Mary Jane Hagerman Robinson
Mary Jane Hagerman Robinson (1823-1892)
Mary Jane Hagerman, born on 7 June 1823, was the daughter of Judge Christopher Alexander Hagerman and Elizabeth Macaulay of Toronto. She was known, within elite circles of Toronto, for her exquisite voice. She had an extraordinary stage presence and her singing was known to move an audience to tears. Mary Jane desired to be a professional singer, but her status as a Victorian era wife limited her scope of employment. Her marriage in 1847, to John Beverley Robinson Jr., Mayor of Toronto in 1856, meant a more traditional matriarchal role.
Her one attempt at a professional career, as a married woman, was deemed a social scandal. In March 1852, Mary Jane travelled to Buffalo, NY and sang under the stage name of “Madame Beverley”. This caused quite a scandal in Toronto social circles and Mrs. John Beverley Robinson was considered, at best, a flighty, eccentric wife. After this social faux pas Mary Jane stepped out of the limelight.
After an almost two year hiatus, Mary Jane settled for the next best thing and became a public performer at charitable concerts starting in 1854. Singing for charity was a socially acceptable form of performance at the time, and for another seventeen years Mary Jane fulfilled her joy of singing as a “Lady Amateur”.
John and Mary Jane had five children: John Beverley Robinson III, Strachan Napier Robinson, Christopher Conway Robinson, Minnie Caroline Robinson, and Augusta Louise Robinson. Their youngest daughter Augusta was also blessed with a beautiful voice and Mary Jane championed her towards a singing career. It took much convincing, from Mary Jane, for Mr. Robinson to agree to Augusta’s chosen career but eventually he was compliant, and Augusta sang throughout Europe and Canada.
From 1880-1887, John Beverley Robinson was the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Mary Jane and Augusta frequently hosted concerts, with Augusta singing, at Government House on Simcoe Street. This was the third Government House built and John and Mary Jane were the first residents of the beautiful three story red brick home. It was demolished in 1915.
Mary Jane died on 19 January 1892 after a three week bout with pneumonia. She was 68 years old.
Mary Jane received UPEI's Provenance copy of Domesticus. A Tale of the Imperial City by William Allen Butler, in April 1886. The inscription reads:
Mrs John Beverley Robinson, with the respected regards of Erastus Wiman. N.Y. April 1886.
Mary Jane’s husband, John, was still the Lieutenant Governor at the time. Erastus Wiman was a Canadian businessman, developer, and living in New York.
Guiguet, Kristina Marie. “Singing Tight Her Chains,” in The Ideal World of Mrs. Widder’s Soiree Musicale. Social Identity and Musical Life in Nineteenth-Century Ontario, 83-99. Gatineau: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2004.