Told  /  Antecedent

Before Taylor and Travis, There Was Helen and John

She was an actress. He was a shortstop. What we can learn from the press parade around this 19th-century power couple.

The first breadcrumb of a Dauvray-Ward relationship appeared in late May 1887, when newspapers announced the actress’s gift of her self-named trophy, the Dauvray Cup, to be presented to the winner of a postseason championship series. On July 20th, her name was linked to Ward obliquely when Sporting Life identified her as a “perfect crank”—19th-century slang to describe an obsessive, unreasonable person—for his team, the New York Giants. Only in September did the first direct connection to Ward surface, when Dauvray mentioned him in a letter to the National League president that Sporting Life quoted from. Dauvray and Ward were not linked romantically until their Times marriage preview on October 12, just one day before they publicly tied the knot.

After the bombshell news dropped, papers were full of speculation about the couple, who were perhaps trying to avoid this very type of rumor-filled attention by keeping their relationship secret up until that point. As MLB historian John Thorn has established, the two had, in fact, first gotten married a month and a half before the Times reporter’s visit, on August 31, 1887. Was Dauvray playing games with the press when she didn’t admit to this on October 11? Doing so might have saved the couple a trip to Philadelphia the next morning to get married a second time.

The mystery around their coupling deepens when you consider an October 17 Detroit Tribune report that Thorn surfaced, which observed that the “newlyweds” appeared to be anything but happy: “[Ward and Dauvray] haven’t been married a week, but they didn’t seem particularly affectionate,” the Tribune correspondent wrote. “Ward shouted for the Detroits and Mrs. Ward applauded for the Browns … They occupied opposite ends of the box, and hardly spoke to each other during the contest.”

Reading between the lines more than 100 years later, such coverage raises the question of whether they were leveraging their relationship for attention, or if they were genuinely attempting to avoid feeding the rumor mill of 19th-century journalism. If they were seeking publicity, it’s worth asking for what end. Of the two, Dauvray would have benefitted the most from an image boost at that moment; the news of their relationship may have helped her recapture headlines after she canceled her fall season in early September following reports of a serious illness. Ward’s exploits on the field (he led the league with 111 steals that year) and the contract negotiations between the Brotherhood and the National League already kept him at the forefront of the sporting press.