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Fri, 09.12.1873

Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Actress born

Madame Sul-T-Wan

Madame Sul-Te-Wan, a Black actress, was born on this date in 1873.

Born in Louisville, KY, her real name was Nellie Conley. Young Conley helped her widowed mother, a washerwoman who worked for actresses. She delivered laundry to stars at the stage door and was often allowed inside to see the shows. The following day she would rehearse the act at school in front of classmates, avowing that she too would be an actress someday.

She was the first Black woman contracted to appear in one of the most controversial films in American Cinematic history, "Birth of a Nation."  She played the historical figure Tituba, the powerful, misunderstood victim of the Salem witch-hunts in "Maid of Salem" (1937).

For over 50 years Wan played in a number of silent films and many award-winning features as well. Some of them include: "Tarzan and the Trappers" (1958) "Witch Woman," "Carmen Jones" (1954) (unaccredited) "Carmen's Grandma," "Sullivan’s Travels" (1942) (unaccredited) "Church Organist," "Maryland" (1940), "Naomi" "Tell No Tales" (1939) (unaccredited), "Jim Alley's Mother," "In Old Chicago" (1937), "Hattie," "King Kong" (1933) (uncredited), "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1927) (unaccredited), "Slave," "Birth of a Nation," (1915), (unaccredited), and "A Black Woman."

Other films were "Rhapsody in Blue" (1945), "Mighty Joe Young" (1949), "Carmen Jones" (1954), "Something of Value" (1957), "The Buccaneer" (1958), and "Porgy and Bess" (1959).

After a stage and film career of over 70 years, Madame Sul-Te-Wan died on Feb 1st, 1959.

To become an Actor or Actress


The Ghost Walks:
A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business 1865-1910
Henry T. Sampson
Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ., 1988)

Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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