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REPORT - Part one of four parts.
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Highlights from The Record
by Rose Young
Highlights from The Record
When it became known (in 1914) that Mrs. Frank Leslie, famous woman publisher, had willed the bulk of her estate to Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, famous woman suffragist, to be used for the promotion of the cause of woman suffrage, the first question that interested the public was, "How much did Mrs. Leslie leave?"
The net inventoried value of the estate was $1,737,477.70. When income and increase, up to the date of the final accounting by the executors eight years later, were added, the total amount of Mrs. Leslie's fortune was $2,086,359.62.
The second question that has interested the public is, How much of that fortune did Mrs. Catt get for suffrage?
The answer is $977,875.02.
Inevitably a third and a fourth question arise. What did she do with it and what became of the million that she did not get?
The report here presented attempts to answer those questions by following the Leslie estate through eight years of legal history. It shows what went to beneficiaries, as designated by the will, and records a curious tale of claims and contests with dubious foundation, which made huge inroads into the estate.
It shows how a fortune may be scaled down through depreciation, taxation, and enormous expenses, charged to administration. It shows the lengths to which claimants will go in attacking the reputation of the dead. It records the many suits, judgments and appeals involved in the settlement of the Leslie estate. It sets forth what the next of kin got, what the lawyers got, what the executors got, and, finally, what Mrs. Catt did with the portion that came to her. For suffragists it will serve as a recognition of their interest in the proper disposition of the fund left by Mrs. Leslie to further the suffrage cause, and as an official report of Mrs. Catt's stewardship of that fund.
A brief sketch of Mrs. Leslie's family background and personal achievements is included as of explanatory value to the record.
(MRS.) FRANK LESLIE
So "Frank Leslie" characterized her own childhood.
Born in New Orleans in 1836, she was the offspring of one Charles Follin and one Susan Danforth Follin. They named her Miriam Florence Follin, and she was not much more than named before she showed that she was not going to stop with the starved and pinched. From the beginning she meant to make something out of herself. From the beginning she fixed her ambition on personal success.
Her father, a Southerner of French birth, seems to have had much to do with it. He urged her on, he encouraged, he admonished. Writing to the ten-year-old girl one Christmas day in the "forties" he blithely promises her "eminent success" if she will resolutely apply herself to the study of French, Latin, German, and Spanish - "to say nothing of the real happiness it will afford me to find you capable of occupying that stand which it will, especially under such circumstances, be my pride to place you in."
He was a good promiser, that debonair French-Southerner who was her father. Business failure and legal judgments pursued him but he kept on promising. His once large commission business had failed before his daughter was born. He tried other things, and failed in them, too.
On the 27th day of March, 1854, seventeen-year-old Miriam Florence Follin was married to twenty-seven-year old David C. Peacock. The young man was made to marry the girl by the girl's mother. It was set down in the old-time "Judgment Roll" to be used against "Frank Leslie" years later. But subsequent revelations to impugn the reputation of Mrs. Leslie when alive and blacken her memory, when dead, revealed nothing so clearly as that the fine and able woman inherent in a precocious girl need not be sacrificed to the impetuosity of youth if the girl's mother will take the helm. That was what Susan Danforth Follin, young Miriam Follin's mother, did. Under the threat of arrest for seduction of a minor she had the young man marry the girl, then dismissed him from the picture for all time. The girl's life was not wrecked. Two years later the marriage was annulled.
But Miriam Follin had begun to quest happiness through romance and by the time she was twenty-one she married again. This time she married a much older man, Ephraim G. Squier, an archologist of note and a man of means. Later, she was to call marriage a great risk, a perilous adventure. "Expect nothing at all and accept as a joyful surprise whatever good you find in matrimony." Still, she could not keep out of it. Mr. Squier lost money and became associated with the Leslie publications of that era as editor. His young wife became fashion editor for the then famous Leslie's Weekly. After sixteen years of married life, they were divorced. (WOA-H editor note: What the demure author does mention was that the three lived in one house in a well known menege a trois for several years.) A year or two later she married Mr. Frank Leslie, head of the extensive publication business that bore his name. She was to marry still again, but she was to say of her marriage to Mr. Leslie that it was her one happy matrimonial experience.
After her marriage to Frank Leslie, she and Mr. Leslie spent their summers at Saratoga Lake. Both were fond of social intercourse and were constantly entertaining visitors at their Saratoga cottage. She was a woman of great beauty and unusual charm of manner," said Mr. Louis H. Cramer, who knew her in the seventies and would act as the executor of her estate.
They entertained lavishly and traveled extensively. It was the habit of Mrs. Leslie to turn her travel experiences and observations into capital for the Leslie publications. She wrote divertingly and with literary facility. Moreover, she had the essential gift of being able to meet the public on its down level of literary appreciation. Her writing abilities must have been of enormous value to the Leslie publications. Mr. Leslie was one of the first publishers to go after "the great public." He needed for his publications the simple and direct contribution that the "average reader" would appreciate. Mrs. Leslie could make that kind of contribution. She wrote on popular human questions, about everyday things, about travel, about love, and the problems that arise in the relations of men and women. Mr. Frank Leslie died in 1880, leaving all he had to his wife, Miriam Follin Leslie. What he had was debts.
MIRIAM FLORENCE FOLLIN LESLIE CEASES
His business was in the hands of a receiver, but he had made an agreement with his creditors whereby he hoped that something would be saved from the wreck of what had been a considerable fortune. In his will de made no mention of his sons by a former marriage. And in the will he decreed that his wife should take his place in conducting the business of the various publications which he had established, "and in the establishment of which she has so largely contributed." Particularly, he specified his name and trademark as a property which he wanted to go to her. There had been some piracy of that name. To clinch the matter she had her own name changed to "Frank Leslie" by law, and Miriam Florence Follin Leslie ceased to be.
Frank Leslie, the man, had been an artist and engraver, as well as a publisher, and to him is due a vast advance in the art of magazine and newspaper illustration. But his passion for illustrated weeklies made him over-extend his resources. Mrs. Leslie said of him, "He would rather have twenty weeklies with one thousand circulation each than one weekly with twenty thousand circulation. When he came down to breakfast of a morning, my heart always stood still for I never knew when he was going to announce another weekly."
Although at his death, his business was in such a bad way that he could leave little but obligations and the hope of beginning over to his wife, his will was contested by his sons. They attempted to prove that, by oral agreement with his wife, Mr. Leslie had left two-thirds of his estate to his sons and that she had failed to fulfill her part of the agreement. The contest was made by Frank Leslie 2nd, one of the sons, Alfred A. Leslie, another son, and by Lonetta Leslie, minor daughter of a deceased son, who appeared by guardian. The testimony revealed that litigation of a serious character had been pending between the father and the son, Frank, and that there had been a controversy between the father and Alfred, growing out of the use by the latter of the name of Leslie in connection with publications for which Alfred Leslie was responsible. (WOA Ed. Note: This controversy would be replayed at Mrs. Frank Leslie's death when they contested her will also.
The result of the contest between Mrs. Leslie and her stepsons was a complete victory for her in the courts.
LESLIE STARTED WITH ONLY $19,000
After settling with the creditors in 1881, Mrs. Leslie's receiver was able to turn over to her only nineteen thousand dollars. Through the goodness of heart of a Mrs. Thomas K. Smith of Brooklyn, a wealthy woman, fifty thousand dollars had been advanced to secure the settlement with the creditors; a debt of honor, to be paid off on the installment plan, but the whole sum was paid off before the first installment was due. The bullet that ended the life of President Garfield renewed the life of "Leslie's." Mrs. Leslie worked her artists and herself day and night and during the week after the assassination published three huge editions of the "Weekly."
At about this time she was the subject of a newspaper
interview and the interviewer, writing in 1882, sketched her portrait and
personality as follows:
She went on to great business success. She made money and she mad friends. She was beautiful. She was popular.
In the early nineties, her publications being highly successful, she leased them to a syndicate and went abroad.
Testifying about her as she was in her prime, Mr. William Nelson Crowell, a friend and one of the executors of her will, said, "Her complexion was fair, eyes distinctly bluish, hair light in color, straight and lengthy. She was extremely attractive both in person and mind. Her manner was charming, refined, cultivated and magnetic. Her friends and acquaintances numbered thousands, for she was not only an authoress of many literary productions and some books, but she conducted the Leslie publications and was also a social figure of activity and prominence in the literary, dramatic and artistic circles. Through the worldwide circulation of her various publications, by her constant association with literati, by her own literary works and by her constant appearances before the public eye, he was probably the most talked of and most photographed woman in America. She was also well known and highly appreciated in Europe, South America and Spain where she had traveled. She spoke several languages, and possessed more than usual mental attainments. She lived in the light of publicity and her person and her photographs were known the world over. Few women were ever so well known."
She was much entertained during this period of her life-and much bored. Her mind was a superior mind and the mental inanity of society left her yawning. She married again, this time marrying William Kingsbury Wilde, brother of Oscar Wilde, but it was an impossible marriage and she divorced him shortly.
Difficulties developed for the Frank Leslie publications under the syndicate management and for a time she had again to take the helm for her business. Again she put it on a paying basis. But in 1902 she severed all connection with it, even giving up the name of "Frank Leslie." Thereafter she was known as the Baroness de Bazus, a name and title to which she laid claim by right of some of her Huguenot ancestors.
She had a stroke in 1902. She recovered, but her body was weakened. As she came and went between America and Europe, she sought the answer to life's riddle. If for her there was to be no answer, she must at least decide what to do with her money. Was not there some way in which it could be made to help others? What good could she do with it? Her mind lingered long on this question. Her wills show it. She thought of endowing a home for struggling women artists. She thought of leaving everything to the Women's Press Club for the benefit of the writing women. She thought and thought. Why not center on woman suffrage as her future beneficiary? As early as 1911 she had so centered.
"I AM WITH YOU HEART AND SOUL IN THE GREAT CAUSE TO WHICH YOU ARE DEVOTING ALL YOUR ENERGY AND YOUR LIFE."
Even in 1911, it was no new thing for Mrs. Leslie to be interested in woman suffrage. In a letter, written on the stationery of "Frank Leslie's Publishing House, Mrs. Frank Leslie Proprietor, 53-55-57 Park Place, New York," and dated October 9, 1888, Mrs. Leslie, writing to Susan B. Anthony, says, "I enclose a little contribution." In 1901, she contributed one hundred dollars to the general fund of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and made herself a life member by the payment of another fifty dollars. At this time Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt was the president of the Association. In June 1904 the International Woman Suffrage Alliance was formed in Berlin with Mrs. Catt as president. Mrs. Leslie became a member of the Alliance and so continued up to the time of her death. In 1910 the Woman Suffrage Party of New York city having been organized, she contribute one hundred dollars to Mrs. Catt, "to benefit the cause to which, like Susan B. Anthony, you are devoting your life."
In a letter written to Mrs. Catt, "January 26," no year given, but found in file of 1910-1911, and probably written in the latter year, Mrs. Leslie says, "Do what you think best with this little check that I enclose." She says, too, in this same letter, "I am with you heart and soul in the great cause to which you are devoting all your energy and your life."
Writing again to Mrs. Catt on November 22, 1913, she says, "when I come to die you will find that, like yourself, I am interested in woman's advancement." Twice in her lifetime she told Mrs. Catt that she meant to remember the suffrage cause in her will. What seems to have been her last contribution of all to suffrage, during her lifetime, was made on March 10, 1914.
See her next, and last, a disillusioned septuagenarian, facing that last bogie of the aged and rich, "They are only after my money, they are nothing for me." Trying to protect herself the incessant demands made upon her large fortune, pretending it wasn't so larger ... "They come at me swarms. Why, if I bought just the tickets I am asked to buy, it would foot up fifty dollars a day ... People want me to put ten thousand dollars in this, back them for twenty thousand for that. I tell them Mr. Cramer is my manager. It is as easy a way as any to get out of it."
May 22, 1914, she made her last will. She did not change the residuary legatee from the one mentioned in the 1911 will, but she made some minor changes. The last three years of her life had given her ample opportunity to tidy up her arrangements for her fortune. She knew exactly what she wanted done with the money, down to the last dollar and the last bracelet. She knew exactly whom she wanted to remember and how much she wanted each one to have. She had it all set down put to rights legally by one of the ablest legal firms in New York City. She was insistent that it should be set down so explicitly that her wishes would have to be respected. She supposed that it was her right to do what she would with her own. She supposed that if she didn't want any given person to have any of her property, that person would not get any of it. She supposed that if she wanted some given person to have just so much of her property, that person would get just that much. She signed her will. Later she had an interview with her lawyer in which she begged him to see that her wishes were respected.
The papers of September 19, 1914, carried the news of the passing of "Frank Leslie." (She died 09-18-1914.)
About a fortnight later it was noised about through the press that Mrs. Leslie had left quite a little fortune-some of the guessers guessed that it might be as much as $200,000.
It was whispered among those who had known her that she had made a few minor bequests and had withheld all the residue for the advancement of the cause of woman suffrage. Later still, it was known that she had left the residue to a single legatee. "But," said she in her will, "this expression of my wish and expectation is not to be taken as creating any trust or as limiting or affecting the character of the gift to her which I intend to be absolute and unrestricted."
The single legatee in whom this unbounded confidence was reposed was Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt.
In choosing Mrs. Catt as the person to carry out her wishes for the use of her residuary estate, Mrs. Leslie selected one who was in the forefront of the suffrage movement, a dauntless defender and zealous promoter of the cause.
Mrs. Catt's official connection with the suffrage movement began in 1889 when she was elected recording secretary of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. From that date until the dissolution of the Leslie Woman Suffrage Commission, which she organized to administer the Leslie fund, there was never a time in the forty-year interim when she did not hold responsible administrative office in the movement. In 1890 she was a delegate to the convention at which two national suffrage organizations merged into one, the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1895 she became a member of the National board, as chairman of the organization and campaign committee. That year she established a national headquarters in New York and it grew rapidly in importance during the ensuing nine years that she was its manager.
CATT ELECTED NATIONAL PRESIDENT
In 1900 she was elected president of the national suffrage association. In 1902 she called an international conference at Washington out of which there developed, in 1904, in Berlin, a worldwide organization for suffrage, the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, whose president she was for the next twenty years.
In 1904 she suffered a breakdown and retired from the national presidency, being succeeded by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw. She did not, however, sever her connection with the international suffrage movement and by 1910 was again active in the local movement, her activity resulting in the organization of the Woman Suffrage Party of New York City. In 1914 she became the chairman of the Empire State Campaign Committee, formed of the heads of the suffrage associations in New York to lead the campaign for suffrage scheduled for 1915 in that state. Late in 1915 she was again elected president of the national body, succeeding Dr. Shaw, and not only remained in that position until suffrage was won but continues to hold it until this day, as the association has not been dissolved.
During her forty years of continuous office-holding Carrie Chapman Catt received no salary from any source at any time.
It is a record that makes Mrs. Leslie's choice of residuary legatee easily comprehensible. It was several days after Mrs. Leslie's death before Mrs. Catt was informed that the event carried any particular significance to her. Then one evening in late September a lawyer telephoned to ask if he might call personally on business of special importance to her. He wanted to come next morning on his way to his office. He said his name was Cromwell and that he was of the firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. He did not add that his firm was about the best known legal firm in the land. Very likely, he supposed she knew it. But she didn't. And she spent some sleepless hours wondering what on earth a lawyer named Cromwell might want of her.
It did not take Mr. Cromwell long to make her acquainted with the business that was important to her. Mrs. Frank Leslie's will had, it appeared, been drawn up by him. He himself was named as one of the executors.
The other executor was Mr. Louis H. Cramer, of Saratoga. He has been Mrs. Leslie's business manager. He was not mentioned in the will save as executor. He was not pleased with the situation and he did not want to serve as executor. Only Cramer knew the extent of Mrs. Leslie's holdings.
NOT A PROMISING OUTLOOK
Mrs. Catt weighted with the prescience that there was trouble ahead. She had been made the residuary legatee in a will for an amount that she didn't know. One of the will's executors, the one that did know, the one who had everything in his hands, was hostile to the will. Moreover, her own acquaintance with Mrs. Leslie had been so superficial that she had no information as to the immediate circle of friends and relatives who, like the executor, might be displeased by the will.
It was not a promising outlook, the amount might be too small to be of much avail even if she got it, there would be expenses to pay, and all her own resources were being drained dry by the impending campaign for woman suffrage in New York state. But a trust had been reposed in her. She must do the best she could to fulfill it.
She called in a lawyer, and before night she had made a codicil to her own will whereby her interest in the Leslie estate was passed on to a commission of women in the event of her own death. She persuaded the lawyer also to take the case for suffrage, his pay to be on a when-and-if-and-what basis-when and if and what the estate netted the suffrage cause.
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