Category Archives: Women in History

Esther Howland Valentine

Esther Howland – Of Love and Letters

Esther Howland, at age 19, never thought when she received an expensive European paper Valentine from a business associate of her father’s, that she would one day be known as the “Mother of the American Valentine.” 

Esther Howland
mtholyoke.edu

Beautifully decorated with ornate cut-out paper flowers, a lace border, and a small envelope in the center containing a love note, the Valentine card touched Esther in a way that was probably not intended. Whether or not the business associate attempted to court her, or if she accepted his affection, is unknown, but because of Esther’s entrepreneurial spirit, she soon became the first person in history to mass produce what we know today as the Valentine card.

Born in 1828 in Worcester, Massachusetts to Edward Howland, the owner of a successful book and stationary store, and her mother of the same name, Esther Howard, an author, young Esther seemed destined to have a career in the arts and letters. 

After receiving the Valentine from her father’s colleague, Esther liked the idea so much, she asked her father to order the appropriate materials, and she set out to make her own cards. She made about 12-15 prototypes. Her brother, a salesman for their father’s company, added the dozen samples to his inventory and took them on his next sales trip. He returned with more than $5,000 in advanced sales for the charming Valentines. 

Esther Howland Valentine
wikipedia.com

Overwhelmed with the order, Esther recruited friends and neighbors to create one of the first known assembly-lines in business history. She was able to fulfill the orders, and her business was born. Her products, known for their original beauty, and innovative romantic messages, were available for a wide range of prices. More elaborate cards including gilded lace, ribbon, hidden doors, and interior envelopes that allowed for locks of hair or engagement rings, sold for up to fifty dollars. Simpler cards could be purchased for as little a five cents. 

As with any successful venture, there soon appeared competitors vying for a spot in the lucrative Valentine’s Day card market. To distinguish herself from the rest, Esther had her cards made with the stamp of a red letter H on the back of her cards, along with the letters N.E.V. Co, which stood for the name of her business, the New England Valentine Company. It wasn’t long before Esther was having her staff make Christmas cards, New Years cards, Birthday cards, and May baskets.

In 1879, Esther’s company outgrew her home operation, and she moved the business to a factory building. In that same year, she published the “Valentine Verse Book.” The book contained over 130 Valentine verses printed in different colored inks, that could be cut out and pasted to a Valentine card, or adhered over a card’s existing message. 

In 1880, after a tremendous career, Esther sold her company in order to take care of her ill father.  Fifteen years later, in 1904, she fractured her leg and was bedridden. She died within the year. 

Esther, an empowered woman and entrepreneur, saw the seedling of an incredible idea, and then grew it into her own field of flowers, setting an example for women of her era and beyond. She provided a simple yet beautiful way for people to meaningfully express their love and devotion to one another, and she will always be known as the Mother of the American Valentine.

 

 
Cleo

Dancer, Model, Muse – Cléo de Mérode

She trained at the Paris Opera Ballet at seven years old, made her professional debut at age eleven, became a fashion icon at sixteen, and was muse to some of the most notable artists and photographers of all time—but who was this woman?

Someone destined for greatness from the beginning.

Her parents, the Austrian landscape painter Karl von-Merode–who claimed to be of noble ancestry–and a former Viennese actress, must have know their daughter would rise to fame and notoriety by giving her the name of one of the most powerful women in history.

Cleopatra Diane de Merode was born in France, either in Paris, Bordeaux, or Bairritz in 1875. At an early age, she showed an aptitude for dance and her mother, who must have been the original “stage mom,” had her audition for the Paris Opera Ballet at seven. She trained and performed with the company at age eleven. Her talent was only outshined by her beauty, and artists clamored to have her sit for them. By the age of thirteen, French greats Edgar Degas and Jean-louis had painted her.

Cleo de MerodeAlready the toast of the Paris dance scene by the time she’d fully matured, Cleo also became a fashion icon known for her trademark hairstyle–parted down the middle and fastened into a low chignon at the base of her neck– and her impossibly tiny waistline. Before long, Cleo was the most photographed woman in France, perhaps even all of Europe. Her image appeared on postcards and playing cards, and were much sought after as collectables. She was also depicted in statuary at the waxworks Musee Grevin, owned by famous caricaturist Alfred Grevin, in his “Behind the Scenes at the Opera” exhibit. She was the late 19th  century’s European “it girl” before she was twenty years of age.

In 1895 Cleo had the honor of sitting for the renown artist, Toulous-Lautrec. A year later, the sculptor Alexandre Falguire unveiled a sculpture that would start and onslaught of scandalous and sensational press for young Cleo. He’d cast the sculpture of her in the nude. Shocked, Cleo set out to make sure the public knew she had not posed for the sculpture sans clothing, by sending a note stating as much to the editor of Le Gaulois, the French daily newspaper. Unable to bear people seeing her with the “horrid bare statue in their minds,” she retreated out of the public eye for a time. 

However, the people of Paris were hungry for news of the beautiful Cleo, so they made up their own. It was soon bantered around Paris that the reason she wore her hair in the low chignon was to hide the fact that she had no ears. To dispel that rumor, Cleo came out into the light of day again, this time wearing her hair back off her face, or up on top of her head to show the world she indeed, had ears. 

But, the most salacious rumor about Cleo came out later that year. King Leopold II of Belgiam, aged 61, who had several mistresses, came to Paris for political reasons, but mentioned he’d come to see Cleo perform at the Opera Ballet. Rumors abounded that he was completely head-over-heels about the twenty-two year old dancing sensation. Stories were told of gifts of jewelry, and an apartment in the most fashionable part of Paris, solely for the purpose of romantic trysts. 

In reality, Cleo lived with her mother in a modest apartment, but Paris would not be satisfied without their scandals. Cleo and her mother, both practicing Catholics, could not bear the rumors of her relationship with the King (which stayed with her forever) and left Paris for St. Petersburg, Russia where she again danced her way into the hearts of the populace, including the Russian nobility, dukes and princes.

Cleo in costumeBolstered with confidence from her fame in Russia, Cleo returned to Paris and accepted an invitation to be the first ballet dancer to perform at the Folies-Bergere- for a more than generous salary. Her restored confidence brought her even more popularity, and she was again the toast of Paris. In 1897 Cleo decided to spread her dancing wings and traveled to the United States with her “mom-ager” in tow, and played for a month in New York City. Although the press was not kind, stating that she could not dance or act, her short stay in the United States was worth the trouble as she made over $9,000, which in today’s money would be over $58,000.

Unable to prevent public scrutiny, Cleo decided to embrace it. Her mother died in 1899, when Cleo was twenty-four years old. Now alone, Cleo had to manage her own career, and instead of hiding from the press, she invited them into her world. Reporters sat in on her meetings with theater managers and directors, and watched her rehearse for her roles. Her insight into fame, her talent, and her beauty resulted in her becoming an international star in adulthood. She performed across Europe and the United States, and adopted the dancing styles of the places where she toured. In 1904, she toured the Scandanavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. When she returned to Paris, she turned over 3000 love letters to the editor of Le Figaro for publication.

Later in life, Cleo reduced her performance schedule and when not dancing spent her time pursuing her other artistic talents. An accomplished pianist, she spent time in solitude playing music, but never for the public, and she also took up sculpting. She crafted figurines of dancers, shepherds and shepherdess, which she sold for additional income.

In her early 50’s, Cleo retired from performing and moved to a villa in the seaside town of Biarritz where she pursued a career as a dance instructor. She worked into her eighties and died in Paris in 1966. 

Although she never married, Cleo was rumored to be engaged at various times to a Russian count, an American millionaire, a wealthy land owner, a Polish aristocrat, and of course, King Leopold. The rumors of her affair with Leopold are still alive today, but most accounts provide little proof. Cleo herself claimed to have only been involved with two men in her life, one who died of typhoid fever, and another who left her for another woman.  

While the rumors of her affairs linger, so does the legacy of Cleopatra Diane de Merode. She inspired many artists with her beauty, including her fellow countryman Gustav Klimt, whose primary artistic focus was the female form and female sexuality. Whether or not she had a relationship with the artist is unclear, but in 2006, a film titled Klimt starring John Malkovich, highlights Klimt’s relationship with a young beauty named Lea de Castro, whose character is inspired by the one and only Cleo de Merode. 

Sources: Stagebeauty.com, Wikipedia.com, Frenchsampler.com

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

Glamour shot - Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker – Entertainer, French Resistance Agent, and Activist

 

Born in 1907, Freda Josephine McDonald, Josephine, as she was later called, was destined to be an entertainer. Born  to dancer Carrie McDonald and possibly Eddie Carson, (her father’s true identity has never been confirmed) who was also in show business, Josephine made her first appearance on stage at the age of one when the couple brought her onstage during the finale of their act.

After Carson abandoned McDonald and her young daughter, Carson took in laundry to help make ends meet. She soon married Arthur Martin, a kind but perpetually unemployed man. Josephine, at age 8 took work as a live in domestic for wealthy white families to help her mother put food on the table. After being abused by one of the women she worked for, Josephine left and made money on the streets of St. Louis as a street corner dancer. She married at age 13. The marriage lasted less than a year, and Josephine joined a street performance group called the Jones Family Band. Josephine, a naturally skilled dancer, added comedy to the troop’s act by acting silly and clumsy, but then crushing her dance routines at the finale.

At 15, Josephine married Willie Baker. Again, unhappy in marriage she divorced him four years later when her vaudeville troop decided to leave St. Louis for the bright lights of New York City. Josephine and the troop performed at the Plantation Club, and in successful Broadway reviews like Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies, often in blackface.

Josephine’s distaste for conventional married life, and her ardent desire to become an entertainer, pained her mother, and the relationship between the two women became permanently strained. 

Josephine Baker Banana skirtAs she became more popular in New York City, Josephine was soon offered an opportunity to tour in Paris, France. She opened in La Revue Nègre at age 19 at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees, where she enjoyed instant success. The French loved her provocative dancing and singing in her barely-there costumes, and word spread about the beautiful and funny ingenue. After a tour of Europe, Josephine returned to France to star in the Folies Bergère. Wearing only a thong strung with a skirt of fake bananas, Josephine performed the “Danse Sauvage,” the dance number that would catapult her to fame. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”

She starred in two French movies in the early 1930’s, Zou-Zou and Princesse Tam-Tam. With her growing wealth she moved her family from St. Louis Missouri to France, and purchased an estate in Catelnaud-Fayrac called Les Milandes. There, she acquired an assortment of animals including monkeys, cows and horses, dogs, and a pet cheetah she named Chiquita. Chiquita, wearing a collar of diamonds, often performed with her, but when she once jumped into the orchestra pit threatening the musicians, Chiquita had to go. 

Baker became romantically involved with Giuseppe Pepito Abatino, a Sicilian born opportunist who passed himself off as a Count. Although pretentious about his own reputation, under his influence, Baker’s star began to rise. Abatino became Baker’s manager, and under his careful guidance Josephine started training with a vocal coach and her talent went into overdrive. She took the lead in a six-month long run of a revival of the opera, La Creole, cementing her reputation as a first-class performer. She and Abatino decided to take her act back to Josephine’s home, the United States, to perform for the  1936 revival of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. 

While the French and the rest of Europe drank in Josephine’s intoxicating performances and personality, the audiences of the United States did not. Her Ziegfeld Follies run proved nothing short of disastrous with low box office sales and rejection from the press. The New York Times called her a “Negro Wench.”

Heart-broken, Josephine returned to France and renounced her American citizenship. In 1937 she became a French citizen and married French industrialist Jean Lion, but the marriage only lasted two years. 

In 1939, France declared war on Germany in response to the invasion of Poland. Baker was recruited by French military intelligence as an “honorable correspondent.” She gathered information for the French while at high society parties in Europe. She also carried secret messages to England written in invisible ink on her sheet music, as well as transporting notes with classified information pinned to her underwear. During this time, Baker also entertained British, French, and American soldiers in North Africa. For her efforts, Baker received the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Resistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaul.

 

Josephine Baker - Glamour ShotBecause of peritonitis and then septicema caused by a miscarriage, Josephine had to undergo a hysterectomy. When she recovered, she returned to her French chateau with yet another husband, French composer and conductor Jo Bouillon, whom she’d met during her tour of Africa. Unable to have children of her own, Josephine adopted children from all over the world, twelve in total. She called them her “rainbow tribe,” and sought to prove that people of different races could live in harmony. Her Les Milandes estate now included hotels, a farm, and rides. The children sang and danced for paying visitors to the estate. However, the expenses of the farm, chateau, and her growing family put pressure on Josephine’s marriage and Bouillon left shortly after Josephine adopted her eleventh child. 

Although a citizen of France, Josephine supported the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s in America. Again touring the U.S., she and her husband, Jo, were refused reservations at several hotels, and were denied service in restaraunts because of racial discrimination. Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences. A club in Miami finally met her demands, and this time touring America, Josephine enjoyed some success.

In 1968, Josephine lost her beautiful estate because of unpaid debts. She had to be physically removed from the property. Her friend Grace Kelly, whom she’d met while at The Stork nightclub in New York City, where they’d refused to serve Baker because the color of her skin, again came to her rescue and offered her a villa and financial assistance. Kelly had by then become princess consort of Rainier III of Monaco.

In 1975 Josephine starred in a retrospective revue, celebrating her 50 years in show business at the Bobin in Paris. Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis financed the endeavor. The show opened to rave reviews and was attended by notable personalities and celebrities including Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minelli. Four days later, Josephine was found unconscious in her room surrounded by newspapers depicting glowing reviews of her performance. She later died peacfully in her sleep. The autopsy report stated cerebral hemmorage as the cause of death. 

From the poverty stricken streets of St. Louis with little education, Baker became the first person of color to become a worldwide entertainer. She socialized with the most influential artists, writers, painters, entertainers, and intellectuals of her time. She served the resistence of her adopted country France, and she impacted the civil rights movement of her native country, America. She was an empowered woman who used her talent and celebrity to better the lives of others as well as her own. 

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

Upcoming Book Release – Shoot like a Girl!

Watch this video about my upcoming e-book release, Shoot like a Girl, the prequel novella to Girl with a Gun. 

If you like Annie Oakley, you will love these tales of intrigue in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show!

You can purchase Girl with a Gun at these retailers.

Spark Press: https://gosparkpress.com/product/girl-with-a-gun/

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2MyCdrs

Barnes & Nobel: https://bit.ly/2xTsplN

 

 

Annie Oakley horse

The Life and Times of Annie Oakley (Repost from 2012)

Phoebe Ann Mosey, (or Moses) most commonly known as Annie Oakley, learned self-reliance at a young age. Her family lived in a cabin near Greenville, Ohio, where the winters were often treacherous. When she was six years old, Annie’s father left the home in a snowstorm. He returned frost-bitten and grievously ill. He died a few months later of pneumonia, leaving the family in a dire financial situation. Her mother married again but the finances did not improve. Unable to feed all of her children, Susan Mosey sent Annie and her older sister, Sarah Ellen, to the “poorhouse” also known as The Darke County Infirmary. Put in the care of the superintendent and his wife, and Annie and Sarah learned housekeeping skills in addition to embroidery and sewing.

In the spring of 1870, Annie was “boarded out” to a couple to help care for their son and help with household chores. The job paid fifty cents a week and the couple assured Annie and her mother she would receive an education. The couple did not keep their promises, nor did they pay on a regular basis. Not much is known of this couple, and Annie never mentioned their names but only referred to them as “the wolves.”

Exceptionally cruel to their young charge, the couple would often beat Annie or lock her in a closet. Once, when she fell asleep doing some darning, they punished her by throwing her out into the snow with no shoes for the night.

After two years of abuse from “the wolves,” Annie escaped and found her way back to her mother, who was again widowed and remarried. The family still lived in poverty.

Annie OakleyThe only item that remained in the house belonging to Annie’s father was his shotgun. Longing for her father, Annie taught herself to shoot and started hunting game to help feed her family. Word got out about Annie’s deadly aim and she soon started selling the game she killed to the locals in Greenville, as well as to the restaurants and hotels in Southern Ohio. Her birds were well sought after because Annie always hit the birds in the back of the head, leaving no shot pellets in the tender meat. By fifteen years of age, Annie made enough money to pay off the mortgage on the family farm.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act came to Cincinnati. Shooting was a popular past time and shooting contests were the perfect way for people to showcase their talents. Frank Butler, the traveling show’s marksman placed a bet for $100 (equivalent now to about $2,000) that he could beat any local shooter. Annie’s friends and family urged her to travel to the big city and try her luck. In the end, luck had nothing to do with it, but pure skill did. Imagine Butler’s surprise when fifteen-year-old, five-foot petite Annie turned up as one of the challengers. One by one, the targets were released (either live birds or glass balls). Annie shot and then Frank shot, neither one missing until the 25th target.  Frank missed. The young, child-faced girl from Greenville won.

While most men might have had their pride wounded, or might have been angry at a teenage girl besting them at this coveted skill, Frank Butler’s reaction was quite different. Smitten by Annie, after the contest he gave her tickets to his show. Soon, the two fell in love and married. Annie joined the Baughman and Butler shooting act, not as a shooter, but as Frank’s assistant. One week, Baughman could not perform due to illness. Annie stepped in. Per her usual performance, she never missed a target and the crowd fell in love with the pretty petite sharpshooter. She permanently replaced Baughman and the couple took their show on the road.

In 1885, Annie auditioned for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Impressed with her accuracy and lady-like demeanor, Bill Cody hired her, and Frank became her manager. Annie soon became the star attraction of the show and remained so for seventeen years.

Whether she used a pistol, rifle, or shotgun, “Little Sure Shot,” as she was named by Chief Sitting Bull (also a star of the show,) rarely missed. Her feats included shooting a dime in midair at 90 feet, shooting the thin edge of a playing card at 90 feet and then puncturing it with six or seven more shots before it hit the ground.

Shooting the ashes off of a cigarette placed in Frank’s mouth always pleased the crowd. While touring in Europe, the Crown Prince of Germany demanded Annie shoot a cigarette from his mouth, but she would only do it if he held the cigarette in his hand. It wouldn’t do if the American “sure shot” blew the face off the Prince of Germany!

In 1901, Annie suffered massive injuries in a train accident while traveling with the Wild West Show through North Carolina. After five spinal surgeries and temporary paralysis, she recovered. The injury did not affect her shooting skill and she continued to set records.

Annie Oakley medalsIn 1902 Annie left the Wild West Show to pursue a quieter life. She began an acting career and performed in a stage play written especially for her called The Western Girl. Annie also used her talents for philanthropy. She traveled the East coast, at her own expense, demonstrating the safe and effective use of firearms for World War I soldiers. Involved in women’s causes, Annie helped young girls, orphans, and widows to further their education. She believed it was crucial for women to “know how to handle firearms as “naturally as they know how to handle babies” and it is believed she taught over 15,000 women to use a gun.

In 1904, William Randolph Hearst published a false story that Annie Oakley had been arrested for theft to support a cocaine habit. The story caught fire and newspapers all around the country printed the report. The woman who had actually been arrested was a burlesque performer who used the name “Annie Oakley.” Still, the newspapers, ever eager for a story of a fallen hero, persisted.

Annie spent the next six years in court trying to regain her reputation. She won 54 out of 55 libel lawsuits against the newspapers. Hearst, in an attempt to avoid paying court judgments of $20,000, sent a private investigator to Darke County to get dirt on the famous sharpshooter. They found nothing.

Well into her sixties, Annie continued her philanthropic work and also participated in shooting activities. In 1922 Annie entered a shooting contest at sixty-two years of age. She hit 100 clay targets in a row from 48 feet. Later that year, she and Frank were in a car accident where Annie sustained more injuries. Again, the injuries didn’t stop her and she continued to set records until 1924.

In 1925 Annie’s health finally gave out. She died of pernicious anemia at the age of sixty-six.

Annie Oakley, an American hero, is considered a role model for men and women alike because of her accomplishments and her moral character. She has been the subject of numerous articles and biographies, film and stage dramatizations, and her story is present in many historical museums. She was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

Annie Oakley’s motto for life: “Aim at a high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally, you’ll hit the Bull’s-Eye of Success.”

On June 19, 2018, my historical fiction novel Girl with a Gun – An Annie Oakley Mystery was released by Spark Press. You can find a copy at these retailers:

Spark Press: https://gosparkpress.com/product/girl-with-a-gun/

Amazon:  https://amzn.to/2vWAXUq

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2xTsplN

Powells: http://www.powells.com/book/-9781943006601

References: www.annieoakleyfoundation.org/bio.html, Women in History, Living vignettes of notable women from U.S. History, www.lkwdpl.org/wihoio;oakl-ann.htm, Wikipedia,

 

Women of Hollywood – Clara Bow

Named the first ever “It girl,” Clara Bow, America’s favorite flapper, made a huge impact in the roaring twenties and was known as one of the decade’s leading sex symbols.

Raised as an only child, (her two siblings before her died) Clara’s survival is nothing short of miraculous. The doctors warned Sarah Frances (Gordon) Bow, and Robert Walter Bow, not to have another child after the death of the first two. But Clara was destined for the world and was born one hot July day in 1905. A survivor from birth, Clara would spend the rest of her days fighting for her dreams of a good life and stardom.

Her existence was tough from the get-go as her parents, suffering from poverty, struggled to make ends meet. Her father stayed away from home most of the time, and when he returned, often verbally and physically abused (by some accounts)  his wife and Clara. Clara, outcast by the other girls because of her ragged clothes, carrot-colored hair, and tomboy ways much preferred the company of boys.

Often lonely and unhappy, Clara sought to escape from her fractious home life by going to the movies. She said of these forays into the darkened theater, “For the first time in my life I knew there was beauty in the world.”

Clara BowAt sixteen years old, she decided to pursue a career in film. Her father, probably seeing dollar signs in his future, encouraged her, but her mother did not agree with the decision. Against her mother’s wishes and at the urging of her father, Clara entered a nationwide acting contest called “Fame and Fortune” sponsored by a Brewster’s Publications Magazine in 1921.

Showing up in her tomboyish sweater, lackluster skirt, and with absolutely no experience, Clara’s chances of winning were slim. But when she turned on the emotion, she won the judges over. She walked away with a silver trophy and an evening gown. The magazine’s publisher vowed to help her secure roles in film, but nothing happened despite her father’s relentless pressure to pursue the offer. Finally, a female director named Christy Cabanne cast her in a movie called Beyond the Rainbow released in 1922.

After the contest, Clara dropped out of high school to pursue her dreams. Her work in Beyond the Rainbowled to another role in a movie called Down to the Sea in Ships. Clara felt she was on her way, but then tragedy struck. Her mother, suffering from psychosis and epilepsy, brought on by a head injury in her youth, struggled with her mental health. The roles of mother and daughter gradually became reversed and Clara, as a young girl, tried her best to take care of her mother during and after her epileptic fits. Her often absent father offered little help and left Clara alone to deal with her mother’s erratic fits of rage and temper. One night, during one of Sarah’s rages, Clara woke up to her mother holding a knife at her throat, screaming at her. Clara’s father soon had Sarah committed, separating the two. Even though Clara knew this act was in her best interest, it still caused her great distress. In 1923, Sarah died from her epilepsy.

That same year, Clara left her father and New York and headed for Hollywood. She secured several other silent film roles and charmed audiences with her perky personality and her natural,  bold sexuality. Her roles were comprised of working-class girls, showgirls, manicurists, etc. who had big ambitions in life. These characters often flew in the face of societal and sexual convention and pursued the life of partygoing, independence, and freedom. She portrayed the perfect, adorable and charming “flapper” and the motion picture world took notice.

In 1926 she signed her first big movie contract with Paramount Pictures, and in1927 she landed the role of poor, shop-girl Betty Lou Spence in the movie It, adapted from the novella written by author Elinor Glyn. The movie was an instant box office success and Clara Bow became Paramount’s most popular star, and America’s first “It girl.”

Clara Bow evening gownClara starred in 46 silent films, and despite her heavy Brooklyn accent and marginal singing voice, transitioned to “talkies” and starred in eleven more motion pictures. Her star burned bright, but at age 26, the actress burned out under the tremendous pressure put on her by the studios and her demanding schedule. She also showed signs of mental instability, much like her mother, no doubt brought on by her stressful career. Due to her status as a sex symbol, Clara was also the subject of many scandals. Women, jealous of the actress’s natural sex appeal often accused her publically of husband stealing. Although she had affairs with many men during her heyday, “husband stealing” was not in her repertoire.

In 1931, Clara retired from acting and married Rex Bell, a rancher from Texas. She dropped out of Hollywood and went to live with him on his ranch to recuperate. After returning to health, she re-entered Hollywood with a bang. Everyone wanted her. She signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation for a two-picture deal. Both films, Savage and Hoop-La were well received. She officially retired from acting two years later and devoted her life to her husband and sons.

But, Clara could not escape her demons. Her gradual slide into mental illness culminated in a suicide attempt in 1944. She checked herself into a psychiatric institute in 1949 where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and treated with electric shock therapy. When she was released, she did not return to the ranch but instead bought a modest bungalow where she lived out the rest of her days until she succumbed to a heart attack in 1965.

Clara Bow found a way out of her lonely childhood to become one of America’s best-loved film icons and the highest paid actress of her day. She influenced some of the most powerful people in Hollywood, and also the common woman who wanted to personify the loveable flapper with her “Clara Bow heart-shaped lips” and her charming down-to-earth realism and individuality. She will live on in the hearts and minds of many through the multitudes of photographs taken of her and what remains of her silent and “talking” films.

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

group portrait

Mollie Johnson – Queen of the Blondes (Part Two)

Continued from 7/8/18 Read Part One here.

Prostitutes 1800's
Prostitutes 1800’s

In 1879, a fire raged through Deadwood, burning many places to the ground including Mollie’s. The day before the fire, one of Mollie’s girls had died due to either injury from a cat bite, or some other illness. She lay in her coffin in Mollie’s parlor as the roof caught fire. Mollie made no action to save her furnishings or herself until someone could take the young woman’s body to the neighboring town of City Creek, for burial.

Though Mollie had a reputation for a lack of generosity toward other “soiled doves” of Deadwood, the newspapers, particularly the Black Hills Daily Times, loved to stir up controversy concerning the popular madam. In one instance, the Times alluded to Mollie providing information to the U.S. Marshall regarding three of her competitors selling alcohol without a license. Mollie retorted back in a note to the Times stating she would do nothing of the kind against her “sisters in sin.” The Times later stated they received their information from another source.

Though newspapers like the Black Hills Daily Times loved to report stories of Mollie’s wickedness, they also gave her credit for her generosity with local girls like Miss Pettijohn and Miss Woodall, and also for her financial support of Irish Famine Relief.

According to Bryant, with the passing of time, the stories of Mollie Johnson became less and less frequent. He alludes to the idea she traveled more, or that perhaps the newspapers just lost interest. Maybe with age, Mollie settled down and didn’t give them much to write about.

We may never know what prodded Mollie to become a prostitute like so many other women who settled in the west. Perhaps she had no family and struggled to survive, or perhaps she saw an opportunity to become a businesswoman in a time that didn’t allow women to prosper by any other means. Whether or not the stories are true, the accounts of Mollie’s life and her business paint a colorful portrait of a woman who made an impact on the town of Deadwood, South Dakota, and the history of the wild west of the late 1800’s.

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

group portrait

Mollie Johnson – Queen of the Blondes (Part One)

Life was tough in the 1800’s. Especially for women, and especially in the West. While most women married, or worked in service, or took respectable professions like teaching, others took a road less-than-acceptable for survival. Some even prospered on that road. Women like Mollie Johnson, prostitute turned madam, and self-proclaimed “Queen of the Blondes.”

Historical accounts of the early life of Mollie Johnson, or why she turned to prostitution are not recorded. In fact, not much is known about Mollie at all, aside from newspaper accounts consolidated into an article written by Jerry L. Bryant in Deadwood Magazine, 2002. According to Bryant, his research was gleaned from some 40 articles in Deadwood newspapers. He also states that upon publication of the article, he re-researched and discovered that most reports were possibly only representative of bordello life in Deadwood in the 1880’s. Either way, Mollie proved a sensation for news of the day.

Mollie's Brothel
Possibly Mollie’s Brothel

Accounts record she started working in the trade in her mid-teens when she headed west from Alabama during the American gold rush. She settled in Deadwood, South Dakota, a town known for its ruthlessness, and highly populated with men out to seek their fortunes in gold. According to Bryant’s article, in 1880 the census revealed Mollie claimed to be twenty-seven years old, a widow, and that she lived with five young ladies from all over the United States—all of them blond, either naturally or by artificial means. It is not known when she transitioned from mere prostitute to madam, but somewhere along the line, she secured a house in Deadwood on the corner of Sherman and Lee streets and started making money. Quite a lot of money. It was then she became known as “Queen of the Blondes,” and many a gentleman visited her place with regularity.

Mollie’s first moment of notoriety came in 1878 when a story of her appeared in a local paper for marrying Lew Spencer, an African American actor/comedian who performed at the Bella Union Theater. The details of the affection the couple had for each other is uncertain. Mollie reportedly never gave up her profession. Later in the year, while in Denver, Lew Spencer was arrested for fatally shooting his “wife,” although Mollie was very much alive in Deadwood at the time.

Lew did not hang for his crime, but pursued his vocal career and reportedly recorded the earliest known version of the song, A Hot Time in the Old Town, in 1896. The song later became the theme song for Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. It is not known if Mollie and Lew reunited after his stint in prison, but it seems the two became estranged.

Mollie, her girls, and their notorious antics provided great fodder for the local papers, and a source of gossip for the townspeople of Deadwood and abroad. According to accounts, Mollie and her girls often hosted wild parties and balls in the Firehouse, or warehouses throughout town. She also, reportedly, often rented a pricey carriage and went about Deadwood heckling other “working girls” for not working for her. She also never failed to report abusive or ill-behaving customers to the local law enforcement.

There are also reports of her motherly sternness, kindness, and compassion. Mollie often encouraged wayward girls to live a virtuous life and took them in as boarders. Two girls living in the town, Miss Pettijohn and Miss Woodall, had proven themselves to be out-of-control “hell-raisers.” Their mothers had gone to great lengths to change them but to no avail. While attending a ball thrown by either Mollie or the other reigning madam in town, Dora DuFran, the girls’ mothers’ requested that the sheriff arrest them and deposit them at Mollie’s place for rehabilitation. Mollie agreed to the task, much to the mothers’ relief. Under Mollie’s care, the two girls had to fly right or suffer the consequences.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Mollie Johnson, Queen of the Blondes Part Two next week!

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Coco Chanel

Seven Mysteries of Coco Chanel (Part Two)

(Continued from last week – find Part One here.)
Her reasons for closing shop

After the stock market crash in 1929, many businesses struggled, including Coco Chanel’s couture house. In 1939, at the outbreak of WWII, she closed down her shops, leaving over 3,000 employees out of work. Some suggest she did this in retaliation against those workers who took part in the labor strike in France in 1936, which forced her to close her business at the time. She maintained that wartime was not a time for fashion. Only Coco knew her motivations during that period in history.

Her Nazi affiliation

Coco ChanelIt is suggested that Coco Chanel, influenced by her lover the Duke of Westminster—an outspoken anti-Semite, had little tolerance for the Jewish population. This idea is further supported because, during the German occupation in France, Chanel had an affair with a German diplomat, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Chanel received special permission to continue her residence at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, the preferred residence of high ranking German officials. It was also rumored that through von Dincklage, Chanel may have served as a Nazi spy. When the war ended, Chanel was interrogated about her relationship with von Dincklage and her affiliation with the Nazis. Some believe her friend Winston Churchill came to her aid. Chanel was never officially charged. She left Paris to spend time in Switzerland.

Her relationship with the Wertheimers

Early in her career, Chanel met businessman and director of a well-known perfume and cosmetics business, Pierre Wertheimer, through a mutual friend, Theophile Bader. Together, with Pierre’s brother Paul, they created “Parfums Chanel,” with the Wertheimers providing full financing, marketing, and distribution of Coco’s classic fragrance Chanel No. 5. The agreement stipulated that the Wertheimers received seventy percent of the profit, Bader twenty percent, and Chanel ten percent—with the caveat she allowed them to run operations of Parfums Chanel. She never got over the disappointment at the deal and made no secret of her dislike of the Wertheimers, who were Jewish. One wonders why she would agree to such a contract, but she must have had her reasons.

She decided to sue. In 1924, they renegotiated the original contract and in 1947, Chanel received wartime profits of the perfume, estimated at nine million dollars in today’s money. She also would receive two percent of all sales worldwide. In addition, Wertheimer agreed to pay for Chanel’s living expenses for the rest of her life.

When Chanel, at seventy years of age, revived her couture house in 1954, Wertheimer financed the business.

 Her morphine addiction and death

Coco Chanel ran with a fast crowd. At least two biographies, one by Lisa Chaney, and another by Hal Vaughan maintain that Chanel was a habitual user of opiates, particularly morphine.

Chanel died in her suite at the Hotel Ritz in Paris in 1971 at eighty-seven years of age. Some accounts state she wasn’t feeling well, and after returning from a walk with a friend went to bed and died peacefully in her sleep. Others allude to the supposition that upon retiring to bed, she gave herself one last injection. She might have, but whether it killed her has not been recorded.

One thing is certain, Coco Chanel liked to keep everyone guessing. From her birthdate to her upbringing, to her reasons for not marrying—and even how she died, this fashion icon who changed the world with her smart and elegant fashions, definitely had the last word.

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and a strong female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman (Part 2)

More Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman! (Read part 1 here.)

She never lost a passenger on the Underground Railroad.

Having reached safety in Philadelphia, Harriet felt confident she could help others. She became involved in the Underground Railroad. She immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Working slowly, one group at a time, she freed her immediate family and distant relatives. Dubbed  “Moses” for the deliverance of her people, Harriet made twelve to thirteen missions to free approximately 70 more slaves.

Harriet always carried a gun and was not above threatening anyone with immediate death who aimed to stop her crusade—even the slaves she rescued if they got scared and wanted to turn back.

She became a nurse, scout, and a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Harriet wanted to join the Union cause to end slavery. Hearing of her heroism in freeing her people, and known for her intelligence and bravery, a group of Boston and Philadelphia abolitionists in Port Royal brought her on. She nursed the soldiers suffering from dysentery and smallpox.

In 1863, the group, under the orders of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, and Harriet lead a band of scouts through the marshes and rivers of South Carolina, providing intelligence on the enemy. She was the first woman to lead an armed assault when Colonel James Montgomery raided plantations along the Combahee River. They freed over 750 slaves.

She joined the Suffragist movement.

Harriet TubmanLater in life, Harriet became involved with the cause for women’s suffrage. She would join forces with women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. She traveled to various cities on the East coast speaking in favor of the rights of women. In 1896, at the founding of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, Harriet served as the keynote speaker for their first meeting. The following year, a series of receptions took place in Boston, honoring Harriet for her years of service.

She refused anesthesia when she had brain surgery.

Due to the head injury she suffered as a child, Harriet, in her older years, developed insomnia due to the pain and buzzing in her head. She elected to have brain surgery to relieve the condition, but refused to be anesthetized and instead opted to “bite down on a bullet,” as she had seen many soldiers do for surgery in the Civil War. The operation did give her some relief making her more comfortable.

She Died in Poverty.

Harriet never received any kind of salary for her service. Any money she made she used for her humanitarian work to help former slaves and her family. She purchased a small property in Auburn, New York, and provided shelter for most of her family and some friends. She took in boarders to help pay the bills. In 1873, she was swindled out of money in a gold deal, leaving her penniless.

In 1895, after an initial denial from the government, Harriet received the pension of her second husband, Nelson Charles Davis, and then in 1898, she petitioned Congress for her own service in the Civil War. Finally, a year later, she received a pension of twenty dollars per month for her service as a nurse.

Because of mounting debts, in 1903, she donated her Auburn property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church under the condition they convert it to a home for aged and indigent people of color. The plan finally came to fruition five years later.

In 1911, Harriet’s body started to give out on her and she retired to the rest home she’d helped establish. At the time, a New York reporter described her  as “ill and penniless.”

She died in 1913, of pneumonia, surrounded by friends and family members.

Harriet Tubman did not receive the recognition she deserved while she lived, but history remembers her as an empowered woman of grit and integrity, who helped change the lives of her contemporaries, and the mindset of those who came after her.

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and an empowered female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave