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Helen Gahagan Douglas. Before her marriage to Melvyn Douglas. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4775-002).

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Douglas, Helen Gahagan (25 November 1900–28 June 1980), actress and politician, was born in Boonton, New Jersey, the daughter of Walter Hamer Gahagan, a civil and contracting engineer, and Lillian Rose Mussen. In 1905 the family moved to an exclusive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Helen’s authoritarian father made all the family decisions; her mother stressed education and the religious values of the Episcopal church. She also had a penchant for the opera and took Helen to every performance of the Metropolitan Opera. As a child Helen often staged dramatic presentations atop her father’s billiard table for siblings and friends. Although bright, she was a poor student and dreamed of being an actress, a career choice neither parent found acceptable....

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Shaw, Mary (25 January 1854–18 May 1929), actress and suffragist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Levi W. Shaw, a carpenter and builder, and Margaret Keating. After graduating from Boston’s Girl’s High and Normal School in 1871, Shaw taught school from 1873 to 1878. When her voice weakened from constant classroom use, she decided to study elocution. These lessons piqued her interest in the theater, and eventually she left teaching. After becoming involved with various amateur theater groups, Shaw joined the Boston Museum stock company (1879), where she first appeared as a chorus member in the spectacle ...