From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Foley, Alethea "Mattie"

(born: 1850  -  died: 1931) 

Alethea "Mattie" Foley was the first wife of journalist, writer, and author Patrick Lafcadio Hearn. The couple married in Cincinnati, OH, on June 14, 1874. They were married by Rev. John King, an African American Episcopal minister. The marriage was witnessed by Mrs. Lottie Cleneay and Mrs. Mary Field, both African Americans. The Cincinnati Enquirer fired Hearn after he married Foley, and he was hired by The Cincinnati Commercial. Foley and Hearn lived together for three years before Foley left Hearn in 1877 and moved to Indianapolis, IN.

When she returned to Cincinnati, Foley found that Lafcadio Hearn had left Cincinnati and moved to New Orleans, LA. He eventually made his way to Japan where he became a recognized author of literature of Japan. He wrote a total of 29 books and a number of articles. In 1891, Hearn married Setsuko Koizumi. The couple had four children. Hearn became a Japanese subject in 1895 and took the name Koizumi Yakumo. He died in Japan on September 26, 1904, leaving behind a widow and four children. Lafcadio Hearn is buried in the Z┼Źshigaya Cemetery.

Alethea Foley claimed that she and Hearn were never divorced and she attempted a lawsuit to receive the benefits of his estate. But it was found that Foley and Hearn's marriage was invalid. Beginning in 1861, the marriage laws in Ohio forbid the marriage of African Americans and whites. The laws were repealed in 1877. With their marraige determined to be invalid, the royalties from Hearn's books went to his second wife, Setsuko Koizumi.

Alethea "Mattie" Foley was described in the newspapers as a mulatto woman. She had been enslaved by the Tabb Family near Maysville, KY. Her mother was one of the slaves that belonged to her father/owner. Alethea Foley had her son in Augusta or Dover, KY, in 1868, he was named William Louis Anderson. His father was William L. Anderson. The son William lived with his mother, who was a cook at a boarding house in Cincinnati where she met Lafcadio Hearn. 

Alethea "Mattie" Foley lived with her son and daughter-in-law, as enumerated in the 1910 U.S Census. Her last name is given as Klientunk. Alethea had remarried after receiving the misinformation that Lafcadio Hearn had died. Her second marriage was invalidated when it was learned that Hearn was alive. Alethea Foley's death date is not known, though some publications say that she died in 1913. It has also been speculated that she died around 1930 and may be the Aleta V. Foley listed in the Williams' Covington, Kentucky Directory 1931-32. She may also be the Aleeta Foley listed on p.627 in Williams' Cincinnati Directory 1930-31.

Sources: "Claim made by a Negress that she is the lawful wife of Lafcadio P. Hearn," The Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH), 07/14/1906, p.8; Lafcadio Hearn's Estate. A Nigress sues for a share as widow.," Waterloo Daily Courier (Waterloo, IA), 07/14/1904, p.2; "Dead law to end war of yellow and black widows," Evening Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), 08/03/1906, front page; see "Lafcadio Hearn" at Britannica online; see the William L. Anderson (son) marriage record on p.243 in the Ohio , County Marriage Records for 1900 (Ancestry), his birth location, and parents' names are given; see the chapter "Alethea Foley" in The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong; Williams Covington, Kentucky Directory 1931-32, p.125; "Controversial marriage," Western Hills Press, 02/23/2022, p.A4.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Mason County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Kenton County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Maysville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Augusta, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Dover, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Covington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Foley, Alethea "Mattie",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-04-20 16:42:20