At the age of sixteen, Kathryn Kidder rocketed to fame as the youngest leading lady in any American acting company when she played Wanda, the daughter of a Polish nobleman, in "Norbeck" with Frank Mayo's troupe in spring of 1885. She triumphed at the Boston Theatre and the Union Square in New York, earning effusive praise from the New York Herald's critic for her "ingenuous, charming and natural" acting and her youthful beauty - "very young, very handsome, and very tall and very slender."
A product of the Lyceum Theatre School and training by Emma Waller, Kidder had only one fault - a tendency to picturesque posing, particularly posing in attitudes made famous by Mary Anderson. After chiding in the press, she expunged the picturesque from her technique by the time she assumed her second leading role in "Held by the Enemy" in 1886. This second hit was followed by a third, "Little Lord Fauntleroy," in which she played the mother of the young nobleman.
By 1890 Kidder had become a first-rank actress. This year also saw her fall dangerously ill from inflammatory rheumatism. Treatment included a stay at Dr. S. Weir Mitchell's private hospital, including a bout of his famous and controversial "rest cure." She reemerged later in the autumn of 1890 and toured through 1891 with Joseph Haworth in "St. Mare, the Soldier of Fortune." Touring with Haworth prompted Kidder to organize her own star company and tour the country as the headline attraction. She organized her company in 1893 and secured English language rights to Sardou's play, "Madame Sans Gene." She triumphed as the candid laundress who, when elevated into the highest ranks of Napoleonic society by the military successes of her husband, defies the vice and malice of the imperial court with her goodness and truthfulness. Augustus Pitou directed.
She toured the hit for four years before determining that she would write her next vehicle, a comedy entitled "Loves at War" and turned Madame over to Marion Abbott. She premiered her comedy in St. Louis in December 1897. It received a critical drubbing. She fell ill, disbanded the company she had hired to tour the play, paying their return tickets to New York, and announced her retirement. It took half a year to overcome her nervous breakdown.
In July 1898 she hired on with Wagenhals and Kemper to tour in a star triumvirate with Frederick Warde and Louis James presenting Shakespeare and Sheridan. She toured in this capacity until she discovered a new vehicle, "Molly Pitcher" (1901-02), in which to exercise her abilities. Learning from her two years with the triumvirate that having a variety of offerings insured success, she also performed Garrick's "The Country Girl" and Alexandre Dumas, fils's "An Eye for an Eye." In 1904 she reconnected with triumvir Frederick Warde in a lurid and successful presentation of "Salammbo."
Kidder remained an active lead for an additional decade, enjoying success in 1906's "An Embarrassment of Riches" and 1909's "A Woman of Impulse." But her 1913 appearance at the Hippodrome in a rewrite of "Madame Sans Gene" entitled "The Washerwoman of Paris" marked a disappointing final act to an otherwise distinguished career.
NOTES: New York Herald (May 19, 1885) 4. David S. Shields/ALS