Wednesday, December 7th, 2011...3:24 pm

La Jaguarina!

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Photographs of theatrical performers, 1862-1982. MS Thr 710 (223).Who was La Jaguarina?  Born Ella Hattan in 1859 in Zanesville, Ohio she was originally a professional actress that performed with theater greats Edwin Booth and Dion Boucicault.  Oddly enough she also trained in fencing and sword play with Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, a 19th century Danish-American mercenary, duelist,  and fencing and boxing instructor.  After years of training with Monstery, Hattan fully assumed this persona of “La Jaguarina” complete with a fake history of life in Europe with an English father and Spanish mother.  “La Jaguarina, Champion Amazon of the Age” fought men in various types of sword play contests.

La Jaguarina’s most memorable battle was in San Diego in 1888 against a Captain Weidermann. The Jaguarina-Weidermann Battle was a broadsword contest on horseback. A writer of the times, Herbert C. Hensley, described her at the scene as one that “…constantly forced the fighting, thundering out of her corner and across the field, to meet the captain almost before he was out of his.  She wore a French army officer’s cuirass, of copper and brass, which blazed in the sunshine, as she came tearing across the lists.”  La Jaguarina won the bout against Weidermann but soon after the victory the public’s declining interest in the sport, as well as a lack of male competitors willing to face her, forced the Jaguarina to turn back to acting. Her acting career was not nearly as successful.  In 1907 after a tour in a second-rate production of Lottie, the Poor Saleslady, or, Death Before Dishonor she appears to have faded into obscurity.  There is no mention of Ella Hattan’s career as an actress again, but La Jaguarina’s exploits live on to this day, in 2009 she was inducted into the U.S. Fencing Association’s Hall of Fame.

In contrast another actress from this time period, Fanny Davenport, was a huge success in the acting arena. Born in 1850 into an acting family Fanny started performing as a child in Boston at the Howard Athenæum.

Photographs of theatrical performers, 1862-1982. MS Thr 710 (122).

When Fanny was 12 years old she made her first appearance in New York City in Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady. By 1869 she had joined Augustin Daly’s stock company and performed in numerous revivals and plays including The School for Scandal, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Belle’s Stratagem. Eventually she started her own company to great success and starred in such greats as Olivia and La Tosca.  Fanny Davenport acted right up to the year of her death in 1898.  Her last performance was in March of that year, she took ill later that summer and never fully recovered, passing away at her home in Duxbury, Massachusetts of an enlarged heart.

La Jaguarina and Fanny Davenport are only two of the many photographs recently cataloged in The Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Collection of Theater, Dance and Music (Harvard Theatre Collection). Photographs of theatrical performers, 1862-1982 is a collection that focuses primarily on performers  from the 19th century in America and England. The bulk of the photographs are  cartes-de-visite and cabinet photographs with some photographic postcards and copy prints.

To learn about more photographs in this collection visit our online finding aid-
Photographs of theatrical performers, 1862-1982: Guide. (MS Thr 710 )
or another similar collection, Photographs of theatrical productions, 1865-1902. Guide (MS Thr 726).
You may also search Hollis under the call numbers MS Thr 710 and MS Thr 726.

[post contributed by Alison Harris, Processing Assistant]

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