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What Every Woman Knows is the title of a four-act play written by J. M. Barrie. The show debuted at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on September 3, 1908. It ran for 384 performances. It transferred to the Hicks Theatre on December 1, 1908. It was first produced in America by Charles Frohman in 1908 on Broadway, at the Empire Theatre in New York Citymarker, and starred Maude Adams and Richard Bennett. The play was later adapted into a 1934 film starring Helen Hayes and Brian Aherne. Written before universal suffrage in a time when women were still legally considered the property of their fathers or husbands, the play posits that "every woman knows" she is the invisible power responsible for the successes of the men in her life.

Original Broadway cast


The Wylies, a well-to-do but uneducated Scottish family, are concerned about their daughter, Maggie, a woman who has no charm (meaning she is not sexually attractive) and may therefore never be married. One night the Wylies discover that a serious young university student, John Shand, has been breaking into their home so that he can read books from their large library. Shand is penniless and cannot afford to buy books for his law school education. Maggie Wylie and John Shand come to an understanding: that her family will fund his education if, at the end of five years, he agrees to marry her.

John honors his commitment to Maggie, marrying her although he does not love her. Recognizing her husband's ambition to become a Member of Parliament, Maggie quietly uses her intelligence and her connections behind the scenes to get John elected. She continues to foster his career, never allowing him to see that she is the power behind his rise to fame.

Eventually John begins to believe that his wife is too plain for a man of his stature and position, and he takes up with Lady Sybil Tenterden, a beautiful, refined and high-born young Englishwoman. But Maggie is not that easily put away, and she has plans of her own to get her husband back.

History of the production

What Every Woman Knows was popular on Broadway, enjoying 198 performances during its first run. It has been revived numerous times since throughout the English-speaking world. In 1976, actress Fran Brill was awarded the Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of Maggie Wylie.


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