Nellie Boyd

Nellie Boyd was the leading lady and business manager of her own acting troupe, which toured the United States in the 1870s for a total of forty-two weeks. Boyd was one of several enterprising women such as Katie Putnam and Margaret Fisher who gained regional fame and fortune by creating their own traveling repertory troupes. The popularity of these woman-owned troupes developed in the years after the decline of stock companies and before the rise of the vaudeville circuits. Boyd built her reputation as an actress working in stock companies in Chicago and New York before forming her own troupe in 1876. The Nellie Boyd Dramatic Company performed multiple act comedies and melodramas with old-fashioned after-pieces at their conclusions, and often performed in seven-day engagements.

The twelve to sixteen actors in Boyd's troupe cycled in and out through the years. Only one actor, George Welty, remained with Boyd's company throughout its existence. Boyd was known for her shrewd managerial skills, and personally paid her troupe once a week, and even held onto their pay or provided loans when requested (Crestani 83). Boyd was also more fearless than other troupe leaders, and took her company to rough territories such as Arizona, where hers was the first "professional legitimate company" to ever visit (Crestani 32). From 1879 to 1888 she toured exclusively in the western United States from British Columbia to Mexico, pioneering several southwestern territories as she traveled by stagecoach, train, or steamship (Crestani 79). The reputation of Boyd's company grew quickly as a result of their stops in these frontier towns; the citizenry were often as excited about living in a town that had a performance as they were about the performance itself. (Crestani 34).

Around 1880, Boyd enlarged her troupe to include its own attached orchestra, which played between acts of her plays, and netted even more positive reviews (Crestani 80). Boyd and her company first performed in Seattle at the Squire's Opera House in May of 1882. Shortly after arriving in Seattle, two members of Boyd's company became bedridden with smallpox, and Boyd elected to remain in Seattle for two extra weeks awaiting the recovery of her actors. Boyd received public commendation for her altruism and loyalty, and was offered a "benefit" performance by concerned citizens on June 14th in order to recoup her losses (Crestani 44). By 1883, Boyd's company had achieved renown across the United States. On the opening night of the Frye Opera House on December 1st in 1884, Boyd and her company performed "Claire and the Forge Master" to great public acclaim.

In the years around Boyd's seminal performance at the Frye, the company performed in Seattle and towns such as Port Blakeley, Walla Walla, Port Townsend, and Tacoma until 1888. The company's trips to these towns occurred semi-annually, and their routes were, unlike the later circuits, irregular. After Boyd retired from the stage she moved to Fresno, California, where she became an active vineyardist. Boyd also became involved in the women's suffrage movement through the McKinley Suffrage Club, and was a prominent advocate for the public involvement of women in the civic life of their communities, founding the Fresno Parlor Lecture Club in 1894.

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Headlining in "Forget Me Not"
Crestani, Eliana. 1997. Traveling actress and manager in the nineteenth century: The western career of Nellie Boyd, 1879-1888. The University of Arizona, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4 Dec. 1884, p.3