Leslie, Miriam (Florence) Follin
LESLIE, Miriam (Florence) Follin
Born 5 June 1836, New Orleans, Louisiana; died 18 September 1914
Wrote under: Frank Leslie, Miriam Florence Folline Leslie, Miriam F. Squier
Daughter of Charles Follin and Susan Danforth; married David C. Peacock, 1854; Ephraim G. Squier, 1856; Frank Leslie, 1873; William K. Wilde, 1891
Miriam Follin Leslie changed her name, birth date, and the details of her parentage to suit her altered mood or circumstance. Although they probably never married, Leslie's parents lived together as man and wife, and her mother used the Follin name. Leslie was educated at home by her father. The intellectual skills she honed at this time were matched by her seductive skills. Her first marriage, a shotgun marriage to a jeweler's assistant, was annulled after two years. Leslie then began a stage career, traveling with actress Lola Montez as her sister Minnie.
Leslie gave up acting in 1857 to marry Squier, an amateur archeologist. With him, she published a Spanish newspaper, Noticias de Neuva York. Through him, she met Frank Leslie, whom she married after divorcing Squier. Head of a successful publishing house, Leslie made her the editor of his Lady's Magazine. Miriam also worked on Frank Leslie's Chimney Corner and Frank Leslie's Lady's Journal, and some said she was the power behind the Leslie throne. Financial mismanagement and the publisher's 1880 death nearly destroyed the business, but Miriam was a good manager and editor with sound news judgment and the ability to gauge the public's interests. Her decision to reduce the number of Leslie magazines and to concentrate on Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly displayed sound business sense.
Miriam Leslie also had a flair for personal publicity. She changed her name to Frank Leslie and lived extravagantly. Her every move made news. Her marriage to the brother of Oscar Wilde, sixteen years her junior, ended when she divorced him in 1893.
Tired of romance and work, Leslie sailed for Europe, leaving her publishing house in control of a syndicate. The group mismanaged the business, and Leslie was called home in 1898. Again she changed the Leslie fortunes; and again she changed her name, to the Baroness de Bazus, after doubtful Huguenot ancestors. Leslie sold her business in 1903 for a half-million dollars. When she died, she left nearly one million dollars to Carrie Chapman Catt, the suffrage leader, to mount the successful campaign for women's suffrage.
During the course of her colorful career, Leslie produced not only newspapers, but also newpaper columns and several books. She even wrote a play. The Froth of Society, Leslie's translation of Dumas's Demi-Monde, opened in 1893 to terrible reviews. Leslie's was the third adaptation of the work to be presented on the New York stage, and she had taken considerable liberties with the original play.
Leslie's books of opinion and advice—Rents in Our Robes (1888), Are Men Gay Deceivers? (1893), and A Social Mirage (1899)—deal with essentially female interests: love, beauty, marriage, and sex. Dress is discussed extensively, Leslie believing that "fashion is not society—it is its genius."
The triumvirate of beauty, love, and fashion that Leslie said should motivate other women as it had motivated her is most evident in Beautiful Woman of Twelve Epochs (1890). This lavishly illustrated book begins with a picture of Leslie. It describes, in flowery language, such generic females as the druidess, the Puritan maiden, and the Saxon maid, admiring them more for how they looked and who they loved than for what they did.
Written from the point of view of a grande dame, California: A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate (1877) betrays intellectual snobbery and racial and regional elitism. The book, however, does present some graphic sketches of the West in 1877, and it excels in its portraiture, providing the reader with insights about Mormon women, Native Americans, frontiersmen, Chinese immigrants, and especially about Leslie herself.
Rents in Our Robes warns women not to compete overzealously with men, not to become masculine, and California constantly alludes to the "feeble female mind." This attitude seems like a contradiction from the one woman of her time to run, and to run successfully, a major publishing house.
Travels in Central America by A. Morelet (translated by Leslie, 1871).
Bird, C., Enterprising Women (1976). Ross, I., Charmers and Cranks (1965). Stern, M., Purple Passage: The Life of Mrs. Frank Leslie (1971).
AA. DAB. NAW. NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States.
Nevada Daily Territorial Enterprise (14 July 1878).