Born November 13th, 1833 in Maryland, Edwin Booth had an affinity for the acting world; he was named after the actors Edwin Forrest and Thomas Flynn, and his father, Junius, was a British actor who took Edwin with him on theatrical tours of the United States. Father and son developed a close relationship, although "to see to it that that erratic genius [Junius] did not break his engagements, murder someone, or commit suicide during his times of intoxication and half-insanity was a heavy responsibility for the fragile youth and made [Edwin] grave, serious, and melancholy beyond his years.
Born in Massachusetts to a family of merchants and seamen, Clapp traveled to Paris to translate the socialist writings of Fourier. In Paris, Clapp abandoned his ardent sympathy for the temperance movement and embraced the leisurely café life of the city. Upon returning to New York in 1850, he sought to recreate this atmosphere, spending hours at Charlie Pfaff's beer cellar, drawing a crowd of journalists, painters, actors, and poets to cultivate an American Bohemia in which participants admired and discussed the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving (Martin 15-7).
Ada Clare (whose given name was Jane McIlheny) was born in South Carolina. As Thomas Gunn, a contemporary of Clare, describes she "made an attempt – several attempts – to become a tragic actress, but despite any amount of puffery on the part of fellows who knew her (or wanted to know her in a scriptural sense) failed. She had money and aspired for 'fame' only" (Gunn vol. 11, 160). She received a small inheritance upon her parents' deaths, which she used to travel to Paris.
John Augustin Daly’s widowed mother moved the family to New York City when he was still a child. In New York, Daly quickly developed an affinity for the theatre. As a young man, he participated in amateur theatrical productions where his interests led him to the behind-the-scenes world of production and direction. Before he was twenty years of age, Daly put on a production in a rented hall in Brooklyn: "The details of this performance . . . are an epitome of his later career of alternate success and failure, met with courage, resourcefulness, and unquenchable confidence" (Quinn).
Born in Philadelphia, PA in September 1835, Rose Eytinge made her first appearance as an amateur actress in Brooklyn at the age of seventeen (Wilson and Fiske 396). Her first professional appearance was as Melanie in "The Old Guard" in a dramatic stock company in Syracuse, NY under the management of Geary Hough. She soon became "the leading juvenile woman" in the company but quickly moved on to her second professional acting engagement as the leading lady at the Green Street Theatre in Albany, NY (Eytinge 8).
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Stephen Ryder Fiske achieved journalistic success at a young age. He was a paid contributor to several newspapers by the time he was twelve and, two years later, became the editor of a small newspaper. He attended Rutgers College until 1860, when he was asked to leave after he was found to be responsible for writing book chapters that satirized the college professors, according to D. W. Miller.
The daughter of respected portraitist and miniaturist George Freeman, Mary Freeman Goldbeck was a poet and a talented painter in her own right, referred to as "a genius in water-color miniatures" (Rawson 103). As Anna Mary Freeman and Mary Freeman Goldbeck, she published poems in The Galaxy, Knickerbocker, Living Age and the Saturday Press.
Matilda Heron was born in poverty in Labby Vale, Draperstown, Ireland in 1830 and came to the U.S. as a child. Matilda came to Philadelphia in 1842 with her parents and two sisters, Fanny and Agnes, where she took lessons from Peter Richings of the Walnut-street Theatre.
Edward Howard House, also known as “Ned,” was born near Boston and became a musical prodigy under his pianist mother's tutelage. Her early death turned him to his father's trade, that of a bank-note engraver. He gained standing in the world of Boston literati, and eventually moved to New York to work as the drama critic for the Tribune (61). As a contributor to the Saturday Press, House wanted to create a dialogue supporting his anti-slavery beliefs, but Editor Henry Clapp opposed it (Lause 109).
Adah Menken, an actress "not known for her talent, but rather for her frenetic energy, her charismatic presence, and her willingness to expose herself," was born in a suburb of New Orleans (Richards 192). Adah’s given name was probably Adah Bertha Theodore, but conflicting accounts of her early years and parentage (many generated by herself for publicity purposes) make it difficult to say with certainty.
Born and raised in New York City, Robert Henry Newell entered the world of journalism at age twenty-two. His submissions to various periodicals “achieved immediate recognition” and brought him a job offer from the New York Sunday Mercury. During the Civil War, Newell wrote the “Orpheus C. Kerr papers, originally initiated in the form of Washington correspondence to the Mercury . . .
An active theater critic, comedian, and actor, Mark Smith was also a member of an exclusive subset of the Pfaff’s cadre which called itself “The Bees.” This group was composed of actors, writers, dramatists, and artists devoted to the theater who "met regularly for dinner and conversation" (T. Miller 44). The club was formed in 1856, and had rooms on the south side of East Houston Street. Their motto was "Honey Soit." John Brougham was the president, and members included Fitz-James O’Brien, Ned Wilkins, Henry Clapp, Jr., and Smith himself.
Actor Edward Askew Sothern, who was known as Douglas Stewart in the early part of his career and possibly went by the initials E.A. Sothern in his later years, moved in theatrical circles like many of the Pfaffians, including playwright John Brougham, actress Adah Menken, and theater critic William Winter. Sothern was part of the troupe that theater historian George Odell describes as Laura Keene’s best company. In addition to working with Keene, he also appeared at Barnum’s and at Wallack’s during the 1854-55 season.
Born in New York City on New Year’s Eve in 1820, John Lester Wallack was christened John Johnstone Wallack; he later adopted Lester John Wallack as his professional name. He first became interested in drama while being schooled in England at private schools; Wallack admits that he “hesitated long before [he] made up [his] mind to become an actor" (Memories of Fifty Years 24). Wallack made his first professional appearance in Tortesa the Usurer; he used the alias “Allan Field,” so as not to rely on the draw of his father’s name.
The West 42nd Street Coterie was a bohemian group that often gathered at Ada Clare’s home. Clare, the “queen” of the Bohemian circle at Pfaff’s, played a pivotal role in maintaining the Bohemian society during this time. She provided a congenial atmosphere for the Pfaffians during her Sunday night receptions: “Ada Clare was magnetic in addition to her mental brightness and store of maternal treasures inherited from her family, and with her wealth and beauty she attracted the higher grades of men and women” (Rawson 103).
Born on Long Island and raised in Brooklyn, Walt Whitman spent his childhood and early adulthood amid the sights and sounds of New York City and its environs. As a young man Whitman worked as a journeyman printer for several New York newspapers, before ultimately becoming a journalist and editor in his own right. Before committing himself to poetry, Whitman also worked intermittently as a schoolteacher, a carpenter, and a writer of sensational prose fiction.
The unofficial biographer of the Pfaff’s crowd, William Winter was born in coastal Massachusetts, and his mother died when he was young. Winter attended school in Boston; he also went to Harvard Law School but decided not to practice ("William Winter, 19). By 1854 he had already published a collection of verse and worked as a reviewer for the Boston Transcript; he befriended Pfaffian Thomas Bailey Aldrich after reviewing a volume of his poetry. He relocated to New York in 1856 "because he believed [the city] offered the best field for writers" (Levin 153).