Though many details about his early life are in dispute, scholars agree that Arnold was born in New York City and that his father may have been the Reverend George B. Arnold. The family relocated to Illinois and then to Monmouth County, New Jersey where Arnold enjoyed a country upbringing. Though he apprenticed himself to a portrait painter in New York in 1852, Arnold soon determined that literature would be his true calling.
Born in Massachusetts to a family of merchants and seamen, Clapp traveled to Paris to translate the socialist writings of Fourier. In Paris, Clapp abandoned his ardent sympathy for the temperance movement and embraced the leisurely café life of the city. Upon returning to New York in 1850, he sought to recreate this atmosphere, spending hours at Charlie Pfaff's beer cellar, drawing a crowd of journalists, painters, actors, and poets to cultivate an American Bohemia in which participants admired and discussed the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving (Martin 15-7).
Ada Clare (whose given name was Jane McIlheny) was born in South Carolina. As Thomas Gunn, a contemporary of Clare, describes she "made an attempt – several attempts – to become a tragic actress, but despite any amount of puffery on the part of fellows who knew her (or wanted to know her in a scriptural sense) failed. She had money and aspired for 'fame' only" (Gunn vol. 11, 160). She received a small inheritance upon her parents' deaths, which she used to travel to Paris.
Little is known of Jennie or (Jenny) Danforth despite the fact that she is mentioned frequently as one of the women who followed Ada Clare to Pfaff’s. Justin Martin places Jenny as one of the “other women” who “became part of the Bohemian circle at Pfaff’s and that she may have had a romantic tie to Fitz-James O’Brien (67-8). Wolle also mentions that O’Brien and Danforth were involved in an affair, but the true nature of their relationship is unknown and is merely speculation (130).
Mary Fox (nee Hewins) was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1842, a precocious child with an affinity for the fields of literature and drama. She ran away to join a circus as a child, but left after two weeks to embark with a theatrical company ("Mary Fox"), making her first acting appearance in Troy, New York. She later appeared at Laura Keene’s Varieties in New York (Wilson & Fiske 521), and was one of several actresses who accompanied Ada Clare to Pfaff’s (J. Browne 157).
Getty Gay, born Gertrude Louise Vultee, was an actress as well as a major contributor to the Saturday Press (Gunn 11.162, 14.16-7). Although not much is known about her artistic career, the obituary of Henry Clapp calls Gay "a talented bit of womanhood" (7). A. L. Rawson connects Gay to the scene at Pfaff’s through Ada Clare and Charles Gayler: “Ada [Clare] was never without a woman companion, and one of them was Getty Gay, who was pretty, bright and witty. Her lithe and petite figure and sweetly sad face were ever welcome among the Pfaffians” (103).
Born in Albany, Abraham Oakey Hall lost his father to yellow fever at the age of three and entered the public school system. He excelled in journalism from an early age, and his earnings from contributions to various periodicals helped him pay for his education at the University of the City of New York. By 1844 Oakey had received a B. A. and an M. A., followed by a semester of study at Harvard Law School. His studies at Harvard were cut short, possibly due to a lack of money, and he went to work at Charles W. Sanford’s New York City law office (Carman).
Edward Howard House, also known as “Ned,” was born near Boston and became a musical prodigy under his pianist mother's tutelage. Her early death turned him to his father's trade, that of a bank-note engraver. He gained standing in the world of Boston literati, and eventually moved to New York to work as the drama critic for the Tribune (61). As a contributor to the Saturday Press, House wanted to create a dialogue supporting his anti-slavery beliefs, but Editor Henry Clapp opposed it (Lause 109).
Harry Neill was born to a Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia (Gunn, vol. 18, 54). Henry Clapp’s New York Times obituary describes Neill as “a gifted Philadelphian” ("Obituary" 7). Neill was a journalist whose work was published in Vanity Fair and other contemporary periodicals. He also wrote under the alias, Inigo (T. Miller 37). Before moving to New York in his early 20s, Neill's work appeared in Philadelphia's Bulletin and the Evening Journal.
Born in County Cork and raised primarily in Limerick, Ireland, Fitz-James O'Brien moved to New York City in 1852. Descending from an Anglo-Irish landholding family, O'Brien received his inheritance (estimated at £8000) at about the age of 21. Between 1849 and 1851, it is believed that O'Brien edited a failed literary magazine called The Parlour Magazine of the Literature of All Nations and squandered his inheritance (Wolle 21). Leaving England almost penniless, O'Brien immigrated to America and made the U.S.
Also known by the alias “Bayard," Franklin J. Ottarson was a successful New York journalist, editor, and civil servant. Born in Watertown, New York, Ottarson learned the trade of the printing business in a Whig newspaper (possibly the Whig or the Tribune Almanac) (Brockway 172). Under the editorship of Horace Greeley, Ottarson was part of the “very strong” Tribune staff of 1854 along with Bayard Taylor (Brockway 141). Ottarson is perhaps best remembered for his editorship, first at the Tribune and later at the New York Times.
A former teacher, Charles Bailey Seymour moved from London to New York City in 1849. In New York, he began working as the dramatic and musical editor for the New York Times. In 1858, Seymour published the book Self-Made Men. The book, which won him a certain degree of fame, was "a collection of short biographies of British and American subjects that included [Henry] Clapp's old mentor, Elihu Burritt" (Lause 48).
Described as a "golden woman of poetical tendencies," Shaw was born to an Ohio clergyman (Kendall 305). Shaw married young but divorced and was shunned by her family as a result (Lawson 104). Though her first marriage to Dr. LeBaum failed, Shaw did remarry in 1863 to Captain Henry Bogardus. Shaw who was "brillant, beautiful, but eccentric" worked as an actress throughout the country, including cities such as New Orleans and St. Louis (Kendall 305).
William Allan Stephens was a co-founder of Vanity Fair. Henry Clapp’s obituary mentions that "when the Saturday Press went the way of all journals that are too smart to live, Mr. Clapp, with Mr. Stevens [sic] and others, started the best imitation of Punch that we have had in this country-- Vanity Fair. Around this nucleus gathered the circle so widely known as ’The Bohemians,’ of whom Mr. Clapp was the head and exponent" (“Obituary” 7).
Born in Riga, NY, Mortimer Thomson was a humorist and journalist who wrote under the name Q. K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.--Queer Kritter, Philander Doesticks, Perfect Brick ("Obituary," 5). Thomson acquired this penname while writing for a student magazine at the University of Michigan; although he never graduated from the university, as he was expelled for belonging to a campus secret society, Thomson had a productive career as a journalist and satirist after failing as both an actor and a traveling salesman.
Born on Long Island and raised in Brooklyn, Walt Whitman spent his childhood and early adulthood amid the sights and sounds of New York City and its environs. As a young man Whitman worked as a journeyman printer for several New York newspapers, before ultimately becoming a journalist and editor in his own right. Before committing himself to poetry, Whitman also worked intermittently as a schoolteacher, a carpenter, and a writer of sensational prose fiction.
Remembered as "a man of brilliant talent and singular charm," Edward Wilkins' career included the roles of editorial writer, musical and dramatic critic, and playwright. He was raised in Boston where he began his journalism career.
The unofficial biographer of the Pfaff’s crowd, William Winter was born in coastal Massachusetts, and his mother died when he was young. Winter attended school in Boston; he also went to Harvard Law School but decided not to practice ("William Winter, 19). By 1854 he had already published a collection of verse and worked as a reviewer for the Boston Transcript; he befriended Pfaffian Thomas Bailey Aldrich after reviewing a volume of his poetry. He relocated to New York in 1856 "because he believed [the city] offered the best field for writers" (Levin 153).
Born in Auburn, NY, Frank Wood's literary career began around 1858. During this year, he wrote for one of the publications of Frank Leslie. He would become the first editor of Vanity Fair, before going on to be a contributor to the Pfaffian newspaper, The Saturday Press (Winter, Brief Chronicles, 337). It was not until 1863, though, that scholar Mark Lause argues that Wood gained success in the literary world with his play, Leah the Forsook (Lause 59).