Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Grand Dame of Broadway

Last month, I shared about the Stage Door Canteen and its contribution to the war effort by boosting the morale of Allied servicemen. This month, I’d like to introduce you to the woman behind the mission.

Rachel Crothers was born December 12, 1878 into a wealthy and intellectual family. Her parents were both doctors, her mother having entered medical school at aged forty. Running her own practice, she was one of the first female doctors in Illinois. Her paternal grandfather was friends with Abraham Lincoln. Discussion was encouraged and issues such as money, equality, and a woman’s place in the world were just a few of the topics covered at the dinner table. Education was highly prized, and Ruth graduated high school at thirteen.

Despite the fact she was sent to the New England School of Dramatic Instructions, her parents opposed her plan to move to New York to seek a career in theatre. Instead she returned home and became a founding member of the Bloomington Dramatic Club. It wasn’t until five years after the death of her father that Rachel was able to leave Illinois and move to New York in pursuit of her dream.

A prolific writer, she had a reputation for creating “Isben-like” plays that revolved around social and women’s issues of the day. Topics such as equality, divorce, prostitution, and Freudian psychology were the hallmark of her productions. In 1906, her first full length piece, The Three of Us ran for 277 performances, and in 1908 premiered on the London stage. Rachel had arrived.

Unusual for the time period, she directed, staged, and casted most of her plays. She also directed work produced by others. In 1937, her play Susan and God was made into a movie starring Joan Crawford. A strong social conscience prompted her to establish several organizations to improve the welfare of her theatrical colleagues in addition to creating the American Theatre Wing discussed in last month’s post.

Described as a trailblazer, Rachel never married and passed away in 1958.

Have you ever been to the theatre? What is your favorite play?

Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, blogger, and history geek. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a Trustee for her local public library. Active in her church Linda serves as treasurer, usher, and choir member. To find out more about Linda and her books visit www.LindaShentonMatchett.com. Sign up for her newsletter for links to free ebooks, book reviews, historical tidbits, and more.


  1. I've attended a local theatre occasionally to see the older musicals being performed. Sound of Music and Oklahoma are a couple of my favorite.

  2. I've attended local theatre plays and a few off-Broadway productions but never attended a play in New York.
    I enjoyed learning about this amazing woman.