Annie Hindle: celebrated male impersonator

Sorcha Sanouillet

Photograph. Annie Hindle. No date. Unknown photographer. Times Union, Brooklyn, New York. Saturday, July 23, 1910, p. 7. : accessed 11 November 2022.

Annie Hindle (c.1844 – after 1904)

Annie Hindle was an extraordinary woman. She was also an extraordinary man. For many years she made her living mainly as a male impersonator to the delight of audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Annie may have been a  lesbian woman or identified as what we today would recognise as gender fluid or transgender.

Elusive origins

Who was Annie Hindle? An 1891 newspaper report from America, where Annie developed a successful stage career from 1868, suggested that she had been born in ‘the Potteries of Hertfordshire’ and adopted by a woman called Ann Hindle. Searches of births and census records from the mid 19th century don’t reveal any firm evidence that she was born in Hertfordshire but there is an 1861 census record from Birkenhead in Cheshire of an Annie Hindle, aged 17, with an Ann Hindle, aged 34, and Emily Hindle, aged 5. The older Ann Hindle is unmarried, and this might suggest that both Annie and Emily may have been her illegitimate children. All three were recorded as having been born in Prescot, Lancashire. Further searches failed to confirm this, but the prevalence of the name Hindle in Lancashire at this time makes it possibly a more likely birthplace for Annie Hindle than Hertfordshire.

Theatrical career takes off

What is certain is that by March 1864 Annie had already made her debut as a professional variety artist on the circuit in Britain, and we know this because she took out an advert in the theatrical trade paper, The Era, in which she described herself as a ‘Great Serio-Comic and Impersonator of Male Characters’. By this time, she was probably in her late teens. The address she gives is the Hall Inn Music Hall, Burnley. A little later that month she moved on to ‘Mr Arnott’s’ in Yarm Lane, Stockton on Tees.

From 1866 she appears buried in the list of performers on the bills of various music halls in London and the south, including the Royal Cambridge Music Hall in Shoreditch and the Philharmonic Hall in Ramsgate. By 1867 she found star billing as ‘Champagne Charlie’ at the Canterbury Music Hall in Sheffield, and was so well received at the Vauxhall Gardens, Ipswich, that she was noted as being engaged for ‘six nights longer’. Clearly her career was taking off and audiences loved her.

Although barely into her 20s, Annie obviously had ambition and in 1868 she travelled to America with her mother Ann, arriving in New York in August of that year. The ship’s passenger manifest lists them as Ann Hindle, 40, and Annie Hindle, 21.

Moves to America

Annie lost no time in establishing herself on the music hall circuit in the United States. In February 1869 a theatre review from a Memphis, Tennessee newspaper noted her ‘lively and peculiar genius’ and predicted that she ‘will become a great favorite’. By December 1869 she was performing on the bill of the Theatre Comique on Broadway in New York, which seated ‘3000 persons’. One reviewer described her as ‘pretty and manly, yet feminine’ and another noted ‘the sweetness of her voice’ and ‘really excellent character singing’.

In a very competitive market, Annie’s reputation grew and she was often referred to as ‘The Great Annie Hindle’. As well as singing, her act was chiefly notable for the astonishing accuracy of her male character sketches and she became famous for her costume and character changes ‘with the rapidity of lightening’. Her most popular characters were upper class London ‘swells’.

From this point on, Annie can be traced for over 30 years in adverts and theatre reviews in America and England. As well as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, she appeared in Tennessee, Louisiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Nevada, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. In 1876 she returned to England and spent the next couple of years appearing on the stage in London, but by 1878 she was back again touring in the United States. She was even part of a brief tour by US and English variety artists to Havana, Cuba, in 1879.

Annie’s reputation meant that, as well as always appearing to be in work, she could command high fees – there were wild rumours of $1000 a week and in 1897 a newspaper article even mentioned the sum of $2000. But, even more unusually for a woman performer, it was reported in 1875 that Annie had become the ‘sole proprietress and manageress’ of the Grand Central Theatre, Cincinnati. Annie was recorded in a Cincinnati street directory in 1872, so she may have made the city her base from around this time.

Becomes Charles Hindle

Late in her career Annie increasingly came to the attention of the press because of her private life. In 1880 she was mentioned in the obituary of Charles Vivian, another English music hall performer who also found fame in the United States. Annie was said to have married him in early September of 1868 in Philadelphia, barely a month after she arrived in New York, but the marriage appears to have been very brief.

In June 1886 newspapers across America carried the story that while appearing at Smith’s Variety Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Annie married a woman – Annie Ryan, her dresser – taking the name Charles E Hindle. The marriage record confirms this and notes the groom’s profession as actor and birthplace as London, England. This caused much discussion and confusion in the press about whether Annie was in fact a man. While Annie continued her successful career as ‘Miss Annie Hindle’, the couple lived as Charles and Annie Hindle in a house in Jersey City, which she is said to have bought with the proceeds of her theatrical earnings. Charles Hindle is recorded in the Jersey City directories from 1889 to 1991, first as ‘actor’ then as ‘salesman’.

Public speculation as to her gender doesn’t seem to have concerned Annie unduly because in 1892, after the death of Annie Ryan Hindle, she married Louise Spangehl in Troy, New York. Again, the marriage index notes the groom’s name as Charles E Hindle. Annie may have been using her skills as a male impersonator to get around marriage laws which did not allow same-sex marriages, or the fact that she seems to have continued to live under her male name for the last years of her life could suggest that she identified as what we today would recognise as gender fluid or transgender.

In later years

Annie appears to have continued her connection with Cincinnati, where Charles Hindle, actor, is recorded in the City directory of 1898, in spite of press reports the previous year of her imminent demise. In 1904 the Dayton Daily News (Ohio) advertised her appearance at the ‘Odeon Theater’. After that she seems to have dropped out of sight and there was a later suggestion in the American press that she subsequently retired to England. However, searches have failed to turn up any confirmed records for either Annie Hindle or Charles Hindle after 1904.

For years after she had ceased performing, the public remembered Annie Hindle with admiration and although she spawned many imitators, like Ella Wesner, one American reviewer summed her up by declaring that, as a male impersonator, ‘she stands unequaled by any artist either in Europe or America’.


Ancestry. : accessed November 2022

The British Newspaper Archive. : accessed November 2022 : accessed November 2022

Library of Congress. Chronicling America. : accessed November 2022




This page was added on 03/02/2023.

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