Female magicians are a rather rare breed even today. So think what it must have been like in the mid-1800’s. The earliest lady magician I have found performing in America is 1839. Surprisingly, there were three: Miss Wyman, Miss Mills and Miss Hayden. Now, I suspect there were earlier performers that have been lost in the dustbin of time. Here is a little information about Miss Wyman.
An advertisement for Miss J. E. Wyman first appeared in the December 13, 1839 issue of the New Bedford Mercury, as shown in the illustration. She was called “The Young Sybil”, “Enchantress” or “Lady Magician”. She got top billing over the other act on the program, Mr. Wyman Ventriloquist.
Mr. Wyman (John Wyman Jr. 1816 – 1881) was to become one of the most famous magicians of the age, performing six times at the White House. Now who was the female wonder? Newspaper references first lead me to believe she was Mr. Wyman’s teenage sister. How silly of me. Digging further I found that John did have two living sisters, Melissa Jane Wyman and Mary Eliza Wyman. However, I also found that in 1836 he married the 16 year old Jane E. Prout (1820-1898). So the Miss J. E. Wyman performing as the lady magician was actually his wife. It was not uncommon to bill your wife as your sister. The brilliant move was to give her top billing. The draw would be the beautiful teenage enchantress and not her older “brother”. No wonder John Wyman made a fortune over his career and was able to retire in luxury.
The two performed together until about 1842. John went on to perform constantly up to his death at the age of 65 in Burlington, NJ.
I found one intriguing mention of Miss Wyman, Lady Magician, in the June 26, 1844 issue of the Houston Telegraph. A reporter for the paper wrote about seeing her amazing scrapbook that contained clipping of her career. He even reprinted a story from the September 25, 1840 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript. Now John was not performing in Texas at the time. So who had it and where is it now? Another magic history mystery.
Enjoy and good hunting.