“A Little Duck:” Miss Beckwith Swims the Thames: 1875

Agnes Alice Beckwith in a rather daring aquatic costume.

Agnes Alice Beckwith in a rather daring aquatic costume.

“A LITTLE DUCK” A Young English Girl Swims Five Miles on a Wager of £60 to £40

[From the London Standard of Sept. 2.]

A young girl named Agnes Alice Beckwith, daughter of the professor of swimming at Lambeth Baths, yesterday accomplished the difficult feat of swimming from London Bridge to Greenwich. The distance is rather more than five miles, and the time was remarkably fast−namely 1 h. 7 m. 45 s. Mr. Beckwith has been connected with the Lambeth Baths for nearly a quarter of a century, and for fourteen years held the proud position of champion swimmer of England. The heroine of yesterday’s proceedings is but 14 years old, of slim make and diminutive stature. The object was to decide a wager of £60 to £40 laid against her by Mr. Baylis, the money being deposited with Bell’s Life. The event created a great deal of excitement, and all along the route the progress of the swimmer was watched by excited crowds on the wharves and barges. In addition to the London Steamboat company’s Volunteer, a private steam launch, and a rowing-boat containing her father, the referee, and some half dozen others immediately interested in the result, a perfect swarm of boats accompanied—and indeed impeded—the swimmer the entire distance. London Bridge was crowded, as were the vessels and other points whence a view of the start could be obtained. Miss Beckwith dived from the rowing-boat at nine minutes to 5, and at once commenced a rapid side stroke, which she maintained to the finish. She was attired in a swimming costume of light rose pink llama, trimmed with white braid and lace of the same color. The water was very smooth and the tide running about three miles per hour. Swimming about a couple of yards in the rear of the referee’s boat, Turner Pier was reached at 11 minutes past 5. At Horseferry Dock (5:22) a salute was fired, and the swimmer was encouraged with lusty cheers. The Commerce Dock was quickly left behind, and soon after the Hilda, on her return from Margate, crowded with excursionists, passed the flotilla. Passing Millwall Miss Beckwith crossed to the north side and took advantage of the strong tide. At this point she was met by the saloon steamer Victoria, whose passengers were vociferous in their applause. The foreign cattle market at Deptford was breasted at twelve minutes to 6, and, as Greenwich Hospital appeared in sight, the intelligence was conveyed to the swimmer by repeated cheers, a salute being also fired from the Unicorn. The pier at Greenwich and the grounds of the ship were crowded with people who cheered to the echo when the spirited strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” announced the success of the attempt. Miss Beckwith swam some distance beyond the pier, and was taken on board at 5 h. 58 m. 45 s., having accomplished the distance, as stated above, in 1 h. 7 m. 45 s.

She seemed almost as fresh as when she started, and to all appearance was capable of going considerably further. It is worthy of mention that this was Miss Beckwith’s first essay of the sort, if we except a trial trip on Monday from Battersea to Westminster. Her nearest approach to the present feat was a swim of two and a half miles in the Lambeth Baths in three-quarters of an hour. Sunday Times [Chicago, IL] 19 September 1875: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While there seems to be a missprint in the time the young swimmer spent in the water, Miss Beckwith went from strength to strength, swimming from Chelsea Bridge to Greenwich, a distance of ten miles, in 1876 and from Westminster Bridge to Richmond, in a “pleasure swim” of twenty miles in 1878. Described as “A London Naiad,” in 1883 she made an unsuccessful attempt to swim from Sandy Hook to the Iron Pier at Rockaway Beach. Here is a detailed article describing Miss Beckwith’s subsequent career.

Why the Widow’s Hair Turned White: 1910

Women suffer things that men never have to. Fashionable femininity endures miseries in ways that its poorer sisters don’t have to. Wealth itself brings certain sorrows to the women who possess it. I met a widow just out of mourning garb and arrayed in gay colors. I hadn’t seen her since her bereavement. She had regained her old-time buoyancy and was having a good time at a dinner dance. Yet I observed gray hair in her coiffure that had not been there before and fancied that her voice had a note of grief.

“The loss of your husband has been a sad blow to you, my dear,” I said to be polite, although I knew well enough that he had been utterly uncongenial.

“I don’t feel that way about it,” she frankly replied; “he didn’t care for me, nor I for him. After using $20,000 out of his $250,000 for his mausoleum I felt free of further obligation and set out to have a good time with his fortune.” I was puzzled by the gray hair that had come on her head so quickly and asked her to explain it.

“It is the result of a shock,” she said. “You have read of persons whose hair, under intense terror or acute grief, turned all white in a single night? Well, only about one of my hairs in a thousand whitened, and it took a month for me to get as slightly gray as you see me, yet the bleaching was done by a mental shock. When the time approached for me to shuck the blacks in gowns and the blues in demeanor I planned a special toilet for the April Horse Show at Atlantic City. I sent to a famous Paris designer for drawings in water colors and samples of fabrics and adjuncts. I wanted to distinguish my ‘coming out’ as a widow with just the richest not only, but the best fitting and most becoming gown at the fair. The artist had my photograph, too, with all the particulars of complexion, hair and form from which to ‘create’ a triumphant toilet. The cost didn’t matter. It was enormous though, and included a whopping bill for cablegrams to close up the negotiations. One of my special stipulations was that the design should not only be original, but kept absolutely exclusive to me. The artist was bound to never duplicate or even imitate it.

“Well, my dear Clara Belle, the gown came all right. It was a dream of beauty—just odd enough to be unusual yet not gaudy; and after the final adjustments had been made by a skilled fitter here I was proud of myself as I looked into a mirror. I took it to Atlantic City in my motor car, instead of sending it by express with the rest of my wardrobe, so that it couldn’t go astray or get delayed. The opening day arrived warm and fair. The display of toilets in the boxes was fine for a lot of dressy women had come from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; and there was a big crowd of ordinary spectators, for an excursion train from the Quaker City had brought 1,000 sightseers.

“I posed a while at the front of my box and rivaled the horse exhibits as an object of interest. I mentally pinned a first prize ribbon on my breast and was exceedingly proud. Here and there among the swell Philadelphia women, whoever, I thought that I detected scrutiny that looked critical and sometimes two would whisper about me. What did it mean? After several competitions in the ring were over I went with my escort for a promenade on the lawn among the commoner folks—from the well-to-do to the barely-get there.

“Suddenly I got an awful shock. Along came a woman in a gown that, in everything except quality of material, was a counterpart of mine. The whole design was identical. I tottered and would have fallen if my companion hadn’t caught me. When the daze passed the woman was gone. Hadn’t she been a hallucination? I had begun to think so when another gown like mine came into view. The colors in this one were different, but it repeated the original otherwise. Within an hour I saw no less than five copies, and one in quite cheap stuff was worn by a girl as common as the goods.

“That fiend of a Parisian ‘artist’ had foisted on me as an ‘original and exclusive creation’ a design that he—or some one else—had made for an American manufacturer of gowns to be put on the market ready-made, and some big department store in Philadelphia had got a run on them. I went to my hotel in a state of nervous prostration, was no more than half conscious on my auto trip home and within a week these silver threads were among the gold of my hair.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 15 May 1910: p. C8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The occasion of a widow coming “out of mourning” was treated as tantamount to a debut by some widows, such as this lady. Like the debutante ritual, it showed that they were “back on the market,” to use an indelicate phrase. As an aside, 1910 was the year of “Black Ascot,” although this lady, being an American, would not have gone into mourning for the King.

Etiquette demanded that widows wear black–dull and crape-trimmed for the first year; shinier fabrics, white trim, jet jewellery, and a shorter veil for the second. After the two years, half-mourning: white, gray, heliotrope, and mauve could be worn as the widow emerged from her cocoon of black crape. These rules were not invariably followed to the letter, but the newspapers reported on the mourning fashions of prominent women and were often scathing in their criticisms. For example:


A rather remarkable case is that of the recently bereaved Mrs. Marshal Field, of Chicago, who undertook to serve two masters by having her mourning gown cut décolleté. To the lay mind unacquainted with the awesome rites of fashion, the custom of rushing to the modiste when death is in the house smacks somewhat of flummery and frivolity. At the high tide of sorrow, the very crux of despair, gores, ruffles and tucks, sleeves and collars, would seem matters quite irrelevant; but this custom obtains in society and must be respected unless one is an out-and-out iconoclast and reckless heretic. The various stages of grief are furthermore shown to the world by a judicious handling of whites and grays, but it has been ordained always to be high-necked and long-sleeved grief.

Now, for any individual to change this order is a matter of fearful import; and the spectacle of Mrs. Marshall Field, at the end of a scant three weeks, breaking out all at once into bare neck and arms is a thing at once scandalous and deplorable. This still blooming widow, perhaps set upon her sorrowful and afflicted head a dull jet tiara; furthermore, perhaps about her drooping neck, sported some black pearls, which are de riguer, if you are fortunate enough to own them, at certain stages of melancholy. So perhaps she also wore black glace kids instead of dull suede. From such a spectacle one avert the eye; before such ill-considered vanity decorum goes into convulsions. That concrete grief should so far forget itself as to appear in a décolleté gown, albeit a very black gown, is a thing which makes the whole world stand aghast.

We live in parlous times, that is true, but never before has this been more openly shown than in this sad case of tearful innovation.

Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 16 February 1906: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes. You may read more about Victorian practices in The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, which will be published in September of this year.

Why He Bought the Dolls: 1887

Why He Bought the Dolls.

[Dakota Bell.]

A group of three little girls stood before the window of the toy store and gazed longingly at a display of dolls. A kind-looking man noticed them, and soon each little girl went merrily away with a doll in her arms, bashfully telling her thanks to the man. He lingered behind to say:

“The little ones like dolls, and when I see them looking at them, I can’t help stopping and getting some for them. It gives me a sad sort of pleasure.”


“My little girl liked dolls—it seemed as if her whole soul was bound up in them, almost. And she was such a little thing, too. But she played with them almost continually, and took so much comfort with them, especially one small wax doll, with its hands broken off and one foot missing. Yes, and its nose was badly worn and its hair had been put up in the very height of fashion so many times that it was nearly worn out, too. All her dolls had names and this one she called ‘Tatie’—she meant ‘Katie,’ but she wasn’t old enough to talk very well. Every night when she went to bed she must have ‘Tatie’ in her arms, and she would take it so, all night. Then when she was taken sick ‘Tatie’ must lie in the little white bed beside her and nestle in her arms at night. And ‘Tatie’ must have some of the medicines, too, and part of the little delicate dishes the loving hands of her mother brought her.

“And as she grew worse she told us that ‘Tatie’ was weaker, and showed us how much paler her poor marred face and worn-off nose were. And every day she held ‘Tatie’ more and more closely in her arms. So we sat by her bedside and knew, hard as it was, that the little angel of our household was going away, and that the closer she hugged ‘Tatie’ in her slender, wasted arms, the faster she was slipping from us. And at last she grew so weak that she could scarcely move, but her arms clasped tighter if we tried to take her ‘Tatie’ away from her. One night I had lain down on the sofa, worn out with watching, and in a little while my wife woke me with a soft touch, and her tears fell on my face, and I knew what it meant. And when we went back in the bedroom our little girl lay there still and calm, and ‘Tatie’ yet in her arms with the scattering, half-worn hair pressed against her pale, wasted cheek. They put her in the little coffin, and when I looked ‘Tatie’ still nestled in her arms.

“So that is why I stopped and bought the little girls some dolls, though I never saw them before, and if they take half the comfort with them that my little girl did I will be more than repaid.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 June 1887: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The reader will have to excuse Mrs Daffodil. She has something in her eye….

This is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, to be publishing this September.

The Malet Talisman Ring and Its Ghost: 1854

An 1840 dress with bishop sleeves as described in the story. The original is a rather pretty pink. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13835/dress-unknown/

An 1840 dress with bishop sleeves as described in the story. The original is a rather pretty pink. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13835/dress-unknown/

Lord Denbigh sent to Mr. Hare an account of a supernatural vision which he had heard from Henry Malet in 1869. Malet said that, in the winter of 1854-55, he was in Paris, and saw a good deal of Palgrave Simpson, the dramatic author. One evening after a dinner Simpson expressed himself a believer in clairvoyant phenomena. A few days afterward Malet received an order to return to London and hold himself in readiness to embark for the Crimea with his regiment.

On the night before his departure for Malta, he received a note from Simpson inclosing an antique ring. The note said: “Do not laugh at me, but while you are in the Crimea wear the inclosed ring. It was given to me by the last representative of an old Hungarian family on her deathbed. In her family it was an heirloom, and considered as a most precious talisman to preserve the wearer from any external harm.”

Malet slipped the ring on his finger without attaching any great importance to the matter, and the next morning sailed from Portsmouth. Mr. Malet thus goes on with the story:

“We touched at Gibraltar, but it was not till our arrival at Malta that I heard from my family. Then I found a letter from my mother dated from Frankfort on the very day of our sailing from England. It said: ‘I have been quite brokenhearted about you and could find no comfort anywhere; but now all is changed, for a most extraordinary reason. This morning, as I lay in bed in broad daylight, and after my maid had brought my hot water, just as I was about to get up, a most beautiful young lady, very fair and dressed in gray silk, drew aside the curtain of my bed and leant over me and said: “Do not be unhappy about your son; no harm shall happen to him.” I am quite certain I have had a vision, yet it seemed as if I were awake; certainly I was so the moment before this happened. The whole thing is as distinct as possible, and as unlike an effect of imagination. Of course, I cannot account for it, but it has made me quite happy, and I know you will come back safe.’

“On receipt of this letter I bethought me of the ring, and begged my mother in reply to describe minutely the appearance of the mysterious visitor. My mother said it was a young woman about twenty-seven years of age, rather pale, with very straight features, large gray eyes and an abundance of brown hair worn in rather an old-fashioned manner. The sleeves of the gray silk dress were what we call ‘bishop sleeves.’

“I sent copies of my mother’s letter to Palgrave Simpson, and he answered me that the description was in the minutest particular the counterpart of the lady who on her deathbed had given him the ring, some sixteen or seventeen years before. It is to be observed that no communication whatever passed between me and my mother between the receipt of the ring and my arrival at Malta, and I will swear that I told no one the story.”

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: John Palgrave Simpson [1807-87] was a writer of popular Victorian melodramas and an adapter of other works, such as A Tale of Two Cities, for the stage. Henry Malet was Sir Henry Charles Eden Malet, 3rd Baronet Wilbury [1835-1904]. He was a Lt Col in the Grenadier Guards who served in the Crimean War. He was present for the lifting of the Siege of Sevastopol.  Sir Henry’s mother, Mary, Lady Malet, was right to be concerned. The War was not going particularly well and news of the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade on 25 October 1854 would have undoubtedly reached her. It was very considerate of the Hungarian lady’s spirit to transfer the protective powers of the ring to a comparative stranger and to kindly reassure Sir Henry’s mother.

The Story of My Life, Augustus J. C. Hare

For other stories related by that master raconteur Augustus Hare see “Saved by the Bell (wire),” “The Ensign Sees a Horror,” and “A Ghostly Murder Victim Appeals to Count Axel von Fersen: c. 1800

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

You may read the Mrs Daffodil story, “A Spot of Bother,” in the compilation of that name on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble.

Lucile vs. M. Poiret: The Gauntlet is Thrown Down: 1912

A nightdress by Lucile at the Victoria & Albert Museum http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O230750/nightdress-lucile/

A nightdress by Lucile at the Victoria & Albert Museum http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O230750/nightdress-lucile/

An unfortunate difference of opinion has broken out between the men and the women dressmakers as represented by the chief European exponents of the art. On the one hand we have M. Poiret, that truly distinguished Frenchman who permits himself to minister sartorially to the women of the world, while upon the other side is Lady Duff-Gordon, the chief director of Lucile’s. In this instance the provocation comes from the man, which is so rarely the case as to be remarkable. M. Poiret was actually guilty of saying for publication that “man only can suit a woman in dress. The woman dressmaker drowns herself in details and neglects the outline.”  Now we had supposed that this was unquestionably true. The same thing has often been said before, and so far without any vociferous contradiction, and when a woman does not contradict something derogatory to her own sex it is presumably true. Sometimes it is true when she does contradict it. Every one remembers the explanation once given for the predominance of the male dressmaker. His woman competitor, we were told, refuses to recognize any fraction of the inch less than the quarter, while the male mind condescends to eighths and sixteenths. Consequently man secures a precise fit where the woman fails to do so. This may be a libel. Who are we that we should decide upon such a point.

But the woman dressmaker has found a champion in Lady Duff-Gordon, who has been visited by a representative of the London Daily Express, It is strange how eager are these newspaper men to stir up trouble and to set nations and sexes by the ears. Lady Duff-Gordon listened to the charge of M. Poiret, and like Sam Weller’s mother-in-law she “swelled wisibly” with defiance and indignation. For the moment she became the incarnation of her downtrodden sex and repelled with scorn the insinuation of her Parisian rival.

“Of course,” she said, “the woman dressmaker remembers details, and it is the details, the little touches, that make a dress charming and distinctive. But let me try to explain to you what I mean.”

Now of what earthly use is it to send a man reporter upon such an errand as this? This particular scribe in the grasp of Lady Duff-Gordon was as clay in the hands of the potter. She gave some sort of a signal, waved a magic wand, muttered a few words of an incantation, and in swept a procession of young women of bewildering beauty and so attired as to abash the sunlight. Now, said Lady Duff-Gordon, what do you think of that ? Are they not exquisite ? The wretched youth tried to check an almost ungovernable tendency toward violent mania and feebly gibbered that they were. But he was referring to the young women themselves, and Lady Duff-Gordon knew that he was and yet she was not ashamed to take advantage of the weaknesses peculiar to his frail and faulty sex.

“Now,” she said, “I will show you why it pleases you,” stopping one of the divine ones for more intimate inspection and thus reducing her victim to a state of drooling imbecility. “It is this insertion, this little ornament, this suggestion of a dainty underskirt that makes the complete harmony that is so good to look upon. Hard outlines are not feminine. They do not please.”

Of course the poor youth had nothing to say, except telepathically. He was far too modest to show an undue enthusiasm for the “suggestion of a dainty underskirt.” Somehow it didn’t seem quite nice to be too analytic, and that was exactly his persecutor’s point. Men had no right to analyze. They were concerned with the general effect, “A man has no business to understand a woman’s dress. It is not his metier. It is his to appreciate and enjoy the result without understanding how it is attained. “As a matter of fact, no real man ever does understand. He can not explain exactly what a woman is wearing, but he knows quite well if she is looking charming or if she is looking grotesque and unpleasing.

“Considering that clothes, to be delightful, must fit the nature of the wearer, it is surely evident that a woman dressmaker must be more successful than a man in making the completely and delightfully feminine — the robe that is soft and delicate and graceful — and this is done not by swathing the figure with hard lines, but by a subtle combination and by many little details.  “I will say this,” added Lady Duff-Gordon. “I consider that a man is as much out of his province in making women’s clothes as a woman would be in making men’s. Anyhow, my success in Paris seems to show that women themselves realize that it is the details that matter.” 

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 6 January 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The censorious might say that “the Devil is the those details.” Lady Duff-Gordon was famously an advocate of titillating lingerie and “immoral” tea-gowns for the average society woman, alluring garments formerly confined to the wardrobe of the professional courtesan.

M. Poiret had a fondness for the straight, clean line and the rectangular. Not for him the laces and frills of Lucile’s confections. However,  in his focus on the outline, he erred. He wanted his creations to “read beautifully from afar,” yet in his quest for the overarching silhouette, it is said that the all-important detail of quality construction was neglected.

The two designers shared some similarities. Like Lady Duff-Gordon, M. Poiret was a master of publicity, staging fashion shows and soirees to launch collections and products. Both designers claimed to have liberated women from their restrictive corsets. Both gave their designs fanciful and romantic names.

Were the two to fight a duel–scissors at 50 paces–it might come down to a draw– and a matter of taste: M. Poiret for the tailored garçonne look or a touch of orientalism; Lucile for dreamy pastel chiffons. Chacun son goût .

Marie Antoinette and the Fortune-Teller: 1782

Marie Antoinette, by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, 1783

Marie Antoinette, by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, 1783

An Anecdote of Marie Antoinette

Mrs. [Sarah] Austin, Lady Duff Gordon’s mother, met forty years ago, in Dresden, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who told her this story on the authority of his mother-in-law, the Empress of Russia:

“When Paul and his wife went to Paris, they were called, as is well known, de Comte and la Comtesse du Nord. The Comtesse du Nord accompanied Marie Antoinette to the theater at Versailles. Marie Antoinette pointed out, behind her fan, all the distinguished persons in the house. In doing this, she had her head bent forward; all of a sudden she drew back with such an expression of terror and horror that the Comtesse said, ‘Pardon, madame, mais je sui sur que vous avez vu quelque chose qui vous agite.’

The Queen, after she had recovered herself, told her that there was about the Court, but not of right belonging to it, a woman who professed to read fortunes on cards. One evening she had been displaying her skill to several ladies, and at length the Queen desired to have her own destiny told. The cards were arranged in the usual manner, but when the woman had to read the result she looked horror struck, and stammered out some generalities. The Queen insisted on her saying what she saw, but she declared she could not. ‘From that time,” said Marie Antoinette, ‘the sight of that woman produces in me a feeling I can not describe of aversion and horror and she seems studiously to throw herself in my way.”

Cincinnati [OH] Daily Gazette 14 September 1877: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Lady Duff-Gordon, was, of course, the famous couturière Lucile. “Paul” was Paul I, the Russian emperor, son of Catherine the Great. His wife was Sophie-Dorothée Augusta Luisa von Württemberg, later Empress Marie Feodorovna.  The trip, which lasted 14 months through 1781-82, took them to Poland, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany and France, where the couple was presented at Versailles.

Mrs Daffodil has wondered about the identity of the fortune-teller and thought perhaps it might have been the legendary card-reader Marie-Anne Lenormand [1772-1843], but she was too young to have been reading cards for the French court in the early 1780s. Lenormand later correctly predicted Josephine Beauharnais’s future when she was imprisoned during the Terror.

Other persons have claimed to have divined the fate of the Queen in the verses of Nostradamus and by finding words in the letters of her name and titles. Given Marie Antoinette’s extravagance and unpopularity, one imagines that dark prophesies of death for the Queen were to be found among all classes, and not just with the Initiated.

That Royalist person over at Haunted Ohio has posted about a man who claimed to have seen the ghost of King Louis XVI, a year to the day after he was guillotined. Mrs Daffodil previously posted about the Trianon fish in gold collars who prophesied doom for France and about Marie Antoinette’s death warrant.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

You may read the Mrs Daffodil story, “A Spot of Bother,” in the compilation of that name on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble.




The Huntress Bags an Interview with John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, 1843

John Quincy Adams, 1843


How A Woman once Interviewed John Quincy Adams

As a boy, being fond of bathing in the Potomac, I frequently resorted thither at early hours of summer mornings. The favorite point for such enjoyment was at ” the sycamores,” so called because a group of those trees stood on a certain part of the shore. The location was in the immediate vicinity of the present Washington Monument. There I had sometimes the honor of attempting to rival the natatory skill of John Quincy Adams.

It was his custom to seek the refreshment of the River of Swans—Pow-tow-mack—at the dewy hours of four or five A.m. My young companions and I encircled him as minnows may swim about a whale, but with no fear, for among children he was as a child.

A strange incident occurred there one day. Mrs. Anne Royal, a stout, aged, and eccentric widow of a Revolutionary soldier, had come to Washington some time before and undertaken the publication of a weekly paper entitled “The Huntress,” in size little beyond a sheet of foolscap, blurred print, and more typographical errors than lines. Biographical accounts of gentlemen of the Cabinet and of Congress were its main features, with notices, too, of distinguished ladies of the metropolis. If the elite furnished her, on her call, with proper data and proper pay, their lives were made glorious in the next number of the unique journal, and they were also presented as angels, either masculine or feminine; but if her visit, as did happen now and then, met with refusal, the imaginative editor would invent wonderful circumstances and attribute them to such personages. These, in publication, startled, and even terrified the subjects thereof and all their society friends. So it became necessary to buy off the vengeful madam and to obtain from her a pleasant report. Cases of fancy were often more profitable to the Royal treasury than those which were authentic. So severe and denunciatory was the editorial tone of this Saturday visitor that it soon created dread in all quarters, and few were brave enough to provoke her wrath by declining the application of the proprietor. The demand granted, the consequent laudation proved scarcely more acceptable, being extravagant to absurdity, and read with general laughter.

No paper of the period in Washington, not even the stately and venerable “National Intelligencer,” could compare in extent of local subscription with the list of “The Huntress. ”

The active and resolute madam would have it, and made it so, by going from house to house, office to office, stores, departments of the Government, in a word everywhere, of course including Congress assembled. By love or by fear she usually succeeded. Soon as the queer little sheets issued from the press, and while they were yet damp, Mrs. Royal, huge basket on arm, bore them through the city, acting as carrier.

The enterprising widow had long sought an opportunity to pay her respects to the Honorable John Quincy, but somehow—perhaps John Quincy knew—fate failed to favor her.

She chanced to learn the early summer morning practice of his late Excellency, and the very next day repaired to the river and the sycamores. There he was, serenely disporting. She looked on with self-congratulation. The swimmer approached the shore at last, nearer and nearer, till he observed her ladyship in waiting, then, the stream admitting, stood, head and neck exposed above the surface.

Thus situated, a prisoner, she addressed him, introduced herself, and held sufficient talk to furnish subject for a fine article in the following “Huntress,” which accomplished, she retired, and once more all was ” quiet on the Potomac.”

Saginaw [MI] Evening News, 24 January 1887: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One can scarcely imagine the austere figure in the photograph as nature made him, but, of course, at this time men and boys were accustomed to bathe in the nude.

Mrs Royall [that is the correct spelling] had come to Washington to try to collect her late husband’s pension, as she had been disinherited by her husband’s family and left penniless. It is said that Mr Adams supported her application after being held captive in the Potomac and that she became a friend of the family. Mrs Royall was exceptionally outspoken and was derided as a virago by the many targets of her journalistic censure. There were actually threats to duck her as a scold, (one would have liked to have seen them try!) but she was merely fined instead. She was the first woman to interview a United States President and is regarded as the first American woman journalist.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes. You may read the Mrs Daffodil story, “A Spot of Bother,” in the compilation of that name on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble.