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March 30, 2017

Berta Jones – Woman Playwright

Portrait of Mrs. A. Curtis JonesBerta Jones – Woman Playwright

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

I’d like to finish up Women’s History Month with the story of another creative woman from Hamilton County – Berta Jones.  She was born Alberta Haworth on February 21, 1877 to Albert Haworth and his wife Sarah (Bray).  She married Alva Curtis (A. C.) Jones on December 31, 1895, and by then, she was known as Berta.  In the 1900 census, A.C. was running a dry goods store in Hortonville and the couple had a two year old son named Paul.

Berta had apparently had literary aspirations for some time since a newspaper article said that she “is a writer of more than local reputation, many of her stories being published in Eastern magazines”.  None of these stories have been found yet.  Then, in 1901, at the age of 24, something inspired her to take things to another level.  She decided to write and produce a play.

The play was titled “Rashleigh”.  It was the story of the son of an English aristocratic family who falls in love with a beautiful country woman with no title or money and marries her.  His family is horrified by this and forces them to separate.  The country woman is driven away and the son is made to marry a woman with equal social stature.  However, he cannot forget the first woman and (spoiler alert) finally returns to her just as she dies of a broken heart.

The play has some interesting similarities to the play by John Wise that was discussed in a previous post.  Wise’s daughter Maude was an actress in both shows.

The director was Maude Wagner of Noblesville who also played the female lead.  The male lead was Charles White of Indianapolis performing under the name of “Clarence Cooper”.  Other actors were Addie Liner, Alice Wright, Ernest Carey, Harry Wagner, and A. C. Jones.  Berta also designed the scenery.  She and her husband were so determined to put on this play that they skipped a trip to California that had been planned.

The Wild Opera House in Noblesville

The Wild Opera House in Noblesville where the play was rehearsed.

While the rehearsals were held in the Wild Opera House in Noblesville, the premiere was performed at the Grand Opera House in Anderson on the evening of December 18.  A special train was run on the Midland Railroad to take Westfield and Noblesville residents to see the show.  As it happened, Governor Winfield T. Durbin was from Anderson and was visiting his home at that time, so he attended with his wife and State Senator Thomas J. Lindley of Westfield.  Afterwards, Lindley sent a message to the Noblesville Ledger saying:

“The drama ‘Rashleigh’ has been given at the Opera House at Anderson, the curtain is down, and Mrs. Jones, the author, is receiving congratulations at all hands.  The performance was indeed quite creditable.  Miss Maude Wagner and Mr. Ernest Carey especially did themselves proud.  Governor and Mrs. Durbin came from Indianapolis to witness the play and both expressed much pleasure at the entertainment.”

Unfortunately the critics did not agree with Lindley.  The Anderson Morning Herald said, “It had some merits of a good theatrical productions, but, like the majority of plays, has its weak points.”  The Indianapolis News headline read, “Mrs. Jones’ Play Is Not Particularly Strong” and went on to say “The members of the cast were nervous and the performance lacked smoothness and finish, the company lacking anything out of the ordinary in talent.”

The play was repeated at the Wild Opera House on December 21.  This time, the Ledger repeated the News review while adding “There appears to be material in Mrs. Jones’ story for a play of merit, but it is not well arranged.”  The Noblesville Democrat said, “For an amateur production in the hands of home theatrical talent, the play was a most worthy and successful one.  But for a professional effort, it displayed many rough edges.”


The Indianapolis News headline read, "Mrs. Jone's Play is Not Particularly Strong".

The debacle was soon driven off the front pages by the sensational Seay murder and trial which involved Leota Fodrea.  Interestingly, a couple of days later, John Wise announced that he would be writing a new play based on his previous plays.  Regrettably, there are no known copies of Berta’s play existing today, so we can’t make any judgement on it ourselves.

After this, we hear no more about Berta Jones and the theater.  By 1907, the family had moved to Gary where Berta died on January 10, 1918 of appendicitis.  Her body was brought back to Hamilton County and buried in Hinkle Creek Cemetery.