The esteemed playwright, actress, and orator was born in New York in the year 1819, the daughter of Samuel Ogden, a wealthy merchant, and Eliza Lewis Ogden, whose grandfather, Francis Lewis, had signed the Declaration of Independence. As a result of her families good connections and wealth, she received a great deal of education in private schools and independent tutoring. The family encouraged her to write, and she began crafting pieces in childhood. After marrying a well-off lawyer named James Mowatt when she was only fifteen, she entered into society and maintained a social circle of a high pedigree. This comfortable position was threatened after the economic crash of 1837, which nearly wiped out the couple’s fortune, as James Mowatt had participated in risky stock speculations and an illness that made it impossible for him to work in his law practice.
Facing ruin, Anna Cora Mowatt took matters into her own hands. While she had always written, she had done so under pseudonyms and so could refer to it more as a hobby than a means for economic gain. Now, she began a career as an orator, and so had to use her own name and risk her social status in order to support her family. Mowatt carefully packaged herself as a dutiful wife providing for her family as a last resort, rather than a performer seeking attention or fame, in order to preserve her honor and also draw audiences from her upper-class social circle. Successful in oratory, Mowatt would perform in crowded rooms of elites – social and literary. Always, Mowatt would be escorted to the front of the room by her husband, and she took care to dress simply, without ornament. After a respiratory illness prohibited her from continuing to read, Mowatt returned to writing.
“Fashion” was published in the year 1845 to widespread acclaim, and would become her best known work. Additionally, “Fashion” was published under her real name. Buoyed by the success of her play, Mowatt would go on to transition into a career in acting and eventually toured through out America and Europe for years. Mowatt would continue to write in various styles, including another play and an autobiography.
Two years after the death of her first husband, Mowatt would marry William Ritchie in an extravagant fashion, with noted guests including president Franklin Pierce and members of his Cabinet. After seven years, she would leave Ritchie and live on her own in England, always continuing to write and publish. Anna Cora Mowatt died on July 21st, 1870 at the age of fifty-one.