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Clara Morris papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00106

Scope and Contents

This small collection contains three volumes of original manuscripts for her memoir Life on the Stage: My Personal Experiences and Recollections (published 1901), with unpublished passages on John Wilkes Booth; plus manuscripts for several short stories, dated 1900. Also included are theatre programs dating from 1874 to 1888, photographs, two letters, and an obituary.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1874 - 1901


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Actress Clara Morris was born in Toronto, probably 17 Mar 1847, the eldest child of a bigamous marriage. When she was three her father, whose name was La Montagne, was exposed as a bigamist and her mother moved with Clara to Cleveland, where they adopted Clara's grandmother's name, Morisson. Young Clara received only scanty schooling. In circa 1860 she became a ballet girl in the resident company of the Cleveland Academy of Music, shortening her name to Morris at that time. After nine years of training with that company she played a leading lady at Wood's Theatre in Cincinnati in 1869. She then appeared in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a summer and with Joseph Jefferson in Louisville before going to New York City in 1870. She made her New York debut in September in "Man and Wife," directed by Augustin Daly at his Fifth Avenue Theatre. The role had come to her by chance, but she made such an impression in it that Daly starred her in a series of highly emotional roles over the next three years in such plays as "No Name," "Delmonico's," "L'Article 47," "Alixe," "Jezebel," and "Madeline Morel." She left Daly in 1873 and in November of that year starred under A.M. Palmer's management in "The Wicked World" at the Union Square Theatre.

Over the next few years Morris had great successes in "Camille" in 1874, "The New Leah" in 1875, "Miss Multon" (an American version of a French version of "East Lynne"), her most popular role, in 1876, "Jane Eyre" in 1877, and "The New Magdalen" in 1882. She also toured extensively, especially in the 1880s, and everywhere mesmerized audiences with her emotional power. Although neither a great beauty nor a great artist, nor trained in elocution or stagecraft, she had an instinctive genius for portraying the impassioned and often suffering heroines of French melodrama.

The passing of the vogue for that sort of theatre, together with her uncertain health, brought her career to a close in the 1890s. In retirement in Riverdale, New York, she contributed articles on acting to various magazines, wrote a daily newspaper column for ten years, and published numerous books, including A Silent Singer, 1899; Little Jim Crow and Other Stories for Children, 1900; Life on the Stage: My Personal Experiences and Recollections, 1901; Stage Confidences, 1902; A Pasteboard Crown, 1902; The Trouble Woman, 1904; The Life of a Star, 1906; Left in Charge, 1907; New East Lynne, 1908; A Strange Surprise, 1910; and Dressing-Room Receptions, 1911. In 1904 she returned to the stage in a revival of "The Two Orphans," and she later appeared in vaudeville. She died in New Canaan, Connecticut, on November 20, 1925.


0.417 linear feet (1 container)

Language of Materials



Clara Morris was an actress and journalist. Includes original manuscripts for Life on the Stage: My Personal Experiences and Recollections (1901), and several short stories; memorabilia; photographs; and 2 letters.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source unknown.


Accessions were received on the following dates: 1977.

Finding aid to the Clara Morris papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:15-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-04-02: Made FA pencil edit changes and updated finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063