MEET THE VOKES FAMILY: JESSIE, VICTORIA, AND ROSINA VOKES WERE TALENTED SISTERS OF THE BRITISH STAGE

vokes

The top photograph in this grouping features stage actress Rosina Vokes (1854-1894). She was the daughter of a London costumer. She came to America with her two older siblings and Fawdon Vokes to make a career in the theatre. Interestingly, Fawdon Vokes was not a member of the Vokes family. His name was actually Walter Fawdon, but the name change was necessary for him to join the family troupe. The group made their New York debut in 1872 in “The Belles of the Kitchen“. They played in a number of shows over time and from the beginning, Rosina was considered “infinitely the cleverest, the most bewitching” of the group. When she reappeared in America in 1885 with her own company, she was warmly welcomed. One paper wrote “she is still young, agile, slender and graceful; the piquant prettiness of her face and the droll charm of her manner still exert a strong influence on the susceptible spectator”. She toured with made-to-order productions, until shortly before her early death, at about, forty years of age. The New York Times (1893) published an article entitled “Rosina Voke’s Serious Illness: It Deprives the Anglo-American Stage of One of its Brightest Ornaments”. The article favorably compares her to her other acting family members and reveals that Vokes had embarked on a voyage from America to England whose purpose was to allow her to die in her home country. The young actress was terminally ill with consumption (pulmonary disease). Judging by the content of the many obituaries that appeared in American newspapers after Rosina Vokes succumbed to her illness, the actress was a well respected and loved performer of the American stage. It is important to note that the Vokes theatrical family included a brother named Fred Vokes (1846-1888). He was an actor and a dancer. This cabinet card comes from the studio of famed celebrity photographer, Napoleon Sarony. To view other photographs by Sarony, click on Cabinet Card Gallery’s category, “Photographer: Sarony”.

The second photograph captures Rosina and her two sisters posing for an unidentified photographer. The sisters have been identified as Jessie (1851=1884) and Victoria (1853-1894). The reverse of the photograph indicates that the image was formerly part of the “Harold Seton Collection”. Who is Harold Seton? Research reveals that Harold Seton was best known for his work as a journalist, author and collector. He wrote about theatre and society in his column, Theatre Thoughts”, which appeared in Theatre Magazine. He accumulated over ten thousand theatrical photographs of actors and actresses who performed between 1870 and 1900. He donated some of his collection to the New York Historical Society and some are  located at the Wake Forest University library, as well as a number of other institutions. A Harold Seton was a theatre actor who performed in eight plays between 1919 and 1935. Although I doubt that the two Harold Setons’ are the same men; no evidence could be found to determine if they were one and the same man.

The third image in this group is a carte de visite portrait of Victoria Vokes. The photograph was taken at the Broadway studio of Napoleon Sarony. Victoria was born in London and began her career at the Royal Surrey Theatre at just two years of age. Over time she played a variety of children’s roles in London theatres. In 1861 she appeared with her brothers and sisters at the Operetta House in Edinburgh as one of the “Vokes Children” (later changed to “The Vokes Family”. Victoria earned her early popularity with her voice but soon she was gathering acclaim via her acting. Her performance in “Amy Robsart” (1871) at Drury Lane Theatre is an example of one of her excellent exhibitions on stage. “The Cornell Daily Sun” (1890) wrote about an appearance by Victoria Vokes and her Company. The reviewer asserted that “Few actresses have appeared in Montreal whose genius is so versatile as that of Miss Yokes. She sings with a fine contralto of great power, dances like zephyr and acts in comedy — well, like one of the Yokes”.

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ADA RICHMOND: EARLY BURLESQUE ACTRESS AND IMPRESARIO

This cabinet card features a portrait of burlesque actress and impresario,  Ada Richmond.  Richmond was from Chicago and when her businessman father died she was sent to Boston to study music. She was encouraged by a theater manager to try the burlesque stage and she became very successful in that genre of theater. The Milwaukee Daily Journal (1885) has an article in it’s theater section about the opening of Ada Richmond’s American Burlesque Company’s version of “The Sleeping Beauty”. She headed the company and performed in it. She was known as the “handsomest woman” on the burlesque stage. The article also points out that Ada Richmond was the widow of Billy Bost, a well known New York politician and “sporting character” who was shot and killed three years earlier in a political dispute. This cabinet card was photographed by celebrity photographer, Gurney. Ada Richmond looks quite angelic in this portrait and is wearing exquisite matching jewelry. The photographer’s logo on the reverse of the photograph has a symbol with the following words “I have chained the sun to serve me”. This likely is an advertisement for the studio’s electric lights which would improve the quality of customer’s photographs. A stamp on the reverse of the cabinet card notes that it was part of the “Harold Seton” collection. Harold Seton was a journalist, author and collector of theatrical photographs. He wrote a column for Theatre Magazine. To learn more about Seton and to see other photographs that were part  of the collection, click on the category “Harold Seton Collection”.