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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 514


This is the grave of Mary Ann Lee.

Born in 1823 in Philadelphia, Lee became one of the first American ballet dancers, if the claim is more debatable than her gravestone suggests. After all, her dances were not solo shows. It’s not clear to me how she got into ballet dancing, but Paul Hazard of the Paris Opera was in Philadelphia to expand the art to the United States. By 1837, Lee was working with Hazard and made her public debut in The Maid of Cashmere. Her work was very popular with audiences. She moved to New York in 1839. P.T. Barnum hired her for awhile and she toured the nation extensively for the next two years. She spent a couple of years based out of New Orleans in 1843 and 1844. She then went to Paris to continue both her studies and her professional dancing. After studying in Paris, she brought the finest of the art back to the United States with other dancers, such as George Washington Smith. However, her career was short lived. As was the case for many dancers, her body couldn’t take it for very long. She had to retire from dance in 1847 “for health reasons.” No one ever describes what those were. She then married a Philadelphia merchant, had three children, taught dance and very occasionally returned to the stage. She died in 1899.

I had never heard of Lee. But I was wandering around looking for someone else and figured this would likely make a worthy post as well. Indeed, even if I can’t really find enough detail for an extensive post.

Mary Ann Lee is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

If you would like this series to visit more dancers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Maria Tallchief is in Fairfax, Oklahoma and Agnes DeMille is in Forestburgh, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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