How To Own Your Feminine Strengths At Work
The time is now to bring your femininity to work, whatever that may look like for you.
Looking back now, my days as a young exec feels like the a snapshot from the Mad Men era. I was always surrounded by a sea of men who were leading with ROI and dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. I was always told there was no room for emotion in the boardroom.
So what’s a girl to do? Conform to the leadership style that was historically rewarded with success? Or follow my heart and be myself: bringing passion and empathy to the workplace and putting people at the center?
There were so few women at the top back then that most conformed to the rules. I had a moment of clarity when I showed up for a meeting with a woman who was a legend in the agency world, Penelope Queen.
Of course I dressed the part, wearing a business suit with shoulder pads and my hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. I walked into the room looking for what I expected a woman in business to look like at the time: someone wearing a pinstripe suit with a button-down white shirt. Instead I found a badass woman exuding femininity—from her high heels to her flowing blue dress to her warm manner. Rather than conform, she stood out.
That’s when I realized Sarah Jessica Parker was right when she said, “Trying to be a man is a waste of a woman.” From that moment on, I knew I had to be me. There was plenty of room to bring my strengths to the table. I started the Girls’ Lounge to give back what I wished I had when I was rising through the ranks: a space for women to be themselves, for the minority to act and feel like the majority. Men are welcome, because we need both masculine and feminine strengths in the workplace, but unlike in the Boys’ Club, everyone feels comfortable.
Qualities traditionally considered feminine—such as empathy, collaboration and intuition—have long gone unrecognized in traditional workplace culture as compared to qualities considered masculine, such as being direct, competitive and assertive. It’s not about female/male; it’s about feminine/masculine. There are plenty of men out there who embody feminine qualities, and women who embody masculine qualities.
“Every one of us has a combination of masculine and feminine qualities,” agrees Amy Stanton, co-author of the new book The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways To Ignite The Power Of Your Femininity For a Brighter Life And A Better World. “Instead of suppressing your feminine qualities because society may view them as less valuable, try tapping into those qualities personally and professionally as a source of power. It’s a power that comes from being more connected to your authentic self.”
Recently when I asked male leaders at the Men of Action Summit in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week about which leadership qualities are most important today, they listed caring, compassion and empathy. I don’t see CEO job descriptions listing “compassion.” We should all bring these qualities to the workplace, which my friend Erica Keswin, author of Bring Your Human To Work, says aren’t necessarily masculine or feminine qualities but human qualities. Men and women shouldn’t hide these human traits at work, but give themselves permission to let them shine and make it the new leadership norm so we can create cultures of care and benevolence.
It’s time to own your feminine strengths at work, whatever that may look like for you. “The definition for femininity is going to be different for everyone, and defining femininity for yourself is an individual path,” says Stanton. For me, femininity is about having a strength that I define as “grace with grit.” Here are some traditionally “feminine” traits that can be your superpowers in the workplace.
Intuition: Though of course both men and women have intuition, there may actually be science behind why we refer to it as “women’s intuition.” Women’s ability to draw insight from what seems intangible is in fact just heightened sensory ability, because we’re using our senses to pick up on cues others may miss—even if we’re doing it subconsciously, says Stanton and her co-author, Catherine Connors, in The Feminine Revolution. “Research on nonverbal communication has shown women in general are better than men at reading facial expressions, and so can pick up on more subtle emotional messages,” Stanton says.
Intuition has long been ignored in the workplace in favor of hard data and facts. The truth is that you need both in order to innovative and successful. Listening to my own intuition, or what I call “heartbeat moments,” has been a key to my success.
Caregiving: In my opinion, the best leaders today are caregivers, regardless of whether they’re a man or a woman. Caregiving has traditionally been viewed as a feminine quality because it’s been associated with mothering. A caregiver in the workplace is simply someone who nurtures their team’s talent, and inspires the best kind of work ethic with values, purpose and passion.
“‘Mothering’ or being the ‘mama bear’ in the workplace is simply about creating an environment of care and support, allowing employees to be their best,” says Stanton.
Empathy: Once when my company was undergoing some restructuring, I got emotional because I cared about what would happen to my employees. I was told there was no room for emotion in the boardroom. So what did I do? I wrote a speech about why we need to bring emotion to the boardroom.
Empathy and emotion are needed for success in the workplace. “One of the things I’ve learned from working with effective leaders is that they embody traits such as being empathic and emotional, because people want to feel heard and understood, and these traits are needed to connect on a human level,” says Debra Bednar-Clark, an executive coach and Founder and CEO of DB+co. “As a leader, you have to have empathy and curiosity to understand who someone is at their core: their goals, fears, aspirations, passions, insecurities—all of it. Then you can help them double down on their strengths and overcome their barriers, so they can make an impact that is authentic to them and of value to the business.”
Collaboration: There is power in collaboration. The masculine tends to be more, ‘I did this, I did that.’ In general, women tend to talk more in the ‘we,’ because we realize that the power of the team is diversity and the best teams have different kinds of skills and thought leadership at the table. If we were all the same, companies wouldn’t evolve.
“Great work doesn’t happen in silos,” agrees Bednar-Clark. “If you want to drive innovation, you have to be able to connect and collaborate with others who are not like you and who have different skill sets, experiences and perspectives.”
The workplace—and the world—needs you to lead the way by following your heartbeat moments, showing up with empathy and channeling the power of collaboration. These are your superpowers that will pave the way for change.
The Women Who Sold Their Daughters Into Sex Slavery
Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN)
When a poor family in Cambodia fell afoul of loan sharks, the mother asked her youngest daughter to take a job. But not just any job.
The girl, Kieu, was taken to a hospital and examined by a doctor, who issued her a “certificate of virginity.” She was then delivered to a hotel, where a man raped her for two days.
Kieu was 12 years old.
“I did not know what the job was,” says Kieu, now 14 and living in a safehouse. She says she returned home from the experience “very heartbroken.” But her ordeal was not over.
After the sale of her virginity, her mother had Kieu taken to a brothel where, she says, “they held me like I was in prison.”
She was kept there for three days, raped by three to six men a day. When she returned home, her mother sent her away for stints in two other brothels, including one 400 kilometers away on the Thai border. When she learned her mother was planning to sell her again, this time for a six-month stretch, she realized she needed to flee her home.
“Selling my daughter was heartbreaking, but what can I say?” says Kieu’s mother, Neoung, in an interview with a CNN crew that travelled to Phnom Penh to hear her story.
Like other local mothers CNN spoke to, she blames poverty for her decision to sell her daughter, saying a financial crisis drove her into the clutches of the traffickers who make their livelihoods preying on Cambodian children.
“It was because of the debt, that’s why I had to sell her,” she says. “I don’t know what to do now, because we cannot move back to the past.”
It is this aspect of Cambodia’s appalling child sex trade that Don Brewster, a 59-year-old American resident of the neighborhood, finds most difficult to countenance.
“I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your mother sell you, to have your mother waiting in the car while she gets money for you to be raped,” he says. “It’s not that she was stolen from her mother — her mother gave the keys to the people to rape her.”
Brewster, a former pastor, moved from California to Cambodia with wife Bridget in 2009, after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood where Kieu grew up — Svay Pak, the epicenter of child trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation.
“Svay Pak is known around the world as a place where pedophiles come to get little girls,” says Brewster, whose organization, Agape International Missions (AIM), has girls as young as four in its care, rescued from traffickers and undergoing rehabilitation in its safehouses.
In recent decades, he says, this impoverished fishing village – where a daughter’s virginity is too often seen as a valuable asset for the family – has become a notorious child sex hotspot.
“When we came here three years ago and began to live here, 100% of the kids between 8 and 12 were being trafficked,” says Brewster. The local sex industry sweeps up both children from the neighborhood — sold, like Kieu, by their parents – as well as children trafficked in from the countryside, or across the border from Vietnam. “We didn’t believe it until we saw vanload after vanload of kids.”
Weak law enforcement, corruption, grinding poverty and the fractured social institutions left by the country’s turbulent recent history have helped earn Cambodia an unwelcome reputation for child trafficking, say experts.
UNICEF estimates that children account for a third of the 40,000-100,000 people in the country’s sex industry.
Svay Pak, a dusty shantytown on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, is at the heart of this exploitative trade.
As one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in one of Asia’s poorest countries – nearly half the population lives on less than $2 per day — the poverty in the settlement is overwhelming. The residents are mostly undocumented Vietnamese migrants, many of whom live in ramshackle houseboats on the murky Tonle Sap River, eking out a living farming fish in nets tethered to their homes.
It’s a precarious existence. The river is fickle, the tarp-covered houseboats fragile. Most families here scrape by on less than a dollar a day, leaving no safety net for when things go wrong – such as when Kieu’s father fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, too sick to maintain the nets that contained their livelihood. The family fell behind on repayments of a debt.
In desperation, Kieu’s mother, Neoung, sold her virginity to a Cambodian man of “maybe more than 50,” who had three children of his own, Kieu says. The transaction netted the family only $500, more than the $200 they had initially borrowed but a lot less than the thousands of dollars they now owed a loan shark.
So Neoung sent her daughter to a brothel to earn more.
“They told me when the client is there, I have to wear short shorts and a skimpy top,” says Kieu. “But I didn’t want to wear them and then I got blamed.” Her clients were Thai and Cambodian men, who, she says, knew she was very young.
Don Brewster, a former pastor from California, is the founder and director of Agape International Missions, an organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating the victims of child trafficking in Cambodia and smashing the networks that exploit them. He moved to Cambodia with his wife in 2009 after a harrowing investigative mission trip to the neighborhood.
“When they sleep with me, they feel very happy,” she says. “But for me, I feel very bad.”
The men who abuse the children of Svay Pak fit a number of profiles. They include pedophile sex tourists, who actively seek out sex with prepubescent children, and more opportunistic “situational” offenders, who take advantage of opportunities in brothels to have sex with adolescents.
Sex tourists tend to hail from affluent countries, including the West, South Korea, Japan and China, but research suggests Cambodian men remain the main exploiters of child prostitutes in their country.
Mark Capaldi is a senior researcher for Ecpat International, an organization committed to combating the sexual exploitation of children.
“In most cases when we talk about child sexual exploitation, it’s taking place within the adult sex industry,” says Capaldi. “We tend to often hear reports in the media about pedophilia, exploitation of very young children. But the majority of sexual exploitation of children is of adolescents, and that’s taking place in commercial sex venues.”
The abusers would often be local, situational offenders, he says. Research suggests some of the Asian perpetrators are “virginity seekers,” for whom health-related beliefs around the supposedly restorative or protective qualities of virgins factor into their interest in child sex.
Whatever the profile of the perpetrator, the abuse they inflict on their victims, both girls and boys, is horrific. Trafficked children in Cambodia have been subjected to rape by multiple offenders, filmed performing sex acts and left with physical injuries — not to mention psychological trauma — from their ordeals, according to research.
In recent years, various crackdowns in Svay Pak have dented the trade, but also pushed it underground. Today, Brewster says, there are more than a dozen karaoke bars operating as brothels along the road to the neighborhood, where two years ago there was none. Even today, he estimates a majority of girls in Svay Park are being trafficked.
Kieu’s relative, Sephak, who lives nearby, is another survivor. (CNN is naming the victims in this case at the request of the girls themselves, as they want to speak out against the practice of child sex trafficking.)
Sephak was 13 when she was taken to a hospital, issued a certificate confirming her virginity, and delivered to a Chinese man in a Phnom Penh hotel room. She was returned after three nights. Sephak says her mother was paid $800.
“When I had sex with him, I felt empty inside. I hurt and I felt very weak,” she says. “It was very difficult. I thought about why I was doing this and why my mom did this to me.” After her return, her mother began pressuring her daughter to work in a brothel.
Toha listens to her mother explain how she came to sell her to sex traffickers. She no longer lives with her family, opting instead to live in a residence for trafficking survivors run by Brewster’s organization — but still provides her family some financial support from her new job.
Not far away from Sephak’s family home, connected to the shore via a haphazard walkway of planks that dip beneath the water with each footfall, is the houseboat where Toha grew up.
The second of eight children, none of whom attend school, Toha was sold for sex by her mother when she was 14. The transaction followed the same routine: medical certificate, hotel, rape.
About two weeks after she returned to Svay Pak, she says, the man who had bought her virginity began calling, requesting to see her again. Her mother urged her to go. The pressure drove her to despair.
“I went to the bathroom and cut my arms. I cut my wrists because I wanted to kill myself,” Toha says. A friend broke down the door to the bathroom and came to her aid.
CNN met with the mothers of Kieu, Sephak and Toha in Svay Pak to hear their accounts of why they chose to expose their daughters to sexual exploitation.
Kieu’s mother, Neoung, had come to Svay Pak from the south of the country in search of a better life when Kieu was just a baby. But life in Svay Pak, she would learn, wasn’t easy.
When her husband’s tuberculosis rendered him too sick to properly maintain the nets on the family’s fish pond, the family took on a $200 loan at extortionate rates from a loan shark. It has now ballooned to more than $9,000. “The debt that my husband and I have is too big, we can’t pay it off,” she says. “What can you do in a situation like this?”
“Virginity selling” was widespread in the community, and Neoung saw it as a legitimate option to make some income. “They think it is normal,” she says. “I told her, ‘Kieu, your dad is sick and can’t work… Do you agree to do that job to contribute to your parents?'”
“I know that I did wrong so I feel regret about it, but what can I do?” she says. “We cannot move back to the past.”
But she adds she would never do it again.
Sephak’s mother, Ann, has a similar story. Ann moved to Svay Pak when her father came to work as a fish farmer. She and her husband have serious health problems.
“We are very poor, so I must work hard,” she says. “It’s still not enough to live by and we’re sick all the time.”
The family fell on hard times. When a storm roared through the region, their house was badly damaged, their fish got away, and they could no longer afford to eat. In crisis, the family took out a loan that eventually spiraled to about $6000 in debt, she says.
With money-lenders coming to her home and threatening her, Ann made the decision to take up an offer from a woman who approached her promising big money for her daughter’s virginity.
“I saw other people doing it and I didn’t think it through,” she says. “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t do that to my daughter.”
On her houseboat, as squalls of rain lash the river, Toha’s mother Ngao sits barefoot before the television taking pride of place in the main living area, and expresses similar regrets. On the wall hangs a row of digitally enhanced portraits of her husband and eight children. They are dressed in smart suits and dresses, superimposed before an array of fantasy backdrops: an expensive motorcycle, a tropical beach, an American-style McMansion.
Life with so many children is hard, she says, so she asked her daughter to go with the men.
She would not do the same again, she says, as she now has access to better support; Agape International Missions offers interest-free loan refinancing to get families out of the debt trap, and factory jobs for rescued daughters and their mothers.
The news of Ngao’s betrayal of her daughter has drawn mixed responses from others in the neighborhood, she says. Some mock her for offering up her daughter, others sympathize with her plight. Some see nothing wrong with she did at all.
“Some people say ‘It’s OK — just bring your daughter (to the traffickers) so you can pay off the debt and feel better,'” says Ngao.
Not long after her suicide attempt, Toha was sent to a brothel in southern Cambodia. She endured more than 20 days there, before she managed to get access to a phone, and called a friend. She told the friend to contact Brewster’s group, who arranged for a raid on the establishment.
Although children can be found in many brothels across Cambodia — a 2009 survey of 80 Cambodian commercial sex premises found three-quarters offering children for sex – raids to free them are infrequent.
The country’s child protection infrastructure is weak, with government institutions riven with corruption. Cambodia’s anti-trafficking law does not even permit police to conduct undercover surveillance on suspected traffickers. General Pol Phie They, the head of Cambodia’s anti-trafficking taskforce set up in 2007 to address the issue, says this puts his unit at a disadvantage against traffickers.
“We are still limited in prosecuting these violations because first, we lack the expertise and second, we lack the technical equipment,” he says. “Sometimes, we see a violation but we can’t collect the evidence we need to prosecute the offender.”
He admits that police corruption in his country, ranked 160 of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, is hampering efforts to tackle the trade in Svay Pak. “Police in that area probably do have connections with the brothel owners,” he concedes.
Toha’s nightmare is now over. She earns a steady income, weaving bracelets that are sold in American stores, while she studies for her future. Her dream is to become a social worker, helping other girls who have been through the same ordeal.
Brewster believes that corruption was to blame for nearly thwarting Toha’s rescue. In October 2012, after Toha’s call for help, AIM formulated plans with another organization to rescue the teen, and involved police.
“We get a warrant to shut the place down,” recalls Brewster. “Fifteen minutes later, Toha calls and says, ‘I don’t know what happened, the police just came with the owner and took us to a new place. I’m locked inside and don’t know where I am.'”
Fortunately the rescue team were able to establish Toha’s new location, and she and other victims were freed and the brothel managers arrested – although not before the owners fled to Vietnam.
Toha’s testimony against the brothel managers, however, resulted in their prosecutions.
Last month, at the Phnom Penh Municipal Courthouse, husband and wife Heng Vy and Nguyeng Thi Hong were found guilty of procuring prostitution and sentenced to three years in jail. Both were ordered to pay $1,250 to the court, $5,000 to Toha, and smaller sums to three other victims.
Brewster was in court to watch the sentencing; a small victory in the context of Cambodia’s child trafficking problem, but a victory nonetheless.
“Toha’s an amazingly brave girl,” he says on the courthouse steps, shortly after the brothel managers were led down to the cells.
“Getting a telephone when she’s trapped in a brothel to call for help, to saying she would be a witness in front of the police…. She stood up and now people are going to pay the price and girls will be protected. What it will do is bring more Tohas, more girls who are willing to speak, places shut down, bad guys put away.”
Like the other victims, Toha now lives in an AIM safehouse, attending school and supporting herself by weaving bracelets, which are sold in stores in the West as a way of providing a livelihood to formerly trafficked children.
In the eyes of the community, having a job has helped restore to the girls some of the dignity that was stripped from them by having been sold into trafficking, says Brewster.
It has also given them independence from their families — and with that, the opportunity to build for themselves a better reality than the one that was thrust on them. Now Sephak has plans to become a teacher, Kieu a hairdresser.
For her part, Toha still has contact with her mother – even providing financial support to the family through her earnings – but has become self-reliant. She wants to be a social worker, she says, helping girls who have endured the same hell she has.
“(Toha)’s earning a good living and she has a dream beyond that, you know, to become a counselor and to be able to help other girls,” says Brewster. “You see the transformation that’s happened to her.”
For more, visit CNN’s Freedom Project blog »
The Life Of Agnes De Mille
WashingtonPost.Com: No Intermissions: The Life of Agnes de Mille
No IntermissionsThe Life of Agnes de MilleBy Carol Easton
Chapter One: Genes
Agnes de Mille’s genetic cards were dealt from a deck stacked with the qualities of women born to prevail. Her mother and grandmothers had the strength and the stamina of pioneers; one can imagine any of them reining in a team of runaway horses with one hand, meticulously stitching a quilt with another, and removing her own appendix with a third, all the while planning what to serve for supper. History neglects them, for the history of their time was made by men, and extramarital ambition for a woman was unthinkable. They planned, pushed, and applauded not for their own dreams, but for those of their husbands and children. Even when one of Agnes’s remarkable grandmothers managed, after being prematurely widowed, to create her own history, it was as Mrs. H. C. De Mille.
The enterprising widow, born Matilda Beatrice Samuel (known as Beatrice, or “Bebe”), provided the Jewish thread in Agnes’s hereditary tapestry. Beatrice was eighteen when her parents (the German-Jewish Sylvester Samuel, a businessman, and his Ashkenazy wife, Cecilia) emigrated from England in 1871. They settled in Brooklyn, and there, at a meeting of the local music and literary society, Bebe met a tall, redheaded student who shared her love of the theater. He was Henry Churchill De Mille, descended from the Dutch Episcopalian DeMils who had emigrated to America in 1658. Like Beatrice, Henry was born in 1853, but in vastly different circumstances. While she was growing up in a middleclass English household, Henry’s father, a North Carolinian, was fighting on the losing side in the Civil War.(*) As a boy in those difficult times, Henry dreamed of a career as a playwright-he wrote his first play at fifteen-but his parents sent him to New York to pursue not his dream but theirs, and he entered Columbia College as a theology student. He changed his major, however, to education, a field with broader possibilities.
Henry was tall, slender, and mild-mannered; it’s unlikely that he had known many Jews, and Beatrice’s dark good looks and zaftig figure must have seemed to him exotic. Bebe was intelligent, educated, forthright, and so strong-willed that in 1876, in spite of, or perhaps because of, her parents’ objections to her Gentile suitor, she converted to Henry’s faith and married him.
In 1881, Henry and Beatrice were living in Manhattan with their two sons: three-year-old William Churchill and the infant Cecil Blount. When Henry’s teaching job permitted, he wrote and produced amateur plays and worked as a play reader for the Madison Square Theatre. There he met and teamed up with a young stage manager, David Belasco, whose drive and commercial instincts complemented Henry’s literary talent. Together they produced melodramas, mostly written by De Mille and directed by Belasco, which were popular enough to inspire this anonymous doggerel: “Nor should it be forgot that no fiasco/Existed for De Mille or for Belasco.”(*)
Henry wanted more than commercial success; he wanted recognition as a serious playwright, and in 1891 he got it, for his adaptation of a naturalistic German drama about labor.(+) The play was well received, and Henry, at thirty-nine, was financially secure enough to buy seventy-six acres in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Here he built an imposing threestory Victorian house overlooking the lake. With a new baby daughter, Agnes Beatrice, his family flourished. He began work on a new play and preached as lay reader in the local Episcopal Church. Life may have seemed, after his early struggles, too good to be true. As is often the case, it was. In 1893, after he and his family celebrated their first Christmas in their new home, Henry De Mille contracted a fatal case of typhoid. Legend has it that on his deathbed he implored his wife to keep his sons away from careers in the theater. Beatrice, who loved the theater and had enthusiastically supported her husband’s theatrical aspirations, directed this evasive reply to his corpse: “May your sons be as fine and noble and good and honest as you were. May they follow in your steps . . . “(1)
At forty, Beatrice was suddenly a widow with three children, a house, a $20,000 insurance settlement, and no savings. William was fourteen, Cecil eleven, little Agnes not yet two. Beatrice’s feelings are not recorded, but her actions inspire awe: eight weeks after Henry’s death, she opened the Henry C. De Mille School for Girls in her home. Almost simultaneously, she set herself up as the second woman playbroker in America, with an office on Broadway.
The speed with which Beatrice opened the school was dizzying, but the idea was logical enough. In the early days of her marriage she had taught elocution at a boys’ school in Brooklyn, and in Pompton Lakes she had helped start a school for the children of underpaid steelworkers, a labor of love and of conscience. Now she needed to be paid for her labor; but she was better at negotiating money than at managing it, and the school’s fortunes floundered. As they did, her career as a playwright’s agent flourished.
In the business world of the 1890s, women were secretaries; at higher levels nobody took them seriously, least of all themselves, and certainly not in the Broadway theater. Her natural chutzpah reinforced by desperation, Beatrice barged into this bastion of sexism with every appearance of confidence. She had always negotiated her husband’s contracts; now, shrewdly, she staked out virgin territory by building a client list of women playwrights, particularly those whose work promoted the controversial idea of women’s equality. She even wrote, in collaboration with a young woman dramatist, an autobiographical play; it failed commercially, but it drew attention to her as an exponent of what would one day be called women’s liberation, and like-minded women responded by becoming her clients.
Two years after Henry’s death, little Agnes died of spinal meningitis. The unsinkable Beatrice carried on. She enrolled her younger son, Cecil, in a military school in Pennsylvania and arranged for William to study at a gymnasium in Freiburg, Germany. When William returned to New York, he attended Columbia University. Like both his parents, he was strongly drawn to the theater, but in deference to his father’s deathbed request, he studied engineering instead. In his senior year, however, he signed up for a playwrighting class and began his life’s work.
From Columbia, William went on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He had his father’s tall, lean physique, but he was stronger and more athletic; in college he had gone out for track, fencing, and boxing and had played tennis with a passion that would endure all his life. His curly brown hair was already thinning; his face, like his body, was long and thin, with a hawkish nose and mournful brown eyes. Girls admired him for his wit and enthusiasm, but from a proper distance, for his mother insisted that her sons remain pure until marriage, thus ensuring that any premarital sexual experience would be riddled with guilt.(2) His letters to Anna George during their engagement reveal a strain of deep romanticism and a profound ignorance of women-a dangerous but not uncommon combination in young men of his time and class. Still, compared to his bride-to-be, William was a veritable guru of sex. If William strove for virtue, Anna Angela George personified it.
Anna’s childhood existence was poor and peripatetic. Her father, Henry George, had left school and his parents’ Philadelphia home at the age of thirteen and supported himself as an errand boy, seaman, typesetter, printer, and gold miner, all the while reading omnivorously and developing his revolutionary economic ideas. In 1861 he eloped with the Anglo-Irish-Catholic Annie Corsina Fox, who had grown up in Australia. Henry was twenty-one, Annie just seventeen. Her family disapproved, and for good reason: Henry had no money.
Henry George’s Episcopalian father had published religious books, but Henry invented his own religion, the Single Tax, and wrote his own Bible, Progress and Poverty. “He who makes should have, ” said George; ‘he who saves should enjoy.” Taxes should be placed only on land, and on such natural resources as oil, natural gas, and minerals, all of which belong to the people; labor should not be taxed, but where there is a natural monopoly, the benefits should accrue to the people.
During the years George spent writing his great work, the couple’s financial situation wobbled from precarious to dire while their family grew. Anna, the youngest of their four children, was born in San Francisco in 1877. Two years later, Henry’s book was finally published.
Progress and Poverty would become a classic, but the family’s life did not improve immediately. For a time George worked on a New York newspaper while his wife ran a boardinghouse in San Francisco. By 1881, however, the family was reunited in Greenwich Village, and Henry was internationally famous. In that decade, Progress and Poverty sold more copies worldwide than any other book except the Bible.
Henry George was a true American original, self-made and self-taught, honored at home and abroad for his economic philosophy and his outstanding oratorical gifts.(3) Among his admirers were Sun Yat-sen, John Dewey, Count Leo Tolstoy (in Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection, the hero into exile in Siberia with a copy of Progress and Poverty under his arm)-and Henry De Mille. The two Henrys were friends, and their children attended the Horace Mann School.(*) At the age of eleven, Anna asked the twelve-year-old William to marry her. He declined.(4) Nine years later, he would change his mind.
Publicly, Henry George was an icon, an authentic Great Man; his wife and children revered him. In Anna George de Mille’s biography of her father, both of her parents glow with saintliness. Henry is generous, humble, modest, devoted to children, his only fault a “trace of impatience” when he called his children to him. His wife never thinks of herself and never complains-even though, in the early years of her marriage, she was forced to pawn her jewelry and was so close to starvation after the birth of her second child that her husband begged money from a stranger on the street. In Anna’s version of her childhood, her mother was a marvel of “tact and managerial genius” who could and did rise to any occasion, including providing meals for unexpected guests; the presence of two servants is noted only in passing. The family gathered in the “shabby, cozy sitting-room . . . For study, reading, games, and fancy needlework and mending.”(5) As Annie, an expert seamstress, taught her daughters to sew, they all sang. Indeed, as Anna depicted it, someone always seemed to be singing somewhere in the house. Her mother sang the alto parts of operettas and grand operas; her father, when deep in thought, absentmindedly whistled a few bars of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “Yankee Doodle.”(6) To their youngest child, Henry and Annie George were perfect partners in an ideal marriage-a perception that would create impossible expectations in her own marriage.
In 1897, after ignoring doctors’ warnings and wearing himself out in an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of New York, Henry George died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving his family in emotional chaos. Anna was twenty-only five feet tall, but with the energy of a titan. Her piercing blue eyes were “of an intensity to stop speech”; masses of golden red hair flowed to her waist, and her tiny hands and size one feet were a source of great pride.(7) William, whom she had adored since childhood, gave her his class ring, and they became officially engaged five years later, in 1902. In his postproposal euphoria William wrote, with unknowing clairvoyance, “I have kissed you as no man has ever kissed you, or will again.”(8)
He was teaching fencing at his mother’s school in Pompton Lakes and writing one-act plays; Anna was living with her mother in New York. They saw each other only on weekends, but William wrote often, on notepaper headed “The Dreamery,” his attic studio in his mother’s house. He was by then twenty-four, but his letters are those of a painfully earnest adolescent. “If this isn’t heaven it’s as near as I care to get . . . You are my image of God . . . I am absolutely yours forever . . . I cannot live without you . . . As our engagement gets older my longing for you gets much more intense . . . I never believed that I could so madly crave any living mortal.”(9) She is his ideal, “the truest, most helpful little woman that ever inspired a man to work and love . . . I worship you more than my honor . . . I respect you as I do no woman except my mother.”(10) “You are the one woman in the world who can give me the perfect understanding which every man craves.”(11)
The impatient fiance occupied himself playing the piano, riding his horse, playing tennis, taking long walks “with my gun for company, ” and writing Strongheart, a play about an Indian chief in love with a white woman.(12) When Anna suffered from premarital tension, understandable if for no reason other than her total ignorance of sex, William attributed it to the fact that her mother treated her “as if you were about two years old. . . . It is your constant and intimate relations with your mother (sleeping in the same room etc.) that is keeping you in this nervous condition.” (13) As the wedding day approached, his letters quivered with anticipation: “I want to clasp you in my arms and feel your beautiful tender body next to mine-and feel you thrill with the same intense passion of love that I feel . . . I adore you through eternity.”(14) After all this excruciating suspense, they were married on March 30, 1903.
Anna moved into the Dreamery, but the new bride cannot have had an easy time in the house of her formidable mother-in-law.(15) By fall, she and William had their own apartment in Manhattan, with enough expectations for several lifetimes. He thought her an angel; she thought him a genius. They had both suffered the loss of their fathers-for William, this occurred when he was in the throes of puberty, which exacerbated the trauma-but they had otherwise been sheltered and spoiled and taught that their families belonged to the intellectual elite. William had become titular head of his family after his father’s death, and the position had given him a disproportionately strong sense of responsibility. Anna, the baby in her family, would become a woman of awesome capabilities, but certain childlike qualities-some lovable, some maddening-would linger throughout her life.
Hardly had the couple been joined than they were parted, this time by out-of-town tryouts of Strongheart. On the road almost constantly from May to December of 1904, William wrote to his bride almost nightly. On Christmas Day he wrote from St. Paul, Minnesota, of the play’s success and of his anticipation of their reunion in January: “I long for you much more than when we were engaged. You are the only woman in the world Sweetheart . . . I wish to devote my whole life to making you happy . . . ” On December 30, “I can hardly wait . . . I want you so. . . . Soon my arms will clasp you . . .”(6) At last, after another successful opening, this time in Minneapolis, he arrived by train in New York. Exactly eight months and nine days later-on September 18, 1905-Agnes George de Mille was born.