While researching the background for his new musical Madam, based loosely on Eliza Haycraft, the infamous St. Louis Madam who died in 1871 as the richest woman in Missouri, playwright Colin Haycraft came across remarkable stories of women who bucked the hierarchy of male dominance that held women down and blocked them from fulfilling their dreams.
So while the play is set in a St. Louis brothel, Healy imbued each of his “ladies” with characteristics borrowed from these brave female champions, starting with the title character. Eliza Haycraft was born in Callaway County Missouri, where she married and likely bore children. But, after falling prey to the attention of an interloper, she was shunned by her family and banned from the community. Legend says that she paddled a canoe, single-handedly, down the Missouri River to St. Louis and embarked on her career as a courtesan and brothel -keeper. What set her apart from others of her ilk was that, despite her inability to read and write, she amassed a substantial real-estate portfolio and then applied her fortune to alleviate the plight of others, especially Civil War widows and orphans. Her largesse was rewarded in kind as 5,000 people attended her funeral despite the fact that she was barred from erecting a marker on her grave at the prestigious Bellefontaine Cemetery where she is buried.
The character Tennie is based on Tennessee Clafin, sister of Victoria Woddhall, the first woman to run for President of the United States. Billie is based on Cathay Williams, a former slave who disguised herself as a man to fight alongside Union soldiers during the Civil War. And Ripley is based on Martha Ripley, one of the first American women to practise medicine.
If you’re interested in learning more about this story and these characters, check out the links below.
TENNIE & her sister based on
BILLIE based on
RIPLEY based on
ST Louis and the Civil War
Civil War Museum in StL
Social Evils Ordinance