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Glasgow’s Broken Heart


Miniature portrait on ivory of Ellen Glasgow (1874-1945) in her twenties by I. Carregi. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1946.2.A)

Valentine’s Day is now what I call a Hallmark holiday, and I support Hallmark by sending Valentines the way some people send Christmas cards! As a child I received a very special Valentine from an anonymous boy in my fifth grade class, which made me feel special, and I have been a Valentine fan from that moment on.

Valentine’s Day cards and the celebrations around the holiday began to escalate during the early twentieth century. Yet, there is one twentieth-century woman who did not receive a valentine from a man to whom she was secretly engaged from 1917 to 1918. Ellen Glasgow was forty-three and an acclaimed Richmond novelist when she first met Henry Watkins Anderson on Easter Sunday 1916 after the death of her father. In her autobiography, The Woman Within, published after her death, Glasgow writes that “I was surprised by the attraction of opposites . . . for my part, I was warmed and thrilled by the man’s vitality” (p. 225).

Henry Watkins Anderson

Henry Watkins Anderson in his Red Cross office in Romania. A portrait of Queen Marie (not his fiancée Ellen Glasgow) hangs on the wall behind his desk. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 2001.1.18)

Henry Watkins Anderson was a Richmond corporate attorney who became an ardent supporter of the Red Cross after the United States entered World War I. Given the rank of colonel by the Red Cross, he was appointed its commissioner to the Balkans. In July 1917, Anderson set sail for the Balkans, and, as Glasgow notes, “we were never nearer in spirit than at that moment—for we were engaged to be married” (p. 230). Watkins wrote her every day on his voyage, but once he arrived in the Balkans, he “vanished into the silence of Rumania” (p. 231). Glasgow finally received a letter after several months, which announced his arrival and mentioned Queen Marie of Romania. After that, silence reigned again.

Queen Marie Of Roumania

Henry Watkins Anderson and Queen Marie on a hospital inspection tour in Romania. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number 2015.1.1)

Queen Marie of Romania, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, married Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania in 1893 and began a series of romantic affairs in 1897. She became involved with the Romanian Red Cross in 1916 and met Henry Watkins Anderson on his arrival there in 1917. She writes in her autobiography, Ordeal, that “Colonel Anderson, their chief, put himself entirely at my disposal . . . and I took [him] about to the hospitals” (p. 234). By the week of September 24, 1917, she notes that in their travels “Colonel Anderson quoted poetry and spoke to me of the stars” (p. 240). Anderson had made the transition from Glasgow to Queen Marie. They exchanged gifts, notes, and letters, and a love triangle was born.

Queen Marie Of Roumania

One of the many photographs given to Henry Watkins Anderson by Queen Marie Of Romania in 1921. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number 2015.1.2)

One month after Valentine’s Day in 1918, the German army overran Romania, and Anderson eventually returned to the United States in June. Queen Marie writes of his departure: “I saw how his heart was wrung and how his soul revolted against this going away which was like an abandonment” (p. 320). Glasgow had a sad Valentine’s Day, having not heard from Anderson since the fall of 1917. Upon his return to Richmond, Anderson visited Glasgow in his Red Cross uniform and could do nothing but talk of Queen Marie. Several weeks later, Glasgow and Anderson quarreled, and she succumbed to depression and “did not care, for I had finished with the living” (p. 238). She tried to commit suicide with sleeping pills, “yet life would not release me” (p. 240).

In November 1918, Anderson returned to the Balkans and then to Richmond in October 1919 with “a half length portrait in oils, of Queen Marie, innumerable generously inscribed photographs in every imaginable costume and pose . . . and a forlorn and pathetic Russian wolfhound from the royal kennels” (pp. 242–43). Anderson and Queen Marie continued to exchange gifts, but it has been said that Glasgow received the greatest gift of all. Her devastating romantic relationship with Anderson gave her the creative spirit to produce her greatest literary works.

Ellen Glasgow, 1946.30

A painting of Ellen Glasgow based on a 1938 photograph published in Glasgow’s autobiography, “The Woman Within”, published after her death in 1954. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1946.30)

For the most complete information on this love story, come to the Virginia Historical Society and read the late Sara Bearss’s article entitled “Marie of Rumania and Henry Anderson of Virginia: A Faery Queen, A Virginia Knight Errant, A Pulitzer Novelist” (April 1987 issue of Virginia Country).

Paulette Schwarting is Director of Technical Services at the Virginia Historical Society. Read other posts by Paulette. 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol lewin permalink
    03/12/2016 7:28 pm

    Am related to Col Anderson, love to email Paulette


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