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Mrs. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
Miriam Follin had a penchant for diamonds, the demimonde, and the dramatic. She also possessed the business acumen to become one of America’s leading publishers in the nineteenth century
October 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 6
So Miriam and Lola went on tour as the “Montez sisters,” drawing large crowds in Providence, Pittsburgh, and Albany. Their acting skill wasn’t what drew the crowds so much as Lola’s notoriety and, after a while, Miriam’s beauty. One of her admirers was a former Tennessee congressman, a wealthy gentleman who was wedded but who bought Miriam a home in New York nonetheless.
An even more important conquest was Ephraim G. Squier, a muchcredentialed archaeologist who also happened to be president of a railroad. Miriam met him in New York’s Castle Garden Concert Room, and the thirtyseven-year-old Squier was immediately enchanted. He knew little about her background, but when he looked into her large blue eyes and listened to her pleasing conversation, that mattered not at all to him, and the two were married in October, 1857. As the wife of a wealthy and respected man Miriam moved into a tastefully furnished home. She began to travel, she set her hand to French translation, she attended the country’s most exclusive and fashionable events. And that was how she had come to the Lincoln inaugural.
Frank Leslie, the bearded, enterprising man who watched her on that night in 1861, had followed an almost equally circuitous route. He had been born in England as Henry darter, and he had shown an early talent for wood engraving. His father and uncle had little tolerance for such seeming frivolity, however, and they pressured him to join the family’s glove-making business. Young Henry kept on submitting his work to various publications, but to avoid difficulties with his family he did so under the name Frank Leslie.
Finally he decided to take his future in his own hands, and he got a job with the Illustrated London News , a journal that capitalized on the great thirst nineteenth-century audiences had to see the day’s events pictured. When Leslie saw the success of the Illustrated London News , he decided to take its idea to America. In 1848 he moved with his wife and children to New York.
At first he made his way working for others. He persuaded P. T. Barnum to let him illustrate the elaborate programs for Jenny Lind’s midcentury concert tour, and he spent some time on a Barnum-backed newspaper. Then, when he had accumulated a small capital, he went into business for himself, founding in 1854 a monthly fashion magazine for women. Its immediate success prompted Leslie to acquire an already prosperous romantic-story journal and next, in 1855, to establish the Illustrated Newspaper , the publication that epitomized his penchant for sensational subject matter and dramatically detailed illustrations, and became the foundation of his publishing empire. The weekly Illustrated Newspaper was a hodgepodge of miscellany, news items, scandal and crime stories, and exposés of official corruption, all illustrated by woodcuts that were often printed only two weeks after an event—an unheard-of promptitude at the time. By the outset of the Civil War its circulation had reached 164,000, which enabled Leslie to start two more magazines.
For Leslie the outbreak of the war signalled a time of unparalleled opportunity. Americans were eager to know every detail of the war, and from his elegant offices on City Hall Square in New York, Leslie sent out corps of artists to record it for them.
Both Miriam Squier and her husband were drawn into the press and excitement of Leslie’s expanding business. E. G., whose railroad was in something of a bad way, accepted Leslie’s offer to become editor of the Illustrated Newspaper . Miriam took over editorship of Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine . While Squier and Leslie provided the nation with details about twelvepound mountain howitzers and Major General Burnside, Miriam described mantillas and hoop skirts. With such ease did her conversational skill translate into the written word of fashion and romance that within a few years she became editor of a second Leslie publication, and then a third. The belle of the Lincoln inaugural established for women across America styles in bonnets and crinolines, in flirtation and marriage.
Those last subjects must have been increasingly on her mind as the Squiers’ personal lives became more and more entangled with Leslie’s. The three had been living under the same roof ever since E. G., hearing that Leslie had separated from his wife of nineteen years, offered the publisher a room with him and Miriam. Perhaps the only thing more curious than the lack of foresight Squier’s offer showed is that the arrangement lasted for more than a decade.