Mrs Partington Identity Revealed
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Written by SeacoastNH Archive

 Mrs. Partington / Presents
Historic Portsmouth #280

One of the most quoted women in 19th century America was not a woman at all. Men impersonating women in comedy started long before Shakespeare and will continue long after Milton Berle, Robin Williams, and Monty Python are forgotten. (Continued below)

Benjamin P. Shillaber, however, played Mrs. Partington in literature only. Or did he? This early 1852 portrait of author BP Shillaber of Portsmouth, NH looks, to this historian, hautningly similar to the 1868 illustration of the fictional and manly Mrs. Partington. Shillaber moved to Boston as a young man and started the nation’s first humorous weekly magazine. It failed, but the ditzy rural Mrs. Partington appeared in hundreds of articles and half a dozen books. An early edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer depicts the exact same woman identified as Aunt Polly. Since Shillaber was the first American editor to publish a comic sketch by a young Samuel Clemens (aka Twain), the picture may have been a literary tribute. ( Collection)

Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber on

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