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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
Exactly whose bedroom opened onto whose during those years would inspire heated arguments after the menage broke up. But while Leslie was living with the Squiers all seemed peaceful, amazingly so considering such episodes as the trio’s trip to Paris for the 1867 Exposition. Leslie, now a powerful and important man, had been named United States commissioner to the exposition, and he and the Squiers set sail for Europe in February, 1867. Newspapers reported that someone on board the ship wired ahead to announce Squier’s impending arrival to old creditors of the archaeologist, so that when the ship landed in Liverpool, he was arrested and thrown into prison. His wife and employer went on to London, and it was two weeks before they bailed him out of jail.
E. G. had noticed Leslie sending a dispatch from aboard the ship, but he hadn’t thought much about it at the time, and if his suspicions bothered him afterward, he kept it to himself. When Leslie and Mrs. Squier did come up with his bond, the three continued on their trip as though nothing especially untoward had occurred. When they got to Paris, Leslie began to work on his commissioner’s report, E. G. organized various activities for the Americans at the exposition, and Miriam wandered from shop to bazaar so she could report to her female readers on the very latest in European fashion.
The trio lived together (they even moved from house to house together), worked together, and travelled together. As Squier would tell it later, he was miserable in the background role assigned him by Leslie and his wife. He noted Miriam wearing diamonds he hadn’t seen before and watched her going out in carriages with Leslie and attending the theatre with him, while he, Squier, was “put on one side and spent a dog’s life.” But if Squier was a martyr, he was a willing one. If he was victimized, it was with remarkable ease. At one point he left his wife and Leslie in New York for a whole year while he went exploring in Peru. And when Leslie’s estranged wife charged Miriam Squier and Leslie with adultery, Squier blandly denied the accusation. It was made, he said, “with malicious intent to disturb my domestic peace and break up the close, friendly and business relations existing between myself and Mr. Frank Leslie”
The society in which the trio moved probably helps explain both Squier’s acquiescence and how the ménage managed to endure for so long. However much Victorian morality might have permeated the rest of the nation, in the ebullience of post-Civil WarNew York purity and chastity were distinctly out of fashion. After the theatre, in Taylor’s and Delmonico’s, affairs were carried on openly. The city’s demimonde thrived, with welloff prostitutes living in the best houses, wearing the finest dresses, skillfully cultivating all the manners of polite society. A certain taste for the bohemian came into style, and with it the line between the demimonde and sophisticated New Yorkers shifted and faded all the more.
The Leslie-Squier ménage à trois fitted into this background; nonetheless when Frank Leslie and his estranged wife were finally divorced, the trio’s days were numbered. Miriam Squier decided to join with Leslie in a more regular union, and, as E. G. later explained it, she set out in a most premeditated way to disencumber herself of her husband. She arranged a party at a “disreputable” house and invited several New York courtesans, E. G. said. It was not, apparently, a very unusual event, for E. G. notes no surprise at her having arranged such a gathering. But this time a couple of Leslie artists were on hand—sent there, E. G. said, to sketch him should he be caught in a compromising position. Whether their presence was in fact so calculated isn’t clear, but when Miriam Squier sued for divorce shortly after, two Leslie artists testified about Squier’s unseemly performance that night with a girl named Gypsy.
Within a month of the time her divorce was final, the thirty-eightyear-old Miriam Squier and the fiftythree-year-old Frank Leslie were married. Within a month of the marriage E. G. was committed to a madhouse on Long Island. It was a sequence that provided excellent grist for contemporary gossip mills, particularly when it turned out that Miriam’s first husband, the jeweler’s clerk, also ended his days in an asylum. Many accounts credited Miriam with E. G.’s mad vagaries, but his brother, who had him committed, said she was not the cause of his madness. With something less than charity, he suggested she was one of its symptoms.
Miriam and her new husband threw themselves into the extravagant New York social whirl. There were thousands in New York who, like the Leslies, had become rich with the war, and they spent their wealth as vigorously as they had acquired it, on shining carriages, sleek horses, handsome brownstones, Paris gowns, and dazzling diamonds. At a reception in Albany given by Governor Tilden for William Cullen Bryant, crowds of sumptuously gowned women turned out, and in the midst of them Miriam Leslie and her jewels shone most brightly.