It all started with My Brilliant Career. A precocious, imaginative, strictly reared child, now a young woman, had written a novel partly out of love and partly out of resentment. All of the qualities considered lady-like in the 19th century, along with many silly notions and inhibitions, had been burned into her young mind as being fit and proper for the education of a young woman of her ‘station’ in life; and such was her love for her mentors that, despite an independent spirit, this training was accepted with surprising docility.
After the idyllic days at Brindabella, rendered more idyllic by the passage of time, came the contrast of Thornford and the hardships of the limited vista afforded by an unprosperous selection. What was a young girl, starved for music and reading and the larger world of the arts to do? Already the beginnings of certain phobias, not the least of which was the unreasoning one against marriage and a home and children, were discernable.
My Brilliant Career must have been a release for pent up emotions. A deep and genuine love of home, family and the land ran head on into a despairing resentment over the unhappy and unfair lot of a girl child in the harsh world of men. What gives the novel a touch of greatness is the depth of both the love and the anger out of which it was wrought. It may well prove to be Stella Franklin’s greatest work for her true talent lay in autobiography rather than truly imaginative creation.
As Virginia Woolf was to point out two generations later with reference to writers of another era, the talented young are prone to bitterness when old Gods fall and the old assurances have lost their value. They are filled by ‘First discomfort; next self-pity for that discomfort; which pity soon turns to anger…’ (address to Workers’ Educational Association, Brighton, May 1940). Literature created in an atmosphere of discomfort and anger may not develop into great plays or poems or novels but Virginia Woolf was convinced that such strong feeling did induce a high level of autobiographical writing. Young writers ‘told the unpleasant truths, not only the flattering truths. That is why their autobiography is so much better than their fiction or their poetry….By analysing themselves honestly…these writers have done a great deal to free us from nineteenth century suppressions’ (same lecture).
Stella Franklin was of an earlier generation than the writers whose work Virginia Woolf was discussing, but even though she may have had something in common with them, she was never able to free herself entirely from 19th century suppressions, despite the fact that she faced up to most of the ills of the 20th century with fortitude and candor. The creator of Sybylla Penelope Melvyn was certainly aware of the activities of the more progressive Australian women of her day, as evidenced in the work of the Woman Suffrage League which won the vote for women; the Women’s Literary Society which worked so hard for libraries, for kindergartens and for the higher education of women; and the National Council of Women of New South Wales, an organization whose teachings soon spread to the other states. This awareness must have existed long before Stella Franklin had any experience of city life.
After the publication of My Brilliant Career, when the youthful author had been projected into the limelight, there came the opportunity to observe at first hand the ferment that was in the land. An epitome of this may be found in the Autobiography of Catherine Helen Spence, where she describes what she saw and did in Sydney from May through July, 1900. Miss Spence was stimulated by the intellectual atmosphere of the city and was impressed particularly by the meetings held at the home of Rose Scott.
Sybylla Melvyn of Possum Gully may not have known Rose Scott but the politically precocious Ignez Milford (Cockatoos) had read the works both of Miss Scott and of Lady Mary Windeyer, and Stella Franklin is known to have attended some of the meetings held in the Scott home. F. Earle Hooper remembered her as ‘A young girl in a simple white muslin dress, a girl with a round soft baby face, dark eyes and hair and a pale complexion…that was Stella Miles Franklin…when I first met her in 1901, at one of Miss Scott’s famous soirees’ (Southerly, 2, 1955, p. 85). Miss Franklin herself later recalled that Miss Scott ‘presided over the only salon, in the French sense, in Australia…all sought her interest—and particularly writers. She fostered the talents of many beginners…’ (Laughter, Not for a Cage, 1956, p. 100).
It is a reasonable assumption that Stella Franklin was helped by Rose Scott, or at least given encouragement, and one can guess that the impressionable girl from up the country was moved as much by the older woman’s beauty and poise and assured position as by her many endeavours on behalf of working girls. Certainly the article on Rose Scott written in 1938 reveals a first hand acquaintance with the subject of the sketch and an admiration that must have stemmed from earlier association. ‘Rose Scott’s womanly attractions were such that the most blatant males could not accuse her of couldn’t in the matrimonial avenue. They could only moan that she hadn’t, and what a loss it was to some man’ (The Peaceful Army, p. 97).
It is even possible that the Rose Scott whose drawing room was a sanctuary where ‘Many a weary shop girl and pale faced shop assistant told the story of aching feet and dizziness…’ might have planted the seed for the Mary Anne escapade that was to engage Miss Franklin’s attention from late 1902 until early 1904. As early as 15 February, 1902, she had written to Mrs. O’Sullivan in Sydney of her intention to taste the tribulation of the life of a maid of all work. ‘There has been so much discussion concerning the relative positions of mistresses and maids & their relative short comings that I have for sometime been most anxious to test the matter….’ Because her mother had a ‘terrible aversion to anyone taking an alias’ she proposed to call herself Sarah Frankling. Stella Franklin’s career as a maid began in Sydney and ended in Melbourne sometime in April 1904. She had gone to that city as a steerage passenger and, poor sailor that she was, it must have been a terrible ordeal. Now the life of a ‘slavey’ was behind her and she hoped to return to Sydney as the guest of the steamship company (letters to Mrs. O’Sullivan in the Mitchell Library).
A brief mention of the Mary Anne experience with a few comments by A. G. Stephens appeared on the Red Page of the Bulletin on 31 March 1904, and a slightly longer account in The Australian Woman’s Sphere on 15 April 1904, where it was announced that Miss Franklin’s intention was ‘to publish the experiences of this year’s adventures, and it is said…that the result will be decidedly amusing.’ The Sphere was Vida Goldstein’s magazine and Stella Franklin must have known this remarkable woman, if only slightly, during her stay in Melbourne.
The complete manuscript of ‘When I was Mary Anne, a Slavey’ is in the Mitchell Library, and one can understand why it was not published in 1904. Too long for the magazines and too disjointed or controversial for book publication, it simply languished in manuscript. One can conjecture that Stella Franklin thought that the Mary Anne material would develop into a novel as startling and as successful as My Brilliant Career, but it completely missed the mark. Neither fiction nor genuine autobiography, it is a sketchy series of case studies, presented with insight and humour it is true, but of interest now only to those who knew and loved Stella Franklin.
The decision to go to America must have begun to germinate during the Mary Anne period in Melbourne. Her correspondence with Joseph Furphy began in 1904, of which only his answers to her letters remain, but as early as July of that year he argued strongly against any projected trip either to America or Europe. In one letter he admonishes, ‘Don’t go to America or Europe, Miles. There’s variety enough here….’ In another he is the stern uncle, chiding: ‘You are not to go to America, Miles—do you hear? I won’t allow it. If you did, we should presently hear of you as Mrs. Colonel Petroleum L. Something…’ (letters in the Mitchell Library). Furphy was wide of the mark because he knew next to nothing about the real Stella Franklin. She had no intention of going to America or anywhere else just to get married.
A fragment of typescript in the papers offers a clue as to her real reasons for leaving Australia and her reactions to the fate that had befallen Mary Anne: ‘A writer could not live by his writings unless by journalism. One book was accepted as a phenomenon—the writer’s picture would appear in a row with a fighting man or a Negro minstrel but unless he was of the “popular” school even unto great trashiness there wd be little notice taken of a second book—he couldn’t win the sweep twice in succession. Miles Franklin had already discovered that and was bending her every energy to collecting pence to get away for flight overseas. This was her big and worrying preoccupation.’
This makes sense. My Brilliant Career was a startling and unexpected success; Mary Anne a serious and not ‘popular’ study could find no audience. Perhaps the pastures might be greener in America. At least it throws doubt on the generally accepted theory that Stella Franklin’s motive for going to America was to help reform the world. There is just as much reason to believe that she hoped to find a freer, fresher air that would feed the fire of her ambition to do something creative.
Whatever her motives may have been Stella Franklin sailed from Sydney, via Auckland and Honolulu, for San Francisco on 7 April 1906. The ship was the Ventura (some 6000 tons, Captain Hayward), carrying only Saloon passengers. The passenger list gives no hint that Miss Franklin was accompanied by friends; she seems to have been on her own. No account of the voyage has come to light but the Ventura was only eleven days at sea when the great San Francisco earthquake started early in the morning of 18 April.
The first months in America remain an enigma. Stella Franklin’s cabin-mate on the Ventura was a Seventh Day Adventist, and both women spent some time working in a relief camp organized by that sect to help relieve the misery after the holocaust. There is no evidence that Chicago was her immediate destination nor that by any prearranged plan she had agreed to accept employment there. She spent some time in California where she recalled the ‘sweet peas and opulence of Redlands’ and ‘Los Angeles when Hollywood was a big name on a rough hillside’. She was particularly impressed by the beauty of the Wasitch Mountains and of Salt Lake City. Some time was spent in the Rockies where she visited Hanging Lake, ‘to reach which I astonished the guides by hanging on to my horse’s tail and making him tow me up, as we used to do beyond Canberra.…I had been lent a lovely red roan palo pony belonging to some rich lady at the rich hotel. So they thought I was special and handed me a rifle, and insisted that I shoot something. We were riding up the pass where the Shoshone rapids come down, and in them was a little log about the length of two fence posts. I just pulled the trigger and by chance the bullet hit it….’ The result of this display of prowess was an offer to go into a circus and a proposal from the strong man of a vaudeville act (excerpts from letter to Bruce Sutherland, 18 May 1954). Then, with the memory of the Santa Fe crossing and the warm dry air, the vast plains and the blue mountains still fresh in her mind, she was in Chicago.
Contrary to popular impression Alice Henry did not bring Stella Franklin to Chicago. Miss Henry had come to Chicago after a trip to England by way of South Africa, in the summer of 1906, to aid in securing the municipal vote for the women of that city. At the time she was hardly aware of the existence of Miss Franklin for she says: ‘I had not had a chance to meet her until she came to America and landed in Chicago a few months later than I, myself, did. We met at the home of a mutual friend’ (Memoirs 1955, p. 89). What seems to have happened is not that Stella Franklin had come to Chicago, that centre of militant feminism, with any feverish desire to throw herself into the various reform activities, but that once there circumstances required that she support herself, and (with the aid of Miss Henry) she found a position as private secretary to Mrs Raymond Robins.
Margaret Dreier Robins, a wealthy New Yorker in her own right, had married Raymond Robins whose own fortune had been acquired romantically and luckily in a Klondyke strike of 1897. Mrs Robins was the leading figure in the National Women’s Trade Union League, although she had also many other liberal interests, and she was desperately in need of secretarial help. For the latter part of 1906 and much of 1907 Miss Franklin devoted herself to Mrs Robins’ many activities, but by January 1908 the pressure of work for the NWTUL had become so great that she agreed ‘to give half time to the National League at a salary of twelve dollars a week, but it was not long before her whole time was absorbed in the increasing work while her salary remained the same’ (NWTUL Papers L. of C).
The League, founded in Boston in 1903, had grown rapidly and there were chapters in most of the leading American cities. Its members were trade union women and their allies, i.e., social workers, college professors and wealthy women with consciences, and its purpose was to organize and help protect the working woman and the female immigrant. It advocated and fought for the shorter work day, better working conditions and better wages. It tried to educate the public to be sympathetic towards labour. Since Chicago was the national headquarters for the League the secretarial work was extensive. To these duties was added the journalistic work required by the Woman’s Page of the Union Labor Advocate and later by Life and Labor, both edited by Alice Henry with the assistance of Stella Franklin.
There was little time for independent creative work during the first two years. Stella Franklin was now a qualified stenographer, a member of the Stenographers’ Union, and the demands of her job were exhaust- ing. So was the excitement of a new and different kind of a city with seemingly endless cultural opportunities. The two great universities and the three fine libraries were impressive but the Art Institute, the concerts and the dramatic and operatic performances were sheer joy. It is no wonder that she burned the candle at both ends with exhausting days at the office and exhausting nights and week-ends in the pursuit of culture. As a result she developed the insomnia which was to plague her for the rest of her life. The Chicago climate never did agree with her, so an additional burden was the constant annoyance of the common cold which settled into a painful and nearly chronic back ailment.
Aside from the office routine at the League there was some excitement in being a practising laborite. On 22 April 1909 Stella Franklin was in Springfield, the state capital, while the fight for the eight-hour day was on. Elizabeth Maloney of the Waitresses’ Union and Agnes Nestor of the Glove Workers did the talking but Miss Franklin as the representative for the Department Store girls was in the wings ready to be called. A year and a half later, during the Hart, Shaffner & Marx strike of 1910 she and Ellen Starr of Hull House ‘had such a personal experience of the rough handling of pickets opposite Lamm & Co.’s factory that they have been called as witnesses in a case still pending.’ This involved the tricky business of police brutality and though she appeared in court on three different days she was never called as a witness; but she did note on 2 November 1910: ‘Saw brutal police. Aggressive & insolent of manner’.
Also, in company with Mrs Robins, she saw other trouble spots in the United States. Part of her job was to take notes so that what she experienced at first hand could be published in Life & Labor. Late in October 1911 the League president and her secretary were in Westmorland County, Penna., where there had been trouble in the coal fields. Eight hundred men were still out of work and permanently blacklisted. ‘During the day we saw for ourselves the terrible living conditions, the utter lack of sanitation as represented by choked drains, and the general desolation of the mining camps…it is evident to the most casual observation that many little children are suffering because their mothers are in need of such instruction as could be given by a visiting nurse.’ The miners wanted the NWTUL to help provide visiting nurses, classes in English, instruction in the principles and science of mining for the workers, gymnastic and recreational facilities, and reading rooms. Before Mrs Robins and Miss Franklin left the area, machinery had been set in motion to provide these mining communities with some of the things they so direly needed (NWTUL Papers Box 1 L. of C.).
However, Stella Franklin was not always on the picket line, or lobbying for improved legislation, or investigating grievances in distressed areas. Her journalistic skill had been noted and as Life & Labor became a fully fledged house organ for the League, more and more of her time was devoted to the writing of special articles. She and Alice Henry collaborated on a complete account of the Chicago Garment Workers’ Strike which appeared in the first three issues for 1911. This was journalism, tinged with propaganda, designed to keep the League members informed on the Labor front.
On 5 August 1912 Miss Franklin marched as part of the escort for the women delegates to the Bull Moose (Roosevelt Republican) Convention in Chicago. From what she observed she prepared a ‘Convention Article for Australian papers’ and for the August issue of her own journal she wrote ‘The Women Delegates’, a eulogy on Florence Collins Porter and Isabella W. Blaney, who were the first women ever permitted to vote in an American nominating convention. She wrote also a number of special biographical articles on important union leaders. The one on ‘Elizabeth Maloney and the high calling of the waitress’ (February 1913), is mostly in praise of the improvements brought about by unionization, but Miss Maloney was a personal friend and this gives some warmth to the sketch.
In April 1913, in collaboration with her dear friend Ethel Mason, Stella wrote a piece based on the hearings of a special commission of the Illinois State Senate which was sitting in Chicago, called ‘Low Wages and Vice’. On 9 November she was working on ‘Mrs P. & glove worker articles’. Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst had been in Chicago, ‘petite and daintily dressed, fearless and outspoken, indomitable as a Boadicea, irresistible as a fairy’, and the young journalist who had met her and heard her speak at Hull House was mightily impressed. Hence the article, ‘Mrs Pankhurst in the United States’, for the December 1913 issue. The Agnes Nestor article, which also appeared in December, although it is mostly about the Glove Workers’ Union, was more a labor of love, because the young women were good friends. Years later, when Agnes Nestor died. Miles Franklin was to write, ‘It fills me with sadness to know that dear little Agnes is no more with us. News of the death of my old time colleagues and intimate associates is like a spear through me….I shall always remember Agnes as she was in the days of our lobbying in the State House and our League Conventions….She had a lovely, easy disposition, free from the inner turbulence which burdens me’ (letter to Elizabeth Christman, 5 June 1949, Box 20 NWTUL Papers, L. of C).
The sketch of the architect, Elizabeth Martini, was based on several interviews and was prompted by the fact that Miss Martini had been the first woman ever to pass the Illinois State Examination to qualify as a practising architect. As one would expect, the emphasis is on the difficulties experienced by a talented woman trying to enter what was still considered to be a man’s profession (Life & Labor, February 1914). In October 1914 she wrote an account of the strike of girl broom makers—‘young helpless foreign girls…the only girls employed at tying and sewing brooms in the United States…paid but one-third to one-half the wages men are paid….’ She and Agnes Nestor had gone to investigate the strike and the plight of the girls in September.
By early August the war in Europe had broken out and no one thought of anything else. ‘Miss H. & I did outline on war for “L & L”. Very cast down about the staggering calamity….’ The outline appeared as ‘The Menace of Great Armaments’ in September and it develops the theme that this was no people’s war but had grown out of ‘the bacillus of militarism’. In November 1914, despite the war, Stella Franklin was in Philadelphia for the Convention of the American Federation of Labor. She rode in the parade, saw the usual sights, Fairmount Park and the Billy Penn Tower, attended the bar tenders’ banquet with Miss Nestor and wrote up the Convention notes which were published in December. By 1915 the various peace movements were in full swing and ‘Peace Ahoy!’, which appeared in April, deals with the sailing of the American delegates to the International Congress of Women which was meeting at the Hague and is mostly a prayerful plea for the success of the Congress.
The long and complete notes on the NWTUL Conventions as well as many short unsigned pieces, which appeared from time to time in Life & Labor, were the work of Stella Franklin. Most of this work comes under the heading of journalism for a cause but, while much of the time her heart was in her work, as the war in Europe progressed she became less certain of the value of what she was doing.
One of the chores reserved for the editorial staff of Life & Labor was the reviewing of books and Miss Franklin was chosen as chief reviewer. ‘When space permits, the assistant editor, S. M. Franklin, will review books that are analogous to our story, from the sociological point of view…’ (L & L, 12 December 1912). What an assignment! With her hands thoroughly tied and no chance to express any personal predeliction for literature it is no wonder that the reviews are more ‘analogous’ than literary. The first one deals with the biography of Henry Demarest Lloyd, the political reformer who had tackled Tammany Hall in its own wigwam and had won. The book which was written by his sister was to have an interesting side effect on Stella Franklin’s social life, for the Lloyds of Winnetka, Illinois, some sixteen miles north of Chicago, were to become close friends. Other reviews need only be mentioned. The Promised Land, the autobiography of Mary Antin, an immigrant from Russia; two books by Elizabeth Robins, the sister-in-law of Mrs Raymond Robins, one a novel. My Little Sister, the other Way Stations, an account of the accomplishments of women reformers in England; Arnold Bennett’s Your United States; H. S. Harrison’s V.V’s Eyes; and Lady Constance Lytton’s Prisons and Prisoners. These titles do not reflect Stella Franklin’s own reading at the time; the reviews were just part of her job.
What Miss Franklin was doing personally makes a much more interesting story than what she was doing in her capacity as a journalist and professional worker for the NWTUL. She was still determined to succeed as a literary woman. Not long after she reached Chicago she began work on the novel, Some Every Day Folk and Dawn, and on 13 April 1909 she sent the manuscript to Blackwood. The novel was accepted and by August she was correcting proofs. This strange amalgam of an Australian community seen through the eyes of a ‘sophisticated’, Chicago oriented career woman needs little comment. Stella Franklin had still a long way to go before becoming a successful novelist. She had also been working on a four-act play, The Survivors, which was never published and never acted, and she was to continue to experiment with the writing of plays, never successfully, for some time to come.
Her interest in music, both vocal and instrumental, had never waned and she took every available opportunity to keep this interest alive. She became very friendly with Professor Arnold Dresden of the University of Chicago and his wife. Dresden was a musician of some note who had persuaded the City Park Commissioner to open public halls in the parks for Sunday evening concerts, many of which she attended. She practised and sang with the League Choral Group. Over a long period of time, at more or less regular intervals, she took private lessons in voice and piano and her talent must have shown signs of promise or her teachers would have discouraged her. How much this was a private passion and how much a belief in the possibility of a professional career is conjectural.
During the summer of 1909 Stella Franklin was a university student at Wisconsin. This was her vacation period and it seemed like a good opportunity for self improvement. It was a typical American summer school session of the era. Miss Franklin arrived in Madison in time for the regular university graduation exercises. She moved into the Kappa House, a girls’ sorority, as soon as the undergraduates moved out, went through the official registration, and elected to study French and the poetry of Tennyson. Following the usual pattern she worked like mad during the first few weeks. ‘French, buttermilk and Tennyson in the forenoon. French all the rest of the day. “Fierce!”’ As the term wore on she discovered that there was more to life than study. There were student ‘sing songs’, concerts, lectures and good Wisconsin summer weather. She had friends, both young men and young women, and there was much to be done that was pleasurable—watermelon feasts, picnics on the lake shore, horseback riding on Eagle Heights, canoeing on the lake, dinners with the young men, and even a circus. No wonder she could chortle, ‘Van M. waiting for me. Happy days. Serenaded by Glee Club at night’. But all good things come to an end. By 6 August summer school was over, the boys came to say good-bye to the girls and ‘Van left me his handkerchief to mop up my tears’.
Back in Chicago there was the same old round. Concerts and plays, meals with friends, the work of the League, and exhaustion. Nothing except illness ever slowed the pace. Still she managed to find some time for her writing. She worked on ‘The Love Machine’ and on an article for the Sydney Morning Herald and ended the year 1909 with the hope that ‘the coming one will be more eventful less futile and very lucrative’.
During the first part of 1910 she concentrated on voice lessons, perhaps with the feeling that there was more of a future in singing than in writing. In August, with her friend Editha Phelps, she went to a bungalow summer camp at Harbor Springs, Michigan, for her vacation. There were corn roasts and marshmallow toastings, rowing on the lake in the full of the moon and a performance of Hiawatha at night by the light of the camp-fire. A side trip to Mackinac Island was ruined by cold and rainy weather.
By September 1910 she had finished the ‘Cupid’ story and sent it off to Blackwoods, but most of the autumn was taken up with the work and excitement occasioned by the big Garment Workers’ strike, so Miss Franklin had little time to herself. The high water mark of 1911 was her first trip to England and France. After finishing with the chores of the NWTUL Convention in Boston, she and Editha Phelps left from New York for Montreal on 28 June. At Quebec they boarded the Empress of Ireland bound for Liverpool. It was a cold, not very pleasant voyage, with delays because of ice floes, but England was lovely and they saw the usual sights—Chester Cathedral, Stratford, Oxford and finally London. In London the National and Tate Galleries, the British Museum, the Zoological Gardens and the theatres were as exciting as expected, but the meetings with Vida Goldstein and Elizabeth Robins were more heartwarming. The trip to France was an anti-climax. To Paris by way of Rouen was pleasant but Notre Dame, the Luxembourg and an American Express Company tour around the city proved to be enough. After five days Stella Franklin was happy to be back in England. ‘I could not stay any longer in Paris. First it was outrageously hot, then the Parisian food starved my poor little finnickey stomach and third, I could not wrestle with a foreign language in my tired state so I hied me back to the heart of my British Empire…’ (letter to Miss Marot, 4 October 1911 in Library of Congress). All of the University of Wisconsin French, all of the painful hours of private study, had proved useless in her time of need.
By the beginning of 1912 the pace at which Stella Franklin had been living finally caught up with her. On the first day of the year she was toying with the ‘Cupid Story’, ‘feeling very cold & weak & aching’. She called the doctor and discovered that she had the measles. Miss Henry stayed with her one night but the case was so severe that a trained nurse had to be sent to her room to care for her. This was no ordinary illness. For a fortnight her condition was serious and her recovery was so slow that it was decided that she must go to the Resthaven Sanitarium for convalescence. Here she stayed until 4 February.
Her value to Mrs Robins was pinpointed by this illness. A request had come to the League from the chapter in Kansas City asking for help in the organization of the working girls of that city. Miss Franklin had been chosen to go, ‘as she is especially helpful in bringing about co-operation’, but her ‘very serious illness makes this impossible’. Mrs Robins complained that ‘Miss Franklin’s illness and the fact that I had no one to turn to in the National office to do the work has necessitated my cancelling all out of town engagements…’ (letter from Mrs Robins to Executive Board, 20 January 1912, in L. of C ).
In 1911 Stella Franklin had started on a novel, Net of Circumstance. During her convalescence she read, rested and worked a little on the novel. This work cannot now be identified. In 1912 she sent it to a publisher. By November another publisher wanted to see the manuscript. In 1913 she ignored Net of Circumstance entirely but by 1 January 1914 the book was made ready and sent to England. On 13 April she received an offer from an unidentified source and accepted it. This necessitated much revision and for a week she worked with furious energy. Then on 16 May the manuscript was sent to two different publishers. By 19 June there seems to have been a contract with Mills & Boon for the publication of the novel and she had received and was correcting the proofs in September. By 14 September she was informed that the war had postponed chances for publication but on 28 March 1915 she received six copies of Net of Circumstance through the post. At the end of her 1916 engagement book is the cryptic comment, ‘For Net of C. £6.2.6’. It may be that this lost novel will turn up in the papers or it may forever remain a minor mystery. There is no hint as to its contents or its length.
During 1912 Stella Franklin was greatly concerned about her health. Her serious illness had frightened her; she had a chronic cough, could not sleep and was always fatigued. She went to several doctors in desperation and finally settled on a woman physician, Dr B. Van Hoosen, whose examination terrified her. On 30 September she noted, ‘Spent ghastly night. Took panic over Dr Van Hoosen’s diagnosis’. Her back began to trouble her and she went to an osteopath. All in all 1912 was a hard year, what with the work on Net of Circumstance, her duties to the League, and an awareness of illness that was beginning to verge on hypochondria. Yet she found time for her first mild attachment. During the summer and the fall she saw much of Guido Mariotti, a young teacher of Italian who attended plays and concerts with her, but as her interest waned he became a ‘Most vacuous specimen of humanity…’, and by 19 November a full stop had been put to the mild romance: ‘Guido called but I wasn’t in….’
Miss Franklin wrote little of her own in 1913. She did a little work on the story, ‘When Cupid Tamed’, completed a portion of the play Mag-Marjorie and started the Sybil story, which may well have been the beginning of the novel On Dearborn Street. Of most significance was her growing friendship with the Lloyds of Winnetka. She had met Demarest Lloyd but it was William B. Lloyd who began to squire her around with some regularity. They went to plays and the opera, to a Cubist and Futurist Art exhibition, to dinners at the La Salle, the Blackstone and the Parkway. Lloyd had an automobile so the young lady was escorted in style, but the most touching mark of his interest and friendship was his arrangement for dancing lessons for this girl who had never been permitted to dance in her youth. She bought a pair of dancing slippers and regularly during the month of October she and Bill Lloyd practised faithfully, but she was discouraged by her lack of progress. For Christmas he gave her a huge ‘basket of provisions’.
The year 1914 was notable not only for the outbreak of the first World War but also because it was the year in which Stella Franklin most nearly became emotionally involved with a young man. These two events are not mutually exclusive for the war seems to have decided Miss Franklin once and for all against the whole idea of marriage. Years later she was to confide to Elizabeth Christman, ‘Lordy, I’m glad the first whiff of war in 1914 finally decided me not to be an incubator of G.I.’s or Tommies or Poilus or any other sort of male heroes whatever’ (28 November 1949, NWTUL Box 20 L.C.).
In fact there was not just one young man, but three, and they all came from good families with a background of some wealth. Demarest Lloyd and William B. Lloyd may have been cousins, both were in real estate and perhaps had some architectural training. Frederick J. Pischel was in business with his father. All three young men drove their own motor cars. Wm. B. Lloyd had a head start on the others because he had seen much of Miss Franklin during the previous year, but after his departure for vacation in the summer of 1914 he and Miss Franklin remained merely good friends.
Demarest Lloyd was younger, more annoying and more exciting. She had known him for a year but only in early 1914 did he invite her to the theatre and the fashionable restaurants. They enjoyed long talks. At the Lloyd home in Winnetka on 16 February, ‘Demmy & I had late talk after others went to bed…’, but by the 18th, after talking until midnight on the Mezzanine of the Hotel Sherman, they parted in anger. ‘He was a conceited & inexplicable boor in every way but interesting study. Shall pursue him for copy….’ Demarest Lloyd was in the East much of the time and she wrote to him and received letters, telephone calls and telegrams in return. She pretended to be amused when she heard that ‘the glorious Demmy had the measles’, but she continued her correspondence and when she visited Boston in October on League business, Demarest Lloyd was there to show her the time of her life: ‘Demmy came at 3 & away we went over hill & dale at such a great rate—grand’. They went to see the Harvard-Washington and Jefferson football game, they went dancing, and then went for a ride through the environs of Boston that made Paul Revere’s effort look like a Sunday School picnic. Through the towns surrounding Boston they drove, down to Providence, then to dine and dance and sup, and when they finally arrived home at four o’clock in the morning Miss Franklin had the last word: ‘Escaped death or tragedy by a small margin’. Demarest Lloyd was a playboy who took his fun seriously, yet there was something about his recklessness that was appealing, and the friendship continued until April 1915 when Miss Franklin commented: ‘D wrote violent & omnipotent letter because of an April fool joke I played on him. Silly ass seems to be defective….’
As early as March 1914 Fred Pischel had promised to teach Stella how to drive an automobile but the lessons did not begin until the end of June. All during July and August the young couple drove evening after evening along the lake shore and had long talks while parked by the outer drive. The seriousness of the young man’s intentions cannot be doubted, for when she became ill in late August he took her home to his mother who put her to bed and nursed her for two days. By December the romance was practically over though they continued to see one another until late August 1915, when Miss Franklin recorded, ‘Don’t know whether he is knave or fool….Booby Fred still sulking….’
In 1914 she had finished and bound two copies of ‘When Cupid Tamed’, started a new story entitled ‘Forget It’, and finished a story about a Red Cross nurse. By March she was back at work on the Sybil stories. At the NWTUL Convention in Buffalo that year she was presented with a fine pair of opera glasses, ‘so that she may give us reviews of dramas and operas…’; to which she replied, ‘Great fires or floods or droughts I can meet as mere incidents in monotony, but presents entirely upset me’ (NWTUL Papers, Box 13, L. of C). Nevertheless she was moved and pleased by the gift even though all was not going well with the League and with Life & Labor. She was tired, ready to resign and already planning a trip to England—although no one, including herself, realized how long this English visit would keep her away from America.
In August 1915 she was working full tilt on the novel On Dearborn Street, the typescript of which is now in the Mitchell Library. As the title indicates it is about Chicago, and is the only full length work she wrote against the background of her American years. There is a great deal of autobiography in this story. The heroine, Sybyl Penelo, is a young lady who might be Canadian but who is probably Australian and is determined to make a mystery of the whole business. One of the heroes, Cavarley, educated to be an architect and a mature man of forty, is plagued by doubts as to his parentage. The other hero, Robert Hoyne, a young friend of Cavarley’s, has done nothing since his college football days except drive racing cars. Sybyl, a special stenographer, has very remarkable literary gifts that would be wasted on routine stenography. Both men fall in love with her. Much of the story is devoted to the way in which Miss Penelo wards off the matrimonial advances of her two lovers.
After Robert is killed in a racing accident Cavarley is advised to give Sybyl dancing lessons in order to take her mind off the tragedy. He is extremely kind and patient and refuses to give up hope of winning Sybyl even after she tells him, ‘I love you dearly as a friend but now I shall never marry….The war has finally decided me and I have finished experimenting. It is interesting but the evidence it uncovers makes me so sad’. By the end of the novel the reader is led to believe that the star-crossed lovers will eventually get married in Jamaica.
One of the mechanical defects of the novel is the outrageous use of slang by Americans of some culture and education. Miss Franklin should have known that such Americans do not talk that way. But there are excellent flashes of insight in such scenes as where Cavarley destroys the personal effects of his dead friend Robert, and the sequence of the dancing lessons. Even some of the sophistries of little Sybyl, when she dwells on her phobia against marriage, are moving if not entirely convincing. But overall the work is not a good novel, even though it is an honest and sincere attempt to reveal the confusion and uncertainty of a heart deeply troubled in a world gone mad.
Stella Franklin was bone tired of the Chicago routine and devastated by the tragedy of the war. She had no definite plans about what she would do in England but she was drawn by a force beyond her control. Nor did she know that she would not return to her job in America. The trip was to be nothing but an extended leave. On 30 October 1915, in New York, she boarded the liner St. Paul bound for England and once again she felt the ‘full fiendishness of the sea’. By 7 November she was in London and a new life was before her. She was to see the United States once again, in 1933, during a short trip of a few months which enabled her to visit a few of her old friends and to consult with publishers, but she could never get America out of her mind. ‘I love the beautiful land’, she wrote a few months before her death in Sydney in 1954, ‘and its people for ever, and in eternity if there is identity there…’ (letter to B.S., 18 May 1954).