Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gresdna Doty


Although Ada Rehan (1857-1916) achieved international fame as America's representative actress, rivaling Ellen Terry during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, historians have forgotten her. After beginning in 1872 to perform with her sister, Kate, and brother-in-law, Oliver Doud Byron, in their company and, later, in Mrs. Louisa Lane Drew's Arch Street Theatre Company (1873-75), Ada moved upward to ingenue roles in Barney Macauley's company (1875-76). Then she assumed leading parts with John W. Albaugh's company (1876-79), followed by a few months supporting Fanny Davenport. Finally, she advanced to a position in one of the most prominent theatres in New York under the management of Augustin Daly, known as a "star-maker.". Between 1879 and 1899 Ada earned international stardom as the leading actress in the leading theatre in America. She first gained prominence for her subtle ensemble acting as a member of Daly's "Big Four," consisting of James Lewis, Mrs. Anne Hartley Gilbert, and John Drew. In addition to the young female leads in the quartet's domestic comedies, Daly featured Ada in leading roles in seventeenth and eighteenth-century English comedies, Pinero's contemporary British drama, melodramatic plays of Victorien Sardou and the elder and younger Dumas, and Shakespearean comedy. As she grew in popularity, the ensemble declined until John Drew's resignation from the company in 1892 ended it. The following year her international critical acclaim enabled Daly to build a theatre in London. And in 1894 she became the only performer to tour under Daly's management as a star. Unrivaled as Katherine in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Ada performed it as well as Rosalind at Stratford-Upon-Avon and distinguished herself as Lady Teazle, Viola, Peggy Thrift, and Portia. After Daly's death in 1899 Ada continued to perform well in spite of overwhelming personal and professional problems. But by the time George Bernard Shaw convinced her to portray Lady Cicely in his Captain Brassbound's Conversion Ada's broken health forced her to retire in 1905. One of the finest actresses of her day, and perhaps, America's greatest, she died on April 22, 1916.