Laura Keene was born in England in 1826 and took the stage early in the 1850s. She moved to America in 1852 to advance her craft in the emerging world of American theatre. She found success on the stage and was one of the most sought after and acclaimed actresses of her day. She headlined shows throughout the country and across the world, traveling to Australia in 1854. By 1855, she ran her own theatre – becoming the first female theatre owner. She managed, directed, and stared in shows performed at her theatre and became an incredibly powerful woman in both theatre and business.
On April 14, 1865, she was the star performer in Ford’s Theatre’s production of “Our American Cousin”. That evening, fellow actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the state box above stage left while Keene was in the wings. Legend tells us that she made her way to the state box and offered her assistance to the dying president. The tragedy of that night did not deter her love of the stage, and her success continued until her death in 1873.
For even more information, be sure to attend our special event “UnCaged – Extraordinary Women of the American Civil War” on Tuesday, March 12 at 7 pm. The free event will be at the Tyler History Center with parking available in the adjacent lots.