May Yohé

May Yohé
May Yohé

Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894
Born Mary Augusta Yohé
6 April 1866(1866-04-06)
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania U.S.
Died 29 August 1938(1938-08-29) (aged 72)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Musical Actress
Spouse Lord Francis Hope
Putnam Bradlee Strong
John A. Smuts

Mary Augusta "May" Yohé (April 6, 1866[1] – August 29, 1938) was an American musical theatre actress. After beginning her career with the McCaull Comic Opera Company in 1886 in New York and Chicago, and after other performing in the United States, she quickly gained success on the London stage beginning in 1893. The following year, in London, she created the title role in the hit show Little Christopher Columbus.

In 1894, she married Lord Francis Hope and possessed the Hope Diamond. She nevertheless continued to perform in musical theatre in the West End and then the U.S. She divorced Hope in 1902 and married a series of adventurous, but financially unsuccessful, men. She performed in music hall and vaudeville on the West Coast and in various other places in the U.S. in the early decades of the 20th century, but she was frequently in financial jeopardy. By 1924, she and her last husband, John Smuts, had settled in Boston, where she died in near poverty.


Early Years

Mary Yohé was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William W. and Elizabeth (nee Batcheller) Yohé. Her father, a veteran of the American Civil War, was either the son or nephew of Caleb Yohé, proprietor of the Eagle Hotel, where Yohé was brought into this world. William Yohé was locally famous for the elaborate miniature village scenes he would construct on the hotel grounds and was especially popular for his annual Christmas putz.[2] Yohé’s mother, a descendent of the Narragansett, was a talented dressmaker, who according to Yohé had a clientele in Philadelphia that included many famous theater people of the day.[3][4] As a young girl Yohé entertained the Eagle's guests by dancing and singing in the hotel lobby and recounting childhood stories. What became of her father is unclear. In 1878 he applied for a US Passport with plans to travel to Brazil while family lore has him dying in Colorado or Montana around 1885.[5] At around the age of ten, Yohé was sent to Europe for a refined education, studying in Dresden and later at the Convent of the Sacré Coeur in Paris.[6][7][8]


Childhood photographs - The Strand Magazine, 1895

Yohé began her career as a soprano, but within a short while her voice lowered into a contralto that was described as peculiar.[9] She debuted as May Yohé (May derived from her initials)[10] in January 1886 with the McCaull Comic Opera Company as Dilly Dimple in "The Little Tycoon," a comic opera by Willard Spencer, presented at Temple Theatre in Philadelphia[11] and in March of that year at the Standard Theatre in New York.[12][13] In March 1887, she appeared in McCaull's Broadway production of Lorraine, composed by Rudolph Dellinger to a libretto by Oscar Walther, which was adapted in English by William J. Henderson.[14] She then played in the same production at the Chicago Opera House. In that production, she sang the following song with much success:[15][16][17]

Every Flower that Blooms so Fair
Every Birdlet that Beats the Air
Has Heard of thy Beauty Rare
Thy Beauty Beyond Compare

The song remained popular in the Chicago area for several years.[15] Later in 1887, with McCaull at the Chicago Opera House, she sang "Bid Me Good-By and Go" in the musical comedy Natural Gas by Henry Grattan Donnelly.[18] Yohé's unique vocal quality attracted the attention of the manager of the Chicago Opera House, and she was engaged to play princess Zal-Am-Boo in Alfred Thompson's extravaganza Arabian Nights, which premiered on June 2, 1887.[19][20] The following year, she appeared in The Crystal Slipper: or Prince Pretliwittz and Little Cinderella, also at the Chicago Opera House.[9][21] In 1888, on the weekend that preceded the Fourth of July, Yohé travelled to Cleveland, Ohio in the company of Edward Shaw, the son of W. W. Shaw, a major stockholder in the Chicago Opera House. She missed at least two performances before returning. Shaw’s young wife filed for divorce a week later.[9][22] She subsequently toured in America and abroad with George Lederer's Players in the farce comedy U & I and as Celia Cliquot in Hoss and Hoss, both in 1891.[23]

In 1893, Yohé made her London debut as Martina in The Magic Opal by Isaac Albéniz, and the following year she played the title character in the musical The Lady Slavey, composed by by Gustave Adolph Kerker, with a book by Sir George Dance, in which she sang “What’s a Poor Girl to Do”.[24] She starred as the title character in the 1894 hit burlesque Little Christopher Columbus. In an interview, Yohé said the music, "had to be specially written for me – crammed so to speak, into my voice’s shrunken circumference."[25] While in London, she became a favorite of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).[4]

The next year she played the title role in the comic opera Dandy Dick Whittington, at the Avenue Theatre, written by George Robert Sims and composed by Ivan Caryll.[26] The next year, she played the title role in the musical The Belle of Cairo at the Royal Court Theatre in London.[27] She later returned twice to Broadway. She was Lady Muriel Despair in the musical The Giddy Throng (1900–01) and appeared in the brief revival of the revue Mamzelle Champagne in 1906.[14] That same year at the Knickerbocker Theatre in New York, Yohé appeared in Mlle. Nitouche, a piece that she had produced a decade or so earlier at the Royal Court Theatre and at the Duke of York's Theatre (then the Trafalgar Square Theatre) in London.[28][29][30]

Marriages: 1893–1914

Yohé had several interesting marriages, beginning in 1893.[31][32] The following is transcribed from a 1908 article:

...Miss May Yohé, ex-musical-comedy star and ex-duchess-presumptive, is, to earn her daily bread, reduced almost to the lowest depths. She is now giving nightly a song and dance turn in a cheap music hall in Sacramento, California. In the early 'nineties, rather pretty, beautifully made, and possessed of two most valuable assets, a fine voice and unlimited assurance, May Yohé came to London, and in a very short time had won front place in a musical-comedy chorus. In Little Christopher Columbus her singing of "Oh, honey, ma honey," took the town by storm, and brought to her feet one of the greatest parlis [sic] of the day, Lord Francis Hope, brother and heir of the Duke of Newcastle, the owner of a vast, but already half-dissipated fortune, and of Deepdene (an English estate).
Love, Marriage, and Divorce

Their marriage took place quietly at a suburban registry office in [November] 1894. Already Lord Francis had been a bankrupt, but a year after the marriage his remaining wealth, his lands, the famous Hope diamond, and all his pictures and heirlooms were frittered away by the combined efforts of the young couple. Pecuniary troubles, however, embarrassed the two but slightly. A future Duke and Duchess can always beg or borrow, and they did. In 1900 they made a tour of the world, and on their way home fell in with Captain [Putnam] Bradlee Strong,[33] at that time one of the handsomest and most popular men in the United States Army, and a special favorite with President McKinley. The actress fell head over ears in love with him. She refused to return to England with Lord Francis, and, after he had divorced her [in 1902], married the Captain in San Francisco.

The Second Marriage

The second marriage turned out even more disastrously than the first. The pair quarreled from the beginning, and there was never any money. The woman had renounced the certainty of becoming a duchess for the man, and the man had renounced family, fame, and friends for the woman. Only a very great and very unselfish love could have survived all that, and theirs was neither. In 1902, Mrs. Strong announced to the newspapers that her husband had decamped with £20,000 worth of her jewelery. A few days later, Captain Strong arrived in London, heard with surprise, and denied with disgust, his wife's preposterous story. She followed him to London, and a sort of reconciliation was effected.

The Return to the Stage?
On their return to America the two went on the music-hall stage together. But May Yohé's star had long since waned, the public taste had altered, and the gallant Captain was not a histrionic genius. Very soon he, too, became bankrupt, and in 1905 sued for, and obtained, a divorce from the woman who had caused his downfall. For a time May Yohé was forgotten, but a year ago it was announced that she had married Mr. Newton Brown, a friend of her childhood, and described by his bride as "still the same lovely boy."[34]

Contemporaneous New York Times articles, while presenting facts that vary in some details from this account, confirm most of the facts in this article.[35] One notes that Hope settled claims against him by Yohé for $5,000.[36]

Lord Francis Hope

Yohé in On and Off 1894

According to May Yohé she was first introduced to Francis Hope at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York sometime before she came to England in the early 1890s.[37] The couple continued their acquaintance in England and were often seen together at fashionable night spots around London.[38] On March 30, 1894 Burke's Peerage announced the wedding of Lord Francis Hope and May Yohé.[39] It was later reported in the press that the wedding took place on November 27, 1893 at Hampstead Parrish in London.[40] Press reports at the time claimed Hope’s family offered him around £200,000 to call off the engagement. Later, in June, 1894, The New York Times reported that Lord Hope had filed for bankruptcy with liabilities amounting to £405,277 and assets £194,042.[41] At the time of her marriage to Francis Hope, there had been vague reports in the press implying she had been married twice before: first, in San Francisco to the son of a General Williams, and next in Massachusetts to a local politician.[42]

Major Putnam Bradlee Strong

She met Major Putnam Bradlee Strong early in 1901 on the last leg of their world trip. In July of that year, Strong, who had served as Assistant Adjutant General in the Philippines, resigned his commission once it was reported in the press that he had been asked to leave by the manager of the California Hotel in San Francisco where the couple registered as H. L. Hastings and wife.[43][44] Later the two sailed to Japan where they would spend a number of months living together in Yokohama.[45][46]

The following year Francis Hope would lose a foot to a hunting accident, divorce his wife[47] and be forced once again to declare bankruptcy.[48] Even though Major Strong had resigned his commission some months earlier, the War Department in Washington D.C. announced on March 22, 1902, the same day of Yohé’s divorce, his nomination for promotion to lieutenant colonel by brevet for his service in the Philippines.[49]

On April, 1902 they returned to America to live with Yohé’s mother at her residence in Hastings-on-Hudson. Three months later Yohé would accuse Strong of running off with her jewelry worth many thousands of dollars.[50] With the financial assistance of Strong’s family Yohé later reconciled with “Putty” while both were in Europe. A few months later, once her divorce decree from Hope was made absolute, they married in Buenos Ayres on October 3, 1902.[51]

Strong later joined his wife on the vaudeville stage. In 1905 he declared bankruptcy, even though he and his wife were making $750 a week as entertainers.[52] That December Yohé filed for divorce claiming desertion.[53] Strong, who reportedly was living in Macau after their divorce, died in New York in 1945 at the age of 70.[54] In 1913 the press reported that Yohé and Francis Hope were reconciling. Hope declared the story to be preposterous.[55]

Brief Relationships

Yohé married Newton Brown, a New York journalist with theater connections, in April 1907.[56][57] Their union would prove to be short-lived, for in May of 1909 a San Francisco newspaper reported that Yohé had given up for adoption a baby boy she had with a new husband, a British Columbia miner by the name of Murphy. The child was reportedly born in September 1908, at Portland, Oregon, where Yohé had been living in seclusion. In May of the following year the boy was adopted by Edward R. Thomas, owner of the Perkins Hotel Pharmacy, and his wife Rosa. The adoption consent was signed "Mary A. Strong".[58][59][60] In the mid-1930s, an actor named Robert Thomas, the adopted son of Edward and Rosa, tried in vain to prove that his birth father was Putnam Bradlee Strong. Yohé adamantly rejected his claim not only that Strong was his father, but that she was his mother.[61] Had Thomas been successful, he would have been eligible for a share in a large trust fund set up by Strong’s mother.[62]

About 1910, Yohé purchased a run-down boarding house in Seattle, Washington, which she ran for a few months before press reports in December, 1910 announced that she had earlier in the month married musician Frank M. Reynolds in Seattle.[63] Reynolds was the son of an Upstate New York college professor, who soon claimed he’d received a letter from his son refuting the story.[64]

In September, 1911 Yohé denied she planned to wed former lightweight champion boxer Jack McAuliffe, who at the time was her partner at a 10¢ movie house in New York performing vaudeville skits between movie screenings.[65][66] The following month Yohé was reported to be in Chicago living "in dire penury, almost starvation" with her husband Jack McAuliffe.[67][68]

Captain John Smuts

Advertisement for In Silk Attire, 1921

Around 1914, in London or possibly South Africa, May Yohé married Captain John Addey Smuts,[69][70] a South African-born retired British army officer[71][72] and cousin of general Jan Smuts.[73][31] Over the early years of their marriage, the two traveled to Singapore, India, China and Japan,[74] eventually settling in South Africa. In the waning months of the First World War, it was reported that Yohé planned to accompany her husband to France, where he intended to serve on the front lines while she would serve as a Red Cross nurse.[75] Smuts was unable to secure a military commission, and within a few months the two moved to Seattle, Washington, where Smuts found shipyard work. Soon after, he contracted influenza, leaving Yohé to seek employment as a housekeeper at the apartment house where they were living.[76] In 1919, Yohé, was back in vaudeville, meeting with modest success.[77]

In the early 1920s, after auctioning off some valuable possessions and a South American trip,[78] Yohé and her husband toured the vaudeville circuit in the U.S. with an act based on the less-than-successful 1921 movie serial The Hope Diamond Mystery, which she helped write and promote.[79] Later they invested in a California ranch. This venture failed and they soon returned to vaudeville, though this time with less success. They lost the remainder of their savings in a failed farming venture in New Hampshire. By 1924, the couple had settled in Boston, where John Smuts found work as a janitor.[80][81] In November of 1924, Capt Smuts was shot in the chest at their Boston residence. The wound was not serious and he soon recovered. Smuts maintained that he was cleaning a gun when it accidentally discharged. He refused to explain to the investigators the mysterious suicide note they recovered, written in two different handwriting styles.[82]


In 1938, Yohé applied for a $16.50-a-week clerical job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Boston. Her husband’s health was failing and she needed the income for his care. Initially, Yohé was turned down because she had given up her U.S. citizenship in the 1890s when she married Francis Hope. She applied to regain her citizenship and several weeks later, in May 1938, was given the job she had applied for.[83][4] Not long afterward, on August 29, 1938, she died in Boston of heart and kidney disease.[31] Three thousand people attended her service, including Robert Thomas.[84] At the time of her death, Yohé’s most prized possession was a large photograph of Edward VII, taken while he was still the Prince of Wales, and signed “To May, 1898".[84] A few days after her funeral, John Smuts followed his wife's final wish and sprinkled her ashes into the Atlantic Ocean. He died in Boston of a heart attack a few months later, on January 11, 1939.[80]

The Hartford Courant, in their obituary, quoted Yohé as follows: "I’ve done pretty nearly everything in my life, except theft and murder, but thank God, whatever I’ve done my heart's been in it."[81]


  1. ^ Her birth year is often given as 1869, but public records show that the event actually occurred in 1866. See: U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes, 1794–1995, for Mary Augusta Smuts (; and 1870 U.S. Census Records
  2. ^ Historical sketch of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania By John Hill Martin
  3. ^ The mystery of the Hope diamond By Henry Leyford Gates – 1921 - p. 75
  4. ^ a b c "The Strange Case of WPA Clerk Who Owned the Hope Diamond", Life magazine, May 23, 1938, p. 39
  5. ^ William W. Yohe U.S. Passport Applications 25 April 25, 1878
  6. ^ Newnes, George. The Strand Magazine, Vol. 10, July–December, 1895
  7. ^ Gänzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, Schirmer, 2001
  8. ^ Crain, Mary Beth. Haunted Christmas: Yuletide Ghosts and Other Spooky Holiday Happenings, p. 12, Morris Books, 2010
  9. ^ a b c The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), July 4, 1888, Issue 105, col. F
  10. ^ Metcalfe, Cranstoun. Peeresses of the Stage, A. Melrose, 1913
  11. ^ The Daily Democratic Times, Lima, Ohio, January 8, 1886, p. 7
  12. ^ The New York Times, March 22, 1886, p. 7
  13. ^ The New York Times, March 30, 1886
  14. ^ a b May Yohe at the IBDB Broadway database, accessed September 22, 2011
  15. ^ a b The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 4, 1887, Issue 102, p. 4, col. A
  16. ^ Hyde Park Herald, Vol. VII, April 8, 1887, p. 8
  17. ^ Who's Who on the Stage, Vol. 1, edited by Walter Browne and Frederick Arnold, Austin 1908, p. 127
  18. ^ The World (New York), July 9, 1887, p. 3
  19. ^ The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), May 29, 1887, Issue 66, p. 16, col A
  20. ^ The Otego Witness, October 12, 1894, p. 37
  21. ^ Folio, vol. 34, p. 87
  22. ^ Galveston Daily News, July 13, 1888, p. 5
  23. ^ Gänzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, Schirmer, 2001, p. 2241
  24. ^ Johnson, Colin. The Lady Slavey,, accessed September 21, 2011
  25. ^ "35 Actresses", Interviewed by "The Call Boy", On and off, 1894, p. 44
  26. ^ Adams, William Davenport. A Dictionary of the Drama: a Guide to the Plays, Playwrights, Vol. 1, pp. 374–75, Chatto & Windus, 1904
  27. ^ Adams, William Davenport. A Dictionary of the Drama: a Guide to the Plays, Playwrights, Vol. 1, p. 624, Chatto & Windus, 1904
  28. ^ "Divorces Adopted the Stage", The Washington Post, September 6, 1906
  29. ^ Baker, Henry Barton. History of the London Stage and its Famous Players (1576–1903) (1904), p. 557
  30. ^ Bernard Shaw, George. "Some Other Critics", The Saturday Review, June 20, 1896, p. 623, accessed September 28, 2011
  31. ^ a b c Yohé's obituary notice, Milestones, Time Magazine, September 5, 1938, accessed September 21, 2011
  32. ^ Fowler, Marian. Hope Adventures of a Diamond, Pocket, 2004
  33. ^ Strong was the son of New York City Mayor William Lafayette Strong (1895–1897)
  34. ^ Bystander magazine, January 1, 1908, p. 11.
  35. ^ See, e.g., "Major Strong Accused of Grand Larceny", The New York Times, July 22, 1902, accessed September 27, 2011; "Strong Marries May Yohe", The New York Times, October 5, 1902, accessed September 27, 2011; and "P. B. Strong a Bankrupt", The New York Times, June 13, 1905, accessed September 27, 2011
  36. ^ "May Yohe Gets $5,000", The New York Times, January 16, 1903, accessed September 27, 2011
  37. ^ The mystery of the Hope diamond By Henry Leyford Gates – 1921 - p. 83
  38. ^ The Milwaukee Sentinel - January 13, 1895; p. 4
  39. ^ General Summery - Otago (New Zealand) Witness - 3 May 1894 p. 18
  40. ^ The Milwaukee Sentinel - January 13, 1895; p. 4
  41. ^ An Anti-English Cabinet - The New York Time June 3, 1894 p.
  42. ^ The Milwaukee Sentinel - January 13, 1895; p. 4
  43. ^ San Francisco Excited – The New York Times – July 13, 1901
  44. ^ May Yohe and the Captain - Dubuque Daily Telegraph - Jul 15, 1901 p. 1
  45. ^ The mystery of the Hope diamond By Henry Leyford Gates – 1921 - p. 83
  46. ^ Says He Will Wed Lady Hope The Philadelphia Record - Aug 29, 1901 p. 1
  47. ^ Lady Francis Hope Divorced – The New York Times – March 22, 1902 p. 9
  48. ^ Lord Francis Hope's Bankruptcy - The New York Times April 15, 1902
  49. ^ New Castle News - March 22, 1902 p. 10
  50. ^ Major Strong is Missing – The New York Times - July 20, 1902 – p. 1
  51. ^ Strong And May Yohe Wedded The New York Times October 12, 1902 - p. 4
  52. ^ P.B. Strong A Bankrupt - New York Times - June 13, 1905; p. 2
  53. ^ Putty Romance Ends - The Courier, (Connellsville, Pennsylvania), December 21, 1905 p. 6
  54. ^ Putnam B. Strong Son of Ex-Mayor 70 - New York Times - Nov 17, 1945 p. 17
  55. ^ "Will Not Rewed May Yohe", The New York Times, August 16, 1913, p. 4, accessed September 27, 2011
  56. ^ "May Yohe May Wed", The New York Times, April 26, 1907, p. 9
  57. ^ "Lonely May Yohe Just had to Wed", Logansport Journal, May 1, 1907, p. 6
  58. ^ 1910–1920 U.S. Census Records for Edward R. Thomas (
  59. ^ "Pharmacist Adopts Baby of May Yohe", San Francisco Call, May 10, 1909, p. 1
  60. ^ "Secret Bared, Actor Found to Be May Yohe’s Son", The San Antonio Light, July 5, 1935, p. 33
  61. ^ "Claim of 'Son' Branded False By May Yohe", Oakland Tribune, December 13, 1935, p. 23
  62. ^ The Tonawanda Evening Post, January 11, 1937, p. 2
  63. ^ May Yohe Weds Again - The Washington Post, , December 14, 1910 p. 17
  64. ^ Reynolds Denies He Married May Yohe - Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), December 21, 1910 p. 5
  65. ^ "May Yohe Denies She is to marry Pugilist", San Francisco Call, September 5, 1911, p. 1
  66. ^ May Yohe in Picture Show - Turtle Mountain Star - Sep 7, 1911 p. 2
  67. ^ "From Peeress to Penury", Sandusky Register, December 28, 1911, p. 1
  68. ^ "Woman of a Hundred Loves", Eau Claire Leader, November 26, 1911, p. 7
  69. ^ Photos of Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Smuts, The Fort Wayne News and Sentinel, February 3, 1919, p. 17
  70. ^ he mystery of the Hope diamond By Henry Leyford Gates – 1921 - p. 241
  71. ^ WWI US Draft Registration
  72. ^ UK, Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls, (Dennison's Scouts - South Africa 1899-1902)
  73. ^ The West Australian, January 3, 1925
  74. ^ "Work and Service Is Secret of Joy, Says May Yohe Who’s Hunted it World Over", The Evening Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), December 19, 1918, p. 5
  75. ^ "May Yohe On Way to France",] The Washington Post, July 8, 1918, p. 3
  76. ^ "Actress Now Janitor of Seattle Flat", The Fort Wayne News and Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana), February 3, 1919, p. 17
  77. ^ T. and D. Oakland Tribune, November 18, 1920, p. 5
  78. ^ "May Yohe as Auctioneer", The New York Times, November 12, 1921, accessed September 27, 2011
  79. ^ Fowler, Marian. Hope: Adventures of a Diamond, Diane Publishing Co. (2002) ISBN 0756767040
  80. ^ a b "Captain John Smuts, Veteran of 2 Wars", The New York Times, January 12, 1939, p. 21
  81. ^ a b "May Yohe, Once Stage Queen, Dies", Hartford Courant, August 29, 1938
  82. ^ "Smut’s Cousin Found Wounded, Says Accident", Billings Gazette, November 21, 1924, p. 6
  83. ^ U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes, 1794–1995, for Mary Augusta Smuts (
  84. ^ a b The Lowell Sun, March 30, 1938, p. 3; The Lowell Sun, August 29, 1938, p. 20; The Lowell Sun, September 1, 1938, pp. 2 and 36

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