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Amelia Swilley Bingham

swilleyA young woman home from college waiting tables in the family hotel dining room is spotted by a leading stage star who marries her and launches a career on Broadway. It all began in downtown Hicksville.
Amelia Bingham’s stage career began in Hicksville, Ohio where her father owned the Swilley House, a hotel which stood at the current site of The Hicksville Bank. Across the street was the acoustically perfect Huber Theater, used to try out Chicago and New York stage productions. Lloyd Bingham was the actor/manager who married Amelia in 1890. The next 3 years were spent in apprenticeships around the country, with a Broadway debut on December 18, 1893 at the old Bijou Theater. Noted for sparkling performances in both melodramas and comedies, Amelia gained such renown that she was once voted more popular than Lillian Russell.

The Swilley House once accommodated many travelers passing through our town. One of which, was Lloyd Bingham, who fell in love with Swilley’s daughter Amelia.

“The Climbers,” produced during the 1901-1902 season, was one of Amelias’s greatest successes. Both the play and the actress were lauded in The Oxford Companion To American Theatre (2nd ed). Mrs. Bingham organized her own theatrical stock company and leased the theater, thereby becoming the first American woman to succeed as a Broadway producer/manager/actress. Later triumphs included Big Moments from Great Plays, excerpts from 6 plays which Amelia performed around the world. In London, Amelia performed before royalty, including the King and his guest Teddy Roosevelt. Buses of tourists stopped to gaze at her Riverside Dr. home.

Despite Amelias’s fame and fortune, she and Lloyd often returned to Hicksville where they were regulars at the Defiance County Fair. Amelia gave motivational speeches to young people and was present with Hart’s Girl Band when Tight Street was renamed Meuse Argonne in honor of local causalities of WWI. On the road in Philadelphia, Amelia was so pleased by a serenade by Hicksville’s Hart’s Boy Band, that she dismissed the theater orchestra for the evening and had “her boys” sit in the pit and play the performance.

Amelia Swilley Bingham died of pneumonia in 1927 at her home in New York. After a funeral at The Little Church Around the Corner, she was buried beside Lloyd in Weldon Cemetery. New York’s Herald Tribune, World, and Times noted more than 2000 mourners. Many Bingham photographs and theater bills have been copied from the Museum of the City of New York by Hicksville’s Historical Society. Her books were left to the Hicksville Schools, just a part of an estate valued at over $200,000, then considered a vast amount for a lady.

SUMMARY OF ACCOMPLISHMENT

  • 1893 Broadway debut as an actress THE STRUGGLE OF LIFE
  • 1900 Assumed management of NYC’s old Bijou Theater
  • 1901 Organized the Amelia Bingham Stock Company
  • 1902 England’s Palace Theater production of BIG MOMENTS
  • 1910-1926 First president of Professional Women’s League, Charitable works for Elks Lodge #1 and Actor’s Fund of America, appealed for roles for mature women, supported hometown activities.
  • 1927 Buried from NYC’s Little Church Around the Corner
  • 1993 Inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.
 
 
 
 
 
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