The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 22nd

And another date with no birthday, so let’s skip back a couple of months and one that got away:

Eva La Gallienne 11 January 1899-3 June 1991

Eva was an actor and producer, born in England and who became part of the milieu of lesbian actors in Hollywood, performing herself on stage as Emily Dickinson, Peter Pan Elizabeth I and Hamlet with great success. in 1980 she earned an Oscar nomination for her work in the film Resurrection, at the time she was the oldest Oscar nominee.

Eva had affairs with many of the members of the ‘sewing circles’:  Alla Nazimova,  Tallulah Bankhead, Beatrice Lillie,  Laurette Taylor and Mercedes de Acosta.

In 1927 Eva was named as co-respondent in the divorce of her then lover Josephine Hutchinson.

People hate what they don’t understand and try to destroy it. Only try to keep yourself clear and don’t allow that destructive force to spoil something that to you is simple, natural, and beautiful.

In the late 1930s Eva started a relationship with theatre director Margaret Webster. and they later founded the American Repertory Theater together. She also later had a relationship with Marion Evensen.

So Eva, get your glad rags on, you’re invited to the party…

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 21st

Another no-show so today let’s raise a glass for Eugenie (Evgenia) Souline, for whom I can find no dates. Eugenie was a Russian born nurse, who had a relationship with Radclyffe Hall, living in an uncomfortable three-way relationship with Una Troubridge for the last nine years of Radclyffe Hall’s life.

On her deathbed, Hall revoked a previous will that had provided Souline with an income, and instead left everything to Una, asking Una to “make such provision for our friend Eugenie Souline as in her absolute discretion she may consider right”.

Una provided Eugenie with a small allowance and burned her  letters to Radclyffe Hall. However RH’s letters to Eugenie survive

My Dearest

A torment of tenderness, of yearning over you, of longing to take you in  my arms and comfort you innocently and most gently as I would comfort a little child, whispering to you all sorts of foolish words of love that have nothing to do  with the body. My spirit cries our to you Souline, and it tells you that love is never a sin, that the flesh may be weak but the spirit is strong. Yesterday it was my spirit that saved you. Must I always save you. God help me I ought not to write like this but I love you. I love you.

Eugenie died in 1958.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 20th

No birthday today so here’s someone I can’t find an accurate date for:

Sarah Wilkinson aka Solita Solano

1888 – 22 November 1975

Theatre critic with the New York Tribune and as a freelance contributor to the National Geographic Society.

In 1919 Solita started a relationship the journalist Janet Flanner. They travelled together to Greece and France. In Paris they joined the lesbian circles of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas and their friends. In 1929 Solita had an affair with Margaret Anderson which lasted several years, although Margaret stayed with her lover Georgette Leblanc throughout.

At the outbreak of WWII Solita and Janet returned to America. Solita eventually left Janet after she started an affair with Natalia Danesi Murray.

Solita then fell in love with Elizabeth Jenks Clark. She remained close friends with Margaret, who was now  in love with Dorothy Caruso.

Phew! are you still with me? A busy girl.

After the war Solita returned to France, where she lived until her death.

I guess she can come to the party – after all most of her friends will be there.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 19th

Alice French aka Octave Thanet

March 19, 1850 – January 9, 1934

Alice French was an american writer of  stories, journalistic essays and novels, using the pseudonym Octave Thanet – she chose Octave for being non gender specific.

In 1883, Alice and her widowed friend Jane Allen Crawford set up  home at Clover Bend Plantation in Lawrence County, Arkansas. They lived there for several months each year holding  literary and social entertainments.

Alice had a woodworking shop, where she built shelves and  furniture, and a darkroom, where she developed and printed photographs.

Her stories were very successful,but unfortunately Alice, like many other writers of the time, was casually racist and xenophobic, and firmly looked down on people she considered her social inferiors. She even went to the trouble of speaking against women’s suffrage.

Late twentieth century reading of her stories has found some sympathy for the conditions of women, and even some well hidden lesbian themes.

Not really good enough for me. Alice doesn’t get an invitation.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 18th

Not strictly a birthday, as all I have for today’s admirable woman is a baptism date, but never mind, it will do.

Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, Comtesse de la Fayette

(Baptised) 18 March 1634 – 25 May 1693

I love those french aristocratic names, they go on for ages.

Anyway, so Marie was a writer and the lifelong friend of fellow writer Marie de Sévigné. She married in 1655 and had two sons but was deserted by her husband in 1660. She moved to Paris where she became a great favourite of Minette,  duchesse d’Orléans and fell in love with the writer, La Rochefoucauld. She lived with him till he died in 1680. She used th pen name J.R. de Segrais and set up a literary circle. She disapproved of the convent school of St. Cyr, being so close to Versailles because she considered it put the girls at risk from court rakes.

Marie wrote La Princess de Montpensier 1662, Zayde 1670, La Princesse de Clèves 1678 (a lightly disguised autobiography), her final book La Comtesse de Tende was published posthumously. I’ve read La Princesse de Clèves and I have to be honest I found it hard going, but I think Marie was a good sort, especially in the light of her concern for the girls of St Cyr, and her great affection for Marie de Sévigné.

to Madame de Sévigné in 1691:

believe me, you are the person in the world I have most truly loved.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 17th

No Birthday today, so lets look back to yesterday and celebrate

I. A. R. Wylie. 16 March 1885 – 4 November 1959.

Ida Wylie (known to her friends as Uncle) was a novelist, screenwriter, magazine writer and poet. More than 30 of her works were made into films between 1915 and 1953. Ida had a complicated home life, and identified with the strong women in her life. She was largely self-educated, and wrote to entertain herself, and sold her first story to a magazine at the age of 19 and quickly became financially successful as a writer. She became a suffragette and provided a temporary home for women who were recovering from hunger strikes when released from prison. in 1917 she set off to America on a road trip with a companion Rachel. She then settled in Hollywood where many of her stories were adapted into films, including Keeper of the Flame, with starred the lovely Katherine Hepburn.

Ida lived with Sara Josephine Baker, and Louise Pearce for many years.
In her autobiography My Life with George (George is her alter-ego) Ida said

I have always liked women better than men. I am more at ease with them and more amused by them. I too am rather bored by a conventional relationship which seems to involve either my playing up to someone or playing down to someone…  fortunately, I have never wanted to marry any of them, nor with the exception of that one misguided German Grenadier, have any of them wanted to marry me.

N.B. There may not be an official birthday, but today is Alix & my anniversary: 32 years together, 8 of which we’ve been in a civil partnership. In their infinite wisdom, when the government legalised gay marriage, they neglected to sort out how we ‘upgrade’ so those who haven’t yet made a commitment to each other in front of a registrar can get married next month, and we can’t. How bloody ridiculous is that?

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 16th

rosa bonheurAnd today, let’s put on our glad rags and celebrate

Rosa Bonheur
March 16th 1822 – May 25, 1899

Oh my dear sir, if you knew how little I care for your sex you wouldn’t get any ideas in your head. the fact is, in the way of males, I like only the bulls I paint.

Rosa was an outspoken feminist and a famous painter and sculptor of animals and she earned a living as an artist, winning awards, and became notorious for smoking in public and wearing  trousers – for which she had to apply for a license using the excuse that she needed to visit slaughterhouses to study animal anatomy. (True, but convenient; and as we can see from the picture, the trews were not confined to the abattoir)
Rosa was the first woman to receive the Légion d’honneur.

She lived with Nathalie Micas and after Nathalie died, with Anna Klumpke, who  was also a painter.

Rosa can definitely come to the party, and perhaps she can be persuaded to sketch a quick portrait of Jules and Elton… but she’ll have to smoke in the garden like anyone else.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 15th

No official candidate for today so lets skip ahead a day and celebrate with

Caroline Herschel

16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848.

Caroline was born in Germany and moved to England at the age of 22 to keep house for her older brother William, having been brought up by her mother to effectively be her servant, despite being trained in mathematics and music. Caroline was only four foot three inches in height owing to contracting typhus as a child.
William was teaching music and running musical evenings in Bath (he was an accomplished composer, there are a couple of recordings of his music available, worth keeping an eye out for). Caroline contributed to these events, and when her brother took up astronomy, she assisted with this too, keeping all the records, watching for astronomical events when William couldn’t be bothered, and grinding lenses and mirrors for his telescopes. William taught her trigonometry and algebra so that she was able to make the complex calculations needed. In 1782 William was made Astronomer Royal. Once William married, (and presumably his wife either took over the housekeeping or insisted on employing someone, Caroline had more time to devote to her own astronomy.
She discovered eight comets, one of which is named for her, and was granted a salary by George III in acknowledgement of her work as William’s assistant, making her the first professional female astronomer.
Caroline spent a long time working on cataloguing and correcting John Flamsteed’s work on astronomy, (again because William couldn’t be bothered with the time-consuming cross referencing). The resulted of her efforts was the Catalogue of Stars, published in 1798.
The Royal Astronomical Society awarded her the Gold Medal in 1828, (not awarded to another woman for over 150 years) and she was later admitted to the society as an honorary member.

You could say (and I will) that Caroline was a bit of a star. (Sorry couldn’t resist).

The Historical Birthday-Party March 14th

Sylvia BeachSylvia Beach was born on March 14, 1887 in  America. She studied French Literature at the Sorbonne in 1917, discovered a bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres and fell in love with its proprietor  Adrienne Monnier and lived with her for the rest of her life, apart from when she was interned during WWII.

Sylvia opened her own bookshop in 1919, the famous Shakespeare and Company. Two years later she moved premises so that her shop was opposite Adrienne’s.

Sylvia’s paid for  James Joyce’s novel Ulysses to be published, but when he got a contract from Random House, he forgot all about her.

During the 30’s the shop struggled and friends helped Sylvia out with subscriptions and benefit readings. In 1937, Sylvia was awarded a Knight of the Legion of Honor.

Sylvia stayed in Paris during the war. She was constantly threatened by the Gestapo, and eventually she packed all the books up and hid them in her apartment. In September 1942 she was interned, first at the Paris Zoo, and then at Vittel. She was eventually released, but after the war the bookshop did not reopen. Sylvia stayed in Paris until her death in 1962.

Sylvia definitely gets an invitation to the party, we could talk books til the morning…


The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 13th

Today we raise a glass to Janet Flanner, March 13 1892 – November 7 1978.

Janet was a journalist, writing for the New Yorker, and as a war correspondent. She lived in Greenwich Village and there met and fell in love with Solita Solano (Sarah Wilkinson). Janet and Solita featured as Nip and Tuck, a pair of  journalists in Djuna Barnes’s Ladies Almanac (1928). During this time she wrote her novel The Cubical City.

Although she loved Greenwich Village Janet wanted to get out of the city and eventually ended up in Paris, where they became friends with Natalie Barney, Gertrude Stein and many other ex-pat American Lesbians. Janet sent articles to the New Yorker from Paris under the pseudonym Genêt, and later from London.

When war broke out they moved back to New York and Janet met Natalia Murray, fell in love and moved in with her, helping her raise her son. This did not put an end to her relationship with Solita.

After the war Janet returned to Europe and Solita, covering the war trials, and the devastation the war had left behind. When Solita died, she moved back to America and to Natalia, and when she died, her and Natalia’s ashes were scattered together where they had first met.