Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vennette Herron (1885-1973)

Née Margaret Vennette Herron
Poet and Author
Born September 10, 1885, Zanesville, Ohio
Died March 15, 1973, Lakeland, Florida

You begin your research simply enough, but before long, the extravagant complexity of lives intrudes. A simple biographical sketch becomes a mere introduction to a story too big for the confines of blog entry. (And what an ugly word, blog.) An author of a single story and a single letter to Weird Tales is revealed to be a most interesting woman, her life embedded in a fascinating story that begins in twin forces of poverty and religious fervor and includes in its chapters: agitation, scandal, exile, the building of institutions, world travel, marriages beginning and ending in exotic places, and even a fatal fall from an Egyptian pyramid.

Poet and author Vennette Herron and her family all came out of the American Midwest.  Her father, George Davis Herron (1862-1925) was a Hoosier, native of a small town with an exotic name, Montezuma, Indiana. His family was poor but devout, and Herron's childhood was "obsessed with premonitions of a religious world mission." He studied at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, from 1879 to 1882, in the process finding a wife in Mary V. Everhard, daughter of the mayor. The couple were married and Herron entered the Congregationalist ministry in 1883. For the next few years, the Herrons moved from state to state. Margaret Vennette Herron was born on September 11, 1885, in Zanesville, Ohio, her younger siblings in Wisconsin and Iowa. It was in Minnesota, however, that George Herron made a name for himself with an 1890 lecture, "The Message of Jesus to Men of Wealth." That lecture led to a position in the pastorate at Burlington, Iowa, then to a professorship created especially for him at Iowa College, now known as Grinnell College.

The woman who endowed Herron's chair in Iowa was Caroline A. Sherfey Rand (1828-1905). (1) Her daughter, Carrie Rand (1867-1914) (2), also with Iowa College, worked closely with Herron in his new post. Perhaps inevitably, the two became lovers, and Herron gave up his post, his marriage, and his family to be with her. Although he was still in Grinnell, Iowa, in 1900, his previous life was coming to an end. He and the younger Carrie Rand were married in 1901 in Rochester, New York. Defrocked and vilified, he retreated with his new wife to Florence, Italy.

Vennette Herron, like her father, attended college when most people her age were still in high school, if in school at all. In 1900, at age fourteen, she was a college student in her adopted hometown of Grinnell, Iowa, where her father taught and lectured. A decade later, with the 1910 census, she was living in Newton, Massachusetts, with her mother and siblings. Vennette had married by then, but her husband, Charles B. Wagner, was nowhere in sight, at least in the enumerator's big book. Although her occupation was listed as "None," Vennette had already started in her career as a writer. From before World War I and into the 1930s, she authored stories for a number of magazines, including The Smart Set, Ainslee's Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Women's Stories, Telling Tales, and Romance. Her book, Perfume and Poison, a mix of verse and fable, was printed in 1917 by a publishing house in Boston.

In 1921, Vennette Herron applied for a passport so that she could visit her father, then living in exile in Switzerland, as well as Italy and other European countries. In one way or another, she became sidetracked and ended up in Java, where she married soon enough a Dutch engineer named Johannes Jacobus van der Leeuw. The American vice consul presided at the couple's wedding in Batavia on the day after the bride's birthday, on September 11, 1922. The marriage was brief. In 1925, in The Hague, Vennette divorced her husband for "desertion." She lived in Florence for several years during the 1920s and '30s. In 1932, Vennette returned to the United States (as Vannetta van der Leeuw Herron), renewing her citizenship and settling in Darien, Connecticut. Two books came out of her experiences overseas: Peacocks and Other Stories of Java (1927) and Italian Love and Other Stories (1930). The New York Times liked Peacocks. In its review (Jan. 29, 1928), the paper wrote:
It is Miss Herron's curious achievement in "Peacocks" to paint for us a colorful and glamourous background of the East and yet, against that background, to show us people who become bored and estranged[,] and love which rather dies than endures.
Twice-divorced and the product of a broken home, Vennette Herron knew something of love and the end of love.

Vennette's father, George Davis Herron, married to Carrie Rand, and after her death in 1914, to Frieda Bertha Schöberle, fathered four more children. Elbridge Rand Herron, a child of George D. Herron's first marriage, died from a fall from the pyramid at Giza in 1932. The elder Herron--Congregationalist minister, teacher, lecturer, author, socialist, and activist--passed away in Bavaria, Germany, on October 9, 1925. (3) His very full life amounted to just sixty-three years.

His daughter, Vennette Herron, wrote one letter to Weird Tales (Dec. 1934) and followed that up with a single story whose title almost looks like random typing, "Toean Matjan." The story, involving a tiger, appeared in the January 1938 issue of "The Unique Magazine" and was illustrated by Virgil Finlay. That is the last credit I have found for Vennette Herron. She died on March 15, 1973, in Lakeland, Florida, at the age of eighty-seven.

Notes
(1) The Wikipedia entry on George D. Herron is incorrect in calling her Mrs. Elizabeth D. Rand. I believe the error comes from conflating her name with her husband's name. In any case, Carolyn Amanda Sherfey Rand was born on February 4, 1828, in Hagerstown, Maryland. Her husband, Elbridge Dexter Rand, was a very wealthy lumber merchant. (The total value of his estate in 1870 was $250,000.)
(2) Carrie Rand was born on March 17, 1867, in Burlington, Iowa. She applied for a passport on November 8, 1899, for purposes of traveling abroad in about November 1900. Her mother, the aforementioned Carrie A. Rand (aka Mrs. E.D. Rand), applied for a passport the same day for the same purpose. She gave her occupation as "capitalist." She and her daughter were similarly occupied at the time of the 1900 census.
(3) It's worth noting that George Davis Herron, a socialist, relied so heavily upon the auspices of a capitalist and upon the capitalist or free enterprise system. But this is always the case with socialists.

Vennette Herron's Letter and Story in Weird Tales
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Dec. 1934)
"Toean Matjan" (Jan. 1938)

Further Reading
There is a great deal of information available on George Davis Herron on the Internet, on Wikipedia and other sources. Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816-1916 [Vol. 1], includes a lengthy entry on him. (The quote above is from that source.) His life and work would make a worthy project for a biographer. Vennette Herron's Perfume and Poison (1917) is available on the Internet. Her other books are common enough as to still be available, even on Ebay.

Vennette Herron's passport photograph, 1921, when she was in her mid-thirties and about to embark on a long and adventurous trip overseas.
One of the outcomes of her time in other countries was her collection Peacocks and Other Stories of Java (1927).

Revised slightly June 6, 2015.
Thanks to Randal Everts for providing the death date and place of Vennette Herron. Thanks to A Family Member for corrections and clarifications.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

7 comments:

  1. Wow, where did you find out all this? I've found info on Vennette very scarce online, but then, maybe I haven't searched lately. GDH was my grandfather; my grandma, Frieda, his third wife.

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  2. Dear Anonymous,
    I compiled the information here from several different sources: 1) Information available online, such as on Wikipedia (always taken with a grain of salt); 2) Genealogical sources such as census records, passport applications, birth and death records, etc.; 3) The New York Times; 4) Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816-1916 [Vol. 1] by Banta for its entry on your grandfather; and 5) The Collector's Index to Weird Tales by Jaffery and Cook. I'd like to hear more if you would like to share. You can leave a comment or write me an email at: info@hoosiercartoonists.com. Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Terence Hanley

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  3. Nice. I am reading Italian love, which i found in an old book store. very nice

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  4. Elbridge Rand Herron, who fell from the Pyramid, was actually the son of George D. Herron and Carrie Rand.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Thanks for the correction. I have made a change to my original posting.

      TH

      Delete
  5. Thank you for this fascinating biographical sketch. I came across Vennette Herron as the correspondent (and probably lover) of Walter Adolphe Roberts, the editor of Ainslee’s magazine where she published a number of stories. In June 1919 she attended a dinner to celebrate the publication of Roberts’s first book of poems. A report in the New York Sun says that Vennette Herron “recited an original vampire poem in costume”, concluding, with perhaps deliberate ambiguity: “Every one agreed that it showed a great deal of native talent”. One question, Mr Hanley, if I may: a letter about the dinner says that “the two Herron sisters” will be invited. Do you happen to know anything (even names) about Vennette’s sister or sisters? Regards, Peter Hulme (phulme@essex.ac.uk)

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  6. Dear Mr. Hulme,

    Thank you for the additional information. As for the names of Vennette's sisters: I looked back over my notes on her. Unfortunately, I didn't write down all the information I found in the U.S. census and I no longer have access to census records as I had before. However, in 1910, Mary V. Everhard Herron was in Newton, Massachusetts, with her children, Vennette Herron Wagner, age 24, and William, Caroline, and Miriam Herron. I wish I had more to offer. I hope this helps.

    Thanks for writing.

    Terence Hanley

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