Charlotte Cushman, the wildly famous and successful butch-in-the-sheets actress we’ve been intrigued with since she played Romeo in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” in which Juliet was played by, of all the humans available for employment, her actual sister, has been writing notes and breaking hearts since 1844. That’s when Charlotte proposed to Rosalie Sully, the daughter of painter Thomas Sully, and then promptly departed for a seemingly endless theatrical tour, leaving Rosalie alone to pine and, shortly thereafter, LITERALLY DIE. Sources close to Rosalie and also to me claim she was especially vulnerable to the fever that killed her due to her “weakened emotional state.” There were also rumors that Charlotte had been involved with journalist Anne Hampton Brewster at the same time as Rosalie. Anne is, as far as we know, still alive.
Also, at some point in there Charlotte maybe reunited with her ex, Eliza Cook, who, like Rosalie, developed a “chronic malady” after parting with Charlotte, and started writing “Eliza Cook’s Journal,” a weekly magazine for middle-class single women that is reviled by most everybody outside of her target demographic, for example men. You may remember our appreciation of their article on corsets, which declared “of all wicked fashions, that of wearing tight corsets is the most wicked.”
Anyhow back to the topic at hand: Charlotte’s subsequent relationship with writer, journalist and part-time aactress Matilda Hays has been well-documented and fastidiously observed as the twosome endorsed lesbian twinning by dressing identically and then moved to a very queer expatriate artist’s colony in Rome in 1849, joined by Charlotte’s friend from the U.S., tomboy sculptor Harriet Hosmer. Harriet’s trip had been financed by the American founder of Washington University, Wayman Crow.
Rome is very hot right now and a cesspool of drama. While in Rome, Charlotte was a big signal-booster for our fave babe Edmonia Lewis, the brilliant bisexual African-American/Native American sculptor who left America for Rome because everybody in this country is a racist asshole and it was easier to find a somewhat less racist community in Europe. As far as we know, however, Charlotte and Edmonia did not hook up. (Anybody with info on who Edmonia Lewis is dating, @ me)
Speaking of people who did hook up, though, in 1854, Matilda skipped out on Charlotte to shack up with Harriet after canoodling excessively in front of Charlotte for a significant period of time. We subsequently burned all our Charlotilda t-shirts.
Then we had to buy new t-shirts ’cause Matilda and Charlotte got back together. They got a place in London and things were tense but good enough to convince them it was safe to return to their very active Chart in Rome, which it most definitely was not. Subsequently, Charlotte and Matilda were spotted bickering in numerous public locations, not holding hands while exiting their shared residence, and generally radiating vibes of unhappiness and K-Stew level surliness.
This all came to a head in 1857, when, according to sources close to both women, Matilda figured out that Charlotte had been entertaining a thing with sculptor Emma Stebbins, walked in on her writing Emma a love note, and thus chased her around the house, fists flying, voices raised, and terrible things said. Their ten-year relationship had finally reached its boiling point and was over. Matilda Hays moved out and then made a serious and unprecedented power lesbian move by suing her ex, claiming she’d given up her own career to support Charlotte’s and therefore deserved some cash for her troubles.
My friends: she got it. An undisclosed sum, to be sure, but something in the range of the “thousands.”
SO! Back to Emma Stebbins. This is the same Emma Stebbins that Harriet Hosmer had written her patron, Wayman Crow, about, claiming “I have taken onto myself a wife in the form of Miss Stebbins, another sculptrice, and we are very happy together.” Stebbins and Harriet have denied this statement was meant in seriousness and that they were for sure just roommates. Regardless, Charlotte decided Stebbins would be happier and more successful artistically as her roommate and they U-Hauled. A close friend of Stebbins said their relationship was “codependent” and that “Harriet has convinced Emma that Emma cannot live without her.”
Harriet and Emma were observed in matching black bowler hats, taking daily rides to Borghese Gardens to enjoy wine and cheese picnics and generally appeared very much in love and full of joy and happiness, which is their right and who are we to judge.
Amid Charlotte’s reported financial struggles due to her shitty manager, Charlotte decided to come out of retirement and head back to the U.S. for her ten millionth “farewell tour.” Before shipping out in 1857, Charlotte and Emma picked out a new house on 38 Via Gregoriana and got renovations going while they were out of town. Harriet hooked Charlotte up with Wayman Crow’s info so she could get some financial advice while in the states.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO TODAY’S BREAKING NEWS. Seriously when you have so much drama that 75% of your Vapid Fluff posts are backstory, that is some Whitney Mixter level drama.
Charlotte came back to the U.S. with Emma Stebbins in tow, although an anonymous companion reports she was nervous to introduce her new lady to her friends and family, who were all big Matilda fans. Charlotte told them that Matilda was too busy editing a Journal in London to tag along. After a month-long run in New York, Charlotte left Emma with her family and traveled to the Midwest to do some shows and also to meet her ex’s ex’s patron because this is the way that we live. Wayman and Charlotte became fast friends, which is great, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that all men should give their money to lesbians.
Wayman took his 18-year-old daughter, aspiring actress Emma Crow, to see Charlotte play Romeo in a St. Louis production of “Romeo and Juliet”. Emma wrote in her livejournal that “Never having seen it until then, Miss Cushman as Romeo seemed the incarnation of the ideal lover and realized all the dreams that flitted through a girls’ fancy.”
Regarding Charlotte’s chemistry with Mary Devlin, who played Juliet, Emma wrote that she “felt a thrill when in the balcony scene at the moment of impassionaied parting, Romeo returned again and again for a last embrace and finally pressed one of [Juliet]’s ringlets to his lips.” She concluded that Charlotte definitely won more hearts that night than Mary, but Crow was probably especially talking about her own heart.
In the ensuing weeks, 42-year-old Charlotte and 18-year-old Emma Crow were seen cavorting, although rarely unsupervised. We hesitated to report on this scandalous union until we were totally sure, but then remembered that we’re never totally sure, and that has never stopped us before.
Ladies, Emma Crow is living the Katie Holmes / Tom Cruise dream, which we all know ended really well for everybody involved. Emma Crow became a common fixture in Charlotte’s dressing room and Charlotte now calls Crow her “little lover” and Crow calls Charlotte her “ladie lover,” which is almost cute, but not quite. At one point on her tour Charlotte apparently hopped a twenty-six hour train to St. Louis just to spend a few hours with Crow before her next show.
“Charlotte told Emma Crow that it is sweet to be loved by a young fresh heart and the enthusiasm of youth is too precious not to be gathered up as I gather yours dear,” a dear friend of Charlotte told Autostraddle. “But she’s also worried that one day Emma Crow will, you know, see the little idol which she has raised on her altar tumble to pieces at her feet and eventually wonder how she ever could have declared so fervent a love for her.”
If Emma Crow were older, some friends have suggested, she might be better at identifying much of Charlotte’s correspondence as intentionally passive-aggressive.
Also, whenever Emma Crow has pressed Charlotte for a real commitment or asked to return to Rome with her, Charlotte has told Crow, of Emma Stebbins, “do you not know that I am already married and wear the badge upon the third finger of my left hand?” So basically Charlotte wants Emma Crow to be totally devoted to her while also refusing to give up Emma Stebbins, which is not the correct way to do poly. However, props on finding two girlfriends with the same first name!
Last month, Emma Crow and Charlotte were seen galavanting around Pittsfield, Massachusetts, when the Crows were passing through from Rhode Island to Lenox.
But now, Charlotte’s U.S. engagements are over, and she’s headed back to Europe and Emma Stebbins, who returned before Charlotte did. Rumor has it that renovations at 38 Via Gregoriana are moving slowly, despite Harriet moving in for reasons that remain foggy to us all. Emma Crow has been seen traveling with her family, and also visiting Fanny Kemble, a long-time friend of Harriet and foe of Charlotte.
With an entire ocean between them, Emma Crow is reportedly devastated and surviving solely on smoothies from Whole Foods. Will Crow get an alternative lifestyle haircut? Will Charlotte ever be honest with her present partners about her other partners? We’ll be on the case and provide you with any and all genuine or dubious reports relating to this situation as it develops.
In conclusion, it’s hilarious that throughout all of this, the mainstream press has continued to insist that Charlotte is entirely chaste, if a bit “masculine.” Good job everyone.
- When Romeo was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and her circle of female spectators, by Lisa Merrill
- Across an Untried Sea: Discovering Lives Hidden in the Shadow of Convention and Time, by Julia Markus.
- Homo History: The Many Loves of Charlotte Cushman