The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 25th


A glass of port for today’s birthday girl:

Elizabeth Vassell Fox, Lady Holland

25th March 1771-1845

Elizabeth had an affair with Henry Fox and gave birth to his child while she was married to her first husband Godfrey Webster. She married Fox immediately following her divorce from Webster and became hostess to many Whig party soirees. She had a reputation for rudeness and domineering, yet she continued to hold parties long after her husband died, which presumably she enjoyed, and people came to, when she no longer had political influence to make them put up with her. She undoubtedly quarreled with people, notably Caroline Lamb, and it was a time for people to air their grievances in public, but equally to sing their praises.

Lady Holland has certainly organised a good system of society—ten people every day at dinner, and a few in the evening, and there is always an author for the good of one’s mind, and a doctor to prevent one’s dropping down dead, and the rest are people who know each other well, and have the same politics.

Emily Eden  May 1833

Elizabeth’s journal for 1791 to 1811 is available on-line as is her travel journal of 1802 and 1805 when she travelled to Spain. Charles Greville described her as

a social light which illuminated and adorned England, and even Europe, for half a century.

Elizabeth was also responsible for dahlias being established as a favourite flower in England, which is something she does need to be forgiven for. Never mind. My favourite quotation from Elizabeth herself:

As nobody can do more mischief to a woman than a woman, so perhaps might one reverse the maxim and say nobody can do more good

NPG D41029; Sampson and Dalilah by John Doyle, published by  Charles Etienne Pierre Motte, after  Thomas McLeanElizabeth Satirised.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 25th


Today’s birthday girl is Olive Schreiner, 24th March 1855 – 1920

South African author and prolific letter writer. Olive was a feminist, socialist, pacifist, vegetarian, rational dress advocate, anti-vivisectionist would-be doctor and thinker, you name it she had a position on it. She corresponded with everyone, from Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis to Emily Hobhouse and her best friend Elizabeth (Betty) Molteno and her partner Alice Greene.

All Betty has been to me I can’t tell you. Her beautiful wonderful individuality is such a joy to me. It seems almost all that is keeping up my faith in Humanity now. What a wonderful soul it is.

It is so beautiful that I am able to love you both so that my love for one never seems interrupted by my love for the other, and I know you both love me.

I have a fondness for Olive – I’ve read two of her novels, The Story of an African Farm, and From Man to Man and enjoyed them.

If you want to know more you can do no better than to read her books and play in the shallows of the online archive of her letters, where without much effort I found this:
Olive Schreiner to Isaline Philpot, 17 March 1889, NLSA Cape Town, Special Collections, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription

I wish I was large and strong and could put my arms round all the tired lonely women in the world and help them. The work of my life is to try and teach women to love one another. If we would leave off quarrelling with men and just love and hold each other’s hands an would come right. Oh, I love the two women in my book so I am getting to love women more and more. I love men too, so very much only they don’t need me.

Olive Schreiner to Margaret (Maggie) Harkness, January 1891, National Archives Depot, Pretoria, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription (this is part of a long letter politely telling Maggie to leave her alone, but I enjoy her picture of a true friend – I’m guessing she means Betty)

The woman I love best in the world, & who I think loves me better than anyone else has written to me ten times or more on political & social questions since I came out here: I have written her two post cards. yet if tomorrow I wrote “I need you” she would leave her husband & home & come to me, & if she simply hinted that she needed me, I should be in England in three weeks. I know that my name is so sacred to her that she never dis-cusses me with anyone, & I never mention her & it would be over my body that anyone should touch her; but I don’t feel I want to write to her, it is she who must give me food for thought in her large interesting life in the centre of political & social thought & action, & I would much rather she was doing her great work in England than hanging round in Africa where she could not be of so much use.

All quotes from letters © Olive Schreiner Letters Project.

So while I don’t think Olive was exactly one of us, she was certainly a fellow traveller, and she gets an invitation to the party, no question.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 23rd


hannah snellAnd finally I’ve caught up! A week’s holiday does get in the way of a regular blog.

Right, we’re going for one of those early cross dressers today, though it is an actual genuine birth date.

Hannah Snell  23/3/1723-1792

In 1740, Hannah’s parents died and she moved to Wapping, where she married a Dutch sailor, James Summs. James went back to sea shortly after they married. Nothing was heard from him again. Hannah decided to look for her husband. She borrowed some of her brother-in-law’s clothing and set off dressed as a man.

Believing James to have been forced into the army, Hannah enlisted as ‘James Grey’ at Coventry and set off to fight against the Jacobite Rising in Scotland.

The regiment set off to Carlisle, Hannah’s disguise undiscovered.

A Sergeant Davis set his sights on a girl in Carlisle and tried to enlist Hannah’s aid in her seduction. Instead she warned the girl and Davis alleged ‘neglect of duty’ against Hannah. She was sentenced to 600 lashes of the whip.

Hannah was tied to the barrack gate, which hid her breasts so maintaining her disguise. She bore 500 lashes – the Commanding Officer cancelled the final 100 lashes. Recognising a recruit as a former neighbour from Wapping, she deserted and made for Portsmouth. Here  she enlisted into a Regiment of Marines leaving for the East Indies. She saw action at Pondicherry, killing several Frenchmen before being wounded herself.

She escaped discovery  by operating on herself and removing a musket ball from her groin. Declared unfit for marine’s duty she now served as a deck hand. Still searching for her husband, she finally met a man who told her that James Sums had been executed for murder in Genoa.

When her ship returned to London, her story became known.  To earn a living she went on the stage and then leased a tavern, naming it ‘The Widow in Masquerade, or the Female Warrior’.

Hannah was given a pension of £30 a year for life and died in 1792.

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.