Vincent, Mary Ann (1818–1887)

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Vincent, Mary Ann (1818–1887)

British-born American actress who was noted for her roles in comedies, particularly She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals . Name variations: Mrs. J.R. Vincent; Mrs. James R. Vincent. Born Mary Ann Farlow on September 18, 1818, in Portsmouth, England; died on September 4, 1887, in Boston, Massachusetts; daughter of John Farlow (a naval worker); married James R. Vincent (an actor), in 1835 (died 1850); married John Wilson (an expressman), on December 16, 1854 (deserted 1866, later divorced); no children.

The actress who came to fame under the name Mrs. J.R. Vincent was born Mary Ann Farlow, probably in Portsmouth, England, in 1818. Both her mother and her father, John Farlow, who worked for the navy, were dead by the time she was four years old, so she was raised in Portsmouth by her grandmother and aunt.

An untrained novice, Vincent made her stage debut on April 25, 1835, in Cowes, the principal town on the Isle of Wight, playing the role of the chambermaid Lucy in George Colman's The Review, or the Wags of Windsor. Still only 16, she married fellow actor James R. Vincent and the couple worked together as traveling players in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Mrs. Vincent, as she was now known, showed great aptitude and versatility, even playing the part of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet before she was 19 years old.

In October 1846, the Vincents sailed from Liverpool—where they had spent two seasons at the Theater Royal—to Boston, engaged as players by William Pelby's National Theater. Their first American performance, on November 11, 1846, was in John B. Buckstone's Popping the Question, and Mary Vincent remained a member of the company until 1852. Her personal life during the 1850s and 1860s was extremely difficult and unhappy. James committed suicide on June 11, 1850, and her second husband, an expressman named John Wilson who was 11 years her junior, left her in 1866 after 12 turbulent years of marriage.

Her standing in Boston's theatrical world, however, was to prove both happy and enduring. When the old National Theater burned down in April, 1852, Vincent moved to the Boston Museum theater, beginning a long association with that beloved institution which would last until her death. The only break in her tenure took place during the 1861–62 season, following a disagreement with the manager. That season she appeared at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston, with Lucille Western 's company in Baltimore, and in Washington, where President Abraham Lincoln was said to have been an admirer of her acting.

An intelligent, natural performer, Vincent enjoyed a popular and long-lived career at the Boston Museum that was founded on a wide repertoire, from Shakespeare to classical comedy to melodrama. She was an accomplished comedian, particularly in character and old-woman roles. On April 25, 1885, Mary Vincent performed two of her most famous roles—Mrs. Hardcastlein She Stoops to Conquer and Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals—on the same day, when the Boston Museum celebrated her 50th anniversary on the stage with gala performances of both those plays.

Called "the dear old lady," Vincent was well known in Boston both for her acting and for her charitable works. She supplemented her income by letting rooms and renting out costumes and properties for amateur theatricals like Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club, but her generosity to individuals, charities, and animals in particular meant she was always impoverished. The actor E.A. Sothern, whom she had befriended as a young thespian, created a Christmas fund of $100, replenishing the fund whenever Vincent needed to draw on it for one of her causes.

On August 31, 1887, Mary Vincent appeared on stage for the last time, taking ill after a performance of The Dominie's Daughter. She died at home of an apoplectic stroke on September 4. The funeral was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where she had been a dedicated member. After her death, money for the Vincent Memorial Hospital (dedicated 1891) was raised in her honor, with the help of Bishop Phillips Brooks of Trinity Church, and the Vincent Club was formed to raise funds for the hospital's support. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.


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

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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Vincent, Mary Ann (1818–1887)

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