for marriage seemed quite far off.  In 1887 Uncle [Zavistowski] was frequently earning $5/day in the livery business (maybe $1000/year).

Despite the post Civil War prosperity of the "Gilded Age" we see the deleterious effects of the Panic of 1873 and the Depression of 1893, as well as the pre-Civil War challenges of the Financial Panic of 1837 and Panic of 1857, which clearly influenced the careers of both John Nickinson and EJ Phillips.

Hartford, Nov. 8, 1892 I do not like our play and do not like my part, but the salary is good and I like it. The travelling is pretty severe on your young Mother, but I hope I shall be able to stand it.  I am with a very nice party of people, all respectable and well-behaved and I am happy with them. 

Henry George, Progress and Poverty  Sept 9, 1887 Have you ever read Henry George’s “Progress and Poverty”? If not I will send it to you.  It ought to be read by every thinking man & woman. I have not quite finished it but will by the time you let me know if you have read it or not. You will perhaps find it rather dry reading at first, but I think you will get interested in it, and as I have done become a convert to his theory. But I fear great deeds will have to be done before his principles can be put into practice. Those who hold the land also hold the power! But the “Bastille” was destroyed. The American Revolution took place and also the Civil War and who can say what men may yet do for the good of their fellow beings. You will think “Mom” has got into a moralising mood. Wish I could do more – get into a moralising Action. But I hope and that is all I can do, that something will soon be done to help poor suffering humanity, not by strife and blood shedding but by Peace, Mercy and Love.


tage clothes

(and photography)

Stage clothes were not cheap. EJP spent at least $166 for clothes in 1886, more than $300 in 1887, more than $140 in 1888, $100 in 1892 and $290 plus in 1893.   A small account book records various expenses for 1876-1877 in Philadelphia including gloves, silk $10, Lining 00.30, Rusching & Muslin, Skirt braid 00.14 and Zephyr 01.56. Learning about and seeing the quilt squares she made on train trips, using cloth from stage costumes brought a true sense of how colorful the textiles were -- even after so many years. The oval Gainsborough type pic is difficult.  It looks like a costume for a Regency drama or something, but still the sleeves have no puff, so are prior to 1883ish.  The lace of the sleeves is fairly wide, suggesting late 1870's and the bustle from what I can see is nothing more than a curve placing this after 1875.  I'd guess 1877.  The hat is a costume hat. Did she do a Restoration comedy about that time?  [She certainly did -- The Rivals in 1877.]


The one of her wearing the tiny hat, grey haired with slightly puffy sleeves is undated, but again the sleeves are a clue. 1885-1886 was the first slightly puffy sleeve period, then until 1896 they got bigger and bigger until they were balloons!  The sleeves then went back to the second period of slight puff, which was approximately 1895-1901. The dating is likely 1895. I can't see that hat trimming properly, so can't date the hat, although the tiny dignified style certainly fits the date.  

Thanks to Allister Hardiman

 for these emailed notes on EJ Phillips' photographs and 19th century clothing.  The first two [Gilbert & Bacon] are nicely dateable.  The first things are the sleeves.  They are straight from 1885..  After that they started to puff up, which means that this picture is not later than 1885.   The second things is the lace waterfall around her neck.  It's called a jabot, and it evolved from the late 1870's pleated bow.  Jabots started in 1880 and were popular by 1881, when they  were quite restrained, simply tied, in white and full.  By 1885 they were massive and spilling all the way down the torso in a lace trail until they simply went out of fashions. EJP's jabot here is the same in both pictures so is about [probably] 1882. because it is not so restrained, but still has large lace bits.  Also, the mid length portrait with the rolled up chair arm is a dead giveaway.  That's the 1880s for you.  ________________________________________________________________________________

Copyright, international relations, New York politics, Prohibition, Grover Cleveland inauguration 1885, William Jennings Bryan vs. William McKinley 1896, Ulysses S Grant, Voting

Foreign plays were seldom paid for before Albert M. Palmer's time. That manager succeeded in getting a court decision which prevented rival managers from producing unprinted foreign plays which he had contracted for and produced, he paying the foreign authors so much a performance, probably not more than $50. Until the introduction of international copyright in 1891, printed foreign plays were pirated without apology.  
Hornblow, 1919

1886 August EJ Phillips wrote son Albert from San Francisco about the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic] being in town  "Grand procession, arches, flags, portraits of Grant and Lee hang side by side



"Crossing the desert " en route to  San Francisco, Aug 15, 1896,  Men came on the train passing through Wyoming yesterday, to take Presidential vote.  We have 13 cars.  There were 52 votes for Bryan and 53 for McKinley.  I voted for the man who is to be nominated.  The above voted were by males. (Of course women could not vote until the 19th Amendment in 1920. And was EJ Phillips ever a US citizen?)

Amateur theatrics, baseball, bicycles, Dancing, Fishing, Horse racing and driving, Masons, Music, Sleighing, Swimming, Volunteer fire departments
 I was surprised by the amount of baseball in these letters. Bicycles threatened to draw people from theaters.  Still looking for a place to go sleighing in the winter.


I've heard from a number of people about this website, but particularly from baseball historians.  Howard Rosenberg, biographer of Cap Anson and Ty Cobb  provided useful baseball details, but also Washington Post articles about EJ Phillips, including the Actors Fund benefit  White House visit in 1887, and illustrations from Jim the Penman.  Baseball historian Bob Mayer of Putnam Valley NY wrote me "Albert played a limited amount of ball games in 1886 for the Wallkills Base Ball Club and as you know, married the daughter of the newspaper owner and ultimately became editor.... I can tell you that the benefit brought in $300. Not chump change at the time. EJ Phillips' baseball games were pre-Fenway Park, but I was delighted to make my first visit there with the company of college friend Warren Goldstein, author of Playing for keeps: a history of early baseball.

SLANG  blues, down in the dumps, hang out, head of the heap, hustle, kick, kids, knocked silly, Mom, razzle dazzle, snooze, sore

I was at first surprised by EJ Phillips' use of slang -- "kids", "snooze" and "sore" -- but perhaps the combination of the theatre, travel, and living in New York gave her vocabulary an informality rarely associated with the average Victorian matron.


Air conditioning, electricity, elevators,
fire prevention,  gas lighting, photography, refrigeration, sewing machines, telegraph, telephones, typewriters
It isn't just now that technologies are an important part of culture and life.  I feel fortunate to have so many photographs -- a professional necessity for EJ Phillips.  While a telephone number only appears once in these letters in Vancouver in 1896, the telegraph was in constant use.

Marvin, Carolyn, When Old Technologies were New: Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century, Oxford University Press. was enlightening. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________




ppendices and illustrations
City and regional maps

Nickinson Chronology Excel  EJ Phillips, John Nickinson, Nickinson children


Photographs and playbills



Fabric  "from a dress made by Olimpe" Canal Street, New Orleans

EJ Phillips in Storm Beaten  

 Lace hat, from Sue Spencer, Could this be one she wore in Storm Beaten?   






Index: Until I get a search engine for this website use Google site search "site:maryglenchitty.com" and whatever word or phrase you are looking for.


*potential for article or blog post

Last revised August 25, 2020

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