Skip to main content

Adah Isaacs Menken Collection

 Collection — Container: Consolidated Box P15, Folder: P-559
Identifier: P-559

Scope and Content Note

The Adah Isaacs Menken collection contains photographs, correspondence and ephemera relating to the life of one of the most famous actors in 19th-century America. Included are photographs of Menken and Algernon C. Swinburne, a photograph of Menken in costume, letters written by Menken, and playbills from two plays, in one of which Menken starred.


  • undated, 1862-1868


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical Note

Adah Isaacs Menken was born in Milneburg (a suburb of New Orleans), Louisiana, in 1835. Learned in Bible, literature and languages (including Latin and Hebrew), she served at one time as a teacher in a girls' school. Menken married Alexander Isaac Menken in 1856, and the couple lived first in New Orleans (where Menken began performing to earn money) and then in Cincinnati. She began publishing poems (some in Isaac Mayer Wise's Israelite), and she lobbied intensely for Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild to be able to claim the seat in the English Parliament which was being denied him because he was a Jew.

Menken and her husband divorced (by rabbinical divorce), after which she moved to New York and had three unhappy marriages (to non-Jews).

Menken's fame as an actor spread with her portrayal of Mazeppa in the adaptation of the Byron play in 1861. Literary men, including Mark Twain, and later Charles Dickens and Charles Reade, flocked to her side. During the great Exposition in Paris, "she became the darling and the rumored mistress of kings and princes; and she cultivated her intimate and ambiguous friendship with the elderly Alexandre Dumas. She returned to London and was involved with the poet Swinburne. In 1868 she left for Paris again, to appear in a new production; but very soon the ailments that had set in years before brought on her death, in an attic room opposite the theatre. Among others, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited her; and the poet Thomas Buchanan Read was with her to the end. A rabbi attended her last hours."

Two volumes of Menken's poetry were published, Infelicia (1868) and Memoirs (1856).

1 Source: The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 7.


4 Folders (4 folders)

Language of Materials



The collection consists of playbills of "Rookwood" (1864?) and "La Juive" (undated); letters to "Dear Brother Ed" (1862), Henry Francis Keenan (1862) and J.C. Hotten (1868); two photograph Cartes De Visite and a photograph and negative of Menken with Algernon C. Swinburne.


The collection is organized into a single series.

Physical Location

Collection is located in Consolidated Box P15.

Acquisition Note

Gift of Mrs. Elsie Sang, 1986.

Digitization Note

Box CB 5 Folder 3 has been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.

Related Material

The library of the American Jewish Historical Society contains several volumes by and about Adah Isaacs Menken. These include: Adah Isaacs Menken, Infelicia. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1869, 1881 and 1888).

There is also a photograph of the tombstone of Adah Isaacs Menken (taken in 1933) in the collection of Alice Davis Menken (P-23), who was a daughter-in-law of a brother of one of Adah Menken's husbands.

Guide to the Adah Isaacs Menken Collection, undated, 1862-1868 P-559
Processed by Felicia Herman
© 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • September 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States