The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Biography

Elizabeth Robins, 1865-1952

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1865
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1952
Place of Death:


Elizabeth Robins was an actress, novelist and feminist campaigner. She was the eldest daughter of Charles Ephraim Robins, a metallurgist and former banker, and his wife Hannah Maria Crow. She had two sisters, three brothers and a half-brother. Her youngest brother, Raymond Robins, was a human rights activist. In 1885 she married the actor George Richmond Parks, the son of John A. Parks, a hotelier. They had no children and in 1887 he drowned himself.


Robins studied at Putnam Female Seminary. In 1881 she began touring the United States with different theatre companies, working with Lawrence Barrett and Edwin Booth. She visited England in 1889 and acted on the London stage. She became famous as England's first Hedda Gabler in 1891 and as Hilda Wangel in The Master Builder in 1893. Mrs Patrick Campbell called her England's 'first great intellectual actress'. Being concerned about discrimination against women in the theatre, she founded the New Century Theatre in 1897 with William Archer. Her friends included William Heinemann, John Masefield and Henry James.

In 1894 Robins began to write fiction under the pseudonym of C. E. Raimond. JW designed the cover for ec0026.

She retired from the stage in 1897 and devoted herself entirely to writing, producing fifteen novels, as well as short stories, pamphlets and articles. Her novel The Magnetic North (1904) was a best seller.

Her novels and plays tackled controversial social issues such as suicide, divorce, abortion, prostitution and female suffrage, for example, Votes for Women (1907) and The Convert (1907). She was on the executive committee of the Women's Social and Political Union and her lectures and articles on female suffrage appeared in Way Stations (1913). In 1927 she and her companion Dr Octavia Wilberforce set up a women's convalescent home at her Sussex home.


Robins, Elizabeth, The Open Question, 1898; Robins, Elizabeth, Both Sides of the Curtain, 1940; Robins, Elizabeth (ed.), Theatre and Friendship: Some Henry James Letters, London, 1932; Marcus, Jane, Art and Anger: Reading like a Woman, 1985; John, Angela V., 'Elizabeth Robins', Dictionary of National Biography Online, Oxford, 1997 (accessed 30 April 2003).