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Crothers, Rachel

Rachel Crothers (1870/78 - 1958) was born in Bloomington to Drs. Eli Kirk Crothers and Marie Louise (DePew) Crothers. Rachel Crothers' birth year is disputed. Often listed as 1878 though references could cite the same source, the website myheritage.com gives it as 1870. Crothers died in her sleep at her home in Danbury, Connecticut, the night of July 5/6, 1958. Her body was taken to a Georgetown funeral home. Although her parents, sister Lulu, and brother Eli are buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois, Rachel’s burial place is listed as unknown.

Her parents were prominent in the Bloomington community. Dr. Eli Kirk Crothers (1826-1893) was a successful physician and druggist from the time of his arrival in Bloomington in 1850. He is most remembered for his involvement in what is thought to be one of the earliest medical malpractice suits in the state of Illinois, Fleming v. Rogers and Crothers (1855)—or better known today as the “Chicken Bone” Case. Crothers married Marie Louise DePew in 1851, the daughter of Elijah DePew, a successful businessman in the dry-goods trade. Mr. Depew was a dedicated Whig turned Republican who was well acquainted with Judge David Davis and future President Abraham Lincoln. Rachel Crothers' mother Mary Louise (1833-1920) was one of the first successful female physicians in Central Illinois. For further information, see Biographies on the McLean County Museum of History's website mchistory.org.

The Crothers had nine children, four of whom lived to adulthood: two sons, Noble E. and Eli Kirk Jr., and two daughters, Louise (Lulu) and Rachel. Both sons made careers as jewelers, whereas Lulu followed in her parents’ footsteps, becoming the first female pharmacist in Bloomington. Rachel, the most famous of the Crothers children, followed her artistic aspirations to New York where she established herself as an esteemed playwright and director. Only Eli Jr married (Emily) and had children (Eli Kirk III and twins Worth and James Hall).

Rachel wrote her first play when she was twelve and continued to write one-act farces while a student at what is today Thomas Metcalf School and University High School in Normal, Illinois. She wrote and directed plays while a student at Illinois State Normal University.

After graduating from university, Rachel studied dramatic art in Boston and New York City, where she appeared with various theatrical companies. At her family's insistence, she returned to Bloomington and taught elocution and gave recitals. In 1896/1897, she returned to New York and acting. She attended and then taught at the Stanhope-Wheatcroft School of Acting, appearing on stage for several seasons. After some of her one-act plays began to attract critical attention, she focused on playwriting. Her first full-length Broadway play "The Three of Us," produced by John Golden, was the highlight of the 1906 season. For the next three decades, she maintained the extraordinary average of one Broadway play a year, the majority of them popular and critical successes. Most remarkable, she cast, produced, and directed nearly all her plays herself (Women in American History).

Rachel Crothers was active in charitable work. She founded and headed the Stage Women's War Relief Fund during World War I and continued relief work during World War II. She helped organize the Stage Relief Fund to aid unemployed actors during the Great Depression in 1932. She was honored at a White House reception by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, when she was awarded the Chi Omega sorority national achievement award by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Her plays usually dealt with controversial topics while upholding traditional values. Alvin Goldfarb opined in 1979, "In the annuals of the American theatre, Rachel Crothers is now a forgotten figure. Yet she was one of this country's most popular playwrights for over a quarter of a century" from 1900 to 1937. Some of her plays were successfully adapted into films, such as "Let Us Be Gay" starring Norma Shearer.

Plays: Nora (1903), Point of View (1904), Criss Cross (1904), Rector (1905), The Three of Us (1906), The Coming of Mrs. Patrick (1907), Myself Bettina (1908), A Man's World (1910), Ourselves (1913), Young Wisdom (1914), The Heart of Paddy Whack (1914), Old Lady '31 (1916), Mother Carey's Chickens (with K. Douglas Wiggin, 1917), Once Upon a Time (1918), A Little Journey (1918), 39 East (1919), He and She (1920), Nice People (1921), Everyday (1921), Mary the Third (1923), Expressing Willie (1924), A Lady's Virtue (1925), Venus (1927), Let Us Be Gay (1929), Bon Voyage (1929), Caught Wet (1931), As Husbands Go (1931), When Ladies Meet (1932), Susan and God (1937), We Happy Few (1935).


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