Dakota Datebook

Rose Thompson Hovick

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


In the late nineteenth century, Wahpeton was a thriving but sleepy little community nestled on the bank of the Red River. Steeped in the morals and traditions of the Norwegian and Bohemian families that settled there, it hardly seems like an insignificant local event would eventually have a major impact on theatrical stages across the nation. Occasionally, a traveling theater troupe would perform wholesome productions at the schoolhouse or at the Wahpeton Opera House, but lying deep in a North Dakota version of the Bible Belt, it was far from the Vaudeville and Burlesque theaters found in the larger cities across the United States.


So, on this date in 1891, few realized the implications of an announcement in the Richland County Gazette that stated, “Born, On Monday, Aug. 31, 1891, in Wahpeton, to Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Thompson, a daughter.” Charles Thompson worked for the Great Northern Railroad, and his wife, Anna was an excellent seamstress. The new arrival to the family was named Rose.


Railroad employees often found themselves moving up and down the railroad line due to promotions or manpower changes, so it wasn’t long before Charles Thompson and family were living in Seattle. That’s where Rose grew up, attended a convent school and acquired an interest in the performing arts. She married Jack Hovick at the young age of sixteen, basically ending any career for herself in the theater. A daughter, Rose Louise Hovick was born in 1911, soon followed by a sister, June, a few years later.


It was the love of the theater that prompted Rose to encourage Rose Louise and June to enter the world of show business. Rose Louise, who went by her middle name, failed to show any talent, but June showed promise in an act known as “Madam Rose Presents Dainty June and the Newsboy Songsters.” So, Rose and the children began playing in Vaudeville and traveling the Orpheum Circuit. When June married and left her mother and sister, Rose developed another company, “Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes.” However, it was in the field of burlesque, under the name Gypsy Rose Lee that Louise would find fame. Her memoirs became the basis for the hit musical, Gyspy, and, as Carolyn Quinn penned in her book, “Mama Rose’s Turn,” Rose Thompson Hovick became renowned as America’s most notorious stage mother.


Madame Rose Thompson Hovick, who valiantly fought for the careers of her daughters all her life, failed to win a battle with cancer and died in New York in 1954, far from her humble beginning in the Red River Valley of North Dakota.


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Richland County Gazette September 4, 1891

Gypsy Rose Lee by Katherine K. Beck, 2004, http://www.gypsyroselee.net/about%20grl.html


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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