Elizabeth Robins

Elizabeth Robins was an American born in Louisville Kentucky in 1862. She came from an artistic and politically progressive family although there was much sadness; a half brother, a sister and a brother all died young and their mother was mentally unstable and confined in a sanitarium for many years.

Without any formal training Elizabeth took to the stage as a career, starting off in the Boston Museum Stock Company and eventually playing with James O’Neill’s company in New York. She was beautiful and talented, attractive and charismatic, but her marriage to the actor George Parks in 1885 was short lived, he drowned himself in 1887. She came to England in 1888 and met Oscar Wilde who introduced her to the London stage and in 1891 she produced and costarred with another actress Marion Lea the first London performance of what was then a scandalous play Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. She continued herself to produce and star in Ibsen plays and became one of the most popular actresses in London with an assured entry into London’s leading artistic and political circles.

Thereafter England became her home, except for short visits to her family she did not return to America. As well as acting Elizabeth had been writing fiction and articles for the press; wanting to carve an alternative career for herself when her acting days would finish. She favored investigative journalism and when in 1898 she travelled to Alaska to search for her brother who had followed the gold rush, she published many successful pieces describing her adventures as well as her bestseller Magnetic North.

Finally settling in Sussex Elizabeth bought an old and rambling house Backset near Henfield in Sussex. She became involved in the cause of Women’s Suffrage becoming a member of the Committee of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) though it seems did not ever get her “Holloway Degree ! Her play “Votes for Women” produced in 1907 was very successful and she continued to write in in defence of “The Cause” and to publish more successful fiction with feminist themes. In 1909 Elizabeth met and entered an emotional relationship with John Masefield the future Poet Laureate, and, more successfully, became acquainted with the young Octavia Wilberforce whom she came to help and support through medical school. In later years when her health became poor she frequently stayed with Octavia in Brighton at her house 24 Montpelier Crescent also becoming involved with The Lady Chichester Hospital and friendly with Dr Louisa Martindale with whom she made a trip by aeroplane to America in 1950 aged 88 !

In 1927 she had leased her house to Octavia to set up the Convalescent Home Backsettown near Henfield but continued to use the house as her “headquarters” and to write and be active in many causes such as the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Women Writers League as well as making radio broadcasts at the invitation of Hilda Matheson from the BBC. She died in Brighton in 1952 aged 90.