Not Your Average Joe

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Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs

Joe

Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs would be the first to tell you that she was “never a little girl.” Born February 1, 1900, in London, Joe was the first child of American heiress Frances Evelyn Bostwick (the second child of Jabez Bostwick, a founding partner of Standard Oil). Her legal father was Captain Albert Carstairs of the Royal Irish Rifles, or, at least, we think. Captain Carstairs re-enlisted in the army one week before Joe’s birth. He and Evelyn divorced soon after that, and some suggest that he may not have been Joe’s biological father.

Joe’s mother, who went by her middle name, Evelyn, was “fed by alcohol and heroin,” according to biographer Kate Summerscale. She was known for her string of lovers and husbands. Joe’s favorite was Count Roger de Périgny, who was much more of a buddy than a father. The Count shared many of his hobbies with his new stepdaughter, some much less wholesome than others. The most important, however, was his love of things that go fast. In fact, de Périgny had one of his racecars modified so that 16-year-old Joe could drive it. The relationship between Evelyn and Roger, unsurprisingly, did not last.   Read more

Patten Down the Hatches!

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Image: National Portrait Gallery, Mary Ann Brown Patten 1857

We often hear about adventures at sea involving storms, mutinies, accidents, and illness. More often than not, the storyteller goes on to talk about the heroics of a crew member who is, usually, a man. But what if it were a woman? An amazing 19-year-old woman? A woman who happened to also be pregnant?

The story of Mary Patten was well known when it took place in the 19th century. It appeared in many newspapers because of the sheer novelty of the incident. Women in 19th-century society were considered the “weaker sex,” and whose sole purpose, in middle class America, was to support their husbands and families at home.  I grew up in New England and never heard a word about Mary.    Read more