Morgan, Anna (1851–1936)

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Morgan, Anna (1851–1936)

Chicago teacher who raised the standards of study for theater and speech during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in 1851 in Fleming, New York; died of coronary sclerosis on August 27, 1936, in Chicago, Illinois; daughter of Allen Denison Morgan (a gentleman farmer who served briefly in the New York legislature) and Mary Jane (Thornton) Morgan; educated in schools in Auburn, New York; studied elocution at the Hershey School of Music, 1877.

Gained renown as dramatic reader with naturalistic style (early 1880s); brought many advanced plays and staging ideas to Chicago; opened school of dramatic arts, the Anna Morgan Studios, in Chicago's Fine Arts Building (1899); fostered cultural growth in Chicago (early 1900s); was instrumental in preparing the way for the "little theater" movement in America.

The oldest of three daughters and two sons of Allen and Mary Jane Morgan , Anna Morgan grew up and received her early schooling in the Auburn, New York, area. After her father's death, in 1876 the family moved to Chicago, where she studied elocution at the Hershey School of Music the following year. During a time when dramatic readings were usually affected and artificial, Morgan strove for a naturalistic style. She also tended toward more sophisticated material than was common but continued to perform standard popular pieces as well. From 1880 to 1883 she traveled extensively, part of the time for the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, and visited New York, Boston, and major cities in the Midwest. She joined the new Chicago Opera House Conservatory (later the Chicago Conservatory) as a dramatics teacher, and it was there that she nurtured and developed her skills in this field.

Morgan was responsible for bringing many advanced plays and innovative staging ideas to Chicago. She did not attempt to stage professional productions, instead holding most of her programs in intimate settings such as the conservatory's stage or her own studio. She presented everything from Greek tragedies and Shakespeare to the works of Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, and Maurice Maeterlinck, experimental dramatizations of novels and poems, and new plays by then-unknown dramatists, including Alice Gerstenberg and Marjorie Benton Cooke . Under Morgan's direction, Ibsen's The Master Builder (1895), Carlo Goldoni's The Fan (translated by Henry B. Fuller, 1898) and Shaw's Candida (1898) had their American premieres. She also produced Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra in 1902 with an all-female cast. Other notable productions included William Butler Yeats' The Hour Glass (1905), Maeterlinck's The Intruder and The Blue Bird, and J.M. Synge's The Shadow of the Glen. In 1894, she discarded the usual elaborate sets and staged Hamlet and later The Hour Glass against a simple backdrop.

In 1898, Morgan resigned from the conservatory staff to open her own school, the Anna Morgan Studios (1899–1925), in Chicago's Fine Arts Building. The school's mission was not only to train actors (James Carew and Sarah Truax attended), but also to give students a solid background in the dramatic arts. Stage, literary and political history, playwriting, and practical courses in acting and stagecraft were offered. Students were expected to study deportment and etiquette and learned about house decorations and wearing jewels as well. She also embraced the Delsarte Method, a system of conveying emotion through gesture and body position.

Anna Morgan wrote three books: An Hour with Delsarte (1889), Selected Readings (1909), and The Art of Speech and Deportment (1909), and during the early 1900s enjoyed and thrived in the company of many Chicago artists. She was one of the founders of the Little Room, a loose organization whose members included Harriet Monroe (later editor of Poetry magazine), Hamlin Garland, and Henry B. Fuller. Her studio became a salon which Richard Mansfield, Joseph Jefferson, Ellen Terry , Henry Irving, and Maxine Elliott visited. During trips abroad, Morgan met both Maeterlinck and Shaw. She declined numerous offers to teach in major cities around the world, choosing instead to remain in Chicago. Anna Morgan published her autobiography, My Chicago, in 1918, and died in that city of coronary sclerosis on August 27, 1936.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

suggested reading:

Clark, Herman. "The Little Room, A Famous Artist Group in the Chicago of Yesterday," in Townsfolk. May 1944.

Duffey, Bernard. The Chicago Renaissance in American Letters, 1954.

Fuller, Henry B. "The Upward Movement in Chicago," in Atlantic Monthly. October 1897.


Some of Anna Morgan's scrapbooks and letters are held by the Chicago Historical Society.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Morgan, Anna (1851–1936)

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