Deleted Scene: An Heiress To Remember
New York City, 1895
Night was falling over Manhattan and the city was starting to glow as the sky darkened. Streetlights and shop fronts and windows at home provided bursts of bright and a steady glow, thanks to those new electric bulbs lighting up the city. It was that particular hour of the evening where the whole city felt not like it was about to go to bed, but about to roar to nightlife instead.
Uptown, in a private room at Delmonico’s, a group tycoons and titans of industry sat around the table. The room was dimly light—a chandelier above, candles flickering on the table. At each seat, plates were empty; steak dinners had been here once. Empty wine glasses had been refilled.
The room was full of women. Just women. While ladies were not free to dine unchaperoned in the dining room–despite the Ladies of Liberty’s best efforts–they were now able to secure private rooms for their private lady business.
Hence, this evening’s dinner.
“I feel like we should be smoking cigars and sipping whiskey,” Harriet quipped as she leaned back in her seats.
“And wearing trousers and bragging about the size of our—”
“Businesses,” Eunice said.
“And why not? We have reserved a private dining room for the night. We could brag and smoke and drink to excess all night if we wanted to.”
“Next time,” they all agreed.
Already, there would be a next time. The women seated around the table—all women, only women—turned to give their hostess their attention.
“Ladies, thank you all for joining me this evening.” Beatrice began. “I have a confession to make.” Her fingertips rested lightly on the tablecloth. “I am exhausted by the prospect or pressure of being a beacon to other young woman, by virtue of my position as President of Goodwin’s.”
There were hums and murmurs of concern, perhaps murmurs of empathy too. As “The One” in their respective industries their performance was heavily scrutinized and held up as example of what all women could do. One misstep could be a setback for all the women in the world. The newspapers had been relentlessly covering her every utterance, her every action and decision—and what she wore and how she styled her hair.
“But you are setting such a powerful example for women to see and to follow.”
“And women need to see you, especially.”
“You are the woman who got the golden ring and gave it back.”
Beatrice was well aware of this. Just as she had been well aware that as Duchess of Montrose, everyone had been watching intently to see if she did justice to legacy or if she might morbidly delight them with some failing. She hadn’t been able to breathe with all that pressure.
And in her escape she’d run right back to a similar position. All eyes were fixed on her, demanding that she was an example for all, for better or for worse. She had, again, let her living, breathing, feeling self become a vessel for everyone else’s aspirations. It was a heavy crown and she wasn’t sure she wanted to wear it.
Yet Beatrice knew that it was so very important that someone wear that crown, and do it justice. All the young women out in the wide, wide world hesitating between marriage or something more had to see what opportunities there were.
“I must confess: I do not want to be a beacon for other women on my own. It is a weight I do not need to carry when I already have enough pressure upon my shoulders as it is. And really—what single man ever has to serve as a beacon to all other men? The pressure is not any one man to be the pinnacle of his sex.”
“Though they tear themselves apart trying,” Ava murmured.
“It’s just that we have so few,” Harriet exclaimed.
And Beatrice’s eyes lit up. “Exactly. The problem is that each woman who strikes out and succeeds must serve as a role model to others. And we are few and far between—or so we are led to believe. When I look around this room I see that I am not the only one. I am not the only one.”
Murmurs erupted all around the table as they realized they were not the only ones, even if it so often felt thusly. They were smart, shrewd enterprising women who started businesses, spun reality out of dreams, and accomplished things they set out to do, despite obstacles the world threw in their way.
There were many. Even if they felt so very alone.
There were more than a few of them seated around the table that night. Daisy Swan, Annie Malone and Madame CJ Walker, Miss Adeline Black, and Madame Demorest and Mrs. Frank Leslie and Mrs. Harriet Hubbard Ayer. There were writers seated around the table too, Fanny Fern, Nelly Bly, Harriet herself. Elizabeth Blackwell had her own physician’s office. Julia Morgan was an architect.
It was not a small table in a small room.
But they so often felt alone, a freakish example of their sex, with all the attendant pressures and loneliness. Perception was so very powerful and so often used against them.
“You’d never know that from the newspapers, periodicals or pages in the history books, though,” Beatrice continued. “But here we are, together. We have found each other. I have asked you all here tonight because I cannot do what needs to be done alone. I want to make a grand demonstration on the strength, power and inevitability of women. I want to make it impossible to ignore us. I want us all to shine our light together. For that, I need you all.”
The murmurs were raising now in pitch and volume, from hmm to mmm to even a raucous hell yes. There was laughter and raising glasses, a toast to a light so blindingly bright it couldn’t be ignored. A light that no one had to generate alone.
“What did you have in mind?” Harriet’s eyes were shining.
“Goodwin’s. I want you all to have a presence in my store.”
There was a beat of silence as they all seemed to hear the same voice in their head: some vaguely male, patronizing voice saying it’s just shopping.
Beatrice continued: “I want Goodwin’s to be the store by women, for women.”
Oh yes, they were interested. Oh yes, they wanted to know more. Because it was not just shopping. Shopping was dreams made real, the stuff fortunes were made of, the engine which made America hum. And a space by women, for women was something else entirely, something the world hadn’t quite seen—other than Harriet’s drawing room and not enough women had access to that.
But Goodwin’s. Right there in the middle of Manhattan. And thus, the world. By women, for women.
Beatrice grinned and leaned forward.
“Here is what I am envisioning…Would you, Adeline, consider making a line of readymade dresses and skirts with pockets at a price working girls could afford? Daisy, Annie, Harriet, Madame CJ: would you sell your cosmetics at your own stations right on the sales floor? Perhaps we might even have a salon where a woman could be pampered and taken care of. Martha, would you open one of your hair salons?”
“Our businesses, under your roof?”
“Something like that.”
There was a burst of conversation, lady voices rising in pitch and questions and ideas tumbling out. They were excited. They had ideas. And they were going to create something magnificent.
The discussion took a turn to the vital matter of profits, particularly a fair and mutually lucrative arrangement.
The discussion to took another turn to the subject of branding, as each woman had known to hone a unique look and voice to her product and customer experience.
The discussion took a turn toward the matter of hiring and training salesclerks; it was vital that Daisy and Madame CJ maintained control over this process in order to ensure that customers had a pleasant experience learning how to use these novel products.
The discussion took a turn to the differing audiences each woman’s business served.
“I have made my fortune by selling to black women,” Annie Malone said. “Would my customers be welcome in your store?”
“Well yes of course…” Beatrice replied, a bit flustered as she realized that it was not as simple as her good intentions. “I don’t want to ignore the complications but if we don’t try then who will? If change is possible it is up to us pursue it.”
The hour grew late. Then later still. The women talked, made plans. Julia would draw up the architectural plans, Ava would oversee the interior decoration, Harriet would help establish a reading room and salon. The lady journalists would write all about it, column inch after column inch ensuring that women knew all about what awaited them.
They sipped wine, switched to water or tea, took notes, agreed upon deals.
It was just shopping, some might say. It was just something silly women did to pass the time. It was a silly way to spend the afternoon frittering money away on fripperies; after all men never did that. Except it was nothing less than the emancipation of women because finally they would have a space outside of the home where they could safely go and dream and have experiences and meet with other women. Who knew what they might learn, what friendships might be forged, what sparks of ideas might change the world over tea, in a ladies only luncheon spot while their children were in the care of the store nursery?
The women around the table were excited by the prospects and the roles they would each play.
Beatrice felt the weight lift from her shoulders.
Finally, at an ungodly hour, Pierre himself, Delmonico’s infamous maitre’d knocked on the door to beg their pardon but the restaurant was closing, the other patrons had left and did the ladies perhaps wish to call for their carriages and return home?
“We’ll need one more minute, Pierre,” Harriet declared. He closed the door without so much as a murmur. This was not their first showdown.
“Looks like we outlasted all the men,” Beatrice said.
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Fanny grumbled.
Harriet laughed. “And they say we are the more delicate sex.”