Newsletter #7 (Spring 1994)

An Unsolved Mystery: The Case of Yeânnis

One of the most exhilarating and frustrating aspects of our work is the task of identifying authors and recipients of documents. While our success rate is remarkably high, there are a few mysteries we have as yet been unable to solve. Among the most challenging is the identity of the author of a letter we discovered among the 45,000 Sanger documents in the Sophia Smith Collection. Dated only "Monday 12 noon" and signed "Yeânnis" this neatly scribed 20-page letter begins: "Dearest Margaret: - Six days of real suffering were enough to make me feel that to suffer for you it is not suffering. It is the sweetest feeling. It is life. And I live only for you and with you."

Like many authors of love letters, Yeânnis brazenly repeats declarations of love and devotion and is careful to communicate that his passion transcends mere passions of the flesh. For example, Yeânnis reminds Sanger of when they met: "Did I fall in love with you? No, I did not and I am glad I did not have a sexual attraction then for you. You were more then sex. Subconsciously I wanted to tell you (right then if I could) all about me and all about my life." He apparently discussed marriage with Sanger and had even asked her to elope. "Although I am sure of your love", Yeânnis declared, "the fact that we could be apart even for a short period created in me a fear, a strong fear, and while I am glad we did not elope and thus we will have no reason of regret, in reality I am sorry I did not force you to run away."

Sanger either got cold feet, or more likely, did not respond to Yeânnis's outpourings in anything approaching equal rapture; she evidently wrote to him to back out of the marriage, and possibly the relationship. But Yeânnis couldn't accept her decision: "I do respect your 'resolve' and gladly I suffer by it...," he responded, "Yet it is killing a little by little my life.... You are my ideal lover and no matter how I try to justify or not our love or your resolve I come to one conclusion that you are my ideal lover." It is possible that Sanger's rejection of Yeânnis's proposal was not because she would not marry him, but because she could not. While she had become estranged from first husband, William Sanger, in 1913 and beginning in December 1914 had asked him for a divorce, it was not finalized until October 14, 1921.

Unfortunately, we have very little evidence available to help us in identifying the author. Sanger did scrawl "The rival" at the top of the first page, and early on we thought this might be a reference to Walter Roberts, a some-time lover who attracted much of William Sanger's jealousy. However, Roberts' handwriting clearly did not provide a match, and Yeânnis wrote with an awkwardness and formality quite unlike the graceful style and tone of Roberts' letters. This is the only letter that we have located among Sanger's papers from anyone signed "Yeânnis." We are not even certain if our reading of the handwritten signature is correct. It seems to spell Yeânnis, but it could also be Liannis, Yiannis, or Jeannis. It is likely that the name is an alias or nickname. "Yeânnis" could be a Greek version of the name "John," and might refer to John Reed who, according to Sanger family lore, was romantically involved with Sanger. But like Roberts, Reed's handwriting does not match that of Yeânnis. A comparison of handwriting also eliminated Sanger's other probable lovers and admirers of the late teens: Billy Williams, Herbert Simonds, Lorenzo Portet, and Harold Hersey.

The document does offer several additional tantalizing clues. Yeânnis appears to have been active, or at least sympathetic to the labor left and at one point writes, "If Big Bill or any one else could not see real love, equal and mutual, and they only know how to give advice, to me it does not matter." This is undoubtedly a reference to William "Big Bill" Haywood, a radical leader of the Industrial Workers of the World whom Sanger knew and admired. At another point, Yeânnis mentions Sanger's concern about staying on good terms with the "S.P.," a likely reference to the Socialist Party. These clues might help narrow down the date of the letter. Sanger was most active in the work of the Socialist Party and the labor left before 1916. We know that Sanger had a falling out with the Socialist Party in 1917 over its support of Frederick Blossom, whom she had accused of misusing funds while he served as editor of the Birth Control Review. It would appear that the letter was written before knowledge of this had become widespread. In addition, Yeânnis writes: "When I was at a meeting for the Social War someone told us you did not care to have anything to do with an anti-political paper....". This is a probable reference to The Social War, a Chicago-based anarchist journal published in 1917. However, none of this is conclusive nor has it enabled us to identify Yeânnis.

We will continue to track clues and compare handwriting to try to pin down the identity of the elusive author, but for now he remains a mystery. If any of our readers have any leads that could help us to discover the identity of Yeânnis, we would appreciate hearing from you.

For updates on this story see Mystery Solved and Yeânnis Revisited.