The daughter of a socially prominent New York family, Jane Coombs sought out the renowned actress Clara Fisher Maeder for instruction in acting. It was Maeder who connected her with Fred Niblo and other New York producers enabling her sudden emergence as a favorite on the eve of the Civil War.
During the 1870s, Coombs may have been the most highly esteemed tragedienne regularly appearing on the American stage. She embodied for many an ideal of feminine dignity. "In classical perfection of features, in depth and refinement of expression, in perfection of form and grace of movement, she presents a beautiful completeness. It is not approach to exaggeration to say she is the most beautiful woman on the American stage," wrote an 1880 critic for the New York World. While her preeminence was challenged by Mary Anderson in the 1880s, Coombs enjoyed the highest approbation when performing the roles of the standard repertory from Shakespeare to Sheridan as her troupe toured the continent well into the 1890s. Of contemporary roles, her most famous was Lady Dedlock and Hortense in the stage adaptation of Charles Dickens's "Bleak House."
In 1885 Coombs and her company departed North America for an extended tour of Australia. In 1888 she returned, limiting her presentations to Dickens and "London Assurance." She toured incessantly until disease halted her in 1898. Though she recovered, her abilities declined, and the tours ceased in 1900. She had performed without protracted interruption for forty-four years, her New York debut taking place in 1855-1856 Broadway season as Pauline in "Lady of Lyons." David S. Shields/ALS