This week I’ve decided to bring you the uplifting story of a woman who most definitely had drama in her early life, but went on the become a force to contend with.
Eleanor Josephine Medill Patterson (Known as Cissy) was born on November 7 1884, in to a life of wealth and privilege. Her family owned and ran several newspapers and dabbled in politics. In her late teens she accompanied her uncle, Robert S McCormick, ambassador to Austria-Hungary, to Vienna. It is here that she met a dashing Eastern European count, nearly twenty years her senior, named Josef Cyzicki. He claimed to be a millionaire, telling her stories of his splendid castles on the Steppes of Moravia. (In what is now the Czech Republic.)
This experienced older man wooed her and although rumours circulated about the Count’s numerous affairs, drinking, gambling, and his illegitimate children, he managed to convince Cissy that her family were fabricating the stories and that he was the ultimate misunderstood bad boy. What young woman can resist that? It appears the more her family disliked him the more she insisted on being with him.
Cyzicki was finally able to win over Cissy's mother, and although her father still didn’t approve the couple were married on 14th April 1904. It is rumoured that on their wedding day he threatened to leave without her if he was not paid a dowry. Her mother settled the situation by doubling her allowance, but the Count’s behaviour made her father even more determined to withhold a settlement.
Once Cissy arrived at Cyzicki's home in Blansko, she discovered the truth, his estates were rundown, mortgaged to the hilt, and he was living off credit. She also learned that his mistress of five years, who had born him a child, had just moved out. The Castle was grim, sparsely furnished and the few fixtures it possessed belonged to his mistress.
Worse was to come, he drank a lot, and once drunk would beat the servants. He took control of every aspect of her life, especially her money. She must have become pregnant soon after arriving in Blankso because in September 1905 their daughter, Felicia, was born. Having ignored the advice of her family and friends, Cissy was trapped with a controlling, abusive husband who saw her as his meal ticket.
In January 1908 the couple were staying in a French resort when Cissy had finally had enough. Josef, it seems, had progressed from beating the servants to beating his wife. One night after a fight, about his womanizing, he beat her. She managed to escape fleeing with her daughter to London. Cyzicki followed and within a few months kidnapped Felicia and demanded a ransom before he would give her back. The matter was resolved in August 1909 when President-elect William Howard Taft and Czar Nicolas II intervened on Cissy’s behalf. After much legal wrangling, she finally managed to obtain a divorce in 1917.
Cissy did marry again in 1925. This time the groom was a respectable New York lawyer named Elmer Schlesinger, but he died after just four years of marriage. She went on to become a journalist, a newspaper editor, and in 1939 became owner and publisher of the Washington Times-Herald and an icon in her field. She died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1948.
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