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Topics in Chronicling America - Helen Bertram, Prima Donna of Comic Opera Led Scandalous Life Off-stage

Despite being the leading American prima donna of her day, Helen Bertram’s story is often left unsung. Bertram was a comic opera soprano who trained at the Cincinnati College of Music before becoming the lead singer for various opera companies, such as Abbott, Conried, and the Bostonians. Her roles in “The Gingerbread Man” and “The Prince of Pilsen” helped to further develop the unique genre of comic opera. But her off-stage life may have been even more interesting, with scandalous affairs, deceased lovers, heated rivalries, and multiple bankruptcies. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection ( Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.

Helen Bertram

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Important Dates:

  • November 2, 1887: Rises to prominence as prima donna of the Abbott Opera Company.
  • March, 1889: Debuts as Julius in “The King’s Fool” for the Conried Opera Company.
  • November 9, 1893: Officially exposes her affair with Edward Henley. As both are married, their spouses pursue divorce.
  • October 6, 1903: Marries her third husband, Edward Morgan.
  • August, 1905: Mired in debt, Bertram announces her bankruptcy before the courts.
  • March 10, 1906: Faints upon hearing of the death of Morgan, her third husband.
  • 1908: Regains her success and is deemed “The Queen of Comic Opera.”

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] Helen Bertram, Miss Bertram, Lulu Burt, Bostonians, Abbott, Conried, prima donna, singer, comic opera, Gingerbread, Pilsen, Tomassi, Henley, Morgan.
  • It is important to combine search terms in order to narrow and focus your results.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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  July 1, 2015
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