Helena Modjeska, 1840 – 1909

October 12, 1840 – Birthdate of Helena Modjeska, Polish-American actress.

Modjeska, whose actual Polish surname was Modrzejewska, was a renowned actress who specialized in Shakespearean and tragic roles.

During her career she played nine Shakespearean heroines, Marguerite Gautier in Camille, and Schiller‘s Maria Stuart. In 1883, the year she obtained American citizenship, she produced Henrik Ibsen‘s A Doll’s House in Louisville, Kentucky, the first Ibsen play staged in the United States. In the 1880s and 1890s she had a reputation as the leading female interpreter of Shakespeare on the American stage.

The Modjeska Theater on Mitchell Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is named after her.  The first Modjeska Theatre was a brick structure in 1910 of 840 seats about which little is known aside from the fact that it sported an ornate wooden facade identical to Milwaukee’s Princess Theatre then under construction downtown, also by architect Henry G. Lotter, who thus enjoyed a great economy of construction to the same facade plans. The Modjeska Theatre was intended no doubt as an eponymous and posthumous honor by the then heavily Polish south side of Milwaukee.

Featured today is a postage stamp issued by Poland honoring Modjeska.

helena modjeska


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