The story of Tennessee Celeste Clafin is a strange one. She was born in the October of 1845 and ended up as one of the first ever women to open a brokerage firm on Wall Street. She was also an American Suffragist and something of a radical amongst her peers. She also went by the name of Tennie C Clafin and later in her life, Lady Cook. Amongst the many causes that she put her name to was the fight to get prostitution legalised.
She came from Ohio, the daughter of a man who made a living through dubious means and a mother that was known to regularly commune with the spirit world. The family lived in abject poverty and the children were often included in their fathers get rich quick schemes, whether it was selling her mother’s ‘magical elixir’ or her father’s ‘snake oil’.
By the time she was fourteen she had already spent around half of her life working as a medium. Her posters and advertising claimed that she would be available for consultations (paid of course) from eight in the morning until nine at night, a long working day for anyone. She claimed to be able to earn around a hundred dollars a day giving her readings, but it lost her whatever childhood she could have had.
A Family Business
Along with her older sister Victoria she set up in business in Cincinnati, billing themselves as clairvoyants just the same way that their parents had all those years ago. However, they were now grown women and without the innocence of childhood to protect them they lay victim to rumour mongers and gossip. It was claimed that they spent more time communing with the men that would visit their business than they did communing with the spirit world. As far as the general public were concerned being a medium or a prostitute amounted to being the same thing.
One of the man that Tennie formed a ‘working’ relationship with was one Cornelius Vanderbilt. She worked as a healer, curing whatever ailed one of her richest clients. She was under the impression that he had promised herself to him in marriage, however his family had different ideas about the matter and he was married off to someone much more reputable in their eyes. Vanderbilt passed away in the January of 1877 worth in excess of $100 million. The family fearing Tennie would claim that the spirit of Vanderbilt had contacted her after death to contest his will was something the family wanted to avoid at all costs and she was paid off, along with her sister with the sum of $100,000.
A Wealthy Widow
Tennie later married widower Sir Francis Cook after claiming to the man that his dead wife approved whole heartedly of their union. He died some sixteen years later, many say by Tennie’s own hand. She was left with the title of Lady Cook and a $250,000 inheritance. The inheritance money funded the opening of their offices on Wall Street. Though they were considered something of a novelty they proved that they had a great deal of financial acumen.