Though much of her early life, including her real name and exact date of birth, remains in shadow, Laura Keene is thought to have come from a well-to-do background. She was widely read and spent time in Turner’s studio during her childhood. After performing with Madame Vestris’ company, Keene journeyed to New York in 1852 at the invitation of James W. Wallack. She became the leading lady of his theater and enjoyed great success.
Annette Nelson was born in Madrid to an English naval captain. In 1828, she made her acting debut in London as Peggy in a play called "The Country Girl." Nelson first came to the United States in 1833 to New Orleans. In 1836, she managed the Richmond Hill Theatre in New York for several months, a period during Winter noted that she was a "reigning beauty in thousands of hearts" (Winter 121-2). She made her debut in New York the following year at Park Theatre before performing later that same year at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia (Brown 49).