Charlotte Mary Sanford Barnes’s, The Forest Princess, was the inspiration for Jennifer Fawcett’s The Invaders.

Charlotte Mary Sanford Barnes (1818-1863) came from an American theatrical family. Her mother and father were both actors, were ambitious for their daughter, and put her on the stage when she was in her teens. (Some things never change.) She got lukewarm reviews as an actress but learned to write plays.

Like many of us, she took her stories from incidents of the day. Octavia Bragaldi was developed from something that happened in Kentucky at the time and transformed into a story set in 15th century Italy. It also had a terrific leading role for herself!

She married another actor, E.S. Conner, and the two appeared and toured together in the play. She also recognized the public’s interest in Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, and wrote The Forest Princess, based on them, which became hugely popular.

Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion, was adapted by Coya Paz and called FA$HION.

Anna Cora Mowatt

Anna Cora Mowatt was born a year later than Charlotte Barnes and died in 1870. She, too, hasn’t been forgotten entirely. Fashion was also adapted by Bonnie Milne Gardner and produced by Ohio Wesleyan University in 2008.

Her life was full. Born in Bordeaux, France, she was six when her family returned to the U.S. She eloped when she was fifteen and was published by the time she was seventeen, using the pseudonym Isabel. She wrote two novels, using the name Helen Berkley, and wrote a biography of Goethe, as Henry C. Browning.

I wonder if she thought that publishing under a man’s name would make the book sell better? I’ve seen that discussion on many a list today. Like many of us, too, she took a day job as a public reader to make ends meet. (Edgar Allen Poe attended her first performance.)

She was also an actress, and toured until 1854.

In December 1853, her book Autobiography of an Actress was published.


Pauline Hopkins’ s Peculiar Sam, was the inspiration for J. Nicole Brooks’ Shotgun Harriet.

Pauline Hopkins

Pauline Hopkins (1859 – August 13, 1930), born in Portland, Maine, was an amazingly prolific, influential African-American novelist, activist, editor and historian, who is still studied and written about today.

The Pauline Hopkins Society, formed in 2009, continues to promote her work, including four novels, and numerous short stories, one of which is considered the first African American mystery. She, too, sometimes used a pseudonym, using her mother’s name, Sarah A. Allen.

Her novels were serialized in the Colored American Magazine, a literary journal for which she became the editor. Through her editorial work, fiction and non-fiction, she emerged as one of the era’s preeminent public intellectuals and one of its most prominent editors, using the magazine to write about black history, to promote racial and gender equality, and to fight for economic justice.

A follower of W.E.B Dubois, she ran afoul of a new editor of the magazine who supported Booker T. Washington’s policies of conciliation, and she was fired. However, she continued her writing and activism until she tragically died in a building fire.

She wrote only one play, a musical, first called Slaves’ Escape; or, The Underground Railroad, and later revised as Peculiar Sam; or, The Underground Railroad. First performed in 1879, when she was twenty, it is one of the earliest-known literary treatments of slaves escaping to freedom. Perhaps, I say, speculating, it took the form of a musical, because into the 1880’s, she performed as a vocalist with her family ensemble, the Hopkins Colored Troubadours.

All five multi talented women shared a love of words and of the theater and I’m glad that Halcyon has given their works new life.

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