Edwin Booth: Accomplished Actor and Brother of John Wilkes

Photo of Edwin Booth and toddler daughter

Edwin Booth and daughter Edwina / Mathew Brady Studio, 1864 /
Modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative /
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


As part of the National Portrait Gallery’s regular series, “Face-to-Face,” program assistant Maya Foo presented a talk on Edwin Booth, a famous nineteenth-century actor and the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Abraham Lincoln. “Face-to-Face” takes place every Thursday evening at NPG from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m., each week spotlighting a different portrait in the museum galleries.

One of the leading tragedians of his time, Edwin Booth was born into a family of actors and first played minor parts in productions featuring his father, Junius Brutus Booth. After honing his craft in theatrical companies on the West Coast, Edwin Booth returned east in 1857, where a series of triumphant appearances secured his reputation and launched a long and respected career.

Unfortunately, Booth’s success in the theater was punctuated by profound personal tragedy. In 1863, the sudden death of his beloved wife left him to care for their young daughter, Edwina (pictured). Two years later, his brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated Abraham Lincoln, driving Edwin into temporary retirement. His career revived, however, when he returned to the stage in 1866, and shortly thereafter he opened his own handsomely appointed theater in New York.

This 1864 photograph of Edwin Booth and his daughter Edwina was taken by the Mathew Brady Studio and produced as a carte de visite—a sort of trading card and celebrity collectable. The portrait is on view in NPG’s “American Origins” exhibition, on the museum’s first floor. 

The next “Face-to-Face” portrait talk is this Thursday, September 25, when NPG historian David Ward will discuss Robert Frost. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.

Audio_icon_whitebg Listen to Maya Foo's Face-to-Face talk on Edwin Booth (10:30)


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