Polly Peabody to Caresse Crosby

Caress & Clytoris

Here’s an interesting name-evolution story.

Mary “Polly” Phelps Jacob was born in 1891 in New York to a blue-blooded family that could be traced back, on both sides, to colonial America.

She was an enterprising person, and in her early 20s — fed up with the corset-like undergarments of the era — she invented and patented a “backless brassiere.” (She constructed the first one out of handkerchiefs and pink ribbon.) Today, she’s credited with the invention the modern bra.

With her first marriage in 1915 to Richard Peabody, her name changed to the almost cartoonish Polly Peabody. (One of their two kids, legally named Polleen, also went by Polly.)

But that marriage didn’t last and, following the divorce in 1922, Polly married bon vivant Harry Crosby, with whom she’d been having an open affair. At first she went by Polly Crosby, but Harry declared that Polly needed a better name:

Clytoris, an early suggestion, was sensibly saved for the family’s second whippet (the first was named Narcisse Noir). They told Caresse’s daughter Polleen that she was named after a Greek goddess.

After deciding upon “Caresse,” the wealthy couple moved to Paris and “lived a theatrically mad, bad and Bohemian existence.” With the help of their small publishing house, Black Sun Press, they became close to many Lost Generation artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway.

Harry committed suicide two months after the stock market crash of 1929 (which kicked off the Great Depression). Caresse’s life post-Harry was slightly less colorful, and she used name “Mary Caresse Crosby” slightly more often, but was still primarily known as Caresse.

Sources: Polly Peabody, The Bohemian Blueblood Who Invented the Bra, Mary Phelps Jacob (Caresse Crosby), The Crosbys: literature’s most scandalous couple

P.S. Did you know that the name Caresse started appearing in the U.S. baby name data back in 1949?

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