Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interview with Paula Uruburu - Part II

Welcome to part two of my interview with Professor Paula Uruburu, author of the new biography American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White and the Crime of the Century.

Q. The trial of Harry K. Thaw seemed to set the tone for later celebrity trials of the century like O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, where the victim seemed to be demonized in some way. Not that Thaw and Evelyn came out much better in the press.

It really was a watershed moment for the new century (which would see unfortunately other trial rooted in scandal and sensationalisms, each decade having its “trial of the century” – you mentioned a couple and I would add the Fatty Arbuckle , Lindbergh kidnapping,, and the Manson murder trials in this unholy unhappy pantheon.)

As I say in the book, at first, Harry was seen as the knigh t in shining armor and Evelyn the “ruined maid,” but once all the facts started to emerge about insanity and less than innocent behavior (in order to save Harry from the electric chair) the demonization had touched each of them.

Q. With so much written about the trial at the time, Evelyn’s two memoirs and Harry K. Thaw’s autobiography, where does a biographer begin to start sorting fact from fiction?

First by comparing what’s in those memoirs and then, trying to put them into the specific context x of the moment in which they were written and then the larger cultural context -- with a century of hindsight. Add to that significant detective work (such as finding hundreds of personal letters, the original trial transcripts) talking to real live people who knew the principals (family members, not all of whom are necessarily sympathetic), culling information from everymore impartial source possible (thousands of newspaper accounts, articles, etc.) and then hopefully using common sense and an informed vision of the forces of class and gender at work in such a complicated series of events.

Q. Harry’s mother was the complete opposite of Evelyn’s mother. Mrs. Thaw seemed to alternately smother and control Harry. When Harry was arrested, she did everything she could to make sure that he was acquitted, including having a film made of the murder. Not even OJ tried that!

Yes and I don’t think anyone would have been receptive to an OJ film (look what happened to his recent book deal that ended with an outraged hue and cry) But at the time of White’s murder, it was still an incredibly naïve period and the Thaw millions made it possible to utilize every means of media available to bombard an unsuspecting public only beginning to develop a taste for tabloid.. I say in the book it was a nation of “novice interpreters”and Mother Thaw at times did not realize that her own financial fueling of the media frenzy would come back to bite Harry and the Thaw family’s reputation – with a vengeance.

Q. There was certainly no ‘Dream Team’ in this trial. Thaw fought against being seen as insane. He insisted that he had the right to kill White because of his violation of Evelyn. How unusual was that for a defense? And do you think that Thaw was insane? It seemed fairly pre-meditated.

As I say in the chapters in the book that cover the trial, the “quaint” defense of the “Unwritten Law” which Harry’s lawyers tried to use in the first trial, was a Victorian holdover that would not fly even a year and a half later, when they had to go with the obvious insanity defense. Yet it was enough in 1907 for a hung jury even though Harry killed Stanny in front of 900 witnesses. I do think it was as premeditated as anything Harry could pull off – he had carried that gun around with him for a year and that day he had detectives tailing White’s every move. Once the “convenient or calculated” opportunity presented itself at the Madison Square Garden theatre, Harry made his fatal move. I do, however, also think he was totally demented.

Q. The district attorney William Travers Jerome (who as it happens was Jennie Jerome's double first cousin and Winston Churchill’s second cousin) also had a secret to keep, that he had a mistress. He also had a reputation for fighting against corruption. How important was this trial for him?

I think he was surprisingly naïve when he thought he could wrap this up as just another love triangle gone bad. He had no idea of the force of Mother Thaw’s will or of Evelyn’s astonishing presence in the courtroom – he had reduced many older, wiser professional men to fumbling idiots on the witness stand -- but Evelyn held her own with the “courtroom tiger.” If it was a question for the press of the Lady or the Tiger, I think most would say the lady won -- and this effectively dashed any hopes Jerome had in looking at the governor’s seat and possibly even the presidency at some time in the future (which had been the rumor). Having just lost our former governor to a sex scandal, I suppose not only has nothing changed in 100 years but it’s probably lucky for Jerome that things went the way they did -- since his own philandering might have come to light had he taken a higher public office.

Q. What was the nature of Evelyn’s relationship with Thaw after the trial?

That’s a complicated issue – since she felt the Thaws owed her big time for sacrificing her reputation and making herself a scandalous woman to save Harry’s life, she tried to stick things out and hoped for the best. But it was clear almost immediately that once Harry was in the insane asylum, Mother Thaw had no intention of rewarding Evelyn for her testimony. Yet she was now married to a lunatic incarcerated for who knows how long, and to say things were strained would be an understatement, especially since Harry grew more and more resentful that she was not grateful enough for what he did “for her” – which was to ruin any chances she might have had for a “normal “life.

Q. Evelyn’s life after the trial seemed to go from bad to worse for a time. What lessons, if any, can today’s young stars learn from Evelyn Nesbit? Can her story be viewed as a cautionary tale?

Without discouraging further scandalous behavior by adult women who are free to do what they like, I only wish that those young girls (not women) who are already in the harsh cynical light of celebrity-fueled fire – with names like Miley, Brittany, Lindsey, Mary-Kate and Ashley – or those contemplating fame based on such fleeting things as beauty or the whims of a fickle public, read Evelyn’s story and learn something from it. It is of course doubly difficult when, like Evelyn, virtually all of today’s teen-aged femme fatales are placed in harm’s way by parents with dubious motivations and atrocious parenting skill -- and that we are still a culture which delights in watching young women crash and burn for its own titillation and entertainment. As I say early in the book, those who don’t learn from history’s sins are doomed to repeat them -- and 100 years later NOTHING has changed.

Q. Evelyn lived long enough to see the movie 'The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing' with Joan Collins which you said that she thought that Joan Collins was too voluptuous to play her (how funny that both actresses cast to play her physically look nothing like her, at least in terms of body type). What do you think she would have
made of the continued fascination with her story?

Given that Evelyn wrote several letters in the last few years of her life about how she "rocked civilization," I'd say she would find the whole thing pretty amusing. She was able to have both literal and critical distance from the "Garden tragedy" by then. As "the girl who brought down the house" (much like Eve, Pandora, Helen of Troy, etc.) she ultimately believed that she was somehow destined to expose the sins of the rich and powerful.

I also think she would have had a great deal to say about the current state of affairs where young girls, who have much greater opportunities than those a century ago, are being "exposed" to the limelight by unscrupulous or deluded parents in the HD, TMZ, Hollywood Heat culture of today. Even though she could never bring herself to openly criticize her mother, she wrote again and again about how damaging it was to be exposed to fame at a young age

Thank you Professor Uruburu for joining me at Scandalous Women, and for allowing me to post the lovely images of Evelyn, as well as Stanford White and Thaw. You can purchase Professor Uruburu's book at or Barnes and Noble. Also please see her web-site to read an excerpt from the book as well as watch the trailer at American Eve.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome Paula Uruburu - Author of American Eve

Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome Professor Paula Uruburu, author of American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, and the Crime of the Century (Riverhead Books).

Paula Uruburu is an associate professor of English at Hofstra University. An expert on Evelyn Nesbit and the time period, she has been widely published and has appeared on A&E's Biography, PBS's History Detectives and American Experience, and been a consultant for The History Channel.

The scandalous story of America’s first supermodel, sex goddess, and modern celebrity, Evelyn Nesbit, the temptress at the center of Stanford White’s famous murder, whose iconic life story reflected all the paradoxes of America’s Gilded Age. Known to millions before her sixteenth birthday in 1900, Evelyn Nesbit was the most photographed woman of her era, an iconic figure who set the standard for female beauty. Women wanted to be her. Men just wanted her.

When her life of fantasy became all too real, and her jealous millionaire husband, Harry K. Thaw, killed her lover—celebrity architect Stanford White, builder of the Washington Square Arch and much of New York City—she found herself at the center of the “Crime of the Century” and the popular courtroom drama that followed—a scandal that signaled the beginning of a national obsession with youth, beauty, celebrity, and sex.

The story of Evelyn Nesbit is one of glamour, money, romance, sex, madness, and murder, and Paula Uruburu weaves all of these elements into an elegant narrativethat reads like the best fiction— only it’s all true. American Eve goes far beyond just literary biography; it paints a picture of America as it crossed from the Victorian era into the modern, foreshadowing so much of our contemporary culture today.

Q. Welcome Professor Uruburu. Over a hundred years later, the story of Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White and Harry Thaw still continues to fascinate. What led to your interest in Evelyn Nesbit?

I actually mention this in the notes section of my book – and it fits quite nicely with your scandalous women – since it started with a course I teach called Daughters of Decadence.It’s a lit course on the depiction of women at the turn of the last century in short fiction, poetry and novels. I began to look for images of women to enhance my lectures and kept coming across the hypnotic face of Evelyn Nesbit. Like so many others, I became obsessed with her image and wanted to know more than what I thought I knew from reading Doctorow’s brilliant historical novel Ragtime.

Q. Evelyn’s mother seems to have abdicated her role both as a parent as a breadwinner. She’s not even really a stage mother in the sense of say, a Dina Lohan. And she abandons her when Evelyn needed her most during the trial. What is your take on Mrs. Nesbit?

Well, as I say in the book, initially I was sympathetic to the plight of a woman left a widow with two children and no social programs or avenues of help at the time. But then, the more research I did and the more I learned, she became what I call a “monster in human form” – not all monsters are easily recognizable as such, which makes them all the more insidious and dangerous – as certain parental behaviors in the news currently appear to me.(think Lohan, Spears, Cyrus …).

Q. Nowadays we are so used to people becoming famous seemingly out of nowhere like Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie. But Evelyn’s fame was something new back then. Her photographs were everywhere, and she seems to have posed for most of the great photographers and artists of the day. What do you think it was about Evelyn that made her such a celebrity?

Two things. She was an extraordinary-looking girl (I stress that since she started modeling at 14) and had an extraordinarily natural beauty, completely against the type of the time – which made her stand out and which connoisseurs of the artistic avante garde like White recognized. Hers was also a case of unique timing, since new technology converged with Evelyn which literally made her the poster girl of the Gilded Age. It was the New Century in search of symbols to represent the age and she was It.

Q. Stanford White was also very well known at the time as well. How was he able to keep his proclivities so secret from the public for so long? Particularly with the likes of Anthony Comstock and the Society for the Prevention of Vice around?

This was the last gasp of the gilded period where an unspoken conspiracy of the rich and powerful were able to keep their private sins separate from the public sphere they ruled over. White was almost found out with the Pie Girl incident( people will have to read the book to find out what that was) but he begged the newspapers to keep his name out of things and pretty much succeeded. After his murder the walls of secrecy came tumbling down.

Q. In many ways, Stanford White seemed to fulfill the roles of both father and lover to Evelyn. Do you feel that the loss of Evelyn’s father when she was young led her to seek out father substitutes? She wrote in her memoirs that he was the only man that she ever really loved; do you think that’s true?

I believe Evelyn when she says that “Stanny” was the only man she ever truly loved – and while I would leave it to the psychologists to offer a more expert opinion on whether or not Evelyn had an Electra complex., I do think that there was some fusion (on confusion) of daughter-love with what became a sexual relationship once White crossed the line with Evelyn. As she says, even though at first he struck her as appallingly old, his youthful exuberance and playfulness eventually won her over. I do think her brief “frolic” with John Barrymore , by the way, was more of a crush and not really love.

Q. Why was Thaw so obsessed with Stanford White?

Thaw wanted desperately to be part of the “smart set” and social elite in Manhattan (as he perceived he was in Pittsburgh and certain European capitals .) But when his crazy antics and abrasive personality manifested themselves, he was virtually banned form every club in the city – many of which White had built or was a member of – and Thaw believed White blackballed him – he saw White as the source of his social disgcrace and thus a perfect target for obsession and revenge.

Q. Why did Evelyn eventually marry Thaw after learning about his darker side?

That’s the hardest question for me since she in fact had a very intelligent and intellectually curious mind (which her beaut y overshadowed overwhelmingly). I think her decision was based on several factors -a childhood of poverty versus what she perceived of as the comfort of the Thaw millions; added to that is the fact that Stanny had already “ruined” her as far as legitimate suitors would be concerned; and like all practiced sociopaths, Harry effectively cut her off from other avenues of choice and promised,(and gave convincing evidence) of being able to curb his darker appetites and behave especially in the presence of his Mother in whose house they would live.

Q. All three principals seemed to have a duality to their nature, Stanford White and Thaw certainly, but even Evelyn seemed to have two sides to her as well.

Yes that’s another reason why I find the story so fascinating – three larger-than-life people from very different backgrounds all converged at the moment of America’s cultural identity crisis at the turn into the new century. People wanted to hang on to outdated stereotypes (the melodramatic scenarios of the Victorian era) when it all began, but the culture was already in transition – and Evelyn was far more a modern girl in spirit than the age allowed. Without any sort of guidance, she had to make her own way, which meant having to survive and embrace certain moments, all brought on by her incredible beauty.

Q. Do you think it was possible for the tragedy to have been averted any point? Or do you think it was inevitable in some way?

Evelyn talks in her own memoirs a lot about Fate and I can’t help but see her life and her position in this new world “Garden tragedy” as some weird convergence of larger forces. . The fact shat she was “Evie” and Stanny was the creator of the Garden, infiltrated by the devious snake Harry Thaw only underscores for me the mythic inevitability of the whole thing.

Come back tomorrow for Part II of my interview with Paula Uruburu!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Winner of
by Princess Michael of Kent

Leanna Renee Hieber!

Please email with your address to claim your prize
Thanks to everyone that entered and stay tuned for more giveaways in the future

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Woman Scorned - Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

'Nature never intended me for obscurity,' Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte to her father in 1815.

Although little known today outside her native Baltimore or to Napoleon scholars, Elizabeth Bonaparte Patterson was a well-known beauty in her day. Her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother, made her a well-known celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, and allowed her entree into the highest echelon of society.

Elizabeth or Betsy as she was known was the daughter of William Patterson, who emigrated from Ulster in Ireland and grew to be the second richest man in Baltimore after Charles Carroll, making his fortune in business, finally ending up as the owner of a line of clipper ships (Patterson Park is named after him). She met Jerome Bonaparte at a ball given by Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence in the fall of 1803. Joseph fell for her immediately. Although his English was limited, she spoke French fluently.

Jerome who was born in 1784, was a lieutenant in the French navy, second in command of the warship Epervier in the Caribbean, when he decided while he wanted to visit the fledgling United States. He wrote to his brother for permission which was promptly denied. Jerome decided to ignore his brother and go anyway. Leaving the warship in Martinique, he set off with his doctor, secretary and several servants. While he was gone, his ship was captured by an enemy vessel. Arriving in Virginia, Jerome traveled to Washington DC where he introduced himself to the French ambassador. He also made the acquaintance of a man named Joshua Barney, a naval officer, who introduced Jerome to Baltimore society.

Although they had not known each other for very long, Jerome proposed soon after they met, and the wedding was scheduled for November 3d. Although he was initially for the idea, her father changed his mind when he received an anonymous letter detailing Jerome's somewhat unsavory past. The letter claimed that Jerome had 'ruined' many a young lady and he would marry Elizabeth only 'to secure a home at your expense' until he returned to France, after which time, he would 'laugh at your credulity.' As any decent father would have been, William Patterson was alarmed by what he had read, and withdrew his support for the marriage. He sent Elizabeth away to stay with relatives in Virgina.

But the love birds were not to be denied. Elizabeth declared as only the young can that she 'would rather be the wife of Jerome Bonaparte for an hour than the wife of any other man for life.' She had no idea how prophetic that statement would turn out to be. Her father only gave his consent when Elizabeth threatened to run away with Jerome and elope. Instead they were married on Christmas Eve 1803 by the Mayor of Baltimore as well as John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States (to make sure the marriage was doubly legal!). The bride's dress was so flimsy that one of the guests declared that it would fit in his pocket.

The newlyweds settled down in Baltimore where they were feted by society. Their every movement was recorded in the papers of the day, while people clamored to get a glimpse of them. Elizabeth continued to dress in a risque manner, wearing gowns that were so transparent that her body could be seen through the material. While such fashions were not unheard of in France, they were positively scandalous in Puritan America. Elizabeth ignored the warnings that her unorthodox fashion sense might ruin her social standing, declaring that the bold styles made her stand out. She was right.

Historian Charlene Boyer-Lewis writes that 'Elizabeth never shrank from attention, as well-mannered ladies were supposed to do, and she always carefully dressed for them. Her clothing helped to maintain the celebrity status that she not only loved, but also considered a necessary part of her life." Clearly Elizabeth knew the any press is good press and dressing like a star long before such behavior became commonplace.

Meanwhile back in Europe, the news of Jerome's marriage to Elizabeth gave Napoleon severe agita. Napoleon had plans for his siblings and they did not include marrying upstart Americans, no matter how rich they might be. He refused to acknowledge the marriage and insisted on referring to Elizabeth as 'Miss Patterson.' He ordered his brother to come home immediately, without his wife. He made it quite clear that Elizabeth was not to set one dainty foot on French soil. Jerome, as stubborn and willful as his brother, refused his summons.

The United States government got involved when President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison assured the first consul that they had no control over the marriage of American citizen. Jefferson had just entered into negotiations with France over the purchase of the Louisiana territory, and he didn't want anything to screw up the deal.

While Napoleon was displeased, the rest of the Bonaparte family was not. His brother Lucien assured her father that 'the entire family fully and unanimously approved of Jerome's marraige,' that they 'were highly pleased and proud of the union.' Napoleon's was the 'only dissenting voice.' And it was a loud one. He was already displeased that Lucien had married the illiterate sister of an innkeeper and Caroline's husband Joachim Murat, was the son of an innkeeper. As far as Napoleon was concerned, marrying for love was for other people, his brothers and sisters were his to command, and he needed to them to ally himself with Europe's reigning monarchs.

Napoleon insisted that Jerome annul the marriage, but Jerome refused. He felt that Napoleon could meet his bride, he would be won over the way that he was. It was a battle of wills and there could be only one winner. In the fall of 1804, Jerome and Elizabeth set off for France, after learning that Napoleon had declared himself emperor. The plan was to attend his coronation, but with the bad luck that would plague them, their ship was hit by a storm as it left the harbor and sank. The couple barely escaped and all their wedding gifts and other possessions were lost, including several thousands of dollars in gold, were lost in Baltimore harbor.

Not wanting to miss the event of a lifetime, they hired another ship but it was turned back by British warships. They ended up missing the coronation, but Elizabeth's father provided them with one of his own ships to sail them across to Europe. However, when they arrived in Lisbon, an emissary from the Emperor informed them that 'Miss Patterson' was not to set foot on European soil. Elizabeth Patterson was not going to take this treatment lying down. 'Tell your master that Madame Bonaparte is ambitious and demands her rights as a member of the imperial family," she reportedly said.

Faced with the reality that changing Napoleon's mind was going to be harder than they thought and that his arm stretched across most of Europe, the couple decided that Elizabeth would go to Amsterdam to deliver the baby, and he would proceed to Milan where his brother was crowning himself King of Rome. Jerome would confront his brother, but as he wrote to his wife, "the worst that could happen now would be for us to live quietly in some foreign country.' Elizabeth never saw her husband again.

In Rome, Jerome was given an ultimatum, either give up Elizabeth or face ruin. Napoleon not only threatened to strip his brother of all his titles, remove him from the line of succession, but also refused to pay his huge debts. He would also be banned from France and all its territories, which at the time encompassed msot of Europe. Basically he would be broke and homeless. Jerome, despite all his fine talk to his wife, agreed to abandon her. As a reward for his acquiesence to his brother's will, Napoleon made Jerome, King of Westphalia and married him off to Princess Catherine of Wurttemberg, despite the fact that the marriage was bigamous. Unable to pressure the Pope into annulling the marriage, no matter, Napoleon just decided to have the marriage declared invalid in the Frence courts.

Meanwhile Elizabeth was stuck on board her ship in Amsterdam. Fearing the wrath of the Emperor, if they allowed her into the country, officials refused to let her off the ship. Tired of bouncing around from port to port, Elizabeth set sail for England where she gave birth to Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte on July 7, 1805. Jerome had the nerve to write her a letter stating that he would never abandon her, that he would give his life for her and their child.
Elizabeth decided to return to Baltimore with her son. Despite her rejection by Napoleon and her abandonment by her husband, Elizabeth still acted like a member of the imperial family. She had a coach ordered with the Bonaparte coat of arms painted on the side, and always reminded people of exactly who she was. She continued to call herself Madame Bonaparte, attending balls and other social functions as scantily clad as ever.

In 1808, Jerome wrote to her asking her to send their son to him. She refused. Several years later, he wrote again, declaring that he would set Elizabeth up in her own castle in the kingdom. Again Elizabeth refused, declaring that she would not only never give up her son, but Jerome's kingdom was not big enough for two Queens. Eventually, she would accept a yearly pension from Napoleon on the proviso that she give up the rights to the name Bonaparte.

After Napoleon's final fall from power in 1815, she went to live in Europe, having decided that America was not fit society for one such as her. She settled in England for a time where her sister-in-law, Marianne married Richard Wellesley, the older brother of the Duke of Wellington and Marquess of Wellesley in his own right. She had already sought a divorce from Jerome by a special act of the Maryland legislature in 1812. With her son, she went to visit her former sister in-law Pauline Borghese, who introduced Elizabeth and her son Jerome, to Rome society. Madame Mere, as Napoleon's mother was called, and Pauline tried to arrange a match with Joseph's eldest daughter Charlotte, who had lived in exile with her father in the United States, living for a time on an estate called Point Breeze in Bordertown New Jersey.

Elizabeth was a bit of a snob, cynical and ambitious for her son, her main interest in life seemed to be money and rank. During her twenty-five years in Europe, she wrote numerable letters to her father about how loathsome America, and her hometown Baltimore was. 'I hated and loathed a residence in Baltimore so much that when I thought I was to spend my life there I tried to screw up my courage to the point of committing suicide.' She felt that in Europe she had found her rightful place in the world. She wrote to her father that in Europe, 'Here I am completely in my sphere and in contact with modes of life for which nature intended me.' The only time she sent foot in her native city was to attend to financial matters.

She never married again, preferring her status as the former Mrs. Jerome Bonaparte, sister-in-law to the late Emperor. During her time in Europe, she became more regal than royalty, much admired for her beauty and wit. Although Jerome turned out to be a weak jerk, she was proud of the fact that she had married the brother of the Emperor. Their paths crossed but once in a museum in Florence in 1822. Jerome quickly hustled away his wife before they were seen, telling her,'That is my American wife.' Betsy never knew he was there. Her son, Jerome Napoleon, met his father for the first time in 1826, who wanted him to remain in Europe but Jerome declined, writing to his grandfather Patterson, 'I cannot think of settling outside of America. I am too attached and accustomed to its government, manners, and customs to find pleasure in those of Europe.'

Her son, Bo, proved to be a true Bonaparte by defying her wish that he marry into royalty by marrying an American woman, Susan Mary Williams, an heiress worth $200,000. She was the daughter of Benjamin Williams, the founder of the first railroad company in America, the Baltimore and Chesepeake. Betsy was incensed that her son would marry an American, when she was still holding out hopes that he would marry royalty. She wrote to her father, 'You and the son of Prince Jerome Bonaparte had been told so often by me that I considered a marriage between him and any American woman so much beneath him that I would never, for any consideration, consent to it. I can only repeat that if it takes place I shall declare publicly that I was not consulted, that my consent was not asked, that my opinion always was and always will be that he ought to live single unless he marries suitably to his connections in Europe.' Fortunately for young Bo, his grandfather did not receive the letter until after the wedding.

They were married in 1829. William Patterson gave the newlyweds a plot of land on which Jerome built a manion to live in. Although he had graduated from Harvard Law School, Jerome never practiced, prefering the life of a country gentleman. A year later, his mother still wasn't reconciled to his marriage, her father continued to try and console her, telling her not to be bitter. Eventually she came to terms with it, writing that her son , 'not having my pride, my ambition, or my utter abhorrence for to vulgar company' had the 'right to pursue the course he prefers.' Napoleon III eventually restored Jerome's right to use the name Bonaparte, much to his father's dismay, but he was denied any title, nor was he ever added to the line of succession.

Elizabeth eventually moved back to Baltimore where she died in 1879, extremely grumpy but rich at the age of 94. She left and estate of one and a half million dollars to her grandsons, her son having preceded her to the grave by nine years. She is buried in Greenmount Cemetary in Baltimore. The epitaph on her grave reads 'After life's fitful fever she sleeps well.' As for Jerome, he and his second wife Princess Catherine had two children, Napoleon and Mathilde. He later moved to Italy and remarried after his wife died to an Italian noblewoman. When his nephew Louis Napoleon became President of the French Republic in 1848, Jerome was made the governor of Les Invalides in Paris, the burial place of Napoleon. After Louis Napoleon became Emperor Napoleon III, Jerome was recognized as his heir presumptive until the Empress Eugenie gave birth to a son. He later became Marshal of France and President of the Senate. He died in 1860, and is also buried in Les Invalides, having left no provision for his eldest son in his will. Of course, Elizabeth, feisty as always, filed a lawsuit against the remaining Bonapartes, as she tried to have Bo declared a legitimate heir, which she lost.

Jerome and Elizabeth's two grandsons served the United States with distinction. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law. Her served in Theodore Roosevelt's cabinet as the United States Secretary of the Navy as well as Attorney General. Later on he helped to found the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), the precursor to the FBI. His older brother, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II, studied at West Point and served in Texas with the Mounted Rifles. He later resigned his commision with the U.S. Army to serve in the army of Napoleon III, seeing action in the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War.

In the early part of the twentieth century, her story was the basis for a play written in 1908 by actress and playwright Rida Johnson Young (a native of Baltimore) called Glorious Betsy which was filmed twice once as a silent film in 1928 and the second time in 1936 as Hearts Divided starring William Randolph Hearst's mistress Marion Davies.

Sources include: Wikipedia

Napoleon's Women - Christopher Hibbert
Foolishly Forgotton Americans - Michael Farquhar

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Royal Mistresses: Marie Walewska

I saw no one but you, I admired no one but you, I want no one but you.

written by Napoleon Bonaparte to Marie Walewska after their first meeting

When you have ceased to love me, remember that I love you still

Marie Walewska, inscribed on a locket to Napoleon with a lock of her hair.

Imagine that one is a beautiful blonde noblewoman from an aristocratic but impoverished family. You are married to a much, older man to further your family's ambitions. You capture the notice of one of the greatest men the world has ever known who presses his attentions on you, much to your dismay. Your friends tell you that you are your country's greatest hope. What do you do?

This was the dilemma faced by the young Marie Walewska in 1806 when she met the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

She was born Marie Laczynska on December 7 1786, to a family of little money but aristocratic lineage. The family lived on a rundown estate, where Marie was one of six children, raised by her widowed mother. Marie's family lost most of their estates during the first partition of Poland, being swallowed up by Prussia. Her father, Matthias, was killed in 1794 when she was 7, fighting against the Russians. Marie had been brought up and educated by a French tutor, Nicolas Chopin (the father of the composer Frederic Chopin). Chopin helped to flame the budding patriotism in his young charge. He'd come to Poland from his native Lorraine to join a friend in business. Falling in love with the country, he'd joined the Polish Volunteer Army like Marie's father and had been wounded in the same battle.

When she was 14, Marie was sent to Warsaw to a convent school. At the tender age of 15, she came to the notice of Count Anaste Colonna de Walewice Walewski who was in his sixties at the time. He was attracted to her stunning blonde beauty and beautiful blue eyes. Marie also had a kind nature while Walewski was cheerless, but he was wealthy with many estates and a castle, and he could do much for her family. Despite her reluctance, she married him when she was 16, her family's debts were immediately paid and her brother was sent to France to study. Once married, Marie found that her husband wasn't quite as bad as she thought. In 1805, she bore the count a son, Anthony Basil Rudolph Walewski who was born sickly. At loose ends, she spent her time getting more involved with the Polish nationalist movement.

Poland at this time was a country that been divided twice like a Christmas turkey by Russia, Prussia and Austria, the first time in 1772. It was the largest country in central Europe and thick with natural resources and access to the sea. However, Poland had long been vulnerable due to its lack of natural borders, and the ineptitude of its nobility. Although it had a King who was elected by the people, he had no real power. The nobles who made up the ruling assembly called the Diet made it difficult to get anything done. They controlled the treasury, the military and were exempt from taxation. So while they grew richer, the treasury lay empty. Empy treasury, no money for ships and no trade with foreign countries.

Educated Poles considered France their cultural home. French was the language of the court, French philosophy and fashion were the norm. 20,000 Polish men enlisted in the French military, forming all Polish units. They believed that Napoleon would be their savior.

It was during the French occupation of Poland that Marie first met Napoleon. It was New Year's Eve in 1806. Napoleon's coach was taking him into Warsaw, when a large crowd of Poles gathered around the carriage to welcome him. Marie was wearing a fur hat, and Napoleon at first mistook her for a peasant girl, until he heard her speak French to General Duroc. She asked to be presented to the man who had promised to liberate Poland, the man who had defeated not only the Austrians, but also Prussia and Russia, Poland's longtime oppressors.

She wrote later that, "Napoleon raised his hat, bent toward me, I don't know what he said to me then because I was too eager to express what I was feeling. Be welcome, a thousand times welcome to our country. Nothing that we could do would express strongly enough either our admiration for you personally or the pleasure we have in seeing you set foot on the land which expects you to reestablish it.... Napoleon looked at me closely and took a bouquet which happened to be in the carriage, and as he gave it to me he said, 'Keep it as a pledge of my good intentions; I hope that we shall see each other in Warsaw and that I shall receive a thank-you from your beautiful mouth.'"

Napoleon was immediately intrigued and asked Duroc to find out who she was. He arranged for her to be invited to a party to which he was to be the guest of honor. Marie declined the invitation, after which Napoleon than declared that he would not attend the function either. Her husband was approached to convince the Countess to change her mind. He was told that the future of Poland was at stake. Despite his reluctance, he agreed to let his friends convince her otherwise. Marie finally agreed but she did nothing out of the ordinary to attract Napoleon's attention to herself. In fact, she wore her dowdiest gown with a modest neckline with Napoleon rudely disapproved of.

In the days following the ball, Napoleon pursued her relentlessly, sending her letter after letter to which she refused to reply. He implied in his letters that only her submission to him would restore Poland. 'Come to me,' he wrote, 'All your hopes will be fulfilled. Your country will be dearer to me when you take pity on my poor heart.' Marie, however, refused all his invitations to dinner, she returned the jewels that he sent her, claiming that 'He treats me like a prostitute.'

Unlike the other women he had known in his life, Marie was virtuous, despite her marriage to a much older man. She was a devout Catholic, and although unhappy, she took her vows seriously. To give herself to Napoleon would be adultery. But she couldn't withstand the pressures put on her not only by the Emperor, but also Talleyrand, and the Polish nationalists in her circle such as Prince Joseph Poniatowsky (to take one for the team as it were). Even her brother Benedict, as head of the family, gave his permission. The first night they did nothing but talk. Marie told him that she was only there for Poland. He called her his gentle dove. Marie thought that was that, but she was persuaded to see him a second time. She finally agreed to give herself to him reluctantly. However, once she was in his presence, she chickened out, frightened by his attentions. Napoleon grew angry, threatening to destroy Poland, he hurled his watch at her feet and crushed it to bits beneath his heel.

Marie didn't know what to do so she fainted. When she came to, she discovered that Napoleon had had his way with her. Napoleon was apologetic for his actions and in the days that followed Marie's affection for the Emperor grew. He was tender and sweet, talking to her of his plans for Poland. She had only known one man in her life, who was known in his seventies, Napoleon awakened the sensual side of her nature that had been suppressed. She was good for Napoleon too who seemed to have suffered from performance anxiety. With Marie, he could play the tender lover, since she didn't really have anyone to compare him too.

When Josephine found out about the affair (and her enemies made sure that she learned of it), she wrote him a letter begging him to allow her to join him. Napoleon refused, claiming that the climate was too cold for her. Instead, Marie traveled with him while he was on campaign in Prussia. While he was out in the field, she stayed in her rooms reading or doing embroidery. They spent their nights talking and making love. Now that she had given up her inhibitions, Marie threw herself into her affair with Napoleon with abandon. She loved knowing that she had power over the Emperor of the French. 'Once I was an acorn, now I am an oak. Yet when I am an oak to all the others, I am glad to be an acorn to you.'

While Napoleon had helped to establish a new Polish ministry and reorganized the Polish army, he confessed to Marie that he could not liberate Poland, he had to put France's interests before all others. Despite his admission, Marie continued to fall deeper and deeper in love with him. She became pregnant so Napoleon brought her to Paris where he could have a doctor examine her daily. She came to Paris in 1808 living in a house at 48 Rue Victoire which Napoleon provided for her, with her brother and a maid. Unfortunately she suffered a miscarriage. While in Vienna, after crushing the Austrians at Wagram, he brought Marie to stay with him in a nearby cottage while he stayed at the Schonbrunn Palace where for three months they lived as man and wife. It was their last period together as lovers.

And when she finally became pregnant with his child again, he was ecstatic. Unfortunately for Marie, her pregnancy was the beginning of the end of her affair with Napoleon. He had long been obsessed with the need to have an heir, although he had named his step-daughter Hortense's son (by his brother Louis) as his heir which pissed off his other siblings. Her pregnancy helped to prove that he wasn't shooting blanks. While other women had claimed to have borne the Emperor's child, Marie's was the only one that he could be 100% sure was his.

The Emperor began looking around for a new wife, while beginning the proceedings to divorce Josephine, a prospect that did not feel him with joy. Josephine was no doubt the love of his life, but the years of their mutual infidelities and her inability to bear him an heir had eroded their marriage. He married the Austrian archduchess, Marie Louise in April of 1810.

And poor Marie! She was hurt that the Emperor planned to marry another woman although she understood. Instead when her son was born in May of 1810, he bore the name of Walewski. When Napoleon heard the news that Marie had born him a son, Alexander, he immediately made him a Count. He invited Marie to bring the boy to see him and settled on her an allowance of ten thousand francs a month. While in Paris, Josephine sent word from Malmaison that she would like to meet Napoleon's son, and Marie dutifully brought Alexander to meet the former Empress.

Marie returned to Poland and for the next four years spent her time raising her son, and keeping tabs on the man she loved. She was something of a celebrity in Poland, where people referred to her as Napoleon's 'Polish wife.' In 1811, she heard the news that Marie Louise had born the Emeperor a son, who was made King of Rome. When Napoleon abdicated and was sent into exile at Elba, Marie took her son and went to visit him. She offered to share his exile with him but Napoleon turned her down. Napoleon delighted in the boy but he permitted Marie to only spend two days on the island because he still hoped that Marie Louise would join him in exile. Marie offered him her jewels but Napoleon refused to take them, instead he gave her sixty thousand francs since the royal pension he had given her was no longer valid. She saw him one last time in Paris before the battle of Waterloo.

The Empress Marie Louise never did share Napoleon's exile. Instead she became lovers with the man her father, the Austrian Emperor had sent to spy on her and to convince her not to join her husband, Adam Adalbert, Graf von Neipperg, a general in the Austian army, who was known to be notoriously attractive to women. He also detested Napoleon and was quite happy to work his magic on his wife. Marie Louise lived with him in Parma where she was had been made Duchess (by Napoleon), and bore him two children. Napoleon made excuses for her behavior, declaring that after his death he wanted his heart preserved in wine and presented to his 'dear Marie Louise'. After his death, she married von Neipperg and bore him a son.

The woman he should have left his heart to, Marie Walewska remarried after the death of her husband to one of Napoleon's Generals named Phillipe d'Ornano, who like the Emperor was also Corsican and his second cousin. Marie had first met D'Ornano in Warsaw in 1807 soon after she met Napoleon. They kept in touch over the years and he was her escort during her stay in Paris in 1812. While she was fond of d'Ornano, he never replaced Napoleon in her heart. She died in childbirth in 1817 at the age of 28. Her son by Napoleon, Alexander Walewski grew up to become the minister of Foreign Affairs for Napoleon III. He had a son by the French actress Rachel and his descendants still live in France .

While Marie's historical significance may be small her greatest gift to Napoleon was that she loved the man more than the Emperor.

Sources include Wikipedia
Napoleon's Women - Christopher Hibbert

Nymphos and other Maniacs - Irving Wallace

Cupid and the King - Princess Michael of Kent

Marie Walewska: Napoleon's Greatest Love - Christine Sutherland

Conquest - starring Greta Garbo as Marie and Charles Boyer as Napoleon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Notorious Pauline Bonaparte

“My family have done me far more harm than I have been able to do them good.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

They say that you can't choose your family, and Napoleon knew that more than most. Throughout his lifetime his many siblings fought amongst themselves and him. They were greedy, grasping, but fiercely loyal if anyone from the outside attacked them. Of all his siblings, who he placed on the thrones of Europe as his puppet monarchs, his favorite sibling and in some ways the most notorious was his sister Pauline

She was born Maria Paoletta Buonaparte, but known as Pauline, on October 20, 1780 in Ajaccio, Corsica (all the Bonapartes used the french versions of their names when they moved to France). She was the sixth child and second daughter of Carlo Buonaparte and his wife Letizia. When she was five, her father died suddenly of cancer, and her eldest brother Joseph became head of the family. However, it was Napoleon, who made the fortunes of the family, during his rise to power, first as a General in the French army, then as First Consul, and finally as Emperor. Her early childhood, like most of her siblings, was spent on her native Corsica, where she received little formal education until the age of thirteen when she and the rest of the Buonaparte family had to escape in the middle of the night to France.

Pauline was the beauty of the family with a lush figure, and a beautiful face, attracting legions of admirers which caused her mother and brothers great cause for concern. When Pauline was sixteen, she fell in love with Stanislas Freron, he was forty years old with a reputation for philandering. After her brother nipped that relationship in the bud, he caught her with Victor Emmanuel Leclerc behind a screen in his office, in flagrante delicto. Pauline had no choice but to wed Leclerc, who was a General in Napoleon's army. Leclerc was 24 and so devoted to Napoleon that he not only dressed like him but imitated his walk as well. They were married on June 14th, 1797. Although Pauline had feelings for her husband, she was never faithful (she seemed to have a thing for soldiers). She gave birth to her only child, a son in 1798, that Napoleon insisted on naming Dermide, after a character in a poem by Ossian.

Leclerc was given command of the army in Haiti. Toussaint L'Ouverture, a black soldier and physician had managed to overthrow not just the French planters, but the English and Spanish as well and freed the slaves (with Napoleon's approval). However, now Toussaint was becoming a problem, while Napoleon thought that L'Ouverture had saved the island for France, he had other ideas. Toussaint made himself Governor of the island, declaring that he was the Bonaparte of Saint Domingue. Napoleon wanted Toussaint arrested and slavery reestablished in the colony. When Pauline found out that she was expected to follow her husband, she threw a fit and had to be carried on to the ship. She arrived in Haiti in 1801.

Once in Haiti, however, Pauline found that the society was not as provincial as she had first thought. She threw herself into the parties and balls on the small island, continuing her promiscuous ways, mainly with low-ranking soldiers and officers. However, when the island was struck with yellow fever, Pauline joined in with the nursing of the sick. Unfortunately her husband Leclerc was one of the many that perished in the epidemic. Pauline was grief-stricken, cutting off her long hair, and placing in the coffin with her husband's body, which was placed in a lead-lined coffin and returned to France.

Pauline's grief was short-lived however. Once back in France, she was up to her old tricks. Pauline didn't only indulge her physical appetites for love, she also indulged her more materialistic side as well. She bought masses of clothes, more than she could ever wear, she attended party after party, prompting huge amounts of gossip amongst the French upper classes. She wore her dresses so sheer that one could see the perfection of her body through the fabric. She was impulsive and child-like, as many youngest children often are. She had little to no maternal instincts. When Dermide died at the age of eight, Pauline was no where around. Napoleon worked to obscure this fact, presenting Pauline in a more flattering light. In fact, for most of her life, Napoleon worked overtime producing propaganda that defended his sister.

Pauline bathed every day in a bathtub of milk and water which was supposed to soften and keep her skin white. She was carried to her bath by a negro servant named Paul. When someone pointed out how improper it was, Pauline famously declared that 'A negro is not a man.' Still she married Paul off to one of her white servants to make it somewhat more respectable. She had a habit of receiving male guests while lounging in her tub. Clad only in a chemise, she would spend hours with her male guests, choosing her perfume, rouging her nipples, having her hair done.

Unlike Napoleon's other siblings, Pauline was not particularly ambitious for titles, she didn't want a kingdom to rule. Although she received many gifts from her brother, he treated her less lavishly than his other siblings. However, he did gift her with the duchy of Guantalla which she promptly sold to Parma for six million francs, after complaining about its size (however she kept the title of Princess of Guantella). Like the other Bonaparte siblings however, Pauline detested the Emperor's wife Josephine. On the day of Josephine's coronation as Empress, Pauline claimed that she was too sick to carry her train in the ceremony.

Eight months after the death of her first husband, Pauline married Prince Camillo Borghese in August 0f 1803. Napoleon was appalled that she would remarry so soon, but Borghese was one of the richest men in Italy, with one of the worlds finest diamond collections and the Villa Borghese. The marriage brought Pauline 70,000 francs a year, part ownership of the Villa Borghese, and two carriages among other goodies. Soon after their marriage, Pauline was disallusioned by her husband. There were rumors that he was either gay, or a transvestite. The truth was more likely that the Prince was just not well-endowed enough for the new Princess.

She also disliked Roman society. Before she went back to France, she went to Florence where she commissioned two statue of her self from the sculptor Antonio Canova, the most famous sculptor in Italy at the time. Canova had already done several commissions for Napoleon so it was only natural that he sculpt the Emperor's favorite sister. Pauline decided to pose nude, which shocked the sculptor, whose hands shook when he applied the clay to her body. When she was later asked how she could possibly pose nude, she replied that 'Why not, it was not cold, there was a fire in the studio.' The statue of Pauline as Venus Victrix so appalled her husband that he kept in the attic where no one can see it (it is now on display at the Villa Borghese in Rome where everyone can see it).

Pauline apparently suffered from a veneral disease that temporarily turned her into a nymphomaniac whenever it flared up. She had several lovers who she wore out with her constant need for sex. Her lovers included the painter and intellectual Nicolas de Forbin, a man of little income which Pauline changed by making him her Chamberlain. He was also known to be well-endowed. She next moved on to the violinist Blangini, and then after him to Armand Jules de Canouville, oeno f the four aides to Marshal Berthier, Napoleon's chief of staff. In an effort to protect her reputation, Napoleon had a tendency to send her lovers off to fight in his wars, where they were inevitably killed.

When Napoleon fell from power, Pauline proved what a true sister that she was. She liquidated all her assets into cash (she sold her house, the Hotel Charsot to the Duke of Wellington who was quite taken with her), and moved to Elba, joining her brother in his exile. She was the only sibling to do so. His sister Caroline, who had made Queen of Naples, encouraged her husband to turn against Napoleon. She used the money to better Napoleon's condition on the island. She threw parties and balls for the inhabitants of the island, and wore her prettiest dresses to please her brother.

Napoleon, although he loved his sister, found her presence to be particularly trying after awhile. Still, when Napoleon decided to return to France to try and regain his power, no one was more supportive than Pauline. She presented him with the Borghese diamonds before he began his final campaign. When he was captured by the English after Waterloo, they were found in his carriage.

After Waterloo, and Napoleon's final exile to St. Helena, Pauline moved back to Rome, where she enjoyed the protection of Pope Pius VII. She lived in a villa named Villa Paulina and decorated in in a style called Egyptomania, the result of her brother's campaign in Egypt. Still concerned about her brother, she wrote letter after letter to foreign dignataries trying to get better conditions for her brother, and to join her brother in exile. Unfortunately due to a series of illnesses, she was unable to visit him during his final exile. When he died in 1821, she cried bitter tears.

Although her husband had moved to Florence, where he kept a mistress for ten years, and tried to divorce her, Pauline managed to persuade the Pope to help her reconcile with her husband three months before her death from cancer in 1825 at the early age of 44. Legend has it that before she gasped her last breath, she asked a servant for a mirror. She gazed into it, and then as she sank back, she smiled. 'I'm not afraid to die,' she said. 'I am still beautiful.'

She died in her best dress, and asked to be buried with the rest of the Borghese family. One of her final wishes was that her casket be a closed on. For those who desired to see her, they could look at Canova's statue.

Whatever else one could say about Pauline Bonaparte, and during her lifetime people said plenty, that she was pretty, silly, with the morals of a cat, she proved to be more of a Bonaparte than the rest of her siblings, devoted to her brother until the end.

Sources include: Wikipedia
Napoleon and his Women: Christopher Hibbert
Nymphos and other Maniacs - Irving Wallace
Famous Affinities of History - Lyndon Orr

Monday, May 12, 2008

Napoleon Week on Scandalous Women

It is Napoleon Week here on Scandalous Women focusing on three women in the Emperor's life; his sister Pauline, his mistress Marie Walewska, and his sister Elizabeth Patterson. Anyone who leaves a comment on either post will be eligible to win a copy of Cupid and the King by Princess Michael of Kent.

The winner will be announced on May 23rd, 2008.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Notorious New York Women - The Mayflower Madam

I ran the wrong kind of business, but I did it with integrity.
Sydney Biddle Barrows, to Marian Christy, ''Mayflower Madam' Tells All,' Boston Globe, 1986

There is a reason why they call prostitution the oldest profession. Its been around since probably man first walked upright, and the debate on whether or not to legalize it as raged almost as long. Recently with the Eliot Spitzer trial and now the alleged suicide of the 'DC Madam,' Deborah Jeane Palfrey, prostitution is once again in the news. But there was a time when the idea of high class call girl rings or escort services was still something of a shocker.

Recognize the woman on the left? If you don't, then you weren't around or old enough in 1984 when Sidney Biddle Barrows was once of the biggest stories in the news.

She was dubbed The Mayflower Madam because her ancestors had come over on The Mayflower. The Biddles in Philadelphia are an old Mainline family, the type that only have their names in the paper 3 times, when they are born, when they get married and when they die. Various Biddle family members have been Ambassadors, philanthropists, and one illustrious member, Nicholas Biddle, was the President of the Bank of the United States in the early 19th Century. Born on January 14, 1952, young Sydney attended all the right schools, before arriving in New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where she studied merchandising and business management (which came in handy for her future career). Graduating first in her class, she won $1,000 to advance her studies.

After graduating, she got a job as a buyer for Abraham & Straus, a department store in Brooklyn (which sadly no longer exists), poor Sydney realized that its hard to live on only $18,000 a year (and this was back in the 1970's). Then she was laid off. What's a girl to do, particularly when she comes from a wealthy background? Why take a part-time job working for an escort service of course, to supplement that unemployment check. It was the go-go 80's, the years of Dynasty and Dallas, the rise of Donald Trump, when money was being spent as fast as investment bankers and corporate raiders could make it. Upscale strip clubs like Scores and Stringfellows were opening, offering men the chance to watch girls take their clothes off in a classy environment without sticky floors and cheap beer.

Now Sydney never sullied her hands with actually working as an escort. Oh no, she was one of the women who answered the phone and made the bookings. Pretty soon, she thought 'Hey I can do better than this!' and opened her own escort agency called Cachet. She used an alias, calling herself Sheila Devin. Quick FYI - escort agencies technically are not illegal. Anyone who has read the back of New York magazine or Time Out sees ads for them all the time. What is illegal is if the girls are having sex with the men they go out with, because then it becomes prostitution. Its a rather gray area, which cops and prosecutors hate, the fact that its okay to pay someone for a date but not okay to pay to have sex with them.

Most escort agencies turn a blind eye if the girls are making a little extra money for some schtupping, others add it to the bill. Sydney had no qualms about her girls having sex with the men they were paid to escort. She even helped them out, taught them how to dress better, how to talk to wealthy men, along with a few sex tricks. According to Wikipedia: "Unlike other escort agencies, Cachet offered an unparalleled service at the time, catering to the wealthy and powerful who either visited or lived in New York City. Some of its clients included industrialists, high-powered business executives and lawyers, foreign diplomats and Arabian oil sheiks. Barrows was well-known for treating her "girls" with respect and dignity while also maintaining strict codes of conduct to preserve high standards and a reputation for outstanding service with elegance."

Sydney chose the name Cachet because it was hard to pronounce, weeding out the riff-raff who might be calling. She advertised in papers like the International Herald Tribune. A Cachet girl never wore pants, she wore expensive lingerie, garter belts, and stockings without seams or patterns. She showed off her legs in short skirts and high heels, but nothing overtly sexy. Painted toenails were fine, but hands were to be left au naturel. Girls carried briefcases, or a theater program as they strode through hotel lobbies or restaurants. There was nothing about Caachet girls that suggested they were any different than the average New York businesswoman. None of the women had a noticeable New York accent, they all had exotic names like Sonja, Kristen, or Natasha if they were foreign, Heather, Jennifer or Anne if they were American. No noticeable hooker names like Tiffany or Monique. None of the girls were African-American or Latina, although there were a few Asian girls, and all of them appeared to be highly intelligent and articulate.

They all had fictitious work indentities, stewardesses being the most popular, models less popular. All Cachet girls were requited to be up on current events, they read Newsweek and the paper of record, The New York Times. They were also given clippings from a wire service with the top news stories of the week.

On Cachet's client list, among the usual list of businessmen, diplomats, stockbrokers, and doctors were 340 lawyers, which put a great deal of pressure on the district attorney, after Barrows was arrested. There were no African-American clients on the agency roster, and very few African diplomats (whether this was Barrow's prejudice or the girls is anyone's guess). However, gay men, who were hiring the girls strictly as beards were accepted.

Cachet's girls were also known for being notoriously clean, and they demanded that their clients be clean and respectful as well. If a client opened a hotel undressed, he was told to get dressed, if he seemed unhygenic, it was suggested that he take a bath. In her autobiography, Sydney described her philosophy that made her business so successful, 'Hire good people and pay them what they are worth.'

However one looked at it, the police in New York were not happy about it and were anxious to make a bust. They worked diligently for about a year,under the direction of a police officer named Elmo Smith, a former CIA operative with a desire to be famous, before making a move on the agency. A million dollars of tax-payer money was spent on the operation. The police finally raided Sydney's operation without a search warrant, and Sydney willingly went to the DA's office to avoid any further unpleasantness. The media had been alerted that a madam would be arriving but completely overlooked the two well-dressed women who entered the building, believing them simply to be lawyers. Barrows spent one night in jail, where the working girls who pounded the pavement were surprised to find that the well-dressed, prim and proper blonde was actually a madam.

When her background was revealed, quickly became a celebrity. After all, it was like finding out that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had secretly been turning tricks in the White House. She was beautiful, blonde and aristrocratic. There are just certain things that women of that class just don't do. It was shocking to people why a girl of her background and education would willing set foot in the sex industry. After pleading guilty, Sydney was given a slap on the wrist and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Unlike Heidi Fleiss, her nineties counterpart, Sydney had been careful to pay her taxes, rent and telephone bills. Even her phone receptionists were employed legally. Making a case stick against her was going to be hard. The police were incensed that she was not being prosecuted, but pressure was apparently put on the district attorney's office to keep her client list secret, which would inevitably come out at a trial.

Barrows only had 20 girls at a time on her books, raking in $1 million dollars a year (in 1984 money). She apparently conducted grueling interviews. The girls were ranked A, B, or C in ascending order, depending on their 'talents.' 'A' girls received $125 an hour while 'C' girls could command up to $1,000 a night. For $2,000 a customer could sign up for a 10 hour session which included dinner, dancing, and recreation. The girls even carried credit card machines for those clients who didn't pay cash. Barrows took 60% of her girls earnings, and kept meticulous records of their menstrual cycles and their weight. Any girl who got a bit flabby was suspended from work for two days for each pound that she gained.

She also kept meticulous notes on her clients. When her brownstone that housed the business was raided (after police were tipped off apparently by a disgruntled former employee), they found her little black book (why are they always black?) with the names of more than 3,000 clients. Each client's pet peeve was listed next to his name. One notation cautioned a girl that the client reeked of garlic.

Sydney apparently took good care of her girls, living by the maxim that a happy employee is a happy worker. She threw lavish Christmas parties for her employees and clients. To celebrate New Year's Eve, she allowed the girls to keep half of the take, any woman who worked the entire night got 60%.

Sydney and her mother were removed from the Social Register after her arrest which in an earlier time would have meant social death. Nude photos taken from by an old boyfriend were obtained by the tabloids and flashed discretely on the front pages. After legal fees, Sydney was left without much in the way of funds, so a charity ball was held to help out at Limelight on April 30, 1985. Sydney showed up, dressed for her ball, wearing a rose-colored strapless gown, elbow length white gloves, and ropes of diamonds and pearls. Male and female cousins showed up carrying balloons that read "We don't condone everything, but the family stands together," (Ringdal, page 353). Next morning Newsday reported that, "Sydney Biddle Barrows showed up her body to the upper crust, for a price as usual. The snobs paid through the nose to see her."

Afterwards, she wrote her memoir, Mayflower Madam, which was made into a TV movie starring another icy-blonde, Candice Bergen, a member of Hollywood royalty (unlike Heidi Fleiss who had the underwhelming Trisha Fisher and Jamie Sigler portray her in TV movies). She wrote 2 more books on etiquette and finally married in 1994. Nowadays, she pops up occasionally in the Society columns, while working on a book on plastic surgery of which she is quite the cheerleader, having had a facelift at the age of 46. She's also popular on the lecture cirtcuit, teaching everything from sexual ettiquette to business practices.

Recently she was back in the news, giving her comments on the Eliott Spitzer debacle. "These people have nothing better to do?" Ms. Barrows asked. "We have terrorists out there. We have murderers, we have rapists, child molesters. And they're worried about somebody getting [sex]?"

According to her random sex is less hurtful than say having a long-term extra-marital affair with someone. "Who are we to pass judgment on other people?" she said. "For instance, if he'd gone and had a girlfriend, now that's a relationship. That is something that is truly a threat to a marriage. A relationship would be the worst thing for him to do morally, but he would be in less trouble for that."

She also said that Empire Club's contention that they sometimes charged $5,300 for high-flyers is exaggerated. Apparently back in 1984, her top charge was $400 (However Time magazine in their story in 1984 claimed that she charged up to $2,000 for her girls). Let's just forget the fact that this was 24 years ago. There's a little thing called inflation, and some of those diplomats in DC probably don't have a problem paying that kind of money, not to mention rich billionaires. After all, some people feel the more you pay, the better value you get. Isn't that why some people pay $650 for a pair of shoes rather than going to Target or Payless?

The question remains why a woman from a patrician background would get involved in something so sordid as the sex trade? Was it rebellion, as one former boyfriend claimed, or was it simply a woman who saw a way to make money, treating prostitution like a business? More than likely it was a little of both. She took the oldest profession and brought it forward into the modern age. Her business was so successful that the venerable publication Barron's did a story, praising her for Cachet's sound business management and suggesting that her only punishment should be to teach adminstration classes in business school. Whatever the reason, the story of the Mayflower Madam was an interesting chapter in the long and varied history of prostitution.

Sources include:


Love for Sale: A World History of Prostitution - Nils Johan Ringdal

The Mayflower Madam, The Secret Life of Sydney Biddle Barrows - Sydney Biddle Barrows


The Mayflower Madam - Starring Candace Bergen and Chris Sarandon

Book Sydney Biddle Barrows for your next meeting here

Monday, May 5, 2008

And the Polls Are In!

Which is one the most romantic love stories of all time?
40% of you chose Napoleon and Josephine
26% of you chose Elizabeth Armistead and Charles James Fox
26% of you chose Abelard and Heloise
and 6% chose Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson
Wow, that's pretty awesome and interesting too!