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Adah Isaacs Menken

In her short but remarkable life, actress Adah Isaacs Menken became legendary for her scandalous defiance of convention. Little is known of Menken’s early years, as she told wildly different stories about herself to different audiences. Her first Broadway performance in 1859, The French Spy, was poorly received, but she achieved international fame for her starring role in Mazeppa, where she played a role written for a man and in one scene was stripped on stage to a flesh-colored body stocking and strapped to a horse which raced on a narrow ramp above the theater. Despite her theatrical fame, Menken wanted to be known as a writer, penning essays on Judaism for The Israelite weekly paper as well as a collection of poems, and cultivating friendships with Charles Dickens, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti, and George Sand, and purportedly carrying on an affair with Alexandre Dumas. While it is unclear whether she was born Jewish due to her conflicting histories, Menken learned Hebrew, refused to perform on the High Holidays, and protested for Jewish causes.

Menken, Adah - still image [media]
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Adah Isaacs Menken became famous when she appeared "nude" while strapped to a horse in the melodrama Mazeppa (she was actually wearing a flesh-colored bodystocking). A shameless self-promoter, there is dispute as to whether she was born into Judaism or converted. There is no doubt, however, that she was outspoken and proud of her Jewish identity.

Institution: American Jewish Historical Society

Date of Birth
Place of Birth
Milneburg, Louisiana
Date of Death
August 10, 1868

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Adah Isaacs Menken." (Viewed on February 6, 2016) <>.


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