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Dorothea Baird

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An English stage actress, Dorothea Baird was a daughter of John Forster Baird, barrister-at-law, and in private life a painter. She was educated at the Hampstead High School for Girls. Her first appearance on stage was with the Oxford University Dramatic Society in 1894, playing some minor Shakespearean characters such as Iris in The Tempest, and Galatea in the Pygmalion and Galatea of W. S. Gilbert. By good fortune, theatre company manager Ben Greet was present at one of the performances and offered her an engagement in 1894 that was to lead to other Shakespearean roles. Owing to the illness of the principal actress, Baird was obliged to play Rosalind at the Shakespeare memorial performances at Stratford-on-Avon. Despite scant preparation, she made an impression so excellent that she was next asked to appear as Hermione in The Winter's Tale. Certainly Greet saw to it that his actresses had every opportunity to discover in what particular line their talents lay. It was natural that a young and charming Rosalind should attract attention. That meant, amongst other advantages, the benefit of publicity. Her first London appearance was at the Metropole Theatre, Camberwell, in February 1895, as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meanwhile, a portrait of her as Rosalind had appeared in one of the weekly papers. It was seen by the author of Trilby, George du Maurier, who was so struck by the resemblance which it bore to his own drawings of Trilby O'Ferrall that he instantly said that the one and only Trilby for the stage play was Dorothea Baird. Her performance as Trilby, played at the Haymarket in October 1895, co-starring Beerbohm Tree, was a sensation.
She went on to play numerous other roles and enjoyed great success as an actress. In 1906 she toured America with her husband Henry Irving playing, amongst other roles, Francesca in Paolo and Francesca. On her return to England, she again toured the provinces. In 1911 she accompanied her husband to Australia, and in 1913 was elected a member of the Poor Law Guardians of St Pancras. She retired from the stage, and devoted herself to infant welfare work. Her sister, Emily Constance Baird (†1903), was married to Sir Edward Tyas Cook in 1884.

Place of birth: Teddington
Place of marriage: Parish church of St Pancras, London


1. A. Brereton. H.B. and Laurence Irving. London: G. Richards Ltd., 1922.
2. H.C. Matthew, B. Harrison et al. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004-2018.
3. John Parker. Who's Who in the Theatre, 4th edition. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1912.

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