- Historic Sites
The Harvard Man In The Kremlin Wall
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
Moreover, the Village’s conception of “the Revolution” was esthetic rather than social. Its high point was the Armory Show of 1913. Mabel Dodge, whose $500 check and busy visits to owners of “advanced” art to get loans of pictures, did much to make the show possible, characterized it well with her usual uninhibited precision: I felt as though the Exhibition were mine. I really did. It became, over night, my own little Revolution. / would up- 97 set America … It was tragic—I was able to admit that- but the old ways must go, and with them their priests … My hand would not shake nor could I allow my personal feelings of pity to halt me. I was going to dynamite New York …
In 1913, the salon of Mabel Dodge was a unifier of Village life. Like V. F. Calverton in the postwar generation, she had a rare gift for bringing together the atomized particles of our decentralized culture.
Born Mabel Ganson in Buffalo in 1879 (which made her eight years Jack’s senior), she would become Mabel Evans in 1900, Mabel Dodge in 1903, marry the painter Maurice Sterne in 1916, and a HispanoIndian, Antonio Luhan, in 1923. Between the second marriage and the third she came to play a large role in the Village and in John Reed’s life.
Returning from three years in her elegant Florentine villa to “ugly, ugly America” and on the way to becoming estranged from her loyal, conventional second husband, she sought to fill the void in her life by turning her beautiful apartment at 23 Fifth Avenue into an open house for everybody that was anybody, and many a nobody. Wealthy, gracious, open-hearted, beautiful, intellectually curious, and quite without a sense of discrimination, she was Bohemia’s most successful lion-hunter. “I wanted to know the Heads of things, Heads of movements, Heads of newspapers, Heads of all kinds of groups … anything that showed above the tribal pattern.” Her hospitality, her capacity for listening, her quiet, encouraging smile, brought together the great, the near-great, and those who came to dream of greatness.
Steffens was one of her lions; he brought the three young Harvard classmates, Lee Simonson, Walter Lippmann, and John Reed. There they could meet of a Wednesday evening the Hapgoods, Jo Davidson, Margaret Sanger, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Max Eastman, Frances Perkins, Andrew Dasburg, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Amos Pinchot, Amy Lowell, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Carl Van Vechten, Harry Kemp, Frank Harris, George Sylvester Viereck, John Collier … an inexhaustible Who’s Who .
Sometimes Mrs. Dodge set the subject and selected the opening speaker; sometimes she shifted the night to make sure of a more uniform group. More often the talk flowed out of the diversity of personalities and convictions. Here, from her Intimate Memories , is her account of a “special” evening: I switched from the usual Wednesday to a Monday, so that none but more or less radical sympathizers would be there. People who believed that others had the right to kill on principle, if they thought it Right: The Live and Let Live Kind of People.
One evening, they all went to hear Bill Haywood (”a great battered hulk of a man, with one eye gone, and an eminent look in the other") at the home of his mistress, a schoolteacher who lived in the Village. He talked on the desperate Paterson silk strike, police brutality, the silence of the press.
“Why don’t you bring the strike to New York and show it ?” asked Mabel Dodge. “In Madison Square Garden, why not?”
“I’ll do it,” cried a voice—and a young man detached himself from the group and assumed a personality before my eyes … His olive green eyes glowed softly, his high forehead was like a baby’s with light brown curls rolling away from it and two spots of shining light on his temples, making him lovable. His chin was the best … the real poet’s jawbone … eyebrows always lifted … generally breathlessl
(Max Eastman has affectionately described Jack as having a face “rather like a potato.” Curiously, we who knew him found both descriptions, each in its way, correct.)
Reed spent three weeks in Paterson in the midst of the strike, leading the foreign-born workers in revolutionary songs, listening to I.W.W. speakers, getting himself thrown in jail. When the police, who had arrested him “for resisting an officer,” found that he was embarrassing them by articles on prison conditions, they threw him out. He headed straight for Mabel Dodge’s home. Since it was her idea, he took it for granted that she would work with him on it. His exuberance dragged her into an enterprise alien and indifferent to her nature. Thus was born “The Pageant of the Paterson Strike.” His scenario was rather bare and simple. But the novelty of masses of strikers and I.W.W. leaders as actors gave the performance an unexpected intensity. Jack appeared in his own pageant to lead the strikers in revolutionary songs.