Mary Ann Holmes was born in 1802 to Robert and Sarah Holmes. Her father was a seedsman and owned a plant nursery in Lambeth, a borough in South London. It is often written that Mary Ann was a flower girl, selling flowers in front of the London theaters like Eliza Doolittle from the play Pygmalion. It is uncertain how truthful this claim is. Most flower girls of the day were orphans who lived on the street or the product of neglectful parents. Some even used the guise of selling flowers as a front for prostitution. Given that Mary Ann’s father seemed to be moderately successful in his business it seems more likely that Mary Ann assisted her father in his nursery and that the term “flower girl” is a bit misleading.
When and how Mary Ann Holmes met Junius Brutus Booth is also a bit of a mystery. On Junius Brutus Booth’s account book for 1820, someone (likely his daughter Asia) marked an X on October 9, 1820 and wrote, “The night mother first saw my father”. Junius played King Lear that night in Reading, a city some 35 miles away from London. Why Mary Ann would have been so far from her London home that night is unknown, but it is possible that the Holmeses had relatives in Reading. Junius was still married to his first wife Adelaide and had a son at this point, but he found himself quickly smitten by the 18 year-old Mary Ann. She found herself being wooed by the 24 year-old actor who sent her constant letters and books by the poet Lord Byron. Their courtship was brief and in January of 1821, the couple ran away together. They first spent time visiting two cities in Northern France. They then returned to England and set sail for the islands of the Caribbean, where Junius would tour. On route the boat stopped at the Island of Madeira, a Portuguese territory off the coast of Morocco. The couple fell in love with the island and stayed there for several weeks. When they decided to leave they booked passage on the schooner “Two Brothers” and this time their destination had changed. When they got off the boat on June 30, 1831, Junius Brutus Booth and Mary Ann Holmes were in America.
In America, Mary Ann gave birth to ten children, spanning a theatrical dynasty. For over 54 years she witnessed her family’s immense success and incomprehensible tragedies. She outlived her husband by over 30 years and buried six of her children.
Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus by Stephen M. Archer
“Mary Ann Doolittle? The “Flower Girl” Myth of the Booths’ Mother” by Deirdre Barber Kincaid, Surratt Courier, March 2004