Saturday, September 22, 2018

Helena Modjeska - Shakespearian Actor #SweetheartsoftheWest


Another post in an ongoing look at early women performers that traveled or lived in the Old West.

Related image
Image from Wilipedia of Helena Modjeska
In Colorado, the Delta Independent of July 16, 1889 states "the great Modjeska is playing Denver this week."

So what was it about a women born in Krakow, Poland on October 12, 1840 that would warrant the above statement in a paper over one hundred miles away from Denver?

Born Helena Opid, Helena came from a family of performers. She married actor Gustov Modrzejewski , according to some resources his stage name, sometime in the late 1850's or early 1860.

In the 1860's Helena performed in Poland where she was a great success. However, Poland was not an easy country to live in during that time, as it was under Russian Imperial Rule. One incident made an impression on Helena. It seems some school children had come to see one of her performances. They gave her a bouquet tied with the Polish national colors. Allegedly the students were expelled from school and banned from admission to any other school because the were 'conducting a political demonstration'. The story goes, one student shot himself, and Helena attended his funeral.

In 1868 Helena married Karol Bozenta Chlapowski, who was known as Count Bozenta after the couple moved to the United States in 1876. The couple wanted to ranch and bought land in California and Helena retired from the stage. However, ranching proved to be a failure and Helena returned to the stage in 1877.  Helen struggled with English, but studied and overcame that drawback. Nonetheless, her stage presence overcame many obstacles.

This article from the February 24, 1883, The Terre Haute Express, Terra Haute, Indiana, seems to sum up Helena's early career:


Helena continued to enchant the theater goers both here in the United States and abroad. The following ad appeared in the July 11, 1889 issue of the Aspen Evening Chronicle, Aspen, Colorado. You will also note she is supported by the Booth-Barrett Company. Yes, it is Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth. The Booth-Barrett Company was the premier theater company from 1889-1891.

The July 24, 1896 issue of the Denver Evening Post, Denver, Colorado, had this to say of Helena's career, " Madam Helena Modjeska's name will always be associated with the great triumphs of the English speaking stage." She was known as one of the great interpreters of Shakespeare, having performed most of his works. 

Helena died in Newport Beach, California on April 8, 1909.  She was survived by her husband and son Ralph Modjeska who was a well known civil engineer. Her body was returned to Krakow, Poland where she is buried.

The following appeared in the New York Time on July 3, 1909:


For those who would enjoy reading more, Helen's autobiography can be found online.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

15 comments:

  1. I am absolutely enthralled by these stories of amazing real women from history. Wasn't she beautiful too?

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    1. I'm glad you are enjoying this 'series'. I truly do enjoy researching these performers. They made such an impression on people who saw their performances. Even some of the photos I saw of her in later years, she was still classically beautiful. Doris

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  3. Sorry I had to delete first post. I shouldn't try to make sense until after lunch. Yes, I stay up most of the night and sleep late and am dead headed until mid-afternoon. Just wanted to say I enjoyed this post very much. I love reading about people who lived in this period - especially people who were famous at the time, but have faded away into history. Thank you for posting.

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    1. Agnes, I can so relate. If I didn't have to get up and go to work, my schedule would be very similar to yours. (Even when I do get up early, it takes a while to get the brain engaged.)

      I am so happy you are enjoying these posts. I love finding and sharing these stories. Doris

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  4. How interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you. There were some amazing women back then, I just try to make sure they aren't forgotten. Doris

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  5. You spotlight so many intriguing women in your series! Thank you, Doris.

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    1. Thank you. Having trod the boards myself, I am so fascinated by these women, their careers and their lives. Doris

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  6. Fascinating post! Mme. Modjeska must have been an inspiration for women everywhere. Thanks for sharing her story.

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    1. You are welcome. The more I learn about these women the more I want to know. I do know each of the women so far have fans even to this day. There are books about them and their careers. Doris

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  7. Your articles about women who bent societal rules and redefined the norms of the times for what was a 'woman's place' help me with developing my female characters' personalities and their determination to live outside the box, so to speak. Thank you.

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    1. Kaye, that is one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. You are so welcome.

      I find I am drawn to that type of woman and so enjoy researching their lives and livelihoods. I guess I was not made to accept the norms that they said were true. I needed to prove it for myself, one way or another. *Smile* Doris

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  8. What a mesmerizing performer she must have been. I am pleased to have learned something about her.

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    1. Me too Caroline. When I found the autobiography I knew I had to read it, even if it takes me a while to get to it. I know the newspapers loved her, most of the time. Doris

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