Bateman, Sidney (Frances) Cowell

views updated

BATEMAN, Sidney (Frances) Cowell

Born 29 March 1823, New Jersey; died 13 January 1881, London, England

Daughter of Joseph and Frances Sheppard Witchett Cowell; married Hezekiah L. Bateman, 1839

The daughter of Joseph Cowell, English low comedian and well-known American-theater manager in the south and west, and of Frances Sheppard, Sidney Cowell Bateman was reared on a farm in Ohio and educated in Cincinnati. At the age of fourteen, she began her acting career in New Orleans. In St. Louis in 1839, she married Hezekiah Linthicum Bateman, actor and manager.

In 1869 Bateman and her husband moved to London where they managed the Lyceum from 1871 until Mr. Bateman's death. Henry Irving, whose distinguished career they helped launch, took over the management in 1878; and Bateman, having leased Sadler's Wells, restored its prestige. To this theater she brought Joaquin Miller's The Danites, the first all-American production in London.

Self, written and produced by Bateman in St. Louis at the People's Theater in 1856, is one of the first three "society" plays written by a woman for the American stage. During its run in New York at Burton's Chambers Street Theater, a critic for the New York Times wrote: "Whether it will obtain a permanent place in the limited repertoire of the native drama admits of some doubt." Later, the outstandingly creative performance of John E. Owens in the star role of John Unit, a true-blue Yankee banker, made a great success of the long and sometimes dull play.

A social satire, Self employs local allusions, such as references to patent medicines, wildcat banks, slavery, daguerreotypes, and stereotyped characters, such as the New York merchant, the parvenus, and the faithful black servant. Melodrama, even farce, malapropisms, "tag" names, and a deus ex machina ending make this play less than great dramatic literature. Edgar Allan Poe, in the role of critic, spoke of its "lack of originality and inventiveness," theatricality, dependence on opulent settings, and "almost burlesque upon the arrant conventionality of stage incidents."

The Golden Calf; or, Marriage á la Mode was published in 1857 by the St. Louis Republican Office. Because of Bateman's strong feeling for poetry, Geraldine; or, Love's Victory, originally produced in Philadelphia in 1859 and at Wallack's Theater, New York, is in blank verse. In 1865, with the alternate title changed to The Master Passion, it played the London Adelphi. Evangeline (1860), a dramatization of Longfellow's poem, was written for Bateman's daughter Kate. In 1871 Fanchette; or, The Will o' the Wisp, adapted from Die Grille, a German version of George Sand's La Petite Fadette, opened at the Theater Royal, Edinburgh, with Bateman's daughter Isabel in the title role; later it played the Lyceum in London with Henry Irving in the cast. The Dead Secret (1877) was adapted by permission of Wilkie Collins.

Sidney Cowell, niece of Bateman, wrote "in her youth [my aunt] was a delightful actress and a beautiful woman. She was gentle and retiring, but of very fair judgement and executive ability. She was always the power behind the throne in all the elaborate productions credited to her husband and daughter." Clement Scott in The Drama of Yesterday and Today states that "Bateman thought his good wife was the best writer and judge of plays in existence…. She certainly was a very clever and charming woman." She was much honored by the theatrical profession at her death.


Hewitt, B., Theatre U.S.A.: 1665 to 1957 (1959). Hutton, L., Curiosities of the American Stage (1899). Meserve, W. J., An Outline History of American Drama (1965). Moses, A. J., Representative Plays by American Dramatists: From 1765 to the Present Day (1925). Scott, C., The Drama of Yesterday and Today (1899).

Reference Works:

Dictionary of National Biography, L. Stephen, ed.

Other reference:

London Academy 455. London Athenaeum 2779.


About this article

Bateman, Sidney (Frances) Cowell

Updated About content Print Article