Love in the Office

When she went to the kitchenette to fill her bottle with water, Anton was there telling a couple of people about his camping trip with his friends.  She couldn’t help but smile.  He was such a droll when it came to telling stories.  She filled her bottle and turned so that she was facing the group.

“Sounds like you had a lot of fun on your camping trip,” she said a few minutes later, when they were alone.

He went over to where she was.  “I did,” he said, his eyes riveted to her face.

She wondered if he knew how much his closeness affected her.  “Good,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  “Where did you go camping?”

“Wild Boar Wood in West Sussex.”

“So, were there any women on your camping trip?” She had to ask.

He shook his head.  “No, just the guys.”

She couldn’t hide her relief and she saw his expression change.

“Even if women were there, I wouldn’t have been interested in any of them,” he said quietly.  “You must know by now, Tina, that I’m deeply attracted to you.”

Her chest began to rise and fall quickly and she seemed to have trouble breathing.  “I’m your supervisor,” she reminded him.

“Yes, I know that we have a working relationship but we can’t deny how we feel about each other.  I know that you’re attracted to me.  I saw the look on your face when I told you that there weren’t any women on the camping trip.  You don’t want me to be with another woman any more than I want you to be with another man.  You can’t deny that you have feelings for me, Tina.  I can see it on your face.”

Her resolve was beginning to weaken.  “I’m older than you,” she said.

“Age is just a number,” he said dismissively.  “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

“All right,” she acquiesced.  “You win.” She was no match for the emotions that raged within her or his power of persuasion.

He smiled.  “Good.  I’ll pick you at seven-thirty.”

“I think we should get back to work now,” she said.

“Right,” he agreed.  “I’ll get started on the report you asked me for.”  He excused himself and quickly walked away.

For several minutes, she stood there, wondering if she had acted wisely.  She couldn’t get past the fact that she was his supervisor and that there was a considerable age difference between them.   Yet, try as she did, she couldn’t deny her feelings for Anton.

From the moment she first saw him, she knew that she was in trouble.  His good looks, charm and friendly disposition made him irresistible.  Working with him was a challenge.  Many times, she found herself watching him and wondering if he had a girlfriend.  She couldn’t imagine that someone like him would be unattached.  It bothered her to see him talking to other women in the department, especially the younger ones.

Just yesterday, she had walked by the photocopier on her way to the boardroom for a meeting when she saw him standing there talking to Wendy, a pretty redhead.  He had his back turned to her so he didn’t notice her.  Her steps faltered and as she watched them talking, red, hot jealousy raged inside her.  She was tempted to go over there and interrupt them but she came to her senses and hurried away before he saw her.  When she was in the meeting, she had to literally force herself to focus on the business at hand and put the sight of Anton and Wendy out of her mind.  Later when they were alone in her office going over some files, she said, “Wendy’s pretty, isn’t she?”

He glanced up at her.  “I suppose so,” he said.

“I saw the two of you at the photocopier earlier today.  I think she likes you.”

“Are you trying to set me up with her?” he asked, startling her.

“No,” she protested.  “I—I was just making an observation.”

“Wendy’s a very nice girl but I’m not attracted to her.”  He was staring at her now and the expression on his face made her heart palpitate.  That was the first time she became aware of his attraction for her.

“Tina, Mr. Foster is waiting for you in your office.”  Annette’s voice brought her back to the present.

“Thanks, Annette,” she said and followed her out of the kitchenette.

Several hours later when it was time to leave, Anton stopped by her office.  She was straightening her desk.  He went over to her.  “Normally, I would tell you to have a good weekend,” he said.  “But, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”

“Yes,” she said.  She handed him a slip of paper with her address on it.  When he took it, their fingers touched and her breath caught in her throat.  Her skin seemed to burn.  Their eyes met and held for a long time before she turned away to remove her jacket from the back of her chair.   “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Tina.”  She heard him leave and turned round when he closed the door behind him.

Her skin still tingled where his fingers had touched it.  She traced the area, her heart pounding when she remembered the expression on his face as they stared at each other.  The desire she saw there was unmistakable.  She wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t turned away.  On the drive home, she mulled over it and nervous excitement rose in her whenever she thought of seeing Anton the following evening.  What on earth am I going to wear? She wondered, racking her brains to see if there was an outfit that would be suitable.  It had been ages since she had been on a date and it felt very strange going on one with someone she worked closely with.

As soon as she got home, she searched for something to wear and settled on a dress she had bought a month ago and had worn only once.  It was a black slash neck dress with a flare skirt.  On Saturday evening, she put it on and was satisfied with how it looked.  She wore her hair in a chignon, allowing a few tendrils to frame her face.  The strappy black and silver heels completed the outfit.  The doorbell rang just as she took one last look at herself in the mirror.  When she opened the door and saw Anton standing there, her heart leapt.  He looked gorgeous in the charcoal grey suit with the black dress shirt and black tie.  His eyes slid over her and when they returned to her face, admiration and desire shone in their depths.   “You look amazing,” he said quietly.

“So do you.”  As they walked to the lift, she could feel him watching her and she smiled, flattered.

The restaurant, set in a snug 18th century townhouse, was atmospheric in that the tables candle lit.   Over dinner, he told her about himself.  His father was British and his mother French.  He had an older brother and a younger sister.  He asked many questions about her and her family.

When they were having dessert, he said with a serious expression on his face, “I want to have a relationship with you, Tina.  I know that you are hesitant because we work together and the age difference but we can’t deny how we feel about each other.  It’s so hard for me to be around you and not want to touch you or kiss you.  Quite a few people in our department are dating each other.  At least, let’s give it a try and see what happens.   What do you say?”

She toyed with her Black Currant Sorbet for a moment and then, looking up at him, she nodded.  “Yes, let’s give it a try.”  He was right.  There was nothing to prevent them from having a relationship except her own misgivings which she knew had to do with her fear of getting hurt.  She still couldn’t believe that he was attracted to her instead of someone closer to his age.

He smiled and reaching over, he caressed her hand, making her pulse race.  They spent the rest of the night talking about all sorts of things and made plans to see each other the following day.  When he took her home, he leaned down and was about to kiss her on the cheek when, heart thudding, she turned her head so that their lips touched.

Groaning, he deepened the kiss while backing her into the flat.  Once they were inside, he kicked the door shut, his mouth moving feverishly over hers.  She clung to him, kissing him back while her hands removed his jacket.  His tie and shirt soon followed and then, she broke off the kiss, panting and grabbing him by the hand, she took him to her room.

The following day at the office, they smiled and kept exchanging knowing looks.  She felt like a lovesick schoolgirl.   When other people were around, they acted professionally around each other as before. They spent every evening together, either at her flat or his.  Over the weekends, they went for drives, to the cinema, dinner, the theatre, concerts and nightclubs or for walks along the Quay.  Tina knew that she was falling in love with him and hoped that he was with her.  Once when he was taking a shower, she joined him and as he gazed down into her face, the water beating on his back, she saw the look in his eyes before he kissed her.  There was no doubt in her mind that he cared for her.

One afternoon, she was on her way home to visit her sister, Vivien when she spotted Anton in front of a café.  He was not alone.   There was a traffic signal right there and she stopped as the light turned to red, craning her neck to see him and the girl he was with.  She watched as he leaned over and said something to the pretty brunette, making her throw back her head and laugh.  Then, she saw the girl reach up and put her arms around his neck, hugging him closely.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as jealousy ripped through her.

The honk of a car horn behind her startled her.  Dragging her eyes from the two figures on the sidewalk, she glanced up and saw that the light had changed to green.  She pressed her foot on the gas and drove off.  All sorts of thoughts were running through her mind.  Who was the girl and what was he doing with her?  And what about me?  Is he getting bored of me?  But he couldn’t be—not after the way he made love to me last night.  She trembled at the memory.  Is he seeing the both of us at the same time?  Is he sleeping with her too? The pain and jealousy almost suffocated her.

How she managed to get to Vivien’s home without getting into an accident, she had no idea.  As soon as her sister opened the door, she broke down.  Concerned, Vivien hugged her for a moment until she had calmed down, then she put her arm around her shoulder and led her over to the sofa.  “Tell me what’s got you so upset,” she encouraged her gently.  She handed her the box of tissues that was on the coffee table and waited patiently while she dried her eyes and wiped her nose.  “I’ve never seen you like this before.”

Taking her time, Tina told her everything.  “I love him, Vivien.  It really hurt to see him with her.”

“Does he love you?”

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know.  He hasn’t said so as yet.”

“Based on what you have told me, it’s obvious that he has feelings for you.  There might not be anything going on between him and the girl.  It may all turn out to be innocent.  When you see him tomorrow, ask him about her.”

“And what if he’s seeing her?”

“Then, you must end your relationship with him.” She reached out and covered her hands.  “I hope it all works out for you, Tina.”

Tina didn’t answer.  At that moment, her world was in an upheaval and she didn’t know what she was going to do if it turned out that Anton was two-timing her.

She drove to work the next day, feeling awful.  She hadn’t slept a wink at all last night.  Anton wasn’t at his desk when she got in and she went into her office and closed the door.  She knew she couldn’t avoid him but she dreaded the moment when she would have to talk to him.  Once when he knocked on the door and poked his head in, she pretended that she was on the phone.  He didn’t disturb her after that.

It was after twelve when she came out of her office and stopped short when she saw the same girl she had seen Anton with sitting in a chair next to his desk.  What is she doing here, she wondered, resentfully.  The girl didn’t see her.  She was sitting with her back turned to her and was on her cell phone texting.

She was tempted to walk over to her and find out who she was.  As she stood there, trying to figure out what to do, Anton came up behind her.   She felt him caress her arm and she swung round to face him.

“What’s the matter?” he asked when he saw the expression on her face.

“Who’s the girl over there at your desk?” she demanded in a low, angry voice.  She couldn’t hide her jealousy.

He looked over her shoulder and then back at her.  “You mean my sister?” he asked, raising his eyebrows quizzically.

She gaped at him.  “Your sister?” she repeated, wondering if she had heard correctly.

“Yes, my sister.  Come, let me introduce you.”  He took her by the arm and led her over to the brunette who glanced up at them.  “This is my sister, Louise.  Louise, this is Tina.”

Louise smiled and held out her hand.  “It’s nice to meet you, Tina.  Anton has told me so much about you.”

Tina shook her hand, dazed and feeling like a complete fool.  “It’s nice to meet you too,” she murmured.

Anton turned to her, “Louise and I are going to have lunch.  Would you like to join us?”

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but I already had my lunch and I have a meeting in about fifteen minutes.”

Anton grabbed his jacket and pulled it on.  “I’ll see you when I get back.”

Louise stood up.  She was a tall girl.  “I hope to see you again, Tina,” she said.

Tina managed a smile.  “Me too.”  She watched them as they walked away and then went back into her office.  She sat down at her desk and leaned her head against the leather upholstery, her mind whirling.  The heaviness which had been on her heart was gone.  She went to her meeting in better spirits.  When it was over, she went back to her office and waited for Anton to return from lunch.

When he did, she called him on his extension, asking him to go in and see her.  He went in right away and walked over to her desk.  “You’ve been avoiding me all morning,” he said, “and I’d like to know why.”

She got up from the desk and went up to him.  “I have a confession to make,” she said quietly, wringing her hands nervously.  “Yesterday I saw you with Louise, only I didn’t know at the time that she was your sister and I thought…”

“And you thought that I was seeing another woman behind your back.  Oh, Tina,” he groaned, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration.  “How could you think such a thing?  Can’t you tell by now that I love you?”

Her heart stopped.  “You love me?”

“Yes! I love you so much that I ache inside.”

“I love you too.  I’m sorry for being such a jealous fool.  When I saw you with her, I was so hurt, so jealous.  I—I was going to talk to you about it today but I couldn’t seem to work up the courage to do so.”

He reached for her and pulled her into his arms.  “There’s no reason for you to be jealous of other women,” he told her huskily.  “I love you.  I want to be with you.  I want to marry you.”

She stared at him.  “Marry me?”

“Yes.  That’s why you saw me with Louise yesterday.  She went with me to De Beers to help me to choose a ring for you.  I was planning to propose to you tonight over dinner at my place.  Afterwards, we went to a cafe.  You must have seen us just before we parted company.”

She began to cry and he hugged her tightly.  “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

He drew back to look down at her.  “What are you sorry about?” he asked.

“I’m sorry for ruining your surprise and for doubting you…”

“Don’t  cry,” he said.  “You haven’t ruined anything and I would have reacted the same way if I had seen you hugging a strange man.

She smiled at him through her tears.  “I’m so lucky to have you,” she cried.

He cupped her face between his hands and rubbed the tears away with his thumbs.  “I’m the lucky one,” he muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her.  Wrapping her arms tightly around his waist, she kissed him back.

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Sources:  Time Out;Ali Express; Andrew Edmunds; De Beers

 

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A Failed Plan

The young ladies were all in a tizzy because Mr. Edmond McFadyen was joining them for dinner that evening.  Mr. Burrows had taken the liberty to extend the long overdue invitation when he had the pleasure of bumping into the young man at the gentlemen’s club that morning.

Ever since the McFadyens had moved into Grand Meadow Manor, Mrs. Burrows had pressed her husband to make their acquaintance.  They were invited to tea but Edmond was not present at the time, much to Mrs. Burrows’ consternation.   She urged Mr. Burrows to invite the young man to dinner and was beside herself with excitement when it was accepted graciously.

Mrs. Burrows clapped her hands in delight.  “Oh, girls,” she said to her daughters, Louise, Evelyn and Henrietta.  “Just think, one of you will win the affections of Edmond McFadyen.” Yes, it was her plan to secure one of her daughters for one of London’s most eligible bachelors.

The girls giggled.  “Oh, Mama,” Henrietta cried, “He is ever so handsome.  Which one of us do you think he will prefer?” she asked her sisters.

“Me,” said Louise.  “I’m the oldest and wisest.”

Evelyn pursed her lips.  “I’m the prettiest.”

Henrietta clucked.  “And I’m the youngest.”

They began to quarrel among themselves and Mrs. Burrows raised her hand.  “Girls, girls, stop fighting among yourselves,” she said.  “We will know soon enough this evening which of you Mr. McFadyen will favor.  Now, why don’t you run upstairs and sort out what you will wear. You must all look your very best, you know.”

“Yes, Mama,” they cried and bustled out of the room, leaving Mrs. Burrows alone with their cousin, Kay.

Kay sat by the fireplace reading a book.  She had listened to the commotion but had kept quiet.  Her aunt would not have welcomed any remark from her.  The older woman had never made her feel welcomed in her home.  And her cousins had always made her plain and inferior.  Only her uncle treated her kindly.  Many an evening they would sit in the library and have stimulating conversations.  He had intimated once that he wished his daughters were more like her.

She could feel her aunt’s gaze on her and she looked up.  The withering stare she received elicited a heavy sigh.  She closed her book.  “Perhaps, you would rather be alone, Aunt Mabel,” she said.  She was about to rise from the chair.

Her aunt waved her to remain seated.  “Don’t leave until I have said what I need to say to you,” she said.

“What is it, Aunt?”

“Don’t imagine for one moment that Mr. McFadyen would pay any attention to you. He is a gentleman.  You are not a gentleman’s daughter.  Your father was a shopkeeper.  I still don’t know what possessed my sister to marry him.”

Kay’s face suffused with color.  She tried to remain calm.  “My father may not have been a gentleman, Aunt, but he was a man of good character and my mother loved him.  As for Mr. McFadyen, I have no given no thought of him paying me any attention that is beyond what is customary.”

“You are not a pretty girl by any means, so I don’t suppose there’s any likelihood that the good gentleman would even notice you.”

Kay opened her mouth to respond to that unkind remark but decided that it was not worth dignifying.  “If you have no further requirements for me, Aunt, I shall excuse myself.”

Her aunt waved her away dismissively.  Getting up from the armchair, Kay made her exit.  Kay spent the rest of the afternoon in her room and when it was time to get ready for dinner, she did so half-heartedly.  She chose the pink gown that flattered her coloring and shape.  She pulled her hair back from her face in a French knot, allowing a few curls to fall across her forehead and brush against her cheeks.  She examined her reflection in the mirror and satisfied that she looked respectable, she left the room.

They were all in the drawing-room, including Mr. McFadyen who was surrounded, poor chap, by her excitable cousins.  All eyes turned in her direction when she entered the room and she felt her face go red.  How she wished she could return to her room.  She would be happier curled up on the bed, reading her book.  A tray could have been brought up.  Her eyes caught the sour expression on her Aunt’s face, the disdained glances of her cousins, the affectionate smile on her Uncle’s face before her gaze drifted to the guest of honor.

He was tall, very stately in appearance and quite handsome.  “This is our niece, Miss Forrester,” she heard her Uncle say.  Mr. McFadyen bowed and she curtsied.

The announcement that dinner was ready came just then and they all went in.  Mr. and Mrs. Burrows preceded the party.  Mr. McFadyen escorted Louise as she was the eldest; her sisters followed, looking rather cross and Kay brought up the rear.

She was seated at the opposite end of the table, as conceivably far from Mr. McFadyen as possible.  No doubt her Aunt’s doing.  Louise sat on his left and Evelyn on his right while Henrietta sat beside Evelyn, much to her displeasure.

However, the evening didn’t go as her Aunt hoped.  Her Uncle kept drawing Kay into the conversation when her Aunt and cousins seemed perfectly happy to ignore her. Mr. McFadyen seemed more interested in what she had to say than the frivolous chatter of her cousins. Kay found that she and Mr. McFadyen had a great deal in common.  They shared a love for History and the Arts.  He had done a great deal of travelling and she listened with rapt interest as he recounted some of his adventures.

The evening turned out to be rather pleasant for Mr. Burrows, Mr. McFadyen and Kay.  Before he left, Mr. McFadyen said to Kay, “Miss Forrester, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the museum tomorrow?  There are some new Egyptian artifacts on display which I have no doubt you will find fascinating.”

She smiled.  “Thank you, Sir.  I would be delighted to accompany you.”

“I bid you goodnight, Miss Forrester,” he said with a smile and a bow.

“I bid you goodnight, Mr. McFadyen.”  She curtsied.

After he left, she was subjected to malevolent stares from her Aunt and cousins.  “Kay, you should be ashamed of yourself, monopolizing Mr. McFadyen’s attention like that,” Louise scolded her.  “If you weren’t there, he would have paid more attention to me.”

“All that dull talk about History and Art,” Henrietta complained.  “He’s as dull as you, Kay.”

“And what did he say to you just now before he left, might I ask?” demanded Evelyn.

“If you must know, he invited me to accompany him to the museum tomorrow.”

“What?” her Aunt was aghast.  She slumped against the chair, fanning herself with her handkerchief as if she were feeling faint.

Her Uncle chuckled.  “It seems as if Mr. McFadyen has taken a fancy to Kay.”

“A fancy, indeed!  It’s all your fault, Mr. Burrows.  If you had ignored her like the rest of us, Mr. McFadyen would have requested the company of one of our girls.”

“My Dear Lady, it was clear to me that the young gentleman was not at all interested in any of our girls.  Therefore, ignoring Kay would not have changed that fact.  Now, it’s late and I am going to retire.”

Kay thought it a good time to leave as well.  She knew if she stayed, she would be raked over the coals.  “I too must retire.  Goodnight, Uncle.”  She kissed him.  “Goodnight, Aunt, Louise, Evelyn and Henrietta.”  She didn’t wait for them to respond but hurried from the room.

As she ran up the stairs, she felt a deep satisfaction that her Aunt’s plan for Mr. McFadyen had failed.  He was a gentleman, indeed and deserving of a woman who was his equal, not in social status but in character.

 

Source:  Fantasy Name Generators

Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s

Florence

She sat at a small table outside of the local cafe set in the maze of

streets near Piazza Antinori.  One could get lost in Florence but won’t

mind at all.  It was a beautiful, bustling and exciting place.  There was

so much to see.

Around her mingled the sound of dishes cutlery, the clink of

glasses as people toasted each other and the voices and laughter

of tourists and locals alike.  She heard French, Spanish, English, Italian.

Whiffs of cappuccino, hot bread and pasta filled the air.  It was early

afternoon.  She had spent the morning visiting the Duomo and the

Antinori palace.  Now she was at this little cafe buzzing with locals,

and enjoying a glass of wine after having delicious Ravioli, drinking

in the friendly ambiance around her as she watched couples, friends,

students on summer break and the locals walk by.

This was her first time in Florence.  She loved it.  She loved the

cobbled streets, the history, the people and of course, the food.

She will definitely stop by this delightful cafe again and try their

Beef tagliata.  Hopefully, she would get a table inside.  Not that

she minded eating on the sidewalk.

This was her first trip alone.  Usually she traveled with her

Sister, June.  June got married a couple years ago and her life

was not wrapped up in her husband and their two children.

No plans for Travel any time soon.

She signed.  Being alone in a city like Florence wasn’t so bad.

She could get used to it.  She could just lose herself in the maze

of streets that now seemed to be beckoning her.

She finished her wine and grabbing her handbag, she

got up and headed to the nearest street.

 

This trip could be her own personal adventure.  Who knows….what

could happen in the city of love…

woman in Florence

Sources:  Tripadvisor; Antinori Palace

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was one of 13 children to Susan and George Coleman, sharecroppers.  The family lived in a one-room cabin in Atlanta, Texas.  When she was two years old, Bessie’s father left the family in search of better opportunities in Oklahoma.  Bessie’s mother did her best to support the family until the children were old enough to contribute.  When Bessie’s older brothers went to work, she took care of her two younger sisters.  She became the family leader, reading to her sisters and mother at night.  Bessie promised her mother that she was going to “amount to something.”

Bessie began attending school when she was six and had to walk four miles every day to her segregated one-room school.  There she loved to read and had the distinction as an outstanding Math student.  The school closed whenever the students were needed in the fields to help their families harvest cotton.

Bessie attended Langston University, known then as Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University.  She was able to complete one term before she ran out of money.  She returned home.  At 23 she moved to Chicago where she lived with her brothers.  It was when she was working at the White Sox Barber Shop as a manicurist that her interest in aviation was kindled.  She heard stories about flying during the war from pilots returning home from World War I.  American flight schools did not admit black women and one of the pilots was willing to teach her how to fly.

Determined to earn her pilot license and encouraged by Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, Bessie went to France after taking a French language course at Berlitz School in Chicago.  In France, she learned how to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane and on June 15, 1921 she became the first African American and Native American to earn both an aviation pilot’s license and an international license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.  For the next two months, Bessie took lessons from a French ace pilot near Paris to polish her skills.  When she returned to the United States she became a media sensation.

She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting.  She earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks.  In 1922 she made her first appearance in an American airshow.  It was an event honoring veterans of an all-black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I.  She was billed as “the world’s greatest woman flier.”

It was Bessie’s dream to establish a school for young black aviators but she didn’t live to fulfill it.  On April 30, 1926, Bessie was killed in an accident while preparing for an airshow.  She was only 34 years old.

Bessie Coleman remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation.  “Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings 1934, dedicated to Coleman, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”  Lieutenant Powell served in a segregated unit during World War I and pushed for black aviation in his book, journals and through the Bessie Coleman Aero Club which he founded in 1929.

Notes to Women is pleased to honor this remarkable woman who broke down gender and race barriers by daring to dream big.  She kept her promise to her mother.  She did “amount to something”.

The air is the only place free from prejudice.

I refused to take no for an answer.

You’ve never lived till you’ve flown!

I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly.

 

Bessie Coleman painting

Sources:  Biography; Notable Biographies; Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Dame Angela Lansbury

I still watch Murder, She Wrote because I like the show and the character Jessica Fletcher played by the great Angela Lansbury.  My 7 year old son is also a fan of Jessica Fletcher’s.  Before taking on the role of a mystery writer in one of the longest running detective drama series in television history, Angela was a silver screen movie star.  My husband thought she was hot then.

Angela is a versatile actress, easily portraying an unlikable and cheeky maid in Gaslight opposite Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer to the music hall singer who, unfortunately and tragically, falls in love with the protagonist, Dorian Gray in the movie, The Picture of Dorian Gray to the frightening and domineering mother in The Manchurian Candidate.  Her performance as Mrs. John Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate is ranked #21 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains for villains.

Angela was born to an upper middle class family on October 16, 1925 in Regent’s Park, central London. Her mother, Moyna Macgill, was a Belfast born Irish actress and her father was the wealthy English timber merchant and politician Edgar Lansbury.  He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and former mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar.  Her paternal grandfather was the Labour Party leader and anti-war activist George Lansbury.  Angela was in awe of him and to her, he was “a giant in my youth”.  Angela had an older half-sister, Isolde from her mother’s previous marriage.  When Angela was four, her mother gave birth to twin boys, Bruce and Edgar, prompting the Lansburys to move from their Poplar flat to a house in Mill Hill, North London.  In the weekends, they went to a rural farm in Berrick Salome, Oxfordshire.

She was nine years old when her father died from stomach cancer.  To cope with her loss, she played characters, describing the event as “the defining moment of my life.  Nothing before or since has affected me so deeply.”  Faced with financial difficulty, her mother got engaged to a Scottish colonel and moved into his house in Hampstead.  Angela attended South Hampstead High School from 1934 to 1939.  She considered herself to be largely self-educated, learning from books, theatre and cinema.  She became a “complete movie maniac”, going regularly to the cinema and imagining herself as certain characters.

Angela’s grandfather died in 1940 and with the onset of the Blitz, her mother, Moyna took her and her brothers to the United States.  Her half-sister, Isolde remained in Britain with her new husband, actor Peter Ustinov.  Angela’s mother got a job supervising sixty British children who were evacuated to North America aboard the Duchess of Athol, arriving with them in Montreal, Canada in mid-August.  From Montreal they went by train to New York City where Moyna was sponsored financially by a Wall Street businessman and moved in with his family at their home in Mahopac, New York.  Angela got a scholarship from the American Theatre Wing which allowed her to study at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio.  There she appeared in performances of William Congreve’s The Way of the World and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan.  By the time she graduated, she and her family had moved to a flat in Morton Street, Greenwich Village.

Moyna got work in a Canadian touring production of Tonight at 8:30.  Angela joined her mother who got her first theatrical job as a nightclub act at the Samovar Club in Montreal.  She lied about her age to get the job and earned $60 a week.  She returned to New York city but her mother had moved to Hollywood to revive her cinematic career.  Angela and her brothers joined her.  After moving into a bungalow in Laurel Canyon, Angela and her mother got Christmas jobs at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles but unfortunately, Moyna got fired for incompetence.  The family had to live on Angela’s wages of $28 at week.

Angela met John van Druten at a party hosted by her mother.  He recently co-authored a script for Gaslight.  He suggested that Angela would be perfect for the role of Nancy Oliver, a conniving cockney maid and she accepted the part although at the time she was only 17.  A social worker had to accompany her on the set.  She got an agent and was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM, earning $500 a week.  She adopted “Angela Lansbury” as her stage name.  The movie received mixed reviews although Angela’s role was widely praised.  It received six Academy Award nominations, one of which was for Best Supporting Actress for Angela.

Following Gaslight, Angela starred in a supporting character in National Velvet which was a major commercial hit.  Angela developed a lifelong friendship with co-star Elizabeth Taylor.  I remember that the two friends appeared together in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d with Angela in the role of the endearing Miss Marple.

Angela next starred in The Picture of Dorian Gray with Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed and Peter Lawford.  Surprisingly, at least to me, the film was not a financial success.  However, it garnered Angela her second Best Supporting Actress nomination.  She lost to her National Velvet co-star Anne Revere.

Angela married Richard Cromwell, an artist and a decorator.  When I saw a photo of him, I recognized him as the brother of Henry Fonda’s character in the marvelous movie, Jezebel.  Angela’s marriage to Richard was a trouble one.  She would later disclose that he was gay, something she was not aware of until after their separation.  The marriage ended in less than a year and Angela filed for a divorce.  They remained friends, however, until his death.

Angela met her second husband, Peter Pullen Shaw at a party held by her former co-star Hurd Hatfield.  Hurd would later be a guest star on Murder She Wrote.  Peter was an aspiring actor also signed with MGM and had recently left a relationship with Joan Crawford.  He and Angela became a couple, living together before she proposed marriage.  They wanted to get married in Britain but the Church of England refused to marry two divorcees.  So, they wed at St. Columba’s Church which was under the jurisdiction of the Church of Scotland in Knightsbridge, London.  They had their honeymoon in France.  They returned to the United States and settled in Angela’s home in Rustic Canyon, Malibu, each becoming naturalised U.S. citizens with dual British citizenship.

Angela’s contract with MGM ended in 1952.  She was miscast, playing older and often villainous women.  Earlier in her career, MGM loaned her to United Artists for The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in 1947 and then to Paramount for Samson and Delilah (1949).  Unhappy with the roles MGM was giving her, Angela instructed her manager to terminate her contract.  At the time she was pregnant with her first child, Anthony whom she gave birth to that year.  Soon after he was born, she joined the East Coast touring productions of two former Broadway plays, Remains to be Seen and Affairs of the State.  In 1953, Angela gave birth to her daughter, Deidre Angela.  Angela’s husband, Peter had a son by a previous marriage and had legal custody of him.  He brought the boy to California to live with the family.  They moved to a larger house in Santa Monica.

In the mid-fifties Angela entered the world of Broadway theatre.  In 1957 she debuted in Hotel Paradiso, a French burlesque set in Paris, at the Henry Miller Theatre.  Although the play ran for only 15 weeks, earning her good reviews, she later stated that had she not appeared in the play, her “whole would have fizzled out”.  Next she appeared in A Taste of Honey, playing Helen, a boorish and verbally abusive absentee mother of Josephine played by Joan Plowright who was only four years younger.  Angela became friends with Joan and Laurence Olivier, Joan’s lover.  It was from Angela’s rented apartment on East 97th Street that Joan and Laurence eloped to get married.

Angela didn’t feel comfortable in the Hollywood social scene.  She chalked this up to her British roots. “In Hollywood, I always felt like a stranger in a strange land.”  In 1959, the family moved to Malibu where they settled into a house on the Pacific Coast Highway where she and Peter were able to escape the Hollywood scene and send their children to state school.

In 1962, Angela starred opposite Lawrence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate, playing his manipulative mother even though she was only three years older than him.  The role earned her her third Best Supporting Actress Award nomination.  It bothered her that she didn’t win.  Angela starred in several movies in the 1960s but although her performances were well received, the kind of roles she wanted evaded her and she became dissatisfied with the minor roles she was getting, feeling that none of them allowed her to explore her potential as an actress.

I was a wife and a mother, and I was completely fulfilled. But my husband recognised the signals in me which said ‘I’ve been doing enough gardening, I’ve cooked enough good dinners, I’ve sat around the house and mooned about what more interior decoration I can get my fingers into.’ It’s a curious thing with actors and actresses, but suddenly the alarm goes off. My husband is a very sensitive person to my moods and he recognised the fact that I had to get on with something. Mame came along out of the blue just at this time. Now isn’t that a miracle? – Angela Lansbury

In 1966 Angela took on the title role of Mame Dennis in the musical Mame, the musical adapted from the novel, Auntie Mame.  The director’s first choice for the role was Rosalind Russell who played Mame in the non-musical adaptation but she declined.  Theatre critics were surprised that Angela was chosen for the role, believing that the role would go to a better known actress.  Angela was forty-one at the time and this was her first starring role.  She trained extensively for the role which involved over twenty costume changes throughout the play and ten songs and dance routines.  Auntie Mame opened on Broadway in May 1996, gaining Angela rave reviews.  She received her first Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.  Following her success as Mame, Angela appeared in Dear World, the musical adaptation of The Madwoman of Chailott, as a 75 year old Parisian eccentric.  Angela found the experience “pretty depressing” but received positive reviews for her performance and her second Tony award.   The show, however, received critical reviews and ended after 132 performances.  After Dear World, Angela played the title role of the musical Prettybelle, based on Jean Arnold’s The Rape of Prettybelle, set in the Deep South.  It was a controversial play because it dealt with issues of racism with Angela as a wealthy alcoholic who seeks sexual encounters with black men.  It opened in Boston to poor reviews and was cancelled before it even reached Broadway.  Angela would later say that the play was a “complete and utter fiasco.”  She felt that her performance was awful.

In the early 1970s Angela turned down several cinematic roles, including the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which went to Louise Fletcher who won the Oscar for Best Actress.  In 1970 Angela appeared as the middle-aged English witch in the Disney film, Beadknobs and Broomsticks, her first lead in a screen musical.  1970 was a traumatic year for the Lansbury family.  Peter underwent a hip replacement, their son Anthony suffered a heroin overdose and went into a coma and the family’s home in Malibu was destroyed in a bush fire.  They bought a farmhouse constructed in the 1820s located near the village of Conna in rural County Cork.  It was there Anthony was taken to receover from his drug addiction after he quit using cocaine and heroin.  He enrolled in the Webber-Douglas School, his mother’s alma mater and became a professional actor before becoming a television director.  Angela and her husband did not return to California, instead, they divided their time between Cork and New York City.  They lived opposite the Lincoln Centre.

Angela returned to theatre in 1972, performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatrical production of Edward Albee’s All Over in London’s West End.  Although reviews of the play were mixed, her performance was widely praised.  She did a revival of Mame which was touring the United States at the time.  She returned to the West End to play Rose in the musical Gypsy.  Initially, she turned down the role because she didn’t want to be in Ethel Merman’s shadow.  Ethel had portrayed the character in the original Broadway production.  Eventually, Angela accepted the role and she received a standing ovation and rave reviews.  Not at all in anyone’s shadow, she was in demand among the London society, having dinners in her honour.  When Gypsy went to Broadway, it was a critical success, earning Angela her third Tony Award.

Eager to move on from musicals, Angela decided to tackle a production of one of William Shakespeare’s plays and landed the role of Gertrude in The National Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet.  The play received mixed reviews.  Angela later admitted that she hated the role because it was too restrained. To make matters worse, she learned that her mother had died in California. Angela had her mother’s body cremated and her ashes scattered near to her own County Cork home.

Angela appeared in Edward Albee’s Counting the Ways and Listening.  Her performance was praised.  She followed this with another revival tour of Gypsy.  She appeared in the revival of The King and I musical at Broadway’s Uris Theatre.  After seven years, she starred in her first cinematic role in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, opposite her brother-in-law Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis who became a close friend. Of Bette, she had this to say, “She is an original. There has never been anyone, before or since, who could touch her.”

In 1979 she earned her fourth Tony Award playing Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  In 1982 she played an upper middle class housewife in A Little Family Business which also starred her son, Anthony.  The movie was panned and accused of racism by the Japanese-American community.  She co-starred with friend Bette Davis in the film made for television, Little Gloria…Happy at Last.  She appeared in other television movies, one of which was BBC’s A Talent for Murder which she jumped at the chance to take in order to work with co-star Laurence Olivier.

Then in 1983, Angela was offered two television roles–one was in a sitcom and the other was in a detective series.  She was unable to do both so her agents advised her to accept the sitcom role but she decided to accept the other role.  And we are thrilled that she did!  Angela described her character Jessica Fletcher as “an American Miss Marple”.  It’s interesting that she said that because she played Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d.  She played the sleuth the way Agatha Christie described the her unlike Margaret Rutherford who made the role famous.  The role of Jessica Fletcher had been offered to Jean Stapleton first but she turned it down.  I must say that I am happy that she did because I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.  Angela was the perfect choice.

Angela took her role as Jessica Fletcher very seriously and had creative input over the character’s costumes, makeup and hair.  Network executives wanted to put the character in a relationship which Angela strongly rejected, believing that the character should remain a strong single female.  She changed any script which did not fit Jessica’s personality.  She saw Jessica as a role model for older female viewers and praised her “enormous, universal appeal” and admitted that, “It was an accomplishment I never expected in my entire life.”  Murder, She Wrote was described as a television landmark in the U.S. for having an older female character as the protagonist, paving the way for series like The Golden Girls, another show I enjoyed tremendously.  “I think it’s the first time a show has really been aimed at the middle aged audience,” Angela said.  It was the most popular show among senior citizens but it gradually gained a younger audience.  By 1991, a third of the viewers were under fifty.  It gained high ratings throughout most of its run.

I know why [Murder, She Wrote was a success]. There was never any blood, never any violence. And there was always a satisfying conclusion to a whodunit. The jigsaw was complete. And I loved Jessica’s everywoman character. I think that’s what made her so acceptable to an across-the-board audience – Angela Lansbury, 2014.

As the show went on Angela assumed a larger role behind the scenes with her own company, Corymore co-producing the show with Universal.  After a while, though she began to get tired of the series, especially of the long working hours and said that the 1990-1991 would be the show’s last season.  However, she changed her mind after she was appointed executive producer for the 1992-1993 season, which made it far more interesting for her.  For the seventh season, the show’s setting moved to New York where Jessica had taken a job teaching criminology at Manhattan University in an attempt to attract younger viewers.  Angela encouraged this move.  The show aired on Sunday where its ratings improved in the early 1990s.  People had gotten used to tuning in every Sunday night to see what murder mystery Jessica Fletcher would be solving so it was unfortunate when CBS executives got the bright idea to move it to Thursdays opposite NBCs new sitcom, Friends with the hope of drawing a larger audience.  Not surprisingly, Angela was angry at this move, believing that it ignored the show’s core audience.  The show’s final episode aired in May 1996 and ended with Angela voicing a “Goodbye from Jessica” message.  The role of Jessica Fletcher would prove to be the most successful and prominent of Angela’s career.  It must have been hard saying goodbye to Jessica Fletcher for Angela and the faithful viewers.  All good things must come to an end.  Sigh.

After the end of Murder, She Wrote, Angela returned to the theatre.  Fast forward to March to June 2014 when Angela reprised her 2009 Tony winning Broadway performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End, marking her first London stage appearance in nearly 40 years.  She picked up her first Olivier award, Britain’s most prestigious prize a the age of 89 for Blithe Spirit.  It’s worth mentioning that Angela received an Academy Honorary Award for her lifetime achievement at the Governors Awards on November 16, 2013 and received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre on November 16, 2015.

I read a few interesting things about Angela.  I will just mention a few.  In the late 1940s, MGM planned to cast her as the female lead in a film entitled “Angel’s Flight” with Clark Gable but the project never came through because Mr. Gable disliked the storyline, so the studio had to squash the entire project.  She was considered for the role of Miss Caswell in All About Eve (1950), but Marilyn Monroe was cast in the role instead.  Frank Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the role of Mrs. Iselin, the manipulative mother in The Manchurian Candidate but Angela got the part and played it convincingly.  I don’t know if Lucille Ball would have pulled it off.  Angela is a staunch Democrat and a solid supporter of Barack Obama.  She was very close friends with Bob Hope.  She gave a speech at his memorial service on August 27, 2003.  Her nephew David Lansbury was married to actress Ally Sheedy, The Breakfast Club.

Angela was self-professed homebody who preferred spending quiet evenings inside with friends to the Hollywood night live.  She is a supporter of the United States Democratic Party and the British Labour Party.  Notes to Women celebrate this remarkable woman who is a staunch supporter of charities such as Abused Wives in Crisis which combated domestic abuse and those who worked toward rehabilitating drug users.  She supported charities dedicated to fighting against HIV/AIDs.  She was a chain smoker early in life but gave up the addiction cold turkey in the mid-1960s.  We congratulate her on her promotion to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to drama and to charitable work and philanthropy.  Last year she was made a Dame by the Queen at Windsor Castle.  This honour couldn’t have happened to a more deserving lady.  Dame Angela, we applaud you for the work you have done in movies and in theatre and most importantly, your charitable deeds.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I have missed because I was so busy entertaining that audience and so busy pursuing a career.
I just went along for the ride. It was a God-given gift. It is. So you can’t say well, you wasted your life because you spent all of it acting, but I think gosh, I’ve never been to China, I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve never been to Yellowstone Park.
I had no idea that such a thing could happen. It never occurred to me.My son told me. He called me and said, “Darling, I just wanted you to know that you have been chosen to receive an honorary Academy Award.” I was in the back of this car, and I said, “Oh,” and burst into tears, of course, because it was so unexpected and quite wonderful. I thought it’s been worth hanging around all these years.
I honestly consider that the greatest gift to me, is the reaction that I get from my work. That is a given which I never, ever take for granted. But to be given that by audiences, individuals, on the street, in the theater, is an extraordinary feeling.
My mother was one of the most beautiful women, I have to say, of her generation. She was absolutely lovely. She was a very, extremely sensitive, Irish actress. She came from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and she came to London, and she was sort of discovered by several people.
~Angela Lansbury~

Sources: azquotes; Wikipedia; IMDB; Hollywood Reporter; Deadline Presents

 

Fanny Kemble

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good – Thomas J. Watson

I never heard of Fanny Kemble until I recently read a devotion, The Unlikely in Our Daily Bread which mentions her work as an Abolitionist.  She was a British actress in the 19th century who married Pierce Butler, an American fan.  Fanny didn’t know that he was soon to inherit two plantations.  Had she known, most probably she would not have married him.  Little did she know that she would soon be fighting her own civil war.

Fanny Kemble was born in England in 1809 into a prominent family of actors.  Although she was very accomplished in her acting, it was not her true love.  Writing was her passion and throughout her she would write plays, journals, poetry, letters and memoirs.  Her most famous authorship would be that of Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation which many consider to be the closest, most detailed account of the harsh conditions of plantation slavery.

Fanny was a strong, spirited woman with no formal training in acting but she managed to captivate audiences.  She had what were considered to be masculine traits: she was independent, physically strong and highly intelligent.  She was talented, spoke French fluently and was accomplished in music.  She embraced life and enjoyed exercise, specifically riding.  To her the best way to was to break “my neck off the back of my horse at a full gallop on a fine day”.  This reminds me of my former boss whose wish was to die being mauled to death by a polar bear.  Whatever happened to wanting to die peacefully in one’s sleep?

Fanny met her future husband Pierce when she and her father went on a two-year theatre tour in America.  It wasn’t her desire to experience life in America but she did it to please her father.  She was well received by the Americans and captured the ardent attention of Pierce Butler, a man born into wealthy and prominent family from Philadelphia.  His grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran Major Pierce Butler.  Major Butler was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause.  He owned two plantations in Georgia, one was on St. Simon’s Island where sea-island cotton was grown and the other was on Butler Island where rice was grown.  One day, his grandson would inherit this mass fortune, making history as one of the largest slaveholders in the nation.

Pierce, infatuated with Fanny, followed her while she toured and she fell in love with this charming and attentive man.  She married him as a way of escaping life in the theatre which was beset with her family’s unstable financial future.  She was marrying into wealth but didn’t find out what the source of that wealth was until after they got married.

It was a marriage that was doomed from the beginning.  She believed that he would always be devoted to her and he believed that he could control her.  And their differences on slavery did not help matters.  He thought he could get her to see the benefits of the institution while she thought she could get him to free his slaves.  When she tried to publish an antislavery treatise she had written, Pierce forbade her to do so.  After he and his brother John inherited the Georgia plantations, Fanny wanted to see the plantation and begged but Pierce to take her with him but he refused.  Then in December of 1838 he took her and their two daughters and their Irish nurse to Butler Island.  Nothing could have prepared Fanny for  what she witnessed at this place.  Inspite of the beautiful surroundings, she could not escape the ugly presence of slavery.  She said, “I should like the wild savage loneliness of the far away existence extremely if it were not for the one small item of the slavery.”

Fanny and Pierce clashed over their views of slavery and their marriage began to deteriorate.  In 1845 Fanny left Pierce and children and returned to England where she resumed her stage career.  Pierce sued for divorce, claiming that she had “willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845”.  Three years later, on April 7, 1848, he filed for divorce.  Fanny returned to America to defend herself against his charges and after a long and painful court battle, the divorce was granted a year later with Pierce having full custody of the girls.  Fanny was allowed to spend two months very summer with them and receive $1500 yearly in alimony.

While Fanny was able to support herself in the U.S. and Europe with her Shakespearean readings, Pierce fell into financial ruin, gambling away his fortune.  He ended up in huge debt which led to the selling of the mansion in Philadelphia and the liquidation of other properties.  Unfortunately, this was not enough so the trustees turned their focus on the property in Georgia where the slaves were.  This led to the largest single sale of human beings in United States history and the event known as “the weeping time” as slaves were separated from their families.

After the war Pierce and his daughter Frances returned to Butler Island where he arranged for former slaves to work for him as sharecroppers.  He later contracted malaria and died.  Fanny moved to Philadelphia where she continued to perform dramatic readings.  She travelled and published her journals.  On January 15, 1893, Fanny died peacefully in London.

Notes to Women want to acknowledge this woman who spoke out against an institution and practice which violated the rights of people based on their race.  Moved with compassion and a sense of decency, Fanny set out to reform the plantations.  She set up a hostel and nursery for those in need and paid the slaves who personally tended to her.  She improved the hygiene of the slave children by rewarding cleanliness with small prizes.   Her critics saw her efforts at reform as foolish and sided with her husband but we applaud Fanny for the stance she took against slavery and her resolve to do what she could to help the slaves and for raising awareness through her firsthand observations.  If you are interested in reading about her experiences, you can read them in her diary here.

In Fanny’s eyes, acquiring wealth from the forced labor and enslavement of others is unconscionable. She was convinced that slavery was wrong and inhumane and refused to be silenced on the matter.  She stuck to her convictions and today, her journal continues to be a primary source of education on the reality of slavery.

[On disagreeing with her husband about his slave-holding:] I cannot give my conscience into the keeping of another human being or submit the actions dictated by my conscience to their will.

I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution.

In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live.

I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man.

The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace – the handcuff, the last – the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives – the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart – these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave’s experience.

A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants…. The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.

Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen-the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will-are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.

When marriage is what it ought to be, it is indeed the very happiest condition of existence.

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Sources:  PBS, Pabook Libraries, New Georgia Encyclopedia; Brainy Quotes; AZ Quotes; Stand Up Quotes