By Emily Arrigoni, Daley Smith, Jordan Wu, and Annie Bair
Sacred Heart Preparatory High School, Atherton, California.
Mrs. Mabel Taliaferro Thompson, born in New York City on May 2, 1887, was a prominent actress who went by the name Miss Mabel Taliaferro (pronounced “Tolliver) on stage. She was also known as Nell. Mabel began her acting career at the age of nine with her appearance in one of Chauncey Olcott’s plays as Lovey Mary in “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch” and “Polly of the Circus.” The sister of Edith Taliaferro, Mabel married Frederic Thompson, a well-known theatre producer. The couple dated for two weeks and then got married in November of 1906; Mabel was 19 at the time.
Mabel was a suffrage activist. Prior to 1910, there was social stigmatization surrounding actresses involved with women’s suffrage. This led to little support for the women’s movement from the theater industry. Eventually, many actresses realized that suffrage activism, and hopefully the vote, could improve their theatrical careers, by helping them battle inequality in the theater industry. However, there are a number of other possible causes for Mabel joining the suffrage movement. Primarily, her husband was allegedly abusive. Mabel filed four violent allegations of abuse against Thompson in August of 1909, and later filed for a divorce through the Supreme Court. She claimed that he shook her violently, hit her, attacked her, and left her with bruises and discoloration. As a result, Mabel could have supported suffrage in an attempt to regain confidence and equality for women. It is also possible Mabel could have been promoting her public persona as a prominent actress through suffragism and feminism.
Mabel Taliaferro was linked to suffrage in numerous circumstances. Mabel made an appearance at the Dramatic Tea and Fete event at the Hotel Biltmore in New York City in February 1914. This event was a feminist celebration for the birthdays of Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Susan B. Anthony. In addition to this appearance, in February 1914 Mabel publicly endorsed the special issue on drama of The Woman Voter. She was also an active participant at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. That year Alice Paul recruited Mabel to speak at the women’s convention in the fair’s Palace of Progress. Mabel spoke alongside Theodore Roosevelt and Maria Montessori at this event. Mabel had a long career on the stage as she acted in over 100 plays. She died in Hawaii in 1979.
1. Leslie Goddard, "'Women Know Her to be a Real Woman': Femininity, Nationalism, and the Suffrage Activism of Lillian Russell," Theater History Studies (2002): 137.
2. "Charges Her Husband, Fred Thompson, with Cruelty--Divorce Action," New York Times, December 3, 1911.
3. “Mabel Taliaferro, 91, Start of Silent Screen Acted in 100 Plays,” New York Times, February 3, 1979.
4. “Celebrations at Gaiety,” New York Times, February 1, 1914.
5. “Mabel Taliaferro Suffers Collapse,” New York Times, May 5, 1910.
6. “Mabel Taliaferro Sues,” New York Times, February 23, 1911.
7. Katherine H. Adams & Michael L. Keene, Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), p. 105.
8. “Stars Draw 1,500 to Suffrage Fete,” New York Times, February 17, 1914.
9. For birth date and place and death date and place, see the Find-a-Grave entry for Mabel Taliaferro.