I’ll bet you’d never guess where I found my inspiration for Tiffany Girl and its leading lady, Flossie Jayne. My mom! Yup. She’s been responsible for giving me ideas for books I’ve written in the past—and some I have yet to write. So, how did she find out about the Tiffany Girls? A History Detective PBS show she was watching mentioned them and she knew right away I’d be interested in those girls. Boy, was she ever right! What I didn’t expect, was to find myself going through boxes and boxes of handwritten letters from the 1890s by the head of Tiffany’s Women’s Department.
The manager's name was Clara Driscoll and during her tenure there, she exchanged “round robin” letters with her family. The way these worked is, Mother would write a letter to Clara. Clara would add on to her mom’s letter and send the whole thing to her sister. Then, her sister would add on to those and send it to their Aunt Jo. Aunt Jo would do the same and send it back to Mom. Then they’d start all over again. Fun, right? I like to think of it as the turn of the century version of group texting.
Several generations later, a distant relative found the letters in an attic and donated them to a local historical society. It was there, in 2005, that scholars discovered the truth about who actually designed some of Tiffany’s work, and boy, were they shocked.
For in Clara’s letters, she not only chit-chatted about life in NYC, but she also revealed snippets about her work and where her ideas came from. One letter even describes how she got the idea for the famous dragonfly Tiffany lamp while on a bike ride. She saw a dragonfly and suddenly, her creative wheels were turning just as fast as her bicycle wheels were!
From what Clara wrote to her family, it was clear that the Women’s Glass Cutting Department was responsible for designing not just the Dragonfly Lamp, but a number of Tiffany's most iconic designs -- designs that Louis Comfort Tiffany himself took credit for. His justification for this was to preserve the Tiffany brand and he evidently didn’t want any interference on that from his employees. I’ve often wondered what the girls felt about it. If they were unhappy over it, though, I never saw anything in Clara’s letters to indicate it. Still, I’d have been pretty exasperated if some man tried to take credit for my work like that!
One of their most important projects was the Tiffany Chapel for the Chicago World’s Fair—it’s what got them hired in the first place. You’ll see the Tiffany Girls spending a lot of time on that chapel in my new book.
So that’s how did I found out about all of this and now, here we are! Just a week away from the launch of Tiffany Girl. The episode on PBS’s History Detectives that my mom watched is right here! The portion on the Tiffany Girls starts at marker 37:46. I wish I’d discovered it before I wrote the book. If I had, I would have included the Tiffany Girl their segment features.
What would you do if you knew a man was taking credit for your work? Head on over to my Facebook page -- we’ll chat about it there!