Stephen F. Austin State University

Menken's Colorful Past includes Strip Tease, Poetry (September 2012)

Menken's Colorful Past includes Strip Tease, Poetry
By Wanda L. Bobinger

Adah Isaacs Menken was born on June 15, 1835 in Memphis, Tenn. Her maiden name was Theodore. Her father died when she was two years old and her mother married a second time. The family moved first to New Orleans and then to Nacogdoches, where Adah attended Nacogdoches University. She would in later years invent the art of the strip tease and become an international celebrity.

On April 3, 1856, Adah and Alexander Isaacs Menken obtained a marriage license in Livingston from County clerk L.S. McMicken and was then wed by Justice of the Peace D.D. Moore.

Her husband was a member of a travelling opera troupe and a dance teacher, going from town to town teaching the polka, mazurka and Highland fling.

Adah had worked briefly as the editor of The Liberty Gazette and before that she had lived in Havana, where she appeared on stage before the Cubans who called her " Queen of Plaza."

In Liberty she gave Shakespearian readings and published her poems in the Liberty Newspaper.

The marriage which begun in Livingston did not last, but Adah continued throughout her career to perform under the name Adah Isaacs Menken.

After successful appearances on tour, her real fame came from her role of "Mazeppa," in New York City in 1860. She wore pink tights and dashed across the stage lashed to a horse. She became a symbol of wickedness, was the first to bob her hair and smoke cigarettes in public. She is reputed to have been the most photographed woman of her time.

She sailed for London in April, 1864 and appeared at Astely's Theatre. Her poetry and stage triumphs brought her friendships with celebrities such as Charles Dickens, Charles Reade and George Sand. Menken moved onto Paris for an engagement at the Gaiete Theatre, appearing in Les Pirages de la Savanne," which ran for 100 nights. In Paris, she became the mistress of Alexandre Dumas, author of "Three Musketeers."

In June, 1868, Miss Menken became ill while rehearsing in Paris and died on Aug.10, she was buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery of Pere la Chaise. Her collected poems, entitled "Infelicia," were published in 1868 about the time of her death. A second edition was published in 1888 with a biography of her brief life.