Who Was Felicia Blake?

Thirty years ago I found an old postcard and it had a poem on it.  It was entitled, "A Woman's Answer to 'The Vampire'" by Felicia Blake.  I have always been interested in who Felicia Blake was and this past month did some earnest searching.  The story is quite interesting and I don't have all of it yet.  In genealogical terms there are no living descendants of Felicia, so no real interest in her out there.  But let me back up a bit.

Young Felicia crop small

In 1897, Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem, "The Vampire".  A google search finds it easily.  The poem is through the eyes of a man who is domineered by a woman who basically controls him, thus the term to call a woman a vamp.  It is where referring to some women as "vamps" came from.  In fact the opening line is, "A fool there was...".  The poem was so popular that by 1915 Theda Barra starred as the Vamp in a silent movie called, "A Fool There Was".  The movie is available to watch on-line.

Later Felicia Blake's poem showed up and some people have alleged that she wrote it in anger to the movie, but this is just not true.  Her poem, that  I can find, had an earliest publish date of late 1903 pre-dating the film by 12 years.  Also, no anger, as she included "with apologies to Kipling" as part of the title.  Her poem along with Kipling's by mid 20th century were listed among loved American poems.  But who is Felicia Blake?  Here is the rest of the story:

Felicia was born in Cambridge, MA in 1866 to Henry H. & Harriet Blake.  Henry was an insurance agent and a native of Westborough.  Her mother was from Cambridge.  At some point her father relocated to Chicago, but I do not know the details yet.  Her parent's wedding anniversary hit the Chicago papers just after the turn of the century and  Felicia was in Chicago for it.  But in  1885 Felicia was in Washington Territory and married to a Harry Rees at the age of 19.  Harry was an officer in the army.  Harry and Felicia had two children, Mona and Walter.  In Nov 1901 in San Francisco, Felicia was granted a divorce decree from Harry over infidelity.  So there is the source of Felicia's anger!  Not Kipling's poem, but Harry and therefore the apology to Kipling.

Felicia relocated to Chicago with her children and things started getting a bit strange.  Up to 1910 she was listed as a contributor to a magazine in Chicago that advertised positive and alternative thinking.  It was called the New Thought movement.  Then in 1911 Felicia was in the headlines of newspapers across the country.  Early in 1911 the police arrested one Evelyn Arthur See, head of the "Absolute Life" movement.  It was a tiny movement but the police arrested See on corrupting a minor.  It turns out that  Mona Rees also lived with See (she was about 22) as his "high priestess" with the apparent approval of Felicia.  

There was a dragged out trial - you can imagine for 1911 - the newspapers reported the police raided Felicia's home and published her poem as an example of her state of mind.  Felicia's photo was in the paper where on the stand she described kissing See.  Later she testified she was the author of See’s "Book of Truth", that was the source of what the newspapers called his cult.  The basic premise was See was viewed as divine and his followers were pure and could not commit sin.  Ultimately See was convicted in the later part of 1911.  Felicia had been initially arrested too, but no sign of conviction in the papers.

By 1916 or so See got out and returned to Michigan to work on his father's farm.  His wife had divorced him over the Absolute Life cult.  She had been a Christian Scientist and in Michigan had become a healer of sorts having healed the founder of Post Cereals for one.  They had migrated to Chicago and started newsletters and such but it went too far for his wife eventually with the young girls around.

At the height of the trial in July 1911, news reached Felicia that her son, Walter, died in a Mexican hospital.  He had volunteered to fight in the Mexican revolution.  Felicia and Mona lingered in Chicago for a few years - I cannot say how long - but in 1912 Mona was arrested for injuring two people in an automobile accident.

By 1930 Felicia and Mona were in Texas.  I do not know where or when but Felicia married Annis Clem.  Clem was a well respected founder of a gravel company and for six years on the Dallas city council.  He died in late 1930 and by 1931 both Felicia and Mona were in Oceanside, CA.  The thing about Oceanside that attracted her and Mona was the Rosacrucian Fellowship, a spiritual Christian organization that is still there.  Felicia became a secretary at the fellowship for the balance of her life.  She and Mona resided a couple of blocks from the Mt. Ecclesia center for the fellowship.  Felicia still did poetry and some of it has been published in later years in the fellowship newsletters.

Mona passed away in 1961 just shy of her 76th birthday.  I am not sure where she was buried, but can guess.  Felicia lived until 1963 when she was 97 years old.  The mortuary that handled her is no longer under the same name but I was able to find she was cremated and the ashes taken to Mt. Ecclesia.  I contacted the fellowship to find out what happened to her ashes and they told me it was their custom to scatter the ashes there to the four winds in a symbolic ceremony.

Along the way I found two Rees relatives who were quite helpful.  It seems that Harry Rees had a second wife and another son named Raymond.  Raymond never had any children so he distributed out photos to relatives of Felicia, Mona and Walter including a scrap book by Mona of her days with See.

In 1977 I took a job at ACDC Electronics at Oceanside in their R&D department.  Everyday I drove by the Rosicrucian Fellowship center at Mt. Ecclias.  I remembered them from advertisements in comic books when I was a kid in the late 50s and early 60s (the mysteries of life!).  I worked about 1000 feet from where her ashes were scattered and where she lived the balance of her life... just about the time I found the postcard in an old box of my grandmother's and first wondered, "Who is Felicia Blake?”


A WOMAN'S ANSWER TO

The Vampire.

Verses by FELICIA BLAKE. (With Apologies to Kipling.)

A FOOL there was, and she lowered her pride (Even as you and I)

To a bunch of conceit in a masculine hide ---

We saw the faults that could not be denied,

But the fool saw only his manly side (Even as you and I)


Oh the love she laid on her own heart's grave

With the care of her head and hand,

Belongs to the man who did not know

(And now she knows that he never could know)

And did not understand.


A fool there was and her best she gave (Even as you and I.)

Of noble thoughts, of gay and grave

(And all were accepted as due to the knave)

But the fool would never her folly save (Even as you and I.)


Oh the stabs she had, which the Lord forbid

Had ever been really planned.

She took from the man who didn't know why

(And now she knows he never knew why)

And did not understand.


The fool was loved while the game was new (Even as you and I.)

And when it was played, she took her cue

(Plodding along as most of us do)

Trying to keep his faults from view (Even as you and I.)


And it isn't the ache of the heart, or it's break

That stings like a white-hot brand ---

It's the learning to know she raised a god

And bent her head to kiss the rod

For one who could not understand

© Ken Piper 2016