Oriska Worden: From the Sanitarium to the Stage

Oriska Worden (1868-?) was one of those who but dabbled in the vaudeville circuits, being more a creature of the legit and opera stages.

A product of the post Civil War baby boom, she was the daughter of Dr. Mattie Elna Warman Haverfield, a female physician and orthopedic surgeon, at a time when those were rare, needless to say. Elna’s skills may have been handy in treating her husband, George Haverfield, who’d been permanently maimed in the war. The name “Oriska”, like the tiny North Dakota town, is apparently derived from a character in a poem by writer Lydia Sigourney, one of the most popular authors of the mid-late 19th century (stay tuned for a post about HER in a couple of months).

Elna seems to have had a thing for military men. When Haverfield died in 1886, she married army Lt. Colonel Frederick Worden, brother of Admiral John Lorimer Worden, notable for his role in the Battle of Hampton Roads, the world’s first naval skirmish between ironclad vessels.

The family moved to Michigan, for that is where Elan ran a sanitarium and physical culture school, and where Oriska attended Michigan State Normal Conservatory of Music. She graduated in 1892, and that same year married wealthy socialite Charles W. Glover. The marriage was not sanctioned by Glover’s parents, however, and when Oriska traveled to study voice in Paris, the pair separated, getting divorced in 1895. Learn about the Glover family here.

One of Oriska’s singing teachers was Jacques Bouhy, the first singer to perform “The Torreador Song” in the original production of Carmen in 1875.) Upon her return from Europe, Worden toured with local opera and stock companies for several years, becoming enough of a star that she was called upon model and endorse products in the newspaper. She appeared in two Broadway shows, The Supper Club (1901) with George Fuller Golden, John W. Ransome, Bessie Wynn, and Lillian Bond; and My Lady Mollie (1904) with Vesta Tilley, Adele Ritchie, Sydney Deane, et al. After this she toured regionally in musical theatre and vaudeville through circa 1908, at which time she hung out her shingle as a voice teacher.

In 1915 she sold her 240 acre Michigan estate and its 12 room manor house, presumably living handsomely off the proceeds to the end of her days, although no one seems to know when or where that was. We welcome any intel as to her last years.

For more on the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous