Manning, Marie (c. 1873–1945)

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Manning, Marie (c. 1873–1945)

First American newspaper advice columnist, and one of the most popular, who was known as Beatrice Fairfax . Name variations: (pseudonym) Beatrice Fairfax. Born on January 22, c. 1873 (all sources are estimates, and include 1875 and 1878), in Washington, D.C.; died in Washington, D.C., on November 28, 1945; daughter of Michael Charles Manning (a War Department employee) and Elizabeth (Barrett) Manning; married Herman Eduard Gasch, in 1905; children: Oliver Gasch; Manning Gasch.

Selected writings:

(novel) Lord Allingham, Bankrupt (1902); (novel) Judith of the Plains (1903); (advice) Personal Reply (1943); (autobiography) Ladies Now and Then (1944).

Journalist Marie Manning wrote the first newspaper advice column, a feature that was revolutionary at its inception in the 1890s for her forthright recommendations on pressing social issues. She was born in Washington, D.C., to English parents; the exact year of her birth is not known, because she kept it secret until her death, although her son has dated it in 1873. When she was six years old, her mother died, and thereafter she was raised by her father, a onetime employee of the U.S. War Department. She received schooling in London and New York City (she was disciplined at one school for reading tabloid papers during the meditation hour) and attended finishing school in Washington around 1890. Young women of her social station sometimes went off to college, but it was rare for one to work actively to establish herself in a career outside the home. Manning, however, was an avid newspaper reader, and harbored a secret ambition to become a journalist.

Her father died when she was 20, and she came under the guardianship of a family friend. At a Washington dinner party, she sat next to Arthur Brisbane, an editor at the New York World. She confessed her love of the media, and he helped her obtain a job at his paper writing filler, after she won a battle with her conservative guardian for permission to do so. Manning moved to New York City, where her job paid by the inch and only if the work actually made it into print. Intrepid and well connected, she managed to obtain an exclusive interview with President Grover Cleveland, and was then hired full-time by the paper. She moved to the New York Evening Journal in 1897, along with most of her colleagues at the World, and went to work for William Randolph Hearst, considered the founder of tabloid journalism. His papers featured true-crime stories and appealed to popular sentiments. At the Evening Journal, Manning wrote features for the "women's page," primarily concerning household and beauty tips. The section of the editorial room where she and two female colleagues sat was referred to by newspaper staff as the "Hen Coop."

The newspaper had been receiving an increasing amount of letters of a personal nature from readers, detailing various emotional hardships and requesting assistance. Manning suggested the creation of a separate column to respond to the letters, and received the approval of Brisbane, now her editor, to answer them in print under a pseudonym. Her first "Letters from the Lovelorn" column appeared on July 20, 1898, under the pen name "Beatrice Fairfax," and was an instant success. Readers were intrigued by the frank discussions of personal problems, discussions which, during the 1890s, were still subject to censure; the growth of urban populations due to the Industrial Revolution, and the resulting loss of community that people suffered, brought a host of social ills and little forum for remedy or even sympathy. Manning provided advice to women struggling to remain—or at least appear—virtuous in an era of great social change, and in time the paper would receive nearly 1,400 letters a day. "Beatrice Fairfax" became known for dispensing matter-of-fact advice regarding courtship and problems in love, with far less obligatory sentiment than was the norm; typical of her response was "Dry your eyes, roll up your sleeves, and dig for a practical solution, battle for it; if the law will help, invoke the law … pick up the

pieces and keep on going." The paper's circulation, in her own words, "zoomed like an ascending airplane." Imitators soon sprang up at other newspapers, but her main competitor was the pseudonymous Dorothy Dix (Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer ).

In addition to the column, Manning continued to write news articles for the paper under her real name ("Beatrice Fairfax" was a combination of Dante's Beatrice [Portinari ] and the county in Virginia where Manning's family had a farm), and also wrote fiction published in Harper's, some of it inspired by problems posed in letters to her column. She published two novels, Lord Allingham, Bankrupt (1902) and Judith of the Plains (1903). In 1905, she married real estate mogul Herman Gasch and retired from the newspaper, although she continued to turn in the occasional freelance piece at Brisbane's request. For most of the next two decades, Manning concentrated on raising her two sons, writing short stories that were published in such magazines as Harper's, Ladies' Home Journal, and Collier's, and championing women's rights. A longtime suffragist and founding member of the Women's National Press Club, she lectured, lobbied politicians, and marched in parades (later expressing regret that she had not had the courage to be jailed with other marching suffragists), and also worked for child-labor laws.

Like so many others, Manning was financially impoverished by the stock-market crash of 1929. She went back to work a year later on the "Beatrice Fairfax" column, which was still an enormously popular feature in the New York Evening Journal and had been ghostwritten by other female journalists since her departure. It had also been syndicated to 200 American newspapers, thanks to Hearst's King Features. She confronted an entirely new set of queries after a quarter-century hiatus. More married people were writing for advice, and men sent far more letters than they had at the turn of the century. Manning continued writing the column until her death 15 years later, and also wrote features for the International News Service. During World War II, she began to receive a record number of letters from military personnel and their families, and authored a book of advice for them titled Personal Reply (1943). An autobiography of sorts, Ladies Now and Then, appeared in 1944; it was only then that Marie Manning publicly revealed her identity as Beatrice Fairfax. She died of coronary thrombosis in Washington, D.C., on November 28, 1945.


Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1944.

Downs, Robert B., and Jane B. Downs, eds. Journalists of the United States. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

McKerns, Joseph P., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Journalism. CT: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb, eds. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

More From

You Might Also Like