Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927); Emanie Philips (1893-1981)
After establishing herself in New York during the 1920s as an author of novels, short stories and reviews, Bowling Green native Emanie (Nahm) Sachs longed to write the biography of a “wild woman.” In 1927, fate handed Emanie her subject with the death of the notorious nineteenth-century feminist, free love advocate, spiritualist, suffragist and presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull. The result was The Terrible Siren, published in 1928. A feast of gossip and hearsay that made its publisher’s attorneys nervous about libel suits, the book nevertheless remained the standard work on Woodhull for decades.
The Emanie (Nahm) Sachs Arling Philips Collection at WKU’s Special Collections Library preserves much of her fascinating research into Woodhull’s life. Emanie and her assistants combed through libraries and newspaper archives and contacted individuals who had personally known Woodhull and her colorful family. While some informants had scandalous stories to tell, others defended Woodhull as a clever and charming woman who was far ahead of her time.
After her success with Woodhull’s biography, Emanie went to work on a history of Kentucky. She became particularly fascinated with the state’s early years, gathering primary and secondary resources on pioneers, Indians and politicians. Although the work was never published, her manuscript and much of her research is also part of the collection.
A finding aid for the Emanie (Nahm) Sachs Arling Philips Collection can be downloaded here.
Emanie Nahm Sachs
As a child growing up in Bowling Green, she was a self-described ugly duckling whose conventional parents disparaged her attempts at music, painting, and writing. But Emanie Louise Nahm (1893-1981) rebounded. Snaring a job as a writer for the New York Times, she claimed to have rejected 26 marriage proposals before wedding Goldman Sachs partner Walter E. Sachs in 1917. While studying writing at Columbia University, Emanie began to publish short stories in popular magazines. By the end of her life, she had also published three novels, a memoir, and a biography of feminist icon Victoria Woodhull that remains a standard reference.
But it was Emanie’s 1924 novel, Talk, that set her home town abuzz. Her story of Delia Morehouse, a young woman who crumbles beneath the weight of public opinion and strict gender roles, was a thinly disguised portrait of early twentieth-century Bowling Green, warts and all. Reviews of the book were rhapsodic, one noting that it was as compelling as Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street in its depiction of small-town tragedy. Citizens of Bowling Green, however, were scandalized by what they saw as Emanie’s magnification of their pettiness, hypocrisy, and destructive gossip. Emanie dismissed the controversy. Her quarrel, she claimed, was not with the cruelty of those who gossiped, but rather the “stupidity” of those who allowed gossip and negative opinion to hurt their self-image. The goal of her own life, one might conclude, was to overcome that same stupidity.
For more on Emanie Nahm and the materials about her life that are available at WKU’s Special Collections Library, click here and here.