Maggie Cline, Vaudeville Queen who based career on Ireland despite never having been

Her performances included jokes about her weight, and playing the sad Irish colleen

Maggie Cline, post 1888, courtesy of Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Maggie Cline, post 1888, courtesy of Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

To hear Maggie Cline perform on stage, you might imagine that she had just stepped off the boat, fresh from churning butter and wrestling pigs in the old country. But this boisterous, imposing woman was actually born in Massachusetts in 1857, the daughter of Irish immigrants, and never set foot in Ireland. Having started work at a shoe factory at the age of 12 in Haverhill, near Boston, she ran away from home a number of times until she found her feet in a travelling troupe, Snellbaker and Benson’s Majestics.

Maggie soon decided to strike out on her own as a solo performer. She found that audiences responded to her Irish identity, and her costume became more reminiscent of the plaintive Irish colleen. As a young, red-haired girl, she first began her career singing wistful ballads that reminded the audience of a long lost (or in Maggie’s case, imagined) Ireland.

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