Valentines of a Gilded Age: Daisy’s Devotion

Valentines of a Gilded Age: Daisy's Devotion

My dearest Love,

In sending you this Valentine, I must apologize for the want of originality in my selection; but I believe you will take it in the spirit in which I send it. Ever since I have had mine, I have felt that you ought to have one too, and naturally I prefer you should have it from me.

You know that I love you darling; there are many things I think of that I would like to do for you, yet there is so little that I really can.

 Whenever there is anything I could do, and don’t, please let me know; because there is nothing that gives me more true pleasure, than doing for all I love, as I do you.

You have brought me so much happiness at a time when I could see nothing but misery, that nothing I can ever do for you will ever equal it.

I would like you to find as much happiness—come time I believe you will, darling.

Always faithfully, Yours, Daisy.

February 1887

1st page of Daisy's Valentine to Alice Austen, February 1887

When we think of Alice Austen and romance we are immediately drawn to her 56 year love affair with Gertrude Tate. 30 years of that incredible relationship were spent living at what we now know as the Alice Austen House Museum, affectionately known by the Austens as Clear Comfort. Sadly, the couple were separated late in life following their 1945 eviction from their beloved home and family fears of their “wrong kind of devotion” to one another.

Something that was left behind in the hurried exit from the home was Alice’s letter collection from the last 2 decades of the 19th century. This collection was discovered in a closet by the Mandia family who lived in the home after Austen. The Mandias donated the archive to the museum in 1985 with much evidence of enthusiastic handling and including childrens’ attempts at the flowery and always difficult to decipher script of the Gilded Age.

Our favorite character of this collection of over 1,500 hundred pages is Daisy Elliott. Elliott was an athlete who managed the women’s Berkley Gymnasium in Manhattan. Elliott would also become Austen’s model for the illustrations in the 1896 book Bicycling for Ladies penned by the always inventive Maria (commonly known as Violet) Ward.

Elliott was a bold world traveler and new woman of the age who would write passionately to Austen from her travels, revealing an intimate relationship and furthering our understanding of Austen’s lesbian identity.

These short excerpts from Elliott’s letters were penned the very year (1897) that Austen would meet her life long partner Gertrude Tate…

Daisy Elliott for Bicycling for Ladies 1896, Alice Austen. Collection of Historic Richmond Town.

 Please imagine my surprise and delight the second day out at receiving your special delivery letter! It went to my throat and knotted it all up—and then—I enjoyed it; thank you dear for sending it—I didn’t expect it, and I like the photos so much and the clover, too.”

How I wish I could write something really worthwhile. Something you would feel glad to get from me—there is a good deal more between the lines than in them. Read as much as you care to, and you will not be mistaken…

Dear, how thankful I am for what you have given me—don’t resist my giving to you—I don’t offer my love and friendship to many as I have to you. Those who have it know how to steadfast it is.
 I want yours—what I have had of it shows me that it is worth having—working for….

The letter collection is a precious archive, expanding our knowledge of Austen’s relationships, professional work and travels. During the last two years, Alice Austen House Staff collaborated with Scholar Pamela Bannos to translate the letters. Bannos released her podcast My Dear Alice at the end of 2022 and you hear more from Daisy and many of Alice’s other colorful friends at or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Miss Elliott in Pose 1893. Alice Austen. Collection of Historic Richmond Town.
2nd page from Daisy's Valentine, February 1887