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“Dear Beatrice Fairfax…“
America’s first Miss Lonely hearts advised generations of anxious lovers in the newspaper column that started it all
May/June 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 3
By 1905 she had had enough of this frenetic existence. She left the Journal and married Herman Gash, an old friend who was a Washington real estate dealer. It was a match of loving opposites, according to their son. Manning was charming, outgoing, witty, down-to-earth, and a raconteur; the blond, muscular Gash was a dreamer “whose head was always in the clouds,” a man who loved music and painting and hated selling real estate. The two were devoted to each other, Oliver Gash says, yet they disagreed about practically everything and had several “knock-down, drag-out battles” during World War I over which side was responsible for the conflict: “Father was very pro-German and Mother totally pro-Ally. After my father lost one of these arguments, he called my mother a marital roughneck.”
One issue on which Manning and her husband did agree was women’s rights. Along with other suffragists, Manning picketed the White House and lobbied vigorously on Capitol Hill for the Nineteenth Amendment. When she marched at the head of a women writers’ contingent in a massive suffrage parade in Washington, her husband followed closely behind, ready to thwart any antisuffrage attack.
After Manning left Beatrice Fairfax, the Journal replaced her with a woman as cloying and orbiters as Manning had been witty and astringent. She was appalled by the new Beatrice Fairfax, but she didn’t miss writing the column. “She was much more interested in her literary writing,” says her son.
In the years after she married, Manning devoted herself to suffrage work, writing short stories, and raising her two sons. The Gashes’ life was plagued by financial worries. Herman Gash was a poor businessman, and to help out, Manning invested an inheritance from her father, buying on margin in the skyrocketing stock market. She lost everything in the 1929 crash.
The crisis brought Manning back to Beatrice Fairfax. She asked Arthur Brisbane for a job, and he handed over her old column. When she resumed her adviser’s role, she found herself with a national audience. Thanks to syndications by Hearst’s King Features, the column was running in nearly two hundred newspapers. When Manning had left shortly after the turn of the century, mostly women had been the correspondents, and they had usually stopped writing once they were married. The writers were older now, and almost half were men; and their difficulties tended to be more serious.
During the Depression Manning found herself besieged with questions about jobs and money; during World War II women sought her help in finding out about missing or captured husbands and sons. Before her own son was sent overseas, she recruited him and his father to help answer the bushel loads of letters delivered daily to their house. “She referred to my father as ‘Old Lord Fairfax’ and me as ‘Little Lord Fairfax,’” Oliver Gash recalls.
By then Manning had dozens of competitors throughout the country, and as their clout increased, so did public awareness of the women behind the pseudonyms. Later columnists would break completely out of the cocoon of anonymity and become celebrities in their own right.
But the woman who started it all remained faceless to her audience. She didn’t mind the anonymity, her son says; it was her lack of control over her own creation that she begrudged. “She deeply resented the fact that she had no power over Beatrice Fairfax. She told me many times that she should have copyrighted the name herself.”
Manning was still writing the column when she died of a heart attack on November 28, 1945. Her ashes were strewn over the old family farm in Fairfax—the Virginia county that had lent its name to her famous creation. Beatrice Fairfax survived for another twenty years, but after Manning’s death the column steadily lost ground to newer mother confessors. Small wonder: Beatrice Fairfax’s wit, warmth, and style had vanished with her creator. So had her soul.