Lesbian and Bisexual Women of History Who Were Obsessed With Their Dogs, Part 3

Last time on Lesbian and Bisexual Women Who Were Obsessed with Their Dogs, we learned how to get the girl and break up with the girl via the medium of dog metaphors, how to make your pooch a muse to the art world, and how to ensure you never forget what your dogs are called by simply giving them all the same name.

If you were worried that you’d run out of historical dog anecdotes with which to wow your family, friends and Tinder dates, fear not — here’s another round-up!


Elsie de Wolfe and Elisabeth Marbury

If you’ve ever glanced in passing at recorded lesbian history at the turn of the 20th century, you’d be forgiven for thinking life largely entailed hauling your entitled Anglo heiress arse on a grand tour of Europe, getting embroiled in some kind of drama in a Parisian salon, and then retiring to a country pad to produce several volumes of straight-washed memoirs about it all. While this may overshadow the many hidden, diverse stories that were undoubtedly unfolding at the time, the lifestyles of the rich and famous are a genuine part of our queer history, so let’s make like a giant crab and firmly embrace the queen of lesbian frivolity: Elsie de Wolfe.

Elsie de Wolfe was born in mid-19th century New York City, to a family oozing with Old World ancestry and privilege, but not the fortune to match. Despite her introduction into both New York and European high society as a teen, the death of Elsie’s father in the 1880s forced her to (gasp!) get a job, and she took to the New York stage (I promise this isn’t the plot of a Disney movie).

Elsie’s acting was objectively not great, but she had a finely-tuned skill for looking great. Adoring fans would travel from far and wide to see her fabulous stage outfits, and her stylishness secured her position among the social elite while she rebuilt her wealth. In 1887, Elsie met Elisabeth Marbury, another rich New York socialite who was doing various behind-the-scenes gigs on the theatre scene. Elsie and Elisabeth began a relationship, and Elisabeth’s career lit up as she blazed a trail to become the first female theatre manager and literary agent.

In 1892, Elsie moved in with Elisabeth, and later that year, the couple moved to a brownstone on Irving Place, forming what many historians call a “Boston Marriage” and which I call “marriage, but without all that showy straight stuff.” Elsie declared she would “devote all my leisure to making over this tiny old dwelling into a home which would fit into our plan for life” which is definitely the kind of thing gal pal roommates say to each other. Their friends called them “The Bachelors.”

Elsie and Elisabeth and a few of their puppers.

Elsie’s plan for life would not be complete without provision for her succession of dogs. Elisabeth came from a champion-breeding background; as a child she bred chickens competitively and she claimed Theodore Roosevelt encouraged her to breed English mastiffs. However, it was a pair of prize-winning French bulldogs that lived with the couple at Irving Place: Faustina and Fauvette. The latter appeared in his own interview to promote one of Elsie’s plays, and was alleged to sleep on silk rugs and have his own manicure kit.

Spurred on by a mixture of low self-esteem and the dinginess of her upbringing, Elsie sought to surround herself with luxury: “If I am ugly, and I am, I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.” Encouraged by Elisabeth, Elsie quit the stage to become one of the world’s first and foremost interior designers, single-handedly popularising the profession, thanks to her many cultivated connections and a lot of hard work.

Her first paid interiors commission was for The Colony Club, the US’s first private club for women. Like you, I immediately thought this was code for “lesbian club” but somehow it wasn’t. The job was a success, and led to more work with the upper echelons of American society and a boat load of cash. This enabled Elsie to travel frequently to her beloved France, home to all things fashionable, and also lesbians. Of course the couple hung out with the usual suspects in Paris, but preferred living in the countryside, in a house in Versailles owned by über-lesbian Natalie Barney’s friend Lady Anglesey. Thus, for a time, the discerning queer visitor to Paris could spend Friday afternoon at Natalie Barney’s salon, Saturday night at Gertrude Stein’s studio and Sunday lunch at Elsie and Best’s country pad.

In 1905, the couple bought their own residence, the Villa Trianon in Versailles, with a bit of help from heiress and philanthropist Anne Morgan in what may have been a ménage a trois situation. The villa had been vacated by French pseudo-royalty and left to fade, giving Elsie the opportunity to gut the place and refurnish it with her own take on opulence.

Elsie and Elisabeth took their dogs with them to France and Faustina was succeeded by another French bulldog, Riquette. Perhaps inspired by her love of Chinoiserie, Elsie’s favours soon turned to a new breed: the Pekingese. In her defining interiors guide, The House in Good Taste, she describes how her little dog Wee Toi has his own house converted from a Chinese lacquer box, with a canopy and gold bells. She considered that provision for “little people” (dogs and cats) deserved as much frippery as big people. When the First World War broke out, Elsie was in France, but managed to flee to Spain, with her two Pekingese dogs in tow.

In 1926, in her sixties, Elsie surprised everyone (including Elisabeth) by getting married to a man, the English diplomat Sir Charles Mendl. Closer inspection reveals this to be a practical decision, as not only was the marriage 100% platonic, Elsie netted herself a title, tax-exempt status in France, and the means to throw even more lavish parties. She reconciled with Elisabeth, who by this time was having a “close friendship” with Elizabeth Arden, who naturally was also a dog owner and had an Alsation wolf hound named Don Caesar. Despite their fractured romance, Elsie and Elisabeth remained friends until Elisabeth’s death in 1933.

Although Elsie wound down her professional decorating practice as The Great Depression set into the US, this allowed her to devote more time and energy to becoming Europe’s foremost hostess. The pinnacle of her entertaining career were her “Circus Balls,” featuring hundreds of elite guests, acrobats, multiple orchestras, parading dogs and ponies, a Hawaiian guitarist, and endless champagne. The second of the two balls was held only two months before the outbreak of World War Two. Villa Trianon did not fare well during the war, and when she returned in 1946, it required complete renovation. One thing that remained, until the house was sold and gutted in the 1980s, was a fantastic ceiling mural depicting Elsie leaping from America to Europe, with her two Pekingese floating alongside her.

In her later years, Elsie moved on to another breed, the poodle. Elsie pioneered the blue-rinse hair style, and not content to limit this fashion invention to humans, also dyed the coat of her favourite poodle Blu Blu a matching shade. As arthritis and other ill-health set in, she was still to be found determinedly partying in a wheelchair by the pool at Villa Trianon, surrounded by dogs, until her death in 1950. Elsie was buried in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but all her dogs she buried at Villa Trianon with the same gravestone inscription: “To the one I loved best.”


Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was a great woman who had bad dogs. When her husband, Franklin D Roosevelt, was elected president in 1933, it was Eleanor who took their dogs on the six-hour drive to The White House. The pooches in question were their Alsatian, Major, and a Scottish terrier named Meggie. As an ex-police dog, it’s perhaps understandable that Major was a tad on the aggressive side. He would routinely get into fights while accompanying Eleanor on her horseback rides, or while taking his sons Colonel and Captain on parades around the Roosevelt’s New York home at Hyde Park. While at the White house, he would chase the maids, bite senators (including first elected woman senator Hattie Caraway), attorneys and visitors attempting to pet him through the garden rails, and in one diplomatic incident, nearly ripped the crotch of the British Prime Minister’s trousers.

About the only creature Major didn’t put up a fight with was Meggie, who was more than a match for the bigger dog. Meggie was very much Eleanor’s dog; the First Lady doted on her and refused to let anyone discipline the dog, leading to expected consequences. Meggie was given free run of the White House living quarters, despite her dislike for baths and penchant for terrorising the staff. When reporter Bess Furman interviewed Eleanor, she asked the ominous question “Meggie, have you been a naughty dog?” to which she received a prompt reply of a bite on the lip.

She was not the only reporter to have encounters with the dogs. In 1928, when FDR was governor of New York state, Eleanor was interviewed at home by a female reporter at the top of her profession, Lorena “Hick” Hickok. They discussed dogs at length, politics a little and drank a lot of tea, in case you were wondering whether this was a lesbian first date or not. Eleanor’s daughter Anna had a police dog called Chief, who was very similar to Hick’s own dog Prinz, while Eleanor herself elegantly served the tea with her beloved Meggie curled around her feet.

Eleanor and Hick and Pups

Eleanor and Hick wouldn’t spend time together again until FDR’s run for the top job in 1932, when Hick was assigned to his campaign trail. As they travelled across the many states, Hick’s writing focused less and less on the candidate, and more and more on his wife, until Hick asked to be assigned to write about Eleanor, despite her usual reservations about “women’s page stuff.” The pair become close, the kind of close that produced 18 boxes of steamy love letters over the next 30 years. Lest this sound too idyllic, Hick didn’t escape Major’s animosity, receiving a signature bite on the elbow one time, when she tried “helping Eleanor with a zipper“ [emphasis mine, purely for innuendo purposes].

Neither Major nor Meggie could last long as presidential puppets with such bad temperaments, and they were banished from the White House before FDR’s first year was up. Their first attempt at a replacement was in December 1933, with a purebred English Setter called Winks. After a couple of months settling in, he distinguished himself by breaking into a room prepared for a breakfast meeting and and guzzling 18 platefuls of bacon and eggs before getting caught. However, his downfall was not his incredible appetite, but a bite from another dog through the iron bars surrounding the White House.

In April 1933, the Roosevelts were gifted a giant Old English Sheepdog called Tiny, who, like his predecessors lasted only a few months with the family before being given away, although details are scarce about what specific crime merited this.

A long dogless period followed at the White House, until 1940 when the Roosevelts finally found a dog that wasn’t a complete menace, and was catapulted to stardom because of it: Fala. FDR gave him the full title of “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill,” after a Scottish clan chief, and for the five years they spent together until FDR’s death in 1945, Fala was very much considered the president’s dog. Fala featured in a famous speech where FDR repudiated Republican suggestions that he’d sent millions of dollars sending a warship to rescue the stranded pup when he got left behind on an island (which honestly doesn’t sound like the worst use of funds), and even starred in his own film.

Despite the strong bond between FDR and Fala (the only pupper to feature in a presidential memorial statue), it was Eleanor that cared for him the longest, taking him with her back to New York after FDR’s death. To make sure Fala wasn’t lonely, Eleanor acquired his grandson, Tamas McFala. After a suitable period of feigned indifference to the puppy’s arrival, Fala took to his kin and the two Scotties would frequently run off to Eleanor’s chagrin. Eventually, Tamas was joined by a further Scottie, Mr Duffy, gifted by a friend after Fala’s death in 1952. The dogs’ hijinks, and various pieces of dog-related advice, are chronicled extensively in Eleanor’s “My Day” newspaper columns that she wrote for 27 years, after initial urging from Hick. Hick herself lost her beloved Prinz in 1943, and it was Eleanor who gifted her a new dog, an English setter named Mr. Choate.

It is surely very comforting to have one friend on whom you can rely, who will never question your moods, nor your actions, but will simply look at you adoringly and lick your hand whenever you give him a chance
– Eleanor Roosevelt


Naomi “Micky” Jacob

The multi-talented Naomi “Micky” Jacob was born in North Yorkshire in England in 1884. Both her parents were teachers, and although they were financially comfortable, her Father’s violent temperament and womanising split the family apart. After several moves around England, Naomi’s mum and younger sister moved to America, while the strident Naomi decided that, aged fourteen, she would become a teacher herself, and moved to a school in a Middlesborough slum to fulfil her ambitions. All she got out of her dream career was frequent tellings-off from the headmistress and a dose of tuberculosis that would afflict her health all her life. After a couple of years, Naomi was lured onto the stage and into the bed of actress and singer Marguerite Broadfoote, who gave Naomi the pet name, “Micky,” as she was henceforth known among friends and lovers for the rest of her life.

Her Yorkshire childhood imbued Micky with a great love of animals, and her family kept, at various times, cats, guinea pigs, goats, ferrets, and an owl. The family’s first dog was named Tip, who had a painful run-in with a bowl of soup; her mother had a fawn-coloured pug named Fi-Fi, her sister a Scottie called Sprig Mead, and she passed many enjoyable hours with her grandad and his spaniel Dash, while she listened to his tales of her father’s Jewish family, who had fled Poland during a Russian pogrom.

Micky travelled with Marguerite as her lover, adviser and secretary during their seven year relationship until finally in 1914, Marguerite’s husband had enough and kicked Micky out. Micky was barred from seeing her for several months, but was able to make contact again when Marguerite became seriously ill, eventually dying in 1915. It seems likely that Marguerite was the love of Micky’s life, and although she had numerous entanglements with many women, she never settled down with (just) one for as long a period. She turned down multiple marriage proposals from men, but did have a very brief failed marriage, although she claims in her memoirs to have entirely forgotten who she got married to.

There was little that Micky did by half measure; after becoming enamoured with Christobel Pankhurst during a suffragette rally in Middlesborough, she immediately asked if she could start smashing windows and martyr herself in jail. Her request was denied on the basis that she had a tendency to make a joke of everything, and she was resigned only to take part in marches and sell copies of suffrage newspapers. Micky would claim in later years that her sense of humour also thwarted her political ambitions to stand as a Labour MP, because no-one expected politicians to make jokes.

At the outbreak of the first world war, Micky immediately signed up to the Women’s Emergency Corp. Despite her own admission that her only skills were riding and boxing, she was given numerous roles to aid the war effort to varying degrees, including managing a toy factory, running charity campaigns for impoverished Russian children, visiting the trenches in France and supervising a canteen at a munitions factory. She met a new partner, housekeeper and barmaid Carlotta Francesca Maria Simione – known as Simmy – and they moved in together in north London. She was only dragged away from her war work by the worsening of her TB, and was prescribed a trip to a sanatorium for eight months.

Micky and Best Friends

After the war, Micky returned to her theatrical roots, this time as an actress. Her health continued to deteriorate, limiting her stage ambitions but pushing her towards the writing career that would come to define her later years. Micky published the first of her fifty novels in 1926, typically focusing on multi-generational sagas. Unusually for the period, she mostly wrote about Jewish families and their plight across Europe, with a sympathy rarely found in a time of rampant anti-semitism. When her 1935 novel Honour Came Back won in international literary prize, she was quick to refuse it when she discovered the other honouree was Hitler’s Mein Kampf. As well as fiction, in 1933 she published the first of nine volumes of autobiography, all despite her own confession that she wrote poorly and had no idea what to do with a semi-colon. Although wildly popular at the time, her books are largely forgotten and out-of-print today.

During another stint at an exclusive sanatarium she met Olivia Etherington Smith, who supplanted Simmy in Micky’s affections, although the two would remain lifelong friends. Micky and Olivia moved to the Italian town of Sirmione on the shores of Lake Garda for long-term convalescence, and Micky would remain in Italy for the rest of her life, aside from a lengthy escape for the Second World War and intermittent trips back to Britain. On one such trip back for another stay in the sanatorium, she embarked on an affair with Sadie Robinson, whom she took back to Italy to form a ménage a trois with the not entirely impressed Olivia. Micky was always very discreet about her relationships in her memoirs, so it’s hard to determine if “sanatorium” was a coded reference to some kind of lesbian hang out, or if in the 1920s having TB was genuinely a great way to pick up girls.

Micky loved her Italian lifestyle (although she did demand all her cooks learnt how to make Yorkshire puddings), christening her house “Casa Mickie,” where she would receive all manner of literary and stage personalities that she had befriended over the years. She and Olivia met Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge after a talk by Radclyffe in 1929, and bonded over their shared interests of sexual inversion, Catholicism and pets. The couple came and visited Micky in Italy in 1934, then again in 1935 with Hall’s mistress Evguenia Souline, which ended up with Micky kicking them out for anti-semitic remarks (they made up later, largely because Micky had the hots for Una).

After the war, Micky formed a new threesome with her secretary Denise “Martino” Martin and Sara Turner, continued writing, and appearing on BBC Radio programmes such as Women’s Hour. She died two weeks after her eightieth birthday in July 1964.

Of course, it’s a statistical impossibility that someone could write 50+ books and not have either a memoir dedicated to dogs, or some kind of book written from a dog’s point of view. Ever prolific, Naomi Jacob wrote both! Her 1949 autobiography Me and Mine is devoted entirely to the history of all the animals she both kept and had encountered throughout her life, and the 1955 book Prince China: By Himself But Dictated to Naomi Jacob is part memoir, part meditation on the wonders of the Pekingese breed she adored, and another exercise in trying to identify who a long-dead lesbian might have slept with based on the fictionalised viewpoint of her dogs.

If most of Eleanor Roosevelt’s dogs had a tendency for bad behaviour, then most of Micky Jacob’s dogs were utterly cursed with bad luck. Here’s a brief summary of her many pooches and their ultimate downfall:

+  Roger, a black collie/retriever mix, Micky’s first dog that was entirely hers. Enjoyed killing cats until he caught mange from one of his victims, leaving him much cowed. Left with friends in Middlesborough when Micky moved to London; contracted fatal diabetes.

+  Bogie, a steel grey terrier. Enjoyed eating turnips and ice cream with Roger. Died of pneumonia.

+  Tiny, long-haired silver terrier, expert mouse-killer, friend to a cat and two canaries. Dognapped outside a shop.

+  Donnie, rescued stray. Euthanised after bouts of depression and asthma attacks following Marguerite’s death.

+ Tich, a terrier adopted from Battersea Dogs’ Home for the sum of ten shillings and sixpence. After two days caught the shivers and died of distemper

+ Bogie II, a terrier mix bought at a market in Leicester, who preferred the greengrocer’s next door to Micky’s flat. Eventually moved there permanently for a lifetime supply of organic vegetables.

+ Ting-a-ling, a lovely and determined Pekingese. Fell victim, freshly bathed, to a hit-and-run on Baker Street.

+ Sammy, aka Samuel Nelson, aka Hi Ling Choo Fu, a Pekingese and Micky’s favourite. Gifted by a friend who had too many dogs to manage. Ate violet leaves daily to ease his indigestion. Died after a life of excellence aged eighteen. Grave desecrated by Nazis because of his Jewish name.

+ Nipper, a terrier. Bought by British servicemen in Milan who failed to realise a puppy is for life and not just for Christmas. Rescued by Micky and elevated to Miss Susan Nipper. After four months began suffering frequent fits and diagnosed with meningitis; put to sleep.

+ Tu-Tu, passed off as Peke by a dog-seller, but really some kind of mix. Of extremely robust health, but vanished after a car crash.

+ Baldo di Garda, known as “Mr. B,” Pekingese. Bought during the war to assuage the loss of Sammy and moved back to Italy with Micky. Suffered an unexplained paralysis, but treated with brandy and black coffee and learnt to walk again. Suffered badly from a skin disease that he bore with great fortitude. Lived for several more years before suffering a series of fainting fits and passing away with suspected heart failure. Gently lowered into the middle of Lake Garda at his funeral.

+ Enso, another Peke bought with Baldo, having an extremely angelic nature. Quickly succumbed to a mystery illness.

+ Mario, a stray fox terrier that wandered round the cafés on the shores of Lake Garda, adopted by Elsa, Micky’s secretary and assumed gal pal. Good swimmer, steadfast friend to Baldo. Notorious hen-chaser, vanished into the hills one day, possibly gunned down by an embittered ex-hen-owner.

Micky also kept many other animals throughout her life, including a legion of cats (one of whom was named Lesbia), and a rabbit called Yonnie. I mention these names purely for informational purposes.

The protagonists of Prince China were China himself, and his partner-in-crime Plate, who were sourced in Britain to send to Micky in Italy, and named after Cockney rhyming slang (China Plate = “me old mate”). Both were imperious Pekingeses, who in the book refer to Micky variously as their “Daddy” and “Protector” and Micky’s various friends/lovers as a hierarchy of personal slaves. Their fates are not recorded, so let us hope they outlived Micky to a ripe old age, gambolling around the Italian countryside.


Frida Kahlo

Iconic artist, feminist heroine, and eyebrow inspiration to the world, Frida Kahlo created a cultural and stylistic legacy that has only grown over time. But also: dogs!

Frida and doggos.

Kahlo’s work was shaped by her difficult early years, and the physical impact they would have on her body. A childhood bout of polio followed by a serious bus accident as a teen forced her to abandon her plans to become a doctor and concentrate on the painting that had proved therapeutic during her convalescence. Frida experimented with her look as a means to take control of her body, from androgynous suits, to decorating the supportive corsets she wore after the crash, to the traditional Tehuana dress that would come to define her look as she explored the indigenous parts of heritage.

From this heritage she also drew a number of references recurrent in her work, many from the natural world, including monkeys and dogs. Frida’s breed of choice was the Xoloitzcuintli, an ancient breed dating back over 3000 years, when it was revered (as well as sacrificed and eaten) by the Aztecs, as a manifestation of the god of death and guardian of the underworld, Xolotol. Xolo dogs play the same role in Frida’s symbolist paintings, which are littered with references to mortality. As well as her several close-calls with death, Frida suffered multiple miscarriages and was unable to carry a child to term — it’s not surprising that life and death figure so prominently.

In lieu of human children, Frida and her piece-of-shit husband Diego Rivera created their own family of pets. Not only the monkeys (named Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal) and dogs that worked their way into Frida’s art, but also an Amazon parrot named Bonito, an eagle called Gertrudis Caca Blanca (literally Gertrude white shit), parakeets, macaws, hens, sparrows and even a little fawn. She expanded this further with the verdant garden she grew at her lifelong home, Casa Azul.

Itzcuintli Dog with Me and Self Portrait With Small Monkey

Frida’s Xolo dogs were named Señor Xolotl, Señorita Capulina and Señora Kostic. They were her long-time companions at Casa Azul and would sleep curled at the foot of her bed. They feature multiple times in her many sketchbooks and diaries, showing she took simple joy in them and wasn’t just in it for earnestly depicting them as harbingers of doom.

Mr. Xolotl
My great
companion
I love you

– Frida Kahlo

Her favourite of the trio was Senor Xolotl, who starred in several of her paintings, notably her 1949 masterpiece The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xolotl.

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xolotl.

Unnamed Xolos also feature in Still Life For Samuel Fastlicht (a gift for her dentist), and several of her famous self-portraits, including Itzcuintli Dog with Me, Self Portrait with Itxcuintli Dog and Sun and Self Portrait With Small Monkey.

For someone that’s been written about so extensively, it’s astonishing that there is no documentation of how Frida’s dogs may have intertwined with her affairs with women, including actresses Dolores del Rio and Paulette Goddard, singer Chavela Vargas and possibly even Josephine Baker.

Sally does something with computers for a living. Beyond this, she enjoys making gifs, dreaming up stories, and overthinking. She lives over a river in the South of England, but her heart belongs forever to the North.

Sally has written 10 articles for us.

22 Comments

    • Maybe it’s a safety net, like if you always date people with the same name you can’t fall foul of calling your current person your ex’s name? Except with place names!

      “This one time I was in Simione, er, I mean Sirmione.”

  1. I misread the part about Major biting the senator as FDR bitting the senator. I didn’t even question that a President would do such a thing but felt that was more of a thing Washington might do to prove a point and started to google president bites senator only to realize the error I made.

    • I think this is a reasonable assumption considering everyone’s perception of what makes someone presidential is a bit distorted these days.

      Also slightly related, since researching this I now keep getting recommendations for articles about why Trump refusing to have a dog (or any pets) makes him the dodgiest president ever, which I think is an angle the Democrats failed to capitalise on in the midterms.

  2. Sally, I think you are no-joke legitimately brilliant. You make this look so effortless, but there is so much research involved in each one of these things and you present it with such skill and humor. You’re one of my absolute favorite writers of 2018. (Also I’m sorry, TV has led me to believe praising a British person so effusively might cause them to give themselves into the sea, but I can’t help it.)

  3. “Micky also kept many other animals throughout her life, including a legion of cats (one of whom was named Lesbia), and a rabbit called Yonnie.”

    Important information, thank you for your diligence.

  4. As an archivist in an academic archives, I do instruction with undergraduates about 20th century women’s history. I am determined to use the line “Eleanor Roosevelt was a great woman with bad dogs” in a class in the near future. Would this work as a credit line: “As the brilliant English historian Sally wrote..”? Thanks!

    • I think direct them to the website and remind them that if they ever worry that it’s not possible to say anything new about well-documented figures of history, profound insights such as that line are still possible.

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