Rehan, Ada (1857–1916), American actress, was born 22 April 1857 in Limerick, fifth of six children of Thomas Crehan and Harriet Crehan (née Ryan) of Limerick (Thomas Crehan, an adventurer and speculator, was in prison for smuggling when he met and courted Harriet Ryan, the jail matron's daughter). Born Bridget Crehan, she took the name ‘Ada’ before going on the stage; in life she was best known as Ada Rehan, the result of a printer's error, ‘Ada C. Rehan’, which she accepted as her professional name. Emigrating to the United States with her family in 1865, she attended elementary schools in Brooklyn, New York, but was not educated after age 15, when she began her life on the stage. Initially in small, supporting roles, she had mastered seventeen speaking parts, from farce to Shakespeare, before she was 18, testimony to extensive apprenticeship. During much of her life she lacked a permanent residence, as she was constantly on tour in North America, later in Europe, usually performing six days a week, with Wednesday and Saturday matinées. She joined the Arch Street Theatre of Philadelphia, establishing an admired critical reputation before working with a succession of stock companies. In 1879 she joined the company of John Augustin Daly, for whom she became a leading performer of the New York stage as well as the London stage from 1884. His dominance over her career has been compared to that of the fictional Svengali and Trilby. Her first role on Broadway was in Daly's version of ‘L'assommoir’, and later she opened Daly's own theatre as Nelly Beers in ‘Love's young dream’. Grey-eyed, fair-skinned, and dark-haired, she enjoyed a beauty known at the time as ‘Celtic’. Not often seen in Irish roles, she did appear on stage with Dion Boucicault (qv) as well as in his plays, met Oscar Wilde (qv), and exchanged letters with George Bernard Shaw (qv). Versatile and adroit, she appeared in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English comedies, melodramas, plays by the elder and younger Alexandre Dumas, and the contemporary dramas of Arthur Wing Pinero. Many of her greatest roles were Shakespearean: Viola in ‘Twelfth Night’, Portia in the ‘Merchant of Venice’, and Rosalind in ‘As you like it’, performed at Stratford-upon-Avon. The greatest triumph of her career came when she was 31, playing Katharina in the ‘Taming of the shrew’ for the opening (29 May 1888) of Daly's Gaiety Theatre, Leicester Square, London. From 1879 to 1899 she was the most loved actress of the New York stage, exceeded in the English-speaking world only by Ellen Terry (1847–1928). From this acclaim she suffered a precipitous fall, when the arch and artificial style of her and Daly's comedy fell out of fashion. Her last public appearance was in May 1905. Although a semi-invalid in later years, she lived in affluent comfort from astute investments, and divided her time between England and New York City, where she died 8 January 1916. She never married and bore no children.
William Winter, Ada Rehan, a study (fascs, 1891–8) (photos); Forrest Izard, Heroines of the modern stage (1915); Dewitt Bodeen, ‘Ada Rehan, Trilby from Limerick’, Ladies of the footlight (1937), 49–55; Phyllis Hartnoll (ed.), The Oxford companion to the theatre (3rd ed., 1967); Aileen Alana Hendricks-Wenck, ‘Ada Rehan: American actress (1857–1916)’ (Ph.D. disssertation, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1988)