| BROWSE BACK | | HOME | | LIBRARY CONTENTS | | BROWSE NEXT | 010-part2
REPORT - Part two of four parts.
| PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | | PART FOUR |
It Took the World's Breath Away
THE FRANK LESLIE WILL
Highlights from The Record
Thereupon, she directed that all her debts be paid, and bequeathed a number of bequests that ranged from $50,000 to just a few.
Article Twelve of the Will reads as follows:
When the appraisers had finished with Mrs. Leslie's estate, the gross amount with which the executors stood charged was $1,977,810.57, a huge sum of which $1,836,210.57, less depreciation, debts, funeral expenses, etc., was meant by Mrs. Leslie to go to Mrs. Catt at once for the promotion of the suffrage cause.
The amount to which suffrage was beneficiary, announced in the newspapers of September 27, 1914, left the world breathless. But promptly some of the world got its breath.
A great many were disappointed, and it was not long before they began to reveal it. There was an assembling of clans and a marshaling of cousins.
"We might as well have it as the suffragettes!" became the battle cry.
"My father," said a letter from Los Angeles, "is a first cousin of Mrs. Leslie, and we feel, as no doubt you do, that we are more entitled to at least a small portion of her estate than the Suffragettes... I have an uncle who is one of the best lawyers in the West and he has looked into the matter and says he feels sure that something can be done, if all the heirs get together..."
JUST SHORT OF AIDING AND ABETTING CRIME
To want votes for women was just short of aiding and abetting crime. That money should be left to "an association that is perhaps not even sanctioned by law," as one of them set forth, passed the bounds of reason.
The protesters supposed Mrs. Catt to be no more bound by the provisions of the will than they felt themselves to be. They besieged her with letters to beg that she disregard the wishes and instructions of the dead and give them some money or some more money, out of the estate. They threatened contests. They pleaded. They menaced.
There were an incredible number of letters from men, with an ability to be ridiculous that had no limit, who rushed forward to proffer their services to Mrs. Catt as business manager, on the grounds that no woman could handle affairs of such magnitude.
There were hundreds from people who suggested other ways of using the money.
A clerk had to be engaged merely to take care of the correspondence involved, and considerable expense accrued to Mrs. Catt for the privilege of pointing out to people that she did not yet have the Leslie money and could not do anything with it except what Mrs. Leslie had indicated, even when she got it.
It was early evident that of those most interested no one was going to abide by the wishes of the dead except the one who was to get no personal benefit from the will, Mrs. Catt. Two of the next of kin promptly let it be known that they were not willing the will should be probated... The post-death history of Mrs. Leslie's will is startling testimony to the inefficacy of will-making.
When the (relatives) agreements were brought to Mrs. Catt, they came with the strong plea that it was quicker and cheaper to settle with claimants than to allow the claim to go from court to court, that a receivership could be ordered, a jury named, and the fortune exhausted. That, as she herself was to get nothing out of the estate, it was better to be lenient in the case of others who would fight hard to get something out of it. Compromise, counseled the lawyers.
CATT REFUSES A DISHONORABLE COMPROMISE; SAYS SHE HAS NO RIGHT
Thereupon, admitting that she did not know the law as the lawyers knew it, she briefed the equity in the case as she saw it, and sent it to her lawyer as the expression of her wishes:
"Probably I do not clearly understand all
the intricacies and possibilities of a contest, and perhaps it is the proverbial
fool who enters in where angels fear to tread. But a contest is surely
a more honest and self-respecting process than a dishonorable compromise.
"On the other hand, if I consent to claims which I believe have no legal or moral basis, I shall not only bring upon myself the condemnation of my own conscience but the criticism of my fellow suffragists. I am unwilling that any compromise whatsoever shall be made with any heirs which I cannot freely announce to the world. I cannot therefore consent to any sort of compromise which cannot be justified in the understanding, not of lawyers, but the laity.
"If Mrs. Leslie was not of sound mind, it
is right that the State should distribute the estate. Do we believe she
was of sound mind? We do. Then why should we be afraid to let one hundred
contests come if they will? Why should we give away hundreds of thousands
of dollars to avoid contests? If the evolution of jurisprudence from the
beginning of time has not yet reached the point where an honest and intelligent
person can make an honest will, drawn by a shrewd and intelligent firm
of lawyers, and have it upheld in an American court, it is time the world
knew it and that somebody beside lawyers made the laws of our country..."
I HAVE FOUGHT ALL MY LIFE AGAINST INJUSTICE
"Our opponents doubtless bank upon three
elements. First, that the probating of the will means nothing to me and
that consequently I will not fight for it. I have fought all my life against
injustice, and this is a case which appeals to me and I am ready for the
"Therefore I am willing to risk even that point. Our opponents also bank upon the claim that Mrs. Leslie was not interested in suffrage. We not only have our letters with which to answer that point, but there is something more important. I find that Mrs. Leslie was parsimonious, tight-fisted, when people wanted to borrow money of her, and their name was legion.
"On the other hand, there is proof that she
was always open-handed to help women in need. She got their writings printed,
she helped actresses, singers and musicians to get audiences and fees;
he gave presents to struggling women, and never, after she was herself
a business woman, did she turn her back upon an appeal presented by any
IF SHE HAD WANTED A MONUMENT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BUILT OF MARBLE NOT VOTES
"She may have had the motive, as some people
think, of building a monument to herself. That would be the lowest motive
one could assign to her for the kind of will she made. If this was the
motive, is there anything illegal about arranging for one's own monument?
"The more I learn of her character, history
and daily life from those who were most familiar with her, the more confident
I am that the thing she did was according to a long-thought-out plan.
"Believing all the above, I have asked myself what is my duty in this matter, and I answer that: "First, it is my duty to defend the right of a woman to make her own will in her own way; second, it is my duty to get the residue of that estate, if it is possible to do so, to use as she intended it to be used; third, it is my duty to aid, so far as I can, the probating of the will.
"If it be true that corrupt politics can
get hold of this case, dictate a receivership, name and jury and all that
sort of thing, and thus exhaust the fortune anyway, there is another field
for a fight, and I am ready for that.
CATT GETS NOTHING EXCEPT TROUBLE AND BILLS
"I beg to assure you that I am not unmindful of the fact that I, as an individual, will get nothing out of the will except trouble and bills for my own pocketbook to meet. Nevertheless, a duty has come to me, and although it is not of my own seeking I am going to perform it according to the dictates of my conscience."
This is enough to indicate Mrs. Catt's sense of
responsibility for the trust imposed upon her. In each and every case of
assignment or settlement out of court, she yielded against her own wishes
to the opinion of the best legal talent of the country that it was "cheaper
to pay than to fight."
(However, under pressure from her attorneys, several claimants did received large settlements. Heirs of the deceased husband also entered the case - grandchildren of Mr. Frank Leslie's sons whom he had specifically disinherited in his own will 40 years before. Their position went so far as to accuse Mrs. Frank Leslie of having been born illegitimate and the daughter of a black slave woman, adding that the woman who passed herself off as Mrs. Frank's mother was actually a whorehouse madam!)
The executors set up a machinery of investigation that would have done credit to Scotland Yard, boasting, as it did, detectives, photographers, handwriting experts, copyists, researches, and legal lights... When all the evidence was in and all the lawyers had done their best and worst, the decision was a sweeping denial of all the petitioner's demands. It was appealed, of course, and the appeals court ruled for CCC and suffrage... Twenty-four thousand dollars was paid to their lawyers, as the result of which the estate of Mrs. Frank Leslie was forever discharged from any obligation to any heirs of Mr. Frank Leslie.
EVERYONE HAD A CLAIM AND THE LAWYERS GOT MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS
More claims were made including one by the executor Mr. Louis H. Cramer who had gone on record as being dumbfounded and disappointed by the will. The amount he claimed was two hundred thousand dollars, saying that it was he who increased Mrs. Frank's net worth, so her deserved it. Mrs. Catt disagreed. "A man who couldn't make a fortune grow under these conditions would be a poor sort indeed," she replied to Mr. Cramer's lawyer.
The matter went to a referee who reported there had been no contract, implied or otherwise, between Mrs. Leslie and Mr. Cramer but he was still given $45,000. Another petition was filed in April, 1919... Mrs. Leslie was pictured as a weak-minded degenerate who had yielded to the undue influence of flattery and cajolery "in which Mrs. Catt excelled." In all nearly half a million went in settlement of claims not recognized by Mrs. Leslie in her will. The government got over $200,000. The total sum charged to legal expenses was not short of $220,000. The executors got $39,384.46, nearly twenty thousand dollars apiece, as pay for their services.
The total amount charged to Mrs. Catt by the executors was $977,875.02. In order to probate and execute the Leslie will more than a million dollars was spent!
| PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | | PART FOUR |
| BROWSE BACK | | HOME | | LIBRARY CONTENTS | | BROWSE NEXT |
LIZNOTES TABLE OF CONTENTS | RESEARCH ROOMS | THE READING ROOM
WOA CALENDAR | WOMAN SUFFRAGE TIMELINE | THE LIZ LIBRARY ENTRANCE
© 1990-2006 Irene Stuber, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71902. Originally web-published at http://www.undelete.org/
We are indebted to Irene Stuber for compiling this collection and for granting us permission to make it available again.
The text of the documents in the women's history library may be freely copied for nonprofit educational use.
Except as otherwise
noted, all contents in this collection are copyright 1998-09 the liz library.
All rights reserved.
This site is hosted and maintained by the liz library. Send queries to: Sarah at thelizlibrary dot org