Lois Josephs Fowler
Anna Cora Mowatt was born in 1819, ninth of fourteen children of Samuel and Eliza Ogden, both descended from patrician American families. She spent the first six years of her life in southern France because her father's shipping business demanded that he be there. When her family returned to New York City, she enrolled in boarding school. In her Autobiography of an Actress ( 1854), she writes about moving from a very strict boarding school to one more playful, where learning was fun, and she attributes the change to the good sense of her mother, who recognized the disadvantages of too much discipline.
From the time she was small, Mowatt exhibited a precocious love of learning and of writing. She wrote amateur plays that her sisters and brother performed at family functions. Then, when she was only fifteen, and despite her family's disapproval that she marry at such a young age, she eloped with a young lawyer, James Mowatt. Reconciliation with her family soon took place, however, and she continued to stage amateur productions of her own. In 1835, she published her first play, Gulzara, in The New World, a magazine considered to be genteel for the publication of a work written by refined, talented young ladies. Fashion; or Life in New York ( 1849), the best known of her plays and one that is still produced today, was written much later in her career.
Mowatt's husband lost his business investments in the depression of the late 1830s, and his sight became greatly impaired by an unexpected illness. With his support and that of her father, Mowatt began giving public readings of poetry in order to earn an income. These attempts were met with enthusiasm by audiences who, despite her patrician background, were receptive to Mowatt, and she soon began to augment this income by publishing stories, novels, and plays.