“Partly American!”: Sarah Bernhardt’s Transnational Disability in the American Press (1915-1918)

  • Ignacio Ramos-Gay University of Valencia, Spain


The aim of this paper is to analyze the representation of Sarah Bernhardt’s physical disability in the American press prior to and during her last tour in the United States (1915-1918), and how the amputation of her right leg ignited a series of allegories associating the actress with both French and American national identities. Bernhardt’s maimed physicality was rapidly construed as a metaphor of the mutilated French soldiers of the Great War and of a devastated France itself. However, as I will show, one of the prosthetic devices crafted by American manufacturers symbolically turned the tragedienne into “partly an American citizen” as well as into a token of modern western technology. Bernhardt’s artificial leg encapsulated a number of cultural, economic and national attributes linking therapy with American industrial capitalism, and her conceptualization as an American icon thanks to prosthetics reflects the use of non-normative bodily metaphors to encourage national belonging in the press.Keywords: American press; Transatlantic Studies; Sarah Bernhardt; disability; prosthetics

Author Biography

Ignacio Ramos-Gay, University of Valencia, Spain
Ignacio Ramos-Gay is Associate Professor in French at the University of Valencia, in Spain. His research focuses on contemporary European drama and popular culture. A Fulbright visiting scholar at the Martin E. Seagal Theatre Centre at the City University of New York, he has co-edited a number of volumes on the cultural cross-currents between Britain, the United States and France.


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Newspaper Articles Cited

Akron Beacon Journal (OH). 1915. “Leg Caterer to Bernhardt.” April 3, 4.

Baltimore Sun (MD). 1915. “In Race to See Bernhardt. Baltimore Artificial Leg Salesman Has a Rival.” March 30, 16.

Boston Daily Globe (MA). 1915. “Trouble for Bernhardt.” March 30, 16.

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Cincinnati Enquirer (OH). 1915. “The Divine Sarah.” December 23, 4.

Evening Ledger (Philadelphia, PA). 1915. “Sarah Bernhardt’s Leg Amputated.” February 22, 2.

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Evening World-Herald (Omaha, NE). 1917. “Quand Meme [sic]!” January 6, 6.

Grand Rapids Press (MI). 1915. “Divine Sarah Ends Career as Actress.” September 12, 4.

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Kansas City Star (KS). 1915. “Bernhardt’s Wonderful Wooden Leg.” May 31, n.p.

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Morning Oregonian (Portland, OR). 1915. Untitled. February 23, 6.

New York Times. 1915. “Bernhardt Asked Amputation of Leg.” February 21, 3.

—. 1915. “Surgeons to Operate on Bernhardt Today.” February 22, 1.

—. 1915. “Bernhardt Rages Against War.” May 23, 19.

—. 1915. “Bernhardt is Now Partly American.” November 14, 19.

—. 1916. “Mme. Bernhardt at the Knickerbocker.” September 10, 6.

New York Tribune. 1915. “Pasted Jewels.” March 14, 10.

Omaha Daily Bee (NE). 1915. “The Poet Rostand’s Sonnet to Bernhardt’s Severed Leg.” May 16, n.p.

Pittsburgh Press (PA). 1915. “Sarah Bernhardt Eulogizes Her Wooden Leg.” September 12, 38.

Princeton Union (NJ). 1915. “Bernhardt not Downcast.” March 4, 2.

Republic (Waterbury, CT). 1915. “Sarah Bernhardt Able to Leave Hospital.” March 13, 1.

Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA). 1915. “Busy Baltimore.” April 1, 6.

Salt Lake Telegram (UT). 1915. “The Woman Who Would Rather Be Mutilated than Powerless.” February 20, 4.

—. 1915. “Sarah Bernhardt Eulogizes Her Wooden Leg.” 12 September, 38.

Sunday Herald (Boston, MA). 1915. “Artificial Leg Makes Bernhardt Partly American.” November 14, 2.

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Watauga Democrat (Boone, NC). 1915. “Bernhardt’s Wish.” September 2, 1.