Los Gallos • The Mabel Dodge Luhan House
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
Laurel Ulrich may have written it, but I think she was speaking of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Sit back, pour yourself some Barcadi 151 (or harder) and get ready for a good story.
Mabel Ganson was born in 1879 in Buffalo, New York, the only child of parents who ran the gamut from cold to crazy, and didn’t find parenting particularly rewarding. Mabel was handed off to a nanny while the parents enjoyed high society life – they both came from wealthy banking families and no less than four U.S. presidents lived on their street.
After being educated in finishing schools, Mabel got out of the house A.S.A.P., by marrying Karl Evans when she was twenty-one. They had a son in 1903, who was passed off to nanny, as she had been. Within a year Hubby #1 (grab a pencil and paper to keep track) was killed in a hunting accident. Mabel’s family shipped her off to Europe following her nervous breakdown (and Suicide Attempt #1).
En route to Europe, Mabel met Edwin Dodge (#2), married quickly and settled in Italy. They purchased a Medici-built estate, which Mabel spent eight years transforming into a Renaissance palace. She even wore period costume to complete the vision. She often threw parties and galas, inviting the intelligentsia of the era: André Gide, Eleanor Duse, Jacques-Emile Blanche, Leo and Gertrude Stein, Lord and Lady Acton, and others – probably having affairs with a good many of them.
Mabel reunited with a friend from boarding school, Natalie Barney, who established a “salon” in Paris. Here, writing, conversation and discussion were encouraged. Her “Fridays” hosted such esteemed guests as Colette, Marcel Proust, Djuna Barnes, Truman Capote and Greta Garbo.
Still, by 1912 Mabel was bored and moved to New York’s Greenwich Village to found her own salon. For three years her salon was the place to be, and she hosted the likes of Margaret Sanger (birth control advocate), John Reed (journalist and next lover), Marsden Hartley (artist) and Carl Van Vechten – his character, “Edith Dale” in his novel Peter Whiffle was based on Mabel. The term “movers and shakers” was coined to describe the crowds on her “Wednesdays.”
Mabel captured much of this era in a memoir entitled Intimate Memories (1933), which also covered her bisexual encounters. She introduced Post-Impressionism to American audiences at the Armory show; wrote for The Masses (a left wing political journal) and had a syndicated column focusing on Freudian psychology; and she supported groups such as the Women’s Peace Party and Women’s Birth Control League.
After a love affair with John Reed doomed her marriage, she ran off with artist Maurice Sterne, who became her third husband. They settled near Taos, New Mexico. That relationship spoiled faster than milk because Mabel met a Pueblo Indian artist, Tony Luhan. He built a teepee in their front yard and would drum until late into the night – until Maurice (#3) came after him with a shotgun. Eventually, Mabel paid Maurice off and he disappeared. Luhan became husband #4.
Still Mabel found the time to purchase an estate, Los Gallos, and entertain more luminaries: DH Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Willa Cather, John Collier, Thomas Wolfe, Andrew Dasburg, Edna Ferber, Mary Austin, Ansel Adams, and a score of others over the years.
Mabel passed away in 1962 from a heart attack at her beloved estate in Taos. The house is now open to the public. It has also been turned into a B&B, and you can see where Dennis Hopper penned the script for Easy Rider.
Hours and seasons vary so it’s best to call ahead (800-846-2235) or check out the website.
photo credit: 1