Cross-dressing On Stage

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Hospital Register Vol. 2, No. 1. August 29, 1863 (Philadelphia, 1863).

Charlotte and Susan Cushman as Romeo and Juliet. Engraving, ca. 1846. Gift of John A. McAllister.


In 1836 Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) began a long and successful acting career, taking on the roles of both male and female characters. Cushman won great acclaim for playing Romeo to her younger sister Susan’s Juliet. As one contemporary critic wrote: “Miss Cushman’s Romeo is one of the best, the most noble kind – that which is gracious, loving, strong. Yes, the lady was right – ‘Miss Cushman is a very dangerous young man.’”

The Satterlee Boys to Uncle Sam. By Sergt Don Fitz Squizzle (Philadelphia, 1863?).

[Emil] Scholl. Venie Clancy. Albumen print cabinet card. Philadelphia, ca. 1880.


Described in her death notice as a “pretty burlesque actress” and the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s theater managers, Venie Clancy sat for this portrait only a year or two before her death. Clancy did not attempt to disguise her attractiveness, and she appears rather androgynous, sporting a short hair cut complete with sideburns and a masculine bowler hat.