Biographical Database of Militant Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Florence Deshon (also Danks), 1893-1922
By Greg Melendez
Undergraduate, SUNY Oneonta
Florence Danks was born to Flora Caroline Spatzer and Samuel Danks on July 19, 1893 in Tacoma, Washington. The family moved to New York City in 1900 so that her parents could pursue musical careers. Florence's personal life was one of interest, as she was a beautiful and popular actress. Taking the stage name Deshon, she began acting in the theater and then in films by 1915. She appeared in a total of twenty-three films during her career. She met her first lover, Max Eastman, in 1916, eventually moving in with him. Eastman, the younger brother of suffragist and peace activist, Crystal Eastman, had long been a women's suffrage supporter and had worked with the Men's League for Woman Suffrage since 1909. Eastman was married to Ida Rauh at the time and had a small child; but Deshon "rebelled volubly" at the idea of marriage. He described her as "having that proud, impetuous and fiery-tempered heart."
During Deshon's relationship with Eastman, she became good friends with Crystal Eastman, and befriended other known suffragists, including Doris Stevens of the National Woman's Party, and Marie Jenney Howe, a suffragist who also founded the radical organization, Heterodoxy. Stevens sublet her apartment to Deshon when she came to New York in the later part of the decade. Little else is known of Deshon's connection to the suffrage movement. While appearing in a play in Washington, DC, she wrote a letter to Eastman, using a Natgional Woman's Party envelope. She also admired Susan B. Anthony, having once written her a poem. Yet, although Eastman characterized her as a "feminist," he also wrote that she was "no reformer." The one major event she engaged in was the Metropolitan Opera House demonstration against President Woodrow Wilson in March 1919. Deshon, "the well known moving picture actress," carried that banner that said, "Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?"
Late in the day on March 4, Florence joined a parade of National Woman's Party suffragists moving toward the Metropolitan Opera House at Fortieth and Broadway in New York City. Florence held the banner, "Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?" At the 40th Street corner, the women were rushed by police, who broke their banners and clubbed them, according to one source. Florence was not among those arrested; there is no account of her further participation.
Their romance waxed and waned for some years, seemingly ending in the summer of 1919, when Deshon accepted an offer from Samuel Goldwyn to act with his studio in Hollywood. Eastman moved in with her that fall, eventually introducing her to his friend Charlie Chaplin, with whom Deshon began a romance. Deshon suffered a miscarriage and their affair ended soon after. Her success in Hollywood apparently had much to do with her connection to the famous comedian. Eventually, Eastman and Deshon resumed their relationship, but it never returned to its former passion. Deshon's career also failed.
On February 4, 1922 Florence was found unconscious in her apartment. The apartment had somehow filled with gas from an open jet. While there were attempts to revive her, she died the next day in St. Vincent's Hospital.
Note: Deshon is also spelled "De Shan" or "Deshan."
"Suffragists Protest at President's Meeting in New York," Suffragist, March 15, 1919, 4-5; "Harry Morey and Florence Deshan in 'The Golden Goal," Evening Kansas-Republican, June 25, 1918, 2; "Harry Morey Loyal Vitagraph Screen Star," Chronicle (Shippensburg, PA), September 12, 1918, 3; "Miner Fights for His Money and Love," Calgary (Alberta, Canada), September 14, 1918, 11; "At the Regent," Gazette (Montreal, Canada), September 21, 1918, 7; "6 Anti-Wilson Suffragists are Arrested Here," New-York Tribune, March 5, 1919, 1, 4; "Actress Dies Of Poison Gas," New York Times, February 5, 1922, 3; "Eastman Denies Rift With Miss Deshon," New York Times, February 6, 1922, 3; Max Eastman, Love and Revolution: My Journey Through an Epoch (New York: Random House, 1964), 7-11, 39-44, 82, 102, 208, 217, 243; Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Women's Party (Fairfax: Denlingers Publishers, 1977), 424; Linda G. Ford, Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Miltancy of the National Woman's Party, 1912-1920 (New York: University Press of America, 1991), 243; Christoph Irmscher, Max Eastman: A Life (New Haven, CT; Yale University Press, 2017); Keith Newlin, ed."Deshon, Florence," A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003), 89; Ross Wetzsteon, Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007); "The Mysterious Death of Actress Florence Deshon, 1," "Florence Deshon, 2: Charlie Chaplin or Max?" and "Florence Deshon, 3: Suicide or Accident?" all found at http://notorc.blogspot.com (accessed April 26, 2019).
Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party. New York: Dellinger's, 1977, 424-425.
Still from the American mystery film Duds (1920) with Florence Deshon, Exhibitors Herald, April 3, 1920, 85.