Bad Girl of a Bygone Era

Not much is known about this photo. It looks like the carte-de-visite of a Broadway actress named Nora. That’s all we may ever know about her, though it’s fun to imagine her as a feisty character who smoked cigars, cheated at poker, held séances, and habitually carried a riding crop.

What else might she have done? Tell me your stories about her. I loved your tales of Athanasius Scrimshaw and his good lady, Jerboa.

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[via Wunderkind Jellygraph]

6 Responses to “Bad Girl of a Bygone Era”

  1. Karen Says:

    Fantastic. Possibly she is Rebecca Drysdale, traveling through time?

  2. tjewell Says:

    Sadly, the Flickr account of the (Mostly) Vintage Images of Queer Visibility is no more. Still an interesting post, though.

  3. Ariane Says:

    Look at that tiny waist in that suit! Corset + suit = love.

  4. squadratomagico Says:

    I want to see Jean-Paul Gaultier use this photo as inspiration for a collection.

  5. Benny Says:

    Nora was the stage name of one Deirdre Aislinn MacCarthy, an actress, occasional scofflaw, and all around bawdy firebrand, who emigrated from Cork, Ireland to cut her teeth on the cobbles of old New York. This photo was taken while performing at Harrigan and Hart’s New Theater Comique, the former Church of the Messiah, just days before the incendiary accident that raised it to the ground in 1884. There she entertained the Lower East Side immigrant masses by mocking the 5th Avenue aristocracy in her heavy and coruscate brogue. She also played many hooligan boys, a role learned in surviving her first few years in New York’s Five Points Mission.

    Born the fourteenth child in a theatrical family, her mother named her for the greatest ancient Irish beauty of legend who, as prophesized, brought ruin to the mythic High King Conchobhar. Her middle name is Gaelic for dream. Young Deirdre took quickly to her namesake and after causing quite a kerfuffle involving a local business man and both his nephew and niece, she bought a suit, a steamer trunk and a ticket to America under the name Aaron McLeod.

    The masculine wardrobe suited her well, and would thread through her life on and off stage. Her innate hoydenish magnetism allowed her to run with the boys, where she carried on quite more often in her role with the pack, than she did as occasionally game. Operating out of the old Hotel New York, cattycorner from the Theater, Nora entertained, bewitched, and occasionally caught feelings for a steady stream of uptown Lady fans, until a scandal at Alva Vanderbilt’s lavish Costume Ball, where Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor effectively ruined her.

    Nora spent her final woebegone years as a vagrant, until she perished in the Blizzard of 1888.

  6. Steampunk Jewelry Maker Says:

    What a wonderful find! I’d loved to have had a drink or two with Nora.