Trella Toland and Her Autograph Book

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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The following Note includes details about Trella Toland's autograph book. The signatures within the book give insight into both Trella and Clara's life and relationships. The Autograph book can be found online at the WLH Website.

Additional information about "Trella Evelyn Foltz is available at the Women's Legal History website, in Chapter 4, and on pages 6, 27, 40, 80, 86-87, 110, 124-25, 134, 174, 197-98, 211, 257 of Woman Lawyer.

For more on Trella’s career, see on-line note, 'Trella Toland and Her Autograph Book'. She is mentioned in Chapters Two, Four, and Five.


The Autograph Book

Trella Foltz Toland’s autograph book is revealing about her own life, her mother's life, and Bohemian New York in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Over two-thirds of the 83 signatures and messages were entered when Foltz was in New York; many reflect her connections as much or more than Trella’s. Lillie Devereux Blake is here for instance, and so is Elizabeth Cady Stanton signing the book on her birthday in 1896 (“man and woman—a simultaneous creation”). Signatures torn from letters by T.C. Platt, Edward Lauterbach, and Lemuel Quigg, New York politicians in 1897, were probably responses to Foltz’s public defender campaign. See text at Chapter Seven.

Odd coincidences connected some of the people in the book. Clark Bell, a well-known lawyer, had for instance defended the sanity of George Francis Train—another signatory. Clark Bell, Speech before Chief Justice C.P. Daly in Sanity Inquiry of George Francis Train (1873). Train was one of the most divisive and fascinating characters in suffrage history; an early backer of Anthony and Stanton, his racist views impeded their progress as much as his wealth advanced it. He had been the original model for Jules Verne’s popular novel, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. When he signed Trella’s book, Train had become an urban eccentric, residing in an apartment hotel for poor working men and still in the papers often. WILLIS THORNTON, THE NINE LIVES OF CITIZEN TRAIN (1948); PATRICIA G. HOLLAND, GEORGE FRANCIS TRAIN AND THE WOMAN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT, 1867-70; From Books at Iowa [BB: Is this a book? Magazine?] 46 (1987). Bell authored a piece on the Maybrick case, noted in the same issue of the American Law Review where Foltz’s public defender piece appeared. Clark Bell, The Legal Aspect of the Maybrick Case, 31 AM. L. REV. 436 (1897) (published in Medico-legal journal).

Writers and Journalists

Well known writers and journalists such as Richard Harding Davis, who would soon be making headlines by his reporting of the Spanish American War, appeared in these pages in 1896. Richard Harding Davis was also a noted journalist, See LARZER ZIFF, THE AMERICAN 1890’S: LIFE AND TIMES OF A LOST GENERATION 177-84 (1966). Lorimer Stoddard, a well-known playwright, signed on the same page as Homer Davenport, a cartoonist for Hearst’s New York Journal. Davenport’s attacks on the trusts actually led to introduction of an anti-cartoon bill in the 1897 New York Legislature; WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICA, 1897-1942 (Homer Davenport entry). ALBERT PAYSON TERHUNE, TO THE BEST OF MY MEMORY (1930)wrote about the same time period and many of the journalists and actors that appear in Trella's book.


The actors were perahps the most impressive signatues she had in her book —some of the greatest figures of the day: Ada Rehan, with a quote from her favorite Shakespearean role, “they call me Kate that do speak of me,” signed. So did Sarah Bernhardt in her native French. Rose Eytinge, an actress admired by Abraham Lincoln now near the end of her career, probably added her name when she and Trella played together in the popular American farce, All the Comforts of Home, produced by one of the giants in the business, Charles Frohman. Comforts originally starred Maude Adams in the ingénue role Trella Toland assumed in a later production, which also included Eytinge. See [untitled item] THE WAVE, Nov. 14, 1891, at 3, c. 2 (“This talented young lady is with the Frohman Company, playing one of the leading parts in ‘All the Comforts of Home.’ Miss Foltz has received many flattering notices from Eastern critics and her work with Frohman’s troupe of excellent mummers has been highly commended.”).

Theater People

Not only actors, but others who supported theater people, were in the book. Theodore Manceau photographer, Niblo, the son of one of the first impresarios, whose Niblo’s Garden was the scene of much early theater, and the pastor of the “little church around the corner” -- all were in Trella’s book. The Anglican Church on East 29th St. had its nickname from an event many years earlier. A Presbyterian minister had refused to bury an actor, but had said the “little church around the corner” did that sort of thing. Publicized by Joseph Jefferson, the leading comic actor of the day (also a signer of Trella’s book), the incident created a lasting bond between the little church and the actors.

The signatures and the sentiments in Trella Toland’s book suggest that she was more than an extra or hanger-on in the theater world. She also wrote a long review of the London production of Trilby, revealing, perhaps intentionally, that she saw herself playing the lead in the biggest hit of the decade on both sides of the Atlantic. Trella Foltz Toland, England’s Trilby Boom; The Craze Started in America, Reaches the British Capital, S.F. CALL, Jan. 19, 1896. In her Trilby review, Trella told how the English publishers refused the book while the Americans embraced it. Serialized in Harpers in 1894, it was dramatized first in Philadelphia the next year.

Based on a best selling novel by George DuMaurier, Trilby was the story of a waifish Paris model who fell under the spell of Svengali, a Jewish mesmerist. He made her a great singer, though un-hypnotized she could not carry a tune. Finally escaping his spell, Trilby expired in the arms of Little Billee, her true love, swooning away at the sight of Svengali’s picture delivered earlier by a dark stranger. To modern tastes, the play was ridiculously melodramatic and wildly anti-Semitic.

But Trilby somehow spoke to men and women in the nineties. Theodore Dreiser wrote that it “had a strange psychologic effect on me at the time, as, indeed, it appeared to have on most of the intelligentsia of America. [We thought it] the essence of great tragedy.” This was high praise indeed from the author of Sister Carrie, one of the first realist novels about women’s sexual self-expression, infinitely more tragic than Trilby. For more on the influence of the novel, see THOMAS BEER, THE MAUVE DECADE: AMERICAN LIFE AT THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY 48-50 (1926).

In her review, Trella criticized all of the American actresses who played Trilby for the same fault -- giving her “more of the abandon and coquetry of a woman of the world than the simple, open-hearted frankness of Du Maurier’s unique heroine.” Trella Toland would have played it differently. The dateline of the piece indicated that she was actually in London when she wrote it, perhaps with a traveling production of an American play.

At any rate, her writings and autograph collection show that Trella was leading a glamorous and successful life in the mid-nineties. Her address was on 23 Street, right in the theater, restaurant and shopping district—and near the newly electrified section of Broadway known as the great white way. Many actors, artists, and literary types lived in the area, and the streets were alive with well-dressed, good-looking people, who worked there or came to shop or dine. EDWIN G. BURROWS & MIKE WALLACE, GOTHAM: A HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY TO 1898, 1066 (1999) (on neighborhood and great white way).

Trella's Family: William Toland, Sam Shortridge, and Virginia Toland

The autograph book also reflects the suit brought on behalf of Trella’s son, William, challenging the will of his paternal grandmother, which left him only a nominal amount. Will of Mrs. Toland, S.F. CALL, Nov. 30, 1895. Sam Shortridge filed a suit contesting the will on William’s behalf early in 1896, and the papers printed large pictures of the darling boy, so mysteriously short-changed by his formerly doting grandmother. The matter was just heating up in June of 1896 when Uncle Sam wrote in Trella’s book “come back to us—to our home and heart; to those who love, and would serve you.” “Uncle Sam,” autograph book, June 22, 1896 [BB and all: not sure we’ve set up a standard format for signatures in the autograph book. Used this as the default for now]. Trella’s return with William would certainly have helped the case, but she did not go back.

The Child is Reaching out for His Own, A Contest made of the Will of Mrs. Mary B. Toland; Her Little Grandson, William Gridley Toland Believes He has been Treated Unjustly; Wants Half of the Estate, Testatrix is Said to Have Been of Unsound Mind When She Wrote Her Will, S.F. CALL, Dec. 28, 1895. The papers covered the stories continuously in 1896. See S.F. CALL July 7, 12, & 22, 1896; August 8, 23 [BB: what articles was printed on these dates?]; Baby Toland Will Contest, He Wants to Know Why His Grandmother Forgot her Darling, Aged Mrs. Toland Named the Child ‘William the Grand’, Then Cut it off, neglect of that Which She Loved Best on Earth a Sign of Mental Incapacity, S.F. CALL, Nov. 28, 1896; A Little Boy Wins a Fortune, William Gridley Toland Will Have an Equal Share, S.F. CALL, Mar. 25, 1897.

Sam Shortridge also filed a related law suit to quiet title in a large piece of property which was the principal asset of the estate, stirring more publicity and further court proceedings. Apparently, the whole matter was settled in the fall of 1898. Baby Toland Will Have A Big Nestegg, Grandmother’s Estate Settled, He Gains Nearly 20,000, Compromise Effected After Many Days, S.F. CALL, Sept. 9, 1898.

Family history is that William saw little of his mother. He signed her autograph book in September 1898 at about the time the huge settlement came, but the Principal signed in 1899, indicating that William was still in the school, though with the money, Trella no longer had to work to support him. Autograph book, entry by Joel Wilson Apr. 2, 1899. Wilson had served with Sheridan in the Civil War and risen to the rank of Captain. He spent the rest of his life as an educator, at the Military Academy and at Newton Academy in Newton New Jersey (last visited Nov. 19, 2006). Wilson compared Trella to his mother, “the noblest grandest woman who ever lived,” and added, “May you and he so live that your [now little] son will always crown you God’s masterpiece.”

Perhaps Trella felt she had to work, as her own mother did, to support her child. Perhaps also she had enough of hands-on mothering as the oldest of five in the desperate years after Jeremiah deserted them. From an early age, Trella was a kind of co-mother especially to Virginia, the baby of the family. Virginia signed the autograph book in July 1896. She was in the city to consider starting a stage career herself.

“Another California Girl Wins Laurels in New York,” Trella proudly wrote in the Call. S.F. CALL, July 19, 1896. Despite the blandishments of big name auditors, Virginia resolved to study another year at the New England Conservatory of Music, and then go abroad for further training. Later, Clara Foltz took credit for providing her daughter with the best possible musical education, though family legend had it that Charles Shortridge was the real source of the funds.

That same summer David, “Brother Foltzy,” also signed the autograph book (“Do I love you? Yes. Have I proven it—nit.”). He had joined Trella in New York in 1895 and taken offices on Park Row to start an Eastern branch of the Call. But nothing came of the venture, and David moved on from the newspaper business at the same time that his Uncle Charles Shortridge did. David M. Foltz is “The Call’s” Eastern Advertising Agent , S.F. CALL, Nov. 8, 1895.

Neither of Trella’s other siblings appeared in her book, though Bertha was in New York at least once because the three sisters sat for their portrait by a Broadway photographer. Toland Family Scrapbook, on file with the author. They look beautiful and interesting; “My own Three Graces,” Clara Foltz inscribed on the picture. Bertha was on the stage herself in San Francisco in the nineties. In 1893, she married the bartender at Baldwin’s Hotel and a few years later had a son named Lafayette Smalley after his father. Samuel Foltz, Trella’s other brother, left no New York traces; he was still a bachelor, probably living in Northern California, perhaps working for one of his uncles. He was not often in the papers, and never had a well-defined career.

Virtually every signature in the book, except for family members, was that of a well-known person.Public figures, who signed many books, often deployed stock sentiments. For example, Annie Besant, the spiritual heir to Madame Blavatsky, wrote “there is no religion higher than truth.” Buffalo Bill Cody, the western showman penned “True to friend or foe.” James Whitcomb Riley, “the people’s laureate,” quoted some lengthy and (largely indecipherable) verses.

Nineteenth century autograph books were both keepsakes and journals. Trella Toland twice wrote notes to herself and at some point she went back over the book and filled in dates and places. Famous people kept autographs of their peers, just as the more obscure gathered the signatures of the famous. For example, Nellie Melba, the world-renowned opera singer who signed “Art is the friend that never fails” in French for Trella, told of covering over an emotional moment with a friend, who was a well-known author, by asking him to write in her autograph book. NELLIE MELBA, MELODIES AND MEMORIES 127 (1925). See W.K. McNeil, The Autograph Album Custom: A Tradition and Its Scholarly Treatment, 13 KEYSTORE FOLKLORE Q. 29 (1968).

Isaac Trumbo

Though many of the names in Trella’s book are lost to memory today, everyone except “Brother Foltzy” (David) enjoyed some measure of celebrity at the time of signing. Isaac Trumbo was one of the quite famous names that now have small resonance. In the book he wrote: “To one of the company of great women of the world,” a compliment probably directed to Clara Foltz, the suffragist, rather than her daughter, the actress. The date was June 22, 1896.

Almost exactly a year earlier, Clara Foltz had visited Trumbo and his wife in Salt Lake City, where he had moved in the expectation of reward for his lobbying on behalf of Utah statehood. See Chapter Three. When he signed Trella’s book, Trumbo had just come from the Republican National Convention, which Foltz had also attended. See Chapter Six. As a delegate from Utah, and potential U.S. Senator, Trumbo had led the western delegates supporting silver and suffrage. Indeed, Susan Anthony had chosen him to introduce the suffrage resolution on the convention floor. Lillie Devereux Blake, Our New York Letter, WOMAN’S J., June 27, 1896. But his days as Utah statesman were numbered, and he probably knew it even though the denouement of his personal tragedy had yet to play out. As related in Chapter Three, Trumbo expected to be the first U.S. Senator from the new state of Utah in return for his lobbying efforts. But he found that the people and the press did not understand what he had done for them. Nor could he really explain, because so much of his work was behind the scenes—a “still hunt” as lobbying was called. Supporters of other candidates for the Senate jumped on Trumbo, with largely unfair charges of carpet-bagging, boodling, selling the state to the Republicans; being a tool of the sugar-trust and of the Southern Pacific. By January 1897, when the first legislature of the new state met to elect their Senators, Trumbo’s name was so blackened that he withdrew it from consideration. An excellent account of the scene is Edward Leo Lyman, Isaac Trumbo and the Politics of Utah Statehood, 41 UTAH HIST. Q., 128-50 (Spring 1973).

He moved back to San Francisco for a long slide into financial oblivion and political obscurity. In July, 1897 Clara Foltz sued him there, claiming a total of $8600 for legal fees and for indebtedness on a note he had given her a year earlier, shortly after signing the autograph book. Clara Foltz Sues Colonel Trumbo, S. F. CALL, July 3, 1897. She came in from New York for the trial in early February, 1898. Her old friend Grove Johnson was representing Foltz, but she took over and settled the case herself in a whispered exchange with Trumbo as they waited in court. Johnson seemed surprised but made no comment. The details of the settlement were not reported, though one paper indicated that they were “juicy.” Clara Foltz Compromises: Her Suit Against Isaac Trumbo Will Not Come to Trial, S. F. CALL, Feb. 6, 1898.

What did Foltz do for Trumbo in the year before she sued him? Nothing in the press coverage of the suit mentions anything specific except to say that part of the claim was on a note of indebtedness. The timing of the suit and Foltz’s actions afterwards suggest that the lawsuit was connected to the Clara Foltz Gold-mining company, started in the late 1890s. Indeed, she stopped in Idaho, the location of the gold mine, on her way back to New York after the aborted trial in Foltz v. Trumbo. Foltz went directly to Boisie where a gold mine she had earlier incorporated as the Idaho-Klondike Mining company, was located. Foltz told the local papers she had an interest in the property and shortly afterwards it was re-named the Clara Foltz Gold Mining Company. Eminent New York Attorney Now in Boisie; A Woman of Affairs; has Been Prominent in the Cause of Equal Suffrage for a Great Many Years, Idaho Daily Statesman, Feb. 21, 1898.

Though there is no direct evidence of Trumbo’s connection to Foltz’s gold mining venture, there are some suggestive circumstances. He was an expert on mining operations, including gold mining. Foltz, who had shown no previous interest in mining, incorporated the gold mine as the Idaho Klondike shortly after she saw Trumbo in New York, and she re-incorporated it in her own name after settling the law suit. In short, I speculate that she agreed to represent him on a gold mining venture, for which he gave his note for her legal fees, and then they had a falling out, Foltz sued him, and took the goldmine in settlement.

Trumbo died in 1912, a poor man. Obituaries, S.F. CHRON., S.F. CALL Nov. 9, 1912. Nothing on the record indicates that Foltz and Trumbo had any further dealings.

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