Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Women with Hats - Edna Wallace Hopper

I just love these two cabinet cards taken in 1898 of Edna Wallace Hopper (17 Jan 1872 or 74 - 14 Dec 1959) who was a famous American stage and silent film actress and her dog.   She was born to Walker and Josephine Wallace in either 1872 or 74, but refused to give her exact birth date and no one could find out for certain because her birth records were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  In these photographs she is wearing very typical 1890's garb while posing with her beloved dog. Her hat is quite impressive and you will notice she is wearing a long chain around her neck that appears to be a dog whistle.  Also on her hip is an object that I was quite curious about, but I found something similar today and believe it to be a vintage scent bottle (see picture). The photographer is Benjamin J. Falk (1853 - 1925), who was one of the leading celebrity photographers in New York City at that time. He opened his studio at 13 and 15 West 24th St. N.Y. Madison Square in 1892.  He also had studios at twenty-third street and Broadway (on the present site of the Flatiron Building) and the Waldorf Astoria at West 33rd Street.

vintage scent bottle
Edna was no stranger to drama in her personal life. Her father was the head night usher at the California Theatre.  According to Wikipedia, while she was still young her parents took in a wealthy boarder, Alexander Dunsmuir (1853 - 1900) co-heir to the Dunsmuir coal and shipping fortune.  Unfortunately her mother fell in love with their boarder and ran off with him and left Edna, her father and her sibling. Wally sued for divorce and Alex's parents disapproved so their marriage was on hold.  Alex apparently was an alcoholic and began to drink heavily.  In the spring of 1886 he disappeared in San Francisco on a drinking binge for ten days. After his father died in 1889 Alex bought the estate of Souther Farm now known as Dunsmuir House, near San Francisco at a cost $350,000 and deeded it to Josephine. Alex and Josephine were married on 21 Dec 1899 in California and honeymooned in New York City.  

Edna Wallace Hopper 1898 NYC
Edna had gone to New York to train for the stage. While there she had married DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935) on 28 June 1895. They appeared together in comic operas including John Philip Sousa's El Capitan, but divorced in 1898, the same year these photos were taken.  They were a somewhat mismatched couple on stage and in life; DeWolf was tall for the times at 6 foot 3 inches and Edna was less than five feet and weighed 85 pounds. By the time her mother married Alex Dunsmuir, Edna was already a star on Broadway. She met with them while they were in New York.  Unfortunately, Alex was very sick with alcohol withdrawal, worsening each day and died on New Year's Day in a New York City Hospital.  Josephine, now a widow, returned to her new San Leandro estate where she died of cancer on 22 Jun 1901.

By this time Edna had achieved great fame starring in her most famous role, Lady Holyrood in the popular London inportation Florodora.  Although she did not play one of the renowned Florodora Sextettes, she shared in the wide adulation of the many male admirers who mobbed the backstage door after each performance.  She remained very active on stage over the next decade including starring in George M. Cohen's Fifty Miles from Boston in 1907.  In 1908 she married Wall Street broker Albert O. Brown.

During the 1910's and early 1920's her career slowed down but took a different direction.  She was one of the earlier stage actors to have a facelift and had the operation filmed.  Over the next eight years she made personal appearances and tours showing the film and giving beauty tips.  Over the years she would put her name on a line of products noted for keeping her youthful looks - Edna Wallace Hopper Cosmetics.  

She separated from her second husband Brown and he died in the 1930's.  She went on to become the only woman of the thirty-six member board of L. F. Rothschld & Co..  She traveled daily by subway to her office to handle investments until shortly before her death in New York City from complications of pneumonia on 14 Dec 1959 at the reported age of 94 leaving no immediate survivors.  She is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, Alameda County, California.


1.  Wikipedia
2.  Shades of the Departed:
3.  Find-A-Grave:


  1. What a thoroughly engrossing story. Hopper and hats -- I wondered if Edna had any connection to Hedda, and after Googling, I learned they were both married to DeWolf Hopper. I wonder if he had a hat fetish. HA!

  2. Interesting life story and the second cabinet card is adorable!


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