We all know the stereotype of the crazy cat lady is far from flattering however several of history’s most beautiful and successful women were devoted to their furry friends just like you and me. Read the story of four of history’s greatest cat ladies.
Vivien Leigh, the English actress who starred in the 1939 adaptation of Gone with the Wind, owned multiple cats throughout her life. She was particularly fond of Siamese cats, and she is quoted as saying, “Once you have kept a Siamese cat you would never have any other kind.” Leigh’s first Siamese, called New Boy, was a gift from her husband, actor Laurence Olivier. New Boy (named after London’s New Theatre) wore a custom collar imported from Paris and appears in many photographs with Leigh. Poo Jones, the seal point Siamese she adopted after New Boy’s death, was Leigh’s favourite cat. He travelled with her everywhere (with his own luggage) and napped in her dressing room whenever she was working onstage or in front of the camera.
Florence Nightingale, often regarded as the founder of modern nursing, took the term “cat lady” to new levels. Nightingale once said that “cats possess more sympathy and feeling than human beings,” and throughout her lifetime she owned over 60 cats—perhaps as many as 17 at once. Nightingale was a devoted caretaker for her feline friends, who ate specially prepared food off of china plates in her room. Evidence of Nightingale’s affection for her cats can still be seen today, as some of her kitties left ink paw prints on her letters.
Clara Barton, the famous nurse and founder of the Red Cross, was an animal lover with a particular affinity for felines. During the Civil War, Barton earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield,” and in appreciation for her selfless work, U.S. Senator Schuyler Colfax sent Barton a kitten. Barton’s most beloved cat was the black and white Tommy, who kept her company for 17 years. A portrait of Tommy painted by Barton’s friend and fellow nurse Antoinette Margot still hangs in the Barton house in Glen Echo, Maryland.
“Tommy” was Clara Barton’s beloved cat, and described him as her faithful friend of 17 years. The artist, Margot had worked with Barton during the Franco-Prussian War. She traveled to America and worked with Barton at the American Red Cross.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott once jokingly listed an “inordinate love of cats” among her vices, and her fondness of felines shone through her writing. In Little Women, the March sisters have a pet cat, and at one point in the story, Beth is seen playing with the cat and her kittens. The book even includes a poem called “A Lament (For S.B. Pat Paw)” eulogizing a beloved pet cat: “We mourn the loss of our little pet, / And sigh o’er her hapless fate, / For never more by the fire she’ll sit, / Nor play by the old green gate.”
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