In Mrs. Leslie’s day, there were two kinds of women, period: the good and bad sort. A “true woman” was a domestic angel, dedicated to home, family, and good works and the hallowed private sphere. Fragile and ethereal with a smaller brain, she submitted to her husband’s authority and lived to serve, soothe, and inspire. She was a pure vessel, without “sexual feeling of any kind.”
The other type—the woman who bucked the cult of womanhood and stepped into public life as a Jezebel, virago, a “cesspool of the combined forces of [evil].” If she entered the brawl of the marketplace, as Miriam did as editor in chief of two fashion magazines, then head of the Frank Leslie Empire, she faced disgrace. The editor of the Household Magazine warned that “should women make speeches, edit papers, and hold office” they unsexed themselves and faced social exile. Never mind making free use of her sexuality. Female desire was an aberration and to fool around, dishonor the marriage bed, or divorce was to fall into the pit of infamy.
The wonder is that Miriam got away with it all. How she pulled it off was a masterpiece. She manufactured a persona that ran rings around the gender police and public censure. She assumed the role of the ultrafeminine Victorian lady, disdained gossip, and cloaked herself in mystery. Who could possibly have detected a “free luster” and high-powered tycoon under the “gracious garments of womanhood?”
Learn more about Miriam’s Life in Betsy Prioleau’s novel, Diamonds and Deadlines: A Tale of Greed, Deceit, and a Female Tycoon in the Gilded Age
Available March 29, 2022
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