Wednesday, April 28, 2010

and I don't even get a free subscription...

Meet Mrs. William McManus, a Vogue fashion editor. She sits on a train, alternating her reading material between a book and a newspaper, in this portrait by Leombruno-Bodi, which appeared the April 15, 1955, Vogue. She wears a long overcoat with piped trim, a small cloche hat, and slightly oversize sunglasses. Punctuating her elegance is an intent expression, making this work not only a historic photograph but also a true study in style.

It's kind of amazing how things can perpetuate themselves on the internet. One inaccurate citation or reference from an official source, then unofficial sources start citing that, another source will link back and link back and link back. All to something incorrect.

Where I'm going with this is a bit of investigative journalism I did when a google search for my great aunt, the staunch & all business Editor of Vogue Magazine from 1952-1963, Jessica Daves, yielded numerous photos of her as a kind of Grace Kelly look-alike model. There are very few pictures of Jessica Daves (or Aunt E/Ainee, as she was known in our family, although no one can seem to remember why). She was no frills.  She was an editor and business woman, not a style icon.

Which is why I was truly shocked that the above woman was shown over and over again as my aunt (because, in truth, Jessica Daves looked more like Coco Chanel than she did Grace Kelly.) Don't get me wrong, I would be honored for this gorgeous, glamorous, well-dressed woman to be my's just that she isn't.

Nevertheless, for many months now, I have been trying to get to the bottom of this. For a moment, I thought perhaps I was wrong. All the pictures I had ever seen of Ainee were from when she was older. Perhaps, she really had been a dish in her youth. But they kept saying she had married a Mr. McManus. Uncle Robert's last name was Parker. But... maybe she had been married twice and we just didn't know it.

Mrs. William H. McManus (née Jessica Daves) dances with a gentleman companion in this delightfully romantic photograph. The Vogue editor wears a full-length organdy ball gown, with a pleated skirt and fascia top. She finishes the look with a rhinestone necklace and earrings, and dramatically long gloves. Roger Prigent's photograph appeared in the April 15, 1952, Vogue.

So I kept digging and finally found even more photos identifying this woman as Mrs. McManus (nee' Jessica Daves) Editor in Chief of Vogue Magazine in the Conde Nast Photo Archives!

Who was William H. McManus? Certainly not my uncle, Robert. McManus, as it turns out, was one of the co-founders of JC Penney. And this may be his wife, & she may have even actually been named Jessica Daves (surprisingly little biographical info on McManus, actually) and this woman may have even been some kind of fashion editor at Vogue. But she isn't Jessica Hopkins Daves, granddaughter of the founder/first president of Georgia Tech, from Cartersville, GA--that's for sure. 

Somehow, Conde Nast, followed by a whole heap of blogs, has rewritten history a bit, albeit for the more glamorous. I wish there were more available information about a super great lady who called Coco Chanel & Yves St. Laurent as her two best friends. There are a few articles that I know I have somewhere in my archives of family history (I've always been the family historian-- it started with my first novel, and I subsequently made my grandmother trek me across the entirety of Georgia). If I can find them & dig them out, I'll scan them. My favorite picture is of her at some awards dinner with Yves on one side and Coco on the other. Amazing. But in the mean time, this will have to do. 
Yes, in real life, she was married to novelist Robert Allerton Parker & owned an amazing Park Avenue home that we somehow sold at the worst possible time (the 70's!) much to the chagrin of my cousin Lindsey and me. She wrote & was editor to several books including the massive The World In Vogue & Ready-Made Miracle. She had no children and she died in 1974. She's buried next to Uncle Robert in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Bartow County, Georgia. 

And though she built an empire, shored up Vogue's finances & did what had to be done without much concern for being  fabulous, mostly people just talk about Diana Vreeland. 

But I am proud to be her relative, even if she wasn't a Grace Kelly. It's an interesting phenomenon, our need to romanticize our past, our role models-- especially our female role models. And I sure hope all this perpetuating of her as a model model isn't some way to re-write history to help her fit into the mold of other editors who hid behind huge sunglasses. In fact, I feel certain Ainee never hid behind anything in her life. She was the one who always said, "Don't worry about what the dress code for an event is. If you wear a hat, a hat is the dress code. If you are casual, the dress code is casual. What you're wearing is what everyone else should be wearing."


  1. Dear Ryann --

    Did you ever post more photos of Jessica Davies? I write a blog called Reading Vintage Vogues ( in which I blogged through the October 15, 1959 issue and am now starting the December 1959 issue. I did find a second of a newsreel ( with Mrs. Davies that I will post this weekend.

    I am amazed at how little known she is.

    "Catherine Oliphant"

  2. I write a blog about older American women and fashion. While Daves was editor at Vogue, the magazine invented a stylish older woman called "Mrs. Exeter." I'm now thinking your great aunt might have had something to do with it. I would love to learn more about her! Take a look at my post here: and if you are interested please contact me at lmally at uci dot edu. Thanks, Lynn

  3. My daughter recently found your blog and sent the link to me. We share your interest in Jessica Daves - she was my great aunt as well. My father was Walter Pittman, your mother's older brother. I greatly enjoyed the information you shared. Much of it was new to me.

    While I did not have the opportunity to meet Anee, two of my older brothers did. One owns the bust of herself that she had commissioned as a young woman when she first went to New York. I did correspond with her briefly in 1971; her letter was signed "Anee". I don't recall the origin of the nickname but my brother might. Apparently "Jessica" was not her given name, either, but she thought "Jessie" lacked the refinement to which she aspired.

    As you determined, the other woman purported our Jessica Daves certainly was not. In fact the New York Times, in her obituary, stated "She was a portly woman with a face that resembled a baked apple, and if she wore custom dresses, they looked like ready-to-wear." She was not the glamorous image of a Vogue Editor-In-Chief, but she was very good at her job. And apparently a woman of principle. She was ultimately forced out of her position on the heels of her refusal to publish a spread on Marilyn Monroe that was prepared before the actress' death and ultimately published after her untimely passing (largely due to the mechanisms of Diana Vreeland).


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