Mabel Dodge Luhan

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Mabel Dodge Luhan
Portrait of Mabel Dodge Luhan by Carl Van Vechten, 1934.
Born Mabel Ganson
(1879-02-26)February 26, 1879
Died June 13, 1962(1962-06-13) (aged 83)
Taos, New Mexico, Mabel Dodge Luhan House
Occupation Patron of the arts; nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst organization
Organization Taos art colony, Armory Show
Spouse(s) Karl Evans, Edwin Dodge, Maurice Sterne, Tony Luhan

Mabel Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (pronounced LOO-hahn), née Ganson (February 26, 1879 – August 13, 1962) was a wealthy American patron of the arts. She is particularly associated with the Taos art colony.

Early life

Mabel Ganson was the heiress of a wealthy banker from Buffalo, New York. She was the daughter of Charles Ganson and Sarah Cook. She was raised to charm and groomed to marry. She grew up in Buffalo’s social elite and was raised in the company of her nursemaid. She had attended Saint Margaret’s Episcopal School for girls until she was sixteen, then went to a school in New York City. In 1896 she toured Europe and went to a finishing school in Washington, D.C., called the Chevy Chase.

Her first marriage, at the age of 21, was to Karl Evans, the son of a steamship owner in 1900. They were married in secret because Charles Ganson did not approve of Evans. They were later re-married in Trinity church in front of all Buffalo Society. They had one son, and Karl died in a hunting accident two-and-half years later leaving her a widow at the age of 23. In the Spring of 1904, an oval portrait of her in mourning dress was painted by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury for her paternal grandmother Nancy Ganson of Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. Her family sent her to Paris because she was having an affair with a prominent Buffalo gynecologist. Later that year she married Edwin Dodge, a wealthy architect.

She was actively bisexual during her early life and frankly details her passionate physical encounters with young women in her autobiography Intimate Memories (1933).


The Dodges lived in Florence from 1905 to 1912. At her palatial Medici villa—the Villa Curonia in Arcetri, not far from Florence—she entertained local artists, as well as Gertrude Stein, her brother Leo, Alice B. Toklas, and other visitors from Paris, including André Gide. A troubled liaison with her chauffeur led to two suicide attempts: the first was by eating figs with shards of glass; the second with laudanum.

New York and Provincetown

In mid-1912, the Dodges (who by this time were becoming estranged) returned to America, and she began to set herself up as a patron of the arts, holding a weekly salon in her new apartment at 23 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. Often in attendance were such luminaries as Carl Van Vechten, Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Charles Demuth, "Big Bill" Haywood, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens, Hutchins Hapgood, Neith Boyce, Walter Lippmann, and John Reed. Van Vechten took Dodge as the model for the character "Edith Dale" in his novel Peter Whiffle. Anthropologist Raymond Harrington introduced Dodge and her friends to peyote in an impromptu "ceremony" there.

She was involved in mounting the Armory Show of new European Modern Art in 1913, and she published in pamphlet form a piece by Gertrude Stein, "Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia", which Dodge distributed at the exhibition. This brought her public attention.

She sailed to Europe at the end of June 1913. Her new acquaintance John Reed (Jack)—worn out from having recently organized the Paterson Pageant—travelled with her. They became lovers after arriving in Paris, where they socialized with Stein and Pablo Picasso. They moved down to the Villa Curonia, where the guests this time included Arthur Rubinstein. At first this was a very happy time for the couple, but then tension grew between the two as Reed grew uncomfortable with the affluent isolation and Dodge saw his interests in the world of people and achievements as a rejection of her. They returned to New York in late September 1913. In October 1913 Reed was sent to report on the Mexican Revolution by Metropolitan Magazine. Dodge followed him to Presidio, a border town, but left after a few days. In 1915, she returned to Provincetown with painter Maurice Sterne.

Over 1914–16 a deep and continuing relationship developed between the intelligentsia of Greenwich Village and Provincetown. Reed contributed to the start of the Provincetown Players, and Dodge had a rivalry with Mary Heaton Vorse.

Dodge became a nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst organization. She moved to Finney Farm, a large Croton estate. Sterne, who was to become Dodge's third husband, was staying in a cottage behind the main house. Dodge offered Reed the third floor of the house as a writing studio; he moved in for a short period but the situation was untenable. Later that year, 1916, Dodge married Sterne.

Santa Barbara

Around this time Dodge spent a great deal of time living in Santa Barbara, California, where her friend Lincoln Steffens had relatives who were living at the time. Lincoln Steffens' sister Lottie was married to local rancher John J. Hollister.


In 1919 Dodge, her husband, and Elsie Clews Parsons moved to Taos, New Mexico, and started a literary colony there. On the advice of Tony Luhan, a Native American whom she would marry in 1923, she bought a 12-acre (49,000 m2) property. Luhan set up a teepee in front of the small house and drummed there each night until Dodge came to him. Sterne bought a shotgun with the intention of chasing Luhan off the property, but he was unable to use it, and took to insulting Dodge. In response, she sent Sterne away, supporting him with monthly payments until their divorce four years later.

D. H. Lawrence, the English author, accepted an invitation from her to stay in Taos and he arrived, with Frieda his wife, in early September 1922. He had a fraught relationship with his hostess and wrote about this in his fiction. Dodge later published a memoir about his visit entitled, Lorenzo in Taos (1932).

Dodge and Luhan hosted a number of influential artists and poets including Marsden Hartley, Arnold Ronnebeck, Louise Emerson Ronnebeck, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una,Florence McClung, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mary Hunter Austin, Frank Waters, Jaime de Angulo, and others.

Dodge died at her home in Taos in 1962 and was buried in Kit Carson Cemetery. The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is an historic inn and conference center. Natalie Goldberg frequently teaches at Mabel Dodge Luhan House, which Dennis Hopper bought after seeing it while filming Easy Rider.


The Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers Collection—a collection of letters, manuscripts, photographs and personal papers documenting Dodge's life and works—is housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. A portion of the collection is available online.


Her 1935 book Winter in Taos is listed among the 100 Best Books In New Mexico (Jan 2011).


  1. ^ Byrne, Janet (1995), A Genius for Living: A biography of Frieda Lawrence, Bloomsbury, ISBN 0-7475-1284-1 
  2. Imhof, Robin (2002), "Salons",, retrieved 2008-01-17 
  3. Faderman, Lillian, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Penguin Books Ltd, 1991, page 83. ISBN 0-231-07488-3
  4. Luhan, Mabel Dodge (1936) Movers and Shakers. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  5. ^ Rosenstone, Robert A. (1990), Romantic Revolutionary: A biography of John Reed, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-77938-X 
  6. Milholland, David (2000). "John Reed in Mexico and Latin America". Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. Retrieved March 5, 2014. 
  7. Manso, Peter (2002), Ptown, Simon & Schuster 
  8. Creese, Mary R. S; Creese, Thomas M (May 2004). Ladies in the laboratory 2. ISBN 978-0-8108-4979-2. 
  9. Stansell, Christine (2000), American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Co, ISBN 0-8050-4847-2 
  10. Mabel Dodge Luhan Una and Robin Berkeley, CA: Bancroft Library, 1976
  11. Lois Palken Rudnick. Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture.Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
  12. Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Retrieved on 2009-07-08
  13. New Mexico Book Coop. "100 Best Books in New Mexico", January 6, 2011.

Further reading

  • Rudnick, Lois Palken (1987): Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-0995-2
  • Rudnick, Lois Palken (1996). Utopian vistas : the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American counterculture Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

External links

  • Mabel Dodge Luhan House official website
  • Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers From the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University

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