Albert and Shirley Small Speial Collections Library
actors graphicCreating America's Theatre
actors graphic
Introduction to the Exhibit
Early American Theatre
A Novel Idea
Setting the Modern Stage
A Voice of Their Own
Picks and Pans
Playbills and Programs
Regional Theatre in Virginia

A Novel Idea

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin introduced into the American theatre a compelling anti-slavery plot and a large cast of characters that endured for well over seventy-five years. Within a year of its 1852 publication, the popular novel inspired multiple stage productions. George L. Aiken adapted the work into a six-act drama which initially staged 100 performances at the Troy Museum in Troy, New York, before moving to Purdy's National Theatre in New York City in 1853. There the play ran for over 300 consecutive performances, helping to establish the financially profitable concept of the "long run" in the American theatre. Henry J. Conway produced another popular adaptation of the novel, and both Aiken's and Conway's melodramatic interpretations lent themselves to numerous reworkings and stagings throughout the country.

Prior to and during the Civil War, the play helped to fuel abolitionist sentiments in a theatrical environment, reaching and influencing hundreds of audiences. After the war, the melodramatic flair of the plot continued to appeal to theatre-goers well into the twentieth century, and numerous theatrical troupes performed versions of the play on stages in America and Europe.


Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. Vol. 1. Boston: John P. Jewett; Cleveland: Jewett, Proctor and Worthington, 1852. 2 vols
From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.


The first edition, first issue, of the novel.Uncle Tom's Cabin.


Topsy's Recreation. Erie, PA: Erice Litho., [1910?].
Purchased with the Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund.


Poster, showing Topsy dancing with ribbons, announces the performance "Uncle Tom's Cabin. Opera House. One Night Only, Tuesday, Dec. 31."


Anthony & Ellis' Famous Ideal Uncle Tom's Cabin Co. and Memphis University Students, the Only Standard Company Recognized by Press and Public, Producing in America Mrs. Stowe's Immortal Work, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Buffalo, NY: Courier Lith, [1881?].
Purchased with the Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund.


Shown are promotional trade cards for Uncle Tom's Cabin.


Howard, George C. Eva to Her Papa As Sung by Little Cordelia Howard in Her Original Character of the Gentle Eva in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." New York: Horace Waters, 1853.




In 1852 and 1853, Cordelia Howard played the role of Eva in the Troy Museum production of Uncle Tom's Cabin at the National Theatre in New York City.


"Uncle Tom's Cabin, A Story of Negro Slavery." A Drama in Two Acts, Founded upon the Celebrated American Tale of That Na[tion] As Represented with Great Success in the London Theatres. London: J. & H. Purkess, [1850s].

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.


Caryll, Ivan. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Musical Tableaux Vivants. Lyric by Ivan Caryll. London: Hopwood and Crew, [1900s].
From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.


The Ray. Vol. 8; no. 106. Boston: H. A. M'Clenen, 1878.
From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.


Shown is the program for a performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin at the Boston Theatre.


Uncle Tom's Cabin on Stage: A collection of miscellaneous theatre tickets, advertisements, and images. 1852-1900.
Purchased with the Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund.


Webb's Juvenile Drama. Uncle Tom's Cabin. A Drama in Three Acts. Written Expressly for and Adapted Only to Webb's Characters & Scenes in the Same. London: W. Webb, [1850s].

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.


A script for a British stage adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a children's performance.


Kate Denin, Lessee...Third Week of the Denin Troupe. The Great Hit! A Perfect Ovation! Was accorded to the First Representation of the Great Moral Drama of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Playbill for the Theatre Concert Hall. Elmira, NY: Advertiser Steam Power Press Print, [1861].
Purchased with the President's Fund.


This playbill advertises a performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Elmira, New York, during the Civil War. Of interest is the stream-of-consciousness letter, handwritten in pencil on the verso from J. H. Parker, of the 85th Regiment N.Y.V., to William Parker, Jr., his brother, dated November 10, 1861.


I sent this so you know what the play is tomorrow night well bill you may go and see all of the girls for all of me for I have not spoke to one since I left home and I can't think that I will get of the notion of talking to them we drill about 5 hours a day and I have got read of drill for the last week and I think that I shall have to drill this week you may think that I have a great deal of fun and you are not mistaken but to be shut up here and have to obey orders is no fun such as being compelled to go to meeting the day capt says that we have got to go to meeting and I guess I will go as it is in our dining room well Bill you can get me some apples and eat them for me and you can eat a good pie or to for me such as a pot pie when you write write how all the folks is that I know and write if you have got a school teacher hired and Who it is write how your school meeting got a long and who you elected for trustee write how they get along with their ____ my school report ____ ____ I want to write two or three letters more and I think that I will finish this sheet and then I will stop well Bill you must write whether you have got your threshing done and the particulars if you write how you get along with your work our shanty is like a barn and I think I shall creep out of one of the cracks and come home in about a week and then I will show you how a soldier manages to sleep I have slept several times on a board with nothing but my blanket and I slept as sound as if on a feather bed no more at present write soon and I will answer you.


Continued Success! Crowded Every Night! Fifth Week of the New and Intensely Play, "Uncle Tom's Cabin! Or: Life among the Lowly." Playbill for the Boston Museum. Boston: Hooten's Press, [1852].
From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.


Playbill for a Boston performance of the H. J. Conway adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin.


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