​The Remarkable True 
Story of the First and Most Powerful Woman of the American Theater. 

The Unintended Life of Laura Keene

​Laura Keene was born as Mary Frances Moss on July 20, 1826 in Winchester England. She was married at the age of 18 to a British Army officer. In 1846 her first daughter Emma was born. In 1849 her husband opened a tavern and their second child, Clara was born.

In 1850, her husband was arrested, convicted and sent to Australia on a prison ship. She was shunned by her neighbors, a disgraced woman, with two children, no money and no future.

Her mother’s aunt was an actress in London. She offered her the opportunity to apprentice there in order to feed Emma and Clara.

In October of 1851, Mary Frances Moss made her professional debut on the London stage in The Lady of Lyons. Since it was socially unacceptable for a single mother to ‘act’ in the theatre, she changed her name to Laura Keene.

Following her successful introduction, she performed at London’s Olympic Theatre and The Royal Lyceum Theatre, working under the well known actress and producer, Madame Vestris. It was in these few months that Laura’s confidence and determination flourished.

In 1852, after less than a year performing in Britain, Laura accepted an offer from James William Wallack to become the leading lady of his theater company in New York City.

She left her daughters under the care of her mother, and set sail to America to become the first and most powerful woman in American Theatre.

And that is how

Laura Keene was born.

 Registered WGAW 1802185

Laura Keene's Legacy ​

  • Laura Keene was the producer, director and star of the acting company that performed  "Our American Cousin" at Ford’s Theatre the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

  • She was on stage at that moment and identified John Wilkes Booth. She made her way up to the Presidential box, and held Lincoln in her arms until help arrived.

  • In 1854 she was paid $30,000 (the equivalent value today is $180 Million) to manage and perform in San Francisco and throughout California.

  • Laura Keene was also the first woman who managed, performed and  toured her own repertory company throughout the US. 

  • She was the first actress who also leased and managed the theaters where she performed.

  • She remodeled her own theatre in NY, which today is The Winter Garden on Broadway.

  • Years later when asked why she became an actress, she said that as a woman and mother she believed the stage was the best way for her to support equal rights for women.

Laura Keene
Actress, Producer, Director
​ and Single Mother.

(c) 2017. The Actors Hall of Fame Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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