If you’ve looked at our previous sites, you know The National Theatre has seen plenty of stars walk its stage since the early days of 1835.  In this site, we’ll take a closer look at four of the most famous and influential women to have graced The National.  As you will see in Changing Roles, many women have distinguished themselves in the American theatre despite facing numerous societal restrictions, some of which are still being confronted today. The four women featured here all excelled on The National stage in part because they pursued unique and fruitful careers despite facing any number of setbacks.

Jenny Lind, then known as the Swedish Nightingale, was a celebrated singer who helped save The National from ruin when she performed a series of special concerts in 1850.  Decades later, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, one of the most celebrated performers in theatre history, was a frequent guest, lending The National some much-needed prestige.  While Bernhardt was at the height of her powers, Helen Hayes was still cutting her teeth on the way to becoming a National mainstay and a bona fide Washington, D.C. icon – an icon so big, the city’s annual theatre awards are named in her honor.  Pearl Bailey, meanwhile, was a successful singer and performer who headlined the all-Black revival of Hello, Dolly! and took advantage of her brief time at The National to rub shoulders with the most powerful person in the land. As usual, you will have the opportunity to peruse some of The National’s collection in the From the Archives sections, as well as test your sleuthing and analytical skills with the Consider This… prompts.

The National Theatre Corporation’s Teens Behind the Scenes program is made possible through the generous support of Jacqueline Badger Mars. These sites are curated by dramaturg Jared Strange. To learn more about The National Theatre and the Teens Behind the Scenes program, visit the About the Program page.


The National Theatre Corporation is the 501(c)(3) non-profit entity responsible for the continued operation and preservation of The National Theatre. Donations to the National Theatre Corporation help fund necessary capital improvements and maintenance to preserve this historic facility. Additionally, contributions support free community and educational programming, and make possible the management of a vast, content-rich archive. To make your tax-deductible contribution to the National Theatre Corporation, please visit our secure giving website, with our thanks. 

The Nederlander Organization manages and programs the theatre, including the Broadway at The National series. The name “Nederlander” has been synonymous with great entertainment since 1912. Led by James L. Nederlander, President, the organization continues the tradition of operating iconic, historic theatres, as well as producing and presenting the best in theatrical entertainment and concert performances. To learn more, please visit Nederlander.com.