“Dear Beatrice Fairfax…“

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So when Brisbane appeared in the Hen Coop one day waving three letters about personal problems, he found Manning ready for a change. The letters had been sent to the Journal’s letters-to-the-editor column; Brisbane wanted Manning and her colleagues to answer them in a story. Manning suggested a new column instead, a public confessional for the unhappy, who could write to the paper about their troubles and in return get “unbiased opinion and friendly advice.”

This was the era of yellow journalism, when newspaper giants like the Journal’s owner, William Randolph Hearst, sought any novel, sensational gimmick to increase readership. The Spanish-American War, which Hearst had done his best to ignite and which had reaped hundreds of thousands of new readers for his paper, was winding down. To stay on top in its bitter circulation war with its archrival, the New York World, the Journal needed something different, something original. “It might be a good idea,” Brisbane said. “At least, it’s worth trying.”

He ordered Manning and the other women to submit names for the new column’s author by the next day. The idea that the writer might publish under her own name was never considered; in 1898 it was still thought slightly indecent for a lady to use her real name in print. Brisbane rejected the first crop of suggestions. “Montmorency,” “Biddle,” “Vere de Vere,” and “Astorbilt” were all too high-flown for the Journal. Then Manning came up with “Beatrice Fairfax’—Beatrice because she had been reading The Divine Comedy and Fairfax for the Virginia county where the Mannings had owned a home. That was more like it, Brisbane said, and he assigned her to be the writer, starting the next day.

The first column was accompanied by a pen-and-ink drawing of a winsome young woman; above her was the name Beatrice Fairfax and underneath, the message “She will advise you on the troubles of your heart.” It began with an explanation: “All young men and women have love affairs. At such times they need advice. Often it is impossible to obtain it from their families. Families are notoriously unsympathetic in such cases. The Evening Journal, through Miss Beatrice Fairfax, will help all such young persons. Miss Fairfax is a Virginian. She is a woman of experience. She has read and observed widely. She is young enough to sympathize with love’s young dream. She will answer, to the best of her ability, all letters on subjects pertaining to the affections.”

 

The response exceeded the Journal’s—and Manning’s—wildest expectations: up to fourteen hundred letters a day streamed in. Most of the writers were in their teens and early twenties, and almost all, at least in the beginning, wrote about love and courtship. “To a multitude of correspondents,” Manning said, “the Beatrice Fairfax column represented the only medium through which they could discuss their perplexities and get an impartial answer from an unknown and unprejudiced person.”

Miss Beatrice Fairfax:

Dear Madam: I have been keeping company with a young man for some time, and I love him. He seemed to love me in return, but he told me some time ago that he did not care to keep steady company, and left me. … I asked him the last time if he thought we would ever go together again, and he said he could not tell, as at the present time, he did not want any girl, but still he likes to go out with me. I keep company with a young man who loves me, and I like him, but I do not love him as much as I do the other. … I would accept my first lover tomorrow. If I were to be married, and were at the altar with the second one, and could see the chance to marry the first, I would back out and return with my old love, if I knew he would be true to me.

Lida May

Lida May, you sentimental girls who lack pride and self-respect and call that lack “love” are rapidly destroying my sympathy with the victims of the tender passion.

Have you any ground whatever for believing that a man who has played fast and loose with your feelings as your admirer would be a faithful or loving husband? Why don’t you summon a little common sense to your aid? The man has insulted, rebuffed and wounded you. Could you possibly put yourself again in a position where he could again hurt you? A broken heart—I dare say you think you are suffering from that—is a trifling complaint compared to a bad husband. Do be brave and self-respecting, and dismiss this creature from your mind and life.

Beatrice Fairfax’s tough-minded practicality had special appeal to women used to the exhortations of such popular novelists as Fanny Fern and Gail Hamilton, who urged their readers to “suffer and be strong” and to “hold fast to the male oak that supports the vine.” Manning would have none of that. Disdaining “sobbing, tear-jerking and other forms of lachrymal exhibitionism,” she urged her correspondents to take charge of their lives: “If there’s a practical solution, battle for it; if the law will help, invoke the law. In any case, pick up the pieces and keep on going.”

Miss Beatrice Fairfax: