Caresse Crosby Notes Born Mary Phelps Jacob, and called Polly, she was the daughter of a prominent New England family. Her ancestry included Governor Bradford, the Plymouth Colony's first governor and Robert Fulton, developer of the steamboat. Polly, who would later rename herself Caresse, became a writer, publisher and bra designer.
A childhood of privilege included private school, dancing school, and horseriding school. She was a rather disinterested student. One commentator writes that for the most part Polly "lived her life in dreams." (Wolff).
On November 3, 1914 the United States Patent Office issued a patent to Polly Jacob for a "backless bra" she created out of handkerchiefs, ribbon and cord. While not the first modern bra, it was a unique and creative solution to the problem of supporting women's breasts . Crosby started a business that failed to properly market the product and she eventually sold the patent for $1,500 to a corset manufacturing company.
In 1915 Polly Jacob married Richard Rogers Peabody. Peabody was the son of one of the most prominent Massachusetts families. By the early 20th century a case could be made that the Peabodies had supplanted the Cabots and the Lodges as the most distinguished name in the area.
Of this marriage, two children were born: a son, William Jacob in 1916 and a daughter Polly ("Poleen") the following year. Richard Peabody was a well-educated but undirected man and a reluctant father. He would soon suffer the personal consequences of his war experiences and became an alcoholic with a fetish for fighting fires.
Polly's life was difficult during the war years and when her husband returned home, significantly changed, her life soon changed abruptly too.
The catalyst for Polly Jacob Peabody's transformation was her introduction and eventual marriage to Harry Grew Crosby, another scion of a socially prominent Boston family and another veteran and victim of the recent war. Polly divorced Richard Peabody who was now in and out of hospitals because of alcohol abuse.
On September 9, 1922 Harry and Polly were married and two days later they moved to France to join the other American expatriates, spiritually licking the wounds suffered during the Great War.
In 1924 Polly formally changed her name to Caresse. The next year she and Harry founded the Black Sun Press which published the work of a number of writers including Hart Crane, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and others. Caresse published her own book of poetry called Crosses of Gold.
After Harry Crosby's remarkable suicide in 1929, Caresse continued her writing and publishing work at Black Sun. She also established Crosby Continental Editions, a book company that published paperback books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, among others.
In 1937 she married a football player, Selbert Young, who was nearly twenty years her junior. With Young she moved to Virginia. She opened an art gallery in Washington D.C. and started Portfolio a magazine about art and literature. She also was politically active and founded the organization Women Against War.
In 1950 she divorced Young and moved to Italy where she planned to create an artists colony. She published an autobiography in 1953 called The Passionate Years. And in 1970, Caresse Crosby, then in relative obscurity, died.
Edward Germain, Editor, Harry Crosby, Shadows of the Sun: The Diaries of Harry Crosby. Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press. 1977.|
Geoffrey Wolff, Black Sun. Random House: New York. 1976.
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