Sarah Bernhardt

Hailed as “the Divine Sarah” and celebrated around the world for her acting talents, Sarah Bernhardt lived as vivid a life as any character she portrayed onstage. Bernhardt debuted in the title role of Racine’s Iphigénie at the national theater, the Comédie Française, in 1862 and slowly built a reputation in smaller venues as a versatile actress with an expressive voice and poetic gestures. In 1872 she returned to the Comédie Française as a celebrity, hailed for her performances of Racine’s Phèdre in 1874 and of Victor Hugo’s Hernani in 1877. Bernhardt counted some of the greatest artists and writers of the age as friends or lovers, and two journalists who criticized her were challenged to duels. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, she pursued multiple careers, buying a series of French theaters to produce modern experimental plays while touring Europe, the US, Latin America, and Canada to great acclaim. She also wrote poetry, plays, and fiction; painted; and sculpted. During a 1905 performance in Rio de Janeiro, Bernhardt badly injured her knee, which finally required amputation in 1915. Despite her injury, Bernhardt continued performing on stage and in films until weeks before her death.


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"Accused" of sounding "like a Jew," French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) wrote, "I am a daughter of the great Jewish race, and my somewhat uncultivated language is the outcome of our enforced wanderings." Indeed, she took her own theater company around the world, transforming herself, a member of the wandering race, into an object of worldwide welcome and acclaim. The great French actress appears here in 1880.

Institution: U.S. Library of Congress.

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Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Sarah Bernhardt." (Viewed on May 13, 2021) <>.


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