Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who went by the pen name Mark Twain, was a renowned American writer and humorist. His literary classics include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But Twain had a little-known affection for young women and considered himself a "collector" of preteen and teenage girls.
Beginning in 1908, Twain established the Aquarium Club, a members-only organization consisting of himself and 13 girls all below the age of 16. He called them his "angelfish," and he enjoyed visiting and exchanging letters with them. Twain even dedicated a room in his Connecticut house to the club. Although Twain defended the club's innocence, his love of young girls raised some red flags among his family and community.
Twain began “collecting” young girls in 1907, at the age of 72. He had recently suffered the loss of his wife and daughters, and he desperately wanted grandchildren. He started calling his surrogate granddaughters “angelfish” in 1908 after becoming enamored with the species on a visit to Bermuda. He went on to nickname his group of girls the “Aquarium Club” and even required members to wear angelfish pins.
Twain’s secretary Isabel Lyon often chaperoned and arranged visits between Twain and the young women. On one trip to Bermuda with Twain in April 1908, she recorded in her journal, “He has his aquarium of little girls, and they are all angelfish... He wears a flying fish scarf pin, though he says he is a shad. Off he goes with a flash when he sees a new pair of slim little legs appear... If the little girl wears butterfly bows of ribbon on the back of her head, then his delirium is complete.”
During the last two decades of Twain’s life, he saw the death of his first and favorite daughter Susy, his wife Olivia, and his third daughter Jean. Unsurprisingly, the deaths of three family members sent Twain into a deep depression. The loss encouraged his obsession with innocence, young girls, and being a grandfather. Four years after his wife’s death, Twain wrote:
I had reached the grandpapa stage of life; and what I lacked and what I needed was grandchildren. My heart... is a treasure-place of little people whom I worship, and whose degraded and willing slave I am. In grandchildren I am the richest man that lives to-day: for I select my grandchildren, whereas all other grandfathers have to take them as they come, good, bad, and indifferent.
Twain valued the children for their innocence and lack of exposure to the hardships of adult life. He called himself a "collector" of young girls:
I suppose we are all collectors… As for me, I collect pets: young girls - girls from ten to sixteen years old; girls who are pretty and sweet and naive and innocent - dear young creatures to whom life is a perfect joy and to whom it has brought no wounds, no bitterness, and few tears.
Twain called his group of angelfish the Aquarium Club. He drafted a constitution that laid out rules for his exclusive club called "The Aquarium, Issued By The Admiral Redding." The constitution required the girls to "wear their badge and their head ribbons" and noted that "none above school age is permitted" in the club. He hung photos of the angelfish in the Billiard Room of his Redding, Connecticut, home, and he specified in the constitution that "portraits of non-members are not permitted."
Twain referred to himself as the "Admiral," and required the girls to write to him once every three months at the very minimum. If the girls didn't write often enough, Twain demoted them from active members to "Honorary Members with reproaches."
The book Mark Twain’s Aquarium: The Samuel Clemens Angelfish Correspondence records Twain’s plans to build a room in his Redding, Connecticut home specifically for his "angelfish":
The billiard-room will have the legend "The Aquarium" over its door... I have good photographs of all my fishes, and these will be framed and hung around the walls. There is an angel-fish bedroom—double-bedded—and I will expect to have a fish and her mother in it as often as Providence will permit.
Twain moved into his Connecticut home on June 18, 1908. He chose to call the house “Innocence at Home” because he hoped to host many young girls.