Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study traces the theatrical career of John E. Owens (1823-1886), a career which reflects many of the changes which transformed nineteenth century American theatre. One of the most popular and financially successful comic actors in America in mid-century, Owens was also an innovative and successful manager who anticipated realistic trends in staging and acting. Best known for the role of Solon Shingle in J. S. Jones' The People's Lawyer (later re-titled Solon Shingle), which he played over 2000 times, Owens refined the Yankee Character established by Hill, Marble and Silsbee and won critical and popular acclaim for both his ecentric comic characters and his tender, evocative portrayals of garrulous old men. He was noted for a quiet, natural style of acting which utilized verisimilar details to create individualized characterizations. As a manager in Baltimore and New Orleans, Owens gained recognition as an astute, demanding overseer of uniformly excellent stock companies, well-cast plays, and accurately and lavishly mounted productions. The study includes biographical data and anecdotes, a listing of all 447 roles which Owens performed, with dates and cities of first performances, all cities, companies and theaters in which Owens performed, contemporary and historical evaluations of his acting, an examination of his efforts at management, and a view of Owens the man. It is organized into six chapters: (1) Owens' early years and apprenticeship under William E. Burton in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and the various influences upon him (1823-48); (2) His early acting and management experiences (1848-56); (3) The development of his acting repertory and style, his touring, and his later management (1856-64); (4) His later acting style and famous roles, established while touring widely and in occasional long runs (1864-72); (5) His final years of touring with his own combination company, his professional decline, and his personal losses (1872-86); (6) A summary evaluation of Owens' career and his place in theatre history.