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Maude Adams: Mormon, Lesbian and the Broadway’s First Peter Pan

Maude Adams as Peter Pan

February 7, 2019

Maude Adams as Peter Pan

Image courtesy of Carol Lynn Pearson, No More Strangers. Cropped and rearranged from the original.

by Joel McDonald

When playwright J.M. Barrie needed an actress to play Peter Pan on Broadway, he turned to Maude Adams. Adams has proven herself and became a star in prior productions Barrie worked on. The choice proved an excellent one. Adams would become famous for her portrayal of the youthful and acrobatic character. She was a famed actress of her time. She helped improve technology for stage and film. She was a college acting teacher. She grew up in a Mormon family. She was a lesbian.

Maude Adams

Maude Adams

Maude Adams, her stage name, was born Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden in 1872 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her mother was Asaneth Ann Adams Kiskadden, also an actress, who went by the stage name of Annie Adams. She was the daughter of early Mormon converts. Her parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Illinois after meeting Brigham Young. When Young moved the Church to Salt Lake City, the Adams family followed. where Maude’s mother was born soon after the difficult journey. Annie Adams enjoyed success on the stages of Salt Lake City. Maude’s theatre experience began at the age of only 2 months. Her mother carried her on stage during a production her mother was in. At nine months, Maude returned to the stage as an emergency understudy for another toddler. Maude and her mother would later move to San Francisco, California. There, her acting career began in earnest.

Adams’s father, James Henry Kiskadden, who was not a Mormon, worked in mines and banks over his lifetime. He passed away early in the life of his daughter. No records of Maude’s baptism into the Church are available. But she likely identified as a Mormon culturally. She once described her father as a “gentile” among the Mormons. It’s not clear whether she identified as Mormon or had any relationship with the Church later in life. Her original crib was once on display in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City for many years as a tourist attraction. This may show the Church must have considered her a member or enjoyed the connection. After moving back to Salt Lake City at age 9 to live with her Mormon grandparents, she attended an Episcopal school. Later, she would take long sabbaticals at Catholic convents in Europe and the United States. However, there is no evidence of her ever having converted to Catholicism or that was a member of the Episcopal church.

Adams moved to New York City at the age of 16 where she made her Broadway debut. She signed on with legendary Broadway producer Charles Frohman who elevated her career. It was only after J.M. Barrie saw Adams in a production of Rosemary that he agreed to adapt the novel The Little Minister for Frohman to produce on stage. Until seeing Adams perform, Barrie was unwilling to adapt the novel for the stage. He did not believe there was an actress available who could play the leading female role of Lady Babbie. Adams’s performance changed his mind. The production, with Adams cast, was a tremendous success. It broke box office records. The vast majority of performances being standing room only. A film version of The Little Minister based on the novel, and Barrie’s adaption of it, would be released in 1934. It starred famed actress Katherine Hepburn. Had Adams not won over Barrie with her strong performance in Rosemary, it’s possible neither the stage or film productions of The Little Minister would have ever happened. It’s also possible that Adams would have not gone on to become Broadway’s first Peter Pan.

Peter Pan debuted on Broadway in 1905 with Maude Adams in the title role. An emergency appendectomy shortly after her being cast raised doubts whether she would be able to perform. But she went on for over 1,500 performances and earning $20,000 a month; an amount unheard of at the time. Her portrayal of the character would set the example for all performing the role of Peter Pan who followed. She even helped create the costume. Adams would often reprise the role over the decade that the first production was on Broadway.

Adams worked with Barrie in many roles throughout the early 1900s. She retired from the stage after falling ill in 1918. In the 1920s, she worked with General Electric to improve stage lighting and the Eastman Company to develop color photography. She helped invent a high-powered light bulb that made color movies possible. Her retirement from the stage was short-lived. She returned to acting in 1931 and continued until 1934. At the high point of her career, Adams made over $1 million a year. She would supplement the pay of other actors in productions she was in. In 1937, she became the head of the drama department at Stephens College in Missouri.

Maude Adams never married. Frohman, her producer, used the absence of relationships with men to create a public image of her being virtuous and innocent. It is now believed that Adams was a lesbian. She enjoyed long-term relationships with two woman over the course of her lifetime. The first being with Lillie Florence until Florence’s death in 1901. The second being an over 45-year relationship beginning in 1905 with Louise Boynton. Boynton died in 1951. When Adams passed away in 1953 in New York, four months shy of 80, she was buried next to Boynton where they share a headstone.

There doesn’t appear to be any record of Adams discussing her Mormon background. There’s also no record of her discussing her relationships with Florence or Boynton. Apart from her work on the stage, Adams was a very private person. She didn’t feel the need to open her life to anyone, including her the public who adored her. Boynton is often described by others as being Adams’s lifelong friend and secretary.

It’s likely that Adams never had to wrestle with her Mormon upbringing or sexuality. She left Utah and the influence of the Church when she was 16. It was also common that women were excluded from discussions about homosexuality. She also kept her private life out of the public eye, so her relationships were not scrutinized. These factors combined allowed her to live as she pleased; happily, I hope.

Sources Historic Portsmouth: Last call for Music Hall stories

Wikipedia: Maude Adams

Wikipedia: Peter and Wendy

Wikipedia: Peter Pan Collar

Find a Grave: Maude Adams

Utah Pride Center: Queer Mormon Ancestors

Brigham Young University: Maude Adams and the Mormons

No More Strangers: What Mormon-Born, Widely-Assumed Lesbian Was the Most Loved and Richest Performer in America in the Early Nineteen Hundreds?

Clyde’s Guides and Other Stuff: Maude Adams House located in The Convent of Our Lady of the Cenacle, Ronkonkoma, LI, NY

Patch: The Local Life of Maude Adams

Additional Reading Maude Adams Biography Somewhere In Time (1980)


  1. Ness on February 8, 2019 at 9:50 PM

    What a great woman! Although I would like to verify the amount she made…if she made $20,000 per month in 1905, that would equate to over half a million dollars a month, which is indeed unheard of;)

    • Joel McDonald on February 9, 2019 at 9:27 PM

      The amount appears to be correct. Multiple sources indicate she made $20,000 per month while playing Peter Pan. On some tours, she even made $20,000 a week!

  2. Joyce on February 18, 2019 at 9:08 PM

    People should not be labeled as “gay” or “not gay”. People are “gay” if they “self-identify” as gay. The record shows that MA did not self-identify as being gay. The theories and “second guessing” based on 21st Century perceptions and innuendo about her relationships with other women is all conjecture. BTW, I am an out and proud lesbian and there is no internalized homophobia driving my observation or remark.

  3. Rachel on March 11, 2019 at 12:29 AM

    Hi Joyce, I am also an out and proud lesbian and a scholar of MA’s life and what was known as Boston Marriages. While I agree with you that we can’t employ 21st century vocabulary or ideology when discussing historical relationships, mainly because our terminology and definitions of LGBTQ relationships did not exist back then, there is considerable compelling evidence that Maude most likely participated in at least homo-emotional committed relationships, if not full fledged homosexual relationships. It’s not really a leap to say that she would be called gay (and most likely self-identify as gay) by our terms. Especially when you consider that even in our own day, a significant number of self-identified lesbians do not necessarily consider the sexual aspects of their relationships as the defining factor of their orientation.

    • Brian on August 14, 2019 at 2:17 PM

      Hello Rachel
      We are English and had a holiday in the USA in 199?.
      At a boot sale my wife purchased an envelope containing ” The Maude Adams Book”.
      It contains newspaper cuttings and prints of her in various roles.
      Currently downsizing because of age and seek a home with someone who has an interest
      in this special actress.
      Give me an address for posting. I seek no reimbursement.
      Brian Rogers

      • Shawnee on February 24, 2020 at 8:07 PM

        Hello Brian!
        I know that it has been a while since you commented but I currently go to the college where Maude taught in her later years, I’m a theatre student who wouldn’t be here without all of the amazing work that she did for us, if you still have the book I would be so so grateful to receive it. There was a fire in the 70s that destroyed a lot of documents and the entirety of our original theatre, but luckily Maude’s lights survived and we have an entire room dedicated to her with items that were rescued by students who ran back into the building to save them.

        Thank you,
        Shawnee F.

      • Rob on March 15, 2020 at 7:53 AM

        Was the book given away?

  4. Emily Hart on August 15, 2019 at 8:26 PM

    I am very interested in “The Maude Adams Book.” I am a writer and have been fascinated by Adams ever since reading “Bid Time Return” by Richard Matheson and seeing “Somewhere In Time” the film based on the book and learning that Adams was the inspiration for Elise Mckenna. Adams was an incredibly generous woman, sometimes donating her entire share of box office receipts to disaster victims. The fact that Adams destroyed all her correspondence with Barrie shortly before her death presents an intriguing mystery. I am hoping to learn more about this enigmatic, fascinating woman and perhaps writing about her. This book would be a treasure to me. I have no idea how to go about making contact with you beyond this. Please consider allowing me to have the book.

    • Rob on March 15, 2020 at 7:54 AM

      did You receive the book?

  5. Michael on September 22, 2019 at 7:35 PM

    It may be hard to believe but there are a lot if woman that have been wronged by men in relationships and feel more comfortable living with another woman platonically. No woman wants to be an ” old maid” but there is splice in sharing a residence with a person “in” your same “boat”.

    • Boyd Plankinton on April 1, 2021 at 4:12 PM

      Excellent lesson. I have studied Maude Adams extensively and she definitely was NOT a lesbian and NOT Mormon.

  6. Castillo Raissa on January 9, 2020 at 2:21 AM

    Wow, what a movie? I am totally interesting in knowing more and I am not a person that likes history nor English classes.
    Fascinating movie and persona.

  7. Boyd Plankinton on April 1, 2021 at 3:58 PM

    Maude was not a lesbian. She simply like the company of women. She regularly stayed with Augustinian Nuns on extended retreat where she prayed with them several times daily during their routine devotions. She was a very spiritual person and found that following Christian principles were far better than any disapation. To presume she was lesbian, with no other evidence than she lived with another woman, you could also make a claim that a bachelor farmer and his spinster sister living together were insestuou bed partners. Shame on you.

    • Joel McDonald on April 2, 2021 at 6:56 AM

      There are many, many, stories on the Affirmation website of highly spiritual individuals who are also LGBTQIA+.

      Admittedly, there is no direct evidence that Maude was a lesbian. Historians do disagree, with some believing she was. I found her choice of burial to be compelling; as if she wanted to make a statement about her relationship with Boynton. Whether strictly lesbian, bisexual, or even asexual yet romantically attracted to the women, there’s a case to be made that Maude was likely somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrums. A fascinating figure in history nonetheless.

    • Anonymous on August 5, 2022 at 2:32 PM

      Why would there be any shame, Boyd… being a lesbian isn’t shameful. There is common sense that would tell you she was gay.

  8. JQ Brown on February 17, 2022 at 8:55 PM

    Interesting to learn about this woman and to know that in the 21st century certain conclusions can be drawn about someone we never knew. I am living proof that a person can be straight without sexual connections with either male or female. (Although I have been in relationships with men in the past.) Sometimes you reach a point when self-love and self-care are most essential to your survival. There is no preferential either/or about it. It is just contentment with one’s existence. Who knows whether it might progress into needing a mate?

  9. Sean on October 9, 2022 at 9:15 PM

    Maude Adams was a wonderful actress. It doesn’t matter if she was a lesbian or
    not. Her sexuality isn’t what identified her as a person. Instead of discussing her sexuality, I would rather talk about her extensive career. About her influence on society as an actress.

  10. David on April 27, 2023 at 12:41 AM

    She was an actress, innovator, philanthropist, teacher, inventor of sorts and, together with her mentor/manager Frohman, brought new life into the theater of the Victorian area. If it were not for her, the film “Somwhere In Time” would never have come about. The character of Peter Pan may never have seen the light of day on stage or film.
    She was a private person who led a happy, fulfilling life. Her sexuality is of little importance. She was a beautiful person in mind and countenance. If she were lesbian and Frohman gay they could never have let it be known least their careers would have come to an sudden end. I understand the desire to find a champion in these people. They, by every account, were fine people but their sexuality did not make them who they were. It would be a grand gesture if a movie were made about their lives.

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