Miriam Leslie: Belle of the Boardroom

Miriam Leslie: Belle of the Boardroom

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"First and always she was a great beauty, the 'belle of the ball' at Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural and a diamond-bedecked dazzler well into her 60s. But Miriam Leslie was much more than a pretty face amid swirling copper-colored hair," as Don Jackson's profile of the writer, femme fatale and legendary CEO makes clear.

At 21, Miriam Florence Follin (her given name) had already been through a brief marriage before touring the country with renowned actress Lola Montez. Still in her early 20s, having retired from the stage, she met and married the eminent diplomat and anthropologist, E. G. Squier, who emerged heartbroken (and insane) a few years later when his young wife left him for their employer and tenant, Frank Leslie, the reigning king of illustrated journalism. Already the editor of Frank Leslie's Lady's Magazine, Miriam soon became Leslie's wife, and together they lived an extravagant life, riddled with adventure and, eventually, scandal. After Frank's death, Miriam saved the Leslie publishing empire from ruin — not once but twice; traveled the world; and wrote books and countless essays on life and love. She was courted by princes and counts well into her 60s and 70s, and held court herself over a weekly salon in her gracious Manhattan home.

A reporter with the moxie to debate polygamy with Brigham Young on his home turf, an accomplished linguist and translator, Miriam was also an early feminist who bequeathed the bulk of her $2 million estate to the cause. For a late 20th-century parallel to this phenomenon of the late 19th, Jackson suggests: "Think of a combination of Ann Landers, Gloria Steinem, Katharine Graham and Elizabeth Taylor, with Clare Boothe Luce and Pamela Harriman thrown in for good measure."

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