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Dancer: Lydia Thompson

Stage Name

Birth Name

Lydia Thompson Eliza Hodges Thompson
'The First Lady of Burlesque'  
'The Pet of the Public'  

'The First Lady of Burlesque' and sex symbol of the Victorian age was born in the parish of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, she was the second daughter of Cumberland-born Philip Thompson and his Quaker wife Eliza née Eliza Cooper (widow of Griggs.) She introduced burlesque to America in 1868 to great acclaim and notoriety.

    She was just fourteen years old when she joined the dancing chorus at Her Majesty's Theater in 1852. She gained some fame in Thomas Selby's "the Spanish Dancers" in which she caused a small sensation with her imitation-parody of the extraordinary Spanish dancer Perea Nina and danced in 'Beauties of the Harem.'

    In 1855 she went to Europe for over three years and performed her dances before very appreciative audiences. She was billed as the `first danseuse of the Drury Lane Theatre' in London.

She won great acclaim for the dexterity of her dancing – which included the Highland Fling and Hornpipe. By 1859 The Times newspaper referred to her as "one of the most eminent of English dancers."

    By 1868, again married, she left London for America and a cast of British Burlesque actresses, dubbed the British Blondes, ( However not all had Blonde hair such as Ada Harland) and comedians with the blondes' trademarks being 'Short Trunks and Shapely Thighs,' Lydia did not start Burlesque, but rather combined it with sexy women in tights showing off their shapely legs. This idea was to prove that the audience was willing to pay to watch smut,(well, at that time it was smut lol,) It was to grow into something more over time. Lydia became the #1 "British Blonde Performer. In June of 1869 The New York Clipper trade newspaper notes a falling off of burlesque business at Niblo's New York City theater, ( Probably due to Lydia touring with P.T. Barnum.) Lydia Thompson returned to Niblo's Garden in New York in April of 1870 to appear in the Burlesque "Pippin" and the "King of the Gold Mine."

    Their first appearance on the American Stage was at Wood's Museum and Metropolitan Theater in NY, on September 28, 1868 in Burnand's Burlesque Ixion. She made an enormous effect with what had been intended to be a six-month tour developed into six years, performing at various Theaters including James Wallack's Broadway Theater and later leaving New York to take her burlesque company on a U. S. tour in 1869, finally returning to Britain in 1874. In 1887 her days of Burlesque where numbered when she tried to sing on-stage with a not to pleasant voice. She made her last stage appearance in 1904.

    Stardom back then had it prices, just like today. Lydia paid the price and by being arrested, once for horsewhipping a newspaper editor for his newspaper harassment and finally his face to face verbal abuse to her on the street and another for the "Lesbian attacker." A girl had been stalking Lydia and following the troupe from town to town. When Lydia rejected her she became a bit aggressive and Lydia pushed her away. Later the girl filed charges against Thompson for assault !. When the officer arrived to her wardrobe room, she would not dress to be arrested, he broke down the door and arrested the "un-dressed" Thompson.

   Lydia married twice with both husbands dying, leaving her widowed. Lydia's step sister Clara Rose Hodges worked briefly with Lydia in her beginning days, but moved on to become a successful dramatic actress. Lydia's daughter zeffie would become a movie actress and do more than 68 films between 1917 and 1941 including "the Grapes Of Raft."

Birth Place

Birth Date



London 1/19/1838-11/17/1908 John Christian Tilbury (1863) Zeffie Agnes Lydia Tilbury
  ( Also reported to be: 1836-1908) Alexander Henderson (1868-1886)  

Dance Types

Dance Partners

Music Titles

Ballet 1853 - 'Living Marionettes' n/a
Grand Pas Seul Ada Harland (Blondes)      
Highland Fling Alice Atherton (Blondes)      
Hornpipe Alice Burville (Blondes)      
Les Juinea Alice Logan (1860's)      
Pantomime Camille Dubois (Blondes)      
Pas Demon Carlotta Zerbini (Blondes)      
Rifle Dance (1866) Eliza Weathersby (Blondes) d.1887      
Saylorboys ( Sic) Dance Jenny Hughes (Blondes)      
Spanish Dance Lionel Brough (Comedian)      
  Lisa Weber (Blondes)      
  Pauline Markham (Blondes)      
  Rose Coghlan (1853-1932) (Blondes)      
  W. H. Denny (Actor)    
  Willie Edouin (Comedian)    

Night Clubs ETC

Theaters, etc.


1853 - Linwood Gallery Canonbury Tavern 1853 - Harlequin and the Three Bears
      Crosby Opera House (Chicago 1870) 1854 - Voyage Round the Globe
      Drury Lane Theatre 1854? - Ganem (Burlesque)
      Folley Theatre (1876) 1854? - Slave of Love, the (Burlesque)
      Haymarket Theater (1853) 1854 - Spanish Dancers, the (Burlesque)
      Her Majesty's Theater (1852) 1850s - King's Rival, the
      Lyceum Theater 1850s - Beauties of the Harem
      Old Globe Theatre (1854) 1850s - Little Bo Peep
      Prince of Wales Theater (1864) 1854 - Cupid's Ladder
      St. James's Theater (1854) 1854 - Swan, the
      Strand Theater 1854 - Edgar
      Theater an Der Wien 1854 - Mr Buckstone's Voyage Round the Globe
    Theater Royal (1864) 1850s - Virginus burlesque
      Wallack's Broadway Theater (USA) 1850s - Valentine
      Wood's Theater (USA 1868) 1850s - Magicians Son, the
            1860 - Magic Toys
            1860 - Savage Club burlesque
            1860 - Middy Asthore , the
            1860 - Les Fleurs animées
            1860 - Chrystabelle
            1861 - Fetches, the
            1861 - Little Red Riding Hood
            1862 - Brough burlesque
        1864 - Mosquito
            1864 - Perdita and Ixion (Burlesque)
            1866 - Field of the Cloth of Gold , the
            1866 - Six Demoiselles à marier
            1867 - Brigand , the
            1868's - Mephisto
            1868s - La Sonnambula
        1870 - Sinbad
        1872 - Bluebeard
            1874 - Le Grand Duc de Matapa (Pif-Paf)
            1874 - Carmen, Pluto, Bluebird
        1881 - Dust
            1888 - Babette
            1894 - Artist's Model
            1894 - Crust of Society, the
        1899 - Wedding March, the
        1904 - Queen's Romance, the




n/a n/a 8/12/1870 - NY Times (her Chicago Arrest)
            11/20/1908 - Daily Telegraph
            Lydia Thompson, Queen of (by Gènzl)
            $ 1931 - Burleycue by Bernard Sobel
            $ 1956 - A Pictorial History of Burl (Sobel)
            $ Lydia Thompson ... A Bio of Forgotten...
            2000 - Lydia Thompson: Queen of Burlesque
            2008 - Magazine, the (Autumn of 2008)


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