Who is the mysterious “very sweet-faced,” “fine-looking” “old lady” with “snowy white” hair and a “deeply wrinkled face,” “tall and stately,” mentioned in Chapter 15 (“Our Journey to Riverdale”) of Margaret Marshall Saunders’ 1893 Beautiful Joe? There’s reason to believe this character is a famous animal rights activist making a “cameo” appearance. The novel reads:
“If you are ever in Washington, come to see me.” She gave him some name, and he lifted his hat and looked as if he was astonished to find out who she was.
Speaking later, the “old lady” says,
[W]hen I became a woman… I agitated the matter among my friends, and…was able to assist in the formation of several societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals….
Could it be Caroline Earle White, founder of the WSPCA, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, and the first dog shelter in the U.S.? (See wonderful information about this early animal rights activist at the National Museum of Animals in Society page and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania page.)
It sure looks like it could be. But then, the novel describes the old lady as being age 75 (“I have lived in this wicked world for seventy-five years”), and White would have been only 60 in 1893 when the novel was published (and 59 when the novel was written).
Frances Power Cobbe, the Irish anti-vivisectionist, would have been only 71, but her face really fits the description, as Saunders repeatedly emphasizes the “old lady” has a “pleasant-looking” face. It seems unlikely, however, that Saunders would have used her for the “cameo” in book she was trying to pitch to an American audience, famous though Cobbe was. Besides, “as a little girl,” the “old lady” walked the streets of Boston.
Who might this mystery woman have been?