"Adelaide Neilson in Romeo and Juliet"
Lilian Adelaide Neilson
Public DomainLilian Adelaide Neilson - Credit: Carte de Visite Woodburytype - Print

The English Shakespearean actress Adelaide Neilson was born Elizabeth Ann Brown, in 1848 in Leeds. She was the illegitimate daughter of an actress.  She spent her childhood and early life living in poverty, working in a cloth mill and as a nursery maid.  When she was about 15, she moved to London, where she worked initially as a seamstress and later as a barmaid at the Haymarket. Her introduction to the stage was as part of a ballet troupe.  She later trained under the Actor John Ryder, and took the name Adelaide Neilson. 

She made her stage debut in 1865 in Margate, England as Julia in The Hunchback. In July of the same year she appeared as Juliet at the Royal Theatre, London. For the next several years she performed at several London and provincial theatres, in a range of Shakespearean plays.  She became one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actresses of her day.

She first performed in the United States in November 1872, as Juliet at Booth’s Theatre in New York.  She was highly praised by American critics. She subsequently visited America on several occasions. 


She died tragically at the height of her career, aged just 32, in the Bois de Boulogne,Paris, from an unexpected and unexplained internal haemorrhage.