Actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken debuted in New Orleans. She specialized in breeches parts - male roles played by women. This type of cross-dressing was intended to titillate rather than deceive. Menken became notorious for performing male roles in a translucent body stocking that left no doubt about her gender. Menken made the role of Mazeppa famous by strapping herself to a live horse that climbed a dangerous wooden track to the theater’s ceiling. Menken triumphed in the U.S. and Europe but died in Paris from injuries sustained in onstage falls. This photo shows Adah wearing the leotard in which she played Mazeppa.


  • Title: Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868)
  • Creator: Napoleon Sarony
  • Location: New York, New York
  • Physical Dimensions: Carte-de-visite (albumen), 4" x 2 1/2"
  • Provenance: The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation
  • Subject Keywords: Performer
  • Transcript:
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  • Type: Photograph
  • Publisher: Sarony & Co.
  • Date: ca. 1866

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