Wood, Matilda (1831–1915)

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Wood, Matilda (1831–1915)

British actress and theater manager . Name variations: Mrs. John Wood. Born Matilda Charlotte Vining on November 6, 1831, in Liverpool, England; died on January 11, 1915, on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, England; daughter of Henry Vining (an actor) and an actress mother; married John Wood (an actor), in 1854 (separated 1858); children: Florence Wood.

The daughter of actors, Matilda Wood was born in 1831 and grew up in Liverpool, England. She made her stage debut in 1841 at age ten, and until 1854 appeared regularly in small theaters outside London. At age 22, she married John Wood, an actor, with whom she would have one daughter, Florence Wood , later an actress. Soon after their marriage, the couple signed a contract to appear on stage in vaudeville and burlesque productions at the new Boston Theater in Massachusetts. Wood's American debut was as a singing chambermaid in the vaudeville play The Loan of a Lover in September 1854; her husband performed in comedic roles as well. They remained at the Boston Theater for three seasons.

In 1856, the couple debuted in New York at the Academy of Music; Wood also appeared at Wallack's Theater for a month. From New York, the couple went on to theaters in St. Louis and New Orleans. By 1858, they reached San Francisco, where they performed at Maguire's Opera House, and then toured the Pacific coast. While in San Francisco, the couple separated; John Wood moved to British Columbia, where he died in 1863.

Matilda Wood remained in San Francisco for a season, then in 1859 took a job in Sacramento managing the Forrest Theater, followed by a managing position at San Francisco's American Theater. Later that year, she returned to New York, where she performed at the Winter Garden in September. Between 1860 and 1863, Wood appeared frequently on stage in Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and New York. In October 1863, she opened a theater in New York, the Olympic, with her own company; she was both manager and performer. The Olympic's comedic productions made the company a success, and Wood, petite and charming, enjoyed popular and critical acclaim.

However, she decided to return to England in 1866, at age 34, and settled in London. After

appearing in numerous stage roles at London's best theaters, Wood accepted a management position at the St. James's Theater in 1869, where she remained for a decade. She next co-managed the New Royal Court Theater from 1888 to 1891, where she also performed in several productions. Wood retired to the Isle of Thanet, off Kent, after her final stage appearance in The Prodigal Son at the Drury Lane Theater in 1905. She died in 1915, at age 83.


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

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California