By the time Mabel Dodge (also known, in recognition of her four husbands, as Mabel Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan) set up her weekly salon in her apartment at 23 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village in 1912, she had already been twice married and once divorced, gave birth to a son, and had attempted to take her own life. Born February 26, 1879, in Buffalo, New York into a wealthy family, Mabel was educated close to home before embarking on a trip through Europe and then a finishing school in Washington, D.C. She had a talent for collecting notable people around her. Historian Christine Stansell in her book American Moderns writes that Dodge “chang(ed) herself from a rich woman of limited talents, an epigone of Continental fashions, to a New York celebrity who melded real political commitments with a love for fame.… She learned to mix politics with culture, men with women, artists with workers.”
Her first marriage to Karl Evans, the son of a steamship owner, was short-lived. Evans died in a hunting accident when Dodge was only 23. Sent by her family to Paris because of a subsequent affair, she met and married architect Edwin Dodge. They lived just outside of Florence, where Mabel entertained local artists and visiting guests such as Hutchins and Neith Boyce Hapgood, Carl Van Vechten, and Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo.
It was Gertrude Stein that introduced Dodge into the Greenwich Village intelligentsia. Stein also provided Dodge’s introduction to the artists and collectors organizing the Amory Show of modern art, which is considered the event that launched Dodge.
Dodge organized her salons to include a mix of intellectuals and artists. John Reed and Max Eastman met with Margaret Sanger and Charles Demuth. Most importantly, the salons often crossed class barriers as Dodge invited those of different classes such as Emma Goldman and Bill Haywood to bring new voices into the conversations she hosted. She wrote that she wanted her guests to mix “in an unaccustomed freedom a kind of speech called Free.”
Dodge had an affair for several years with John Reed before marrying painter Maurice Stern in 1916. With Stern, she travelled to Taos, New Mexico. There she set up a literary colony, hosting both artists and writers including D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keefe, and Ansel Adams. In 1923, she married (after divorcing Sterne) Antonio Luhan, a local Pueblo chief. She wrote a number of books there, including her memoirs and a portrait of D.H. Lawrence titled Lorenzo in Taos. She remained married to Luhan and situated in Taos until her death in 1962. The house is a designated National Historic Landmark and remains a conference center for writers.
Mabel Dodge Luhan’s papers are collected at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. More can also be read about Dodge in Christine Stansell’s American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century.