19 July 2012

The suffragette and the Dodge heiress at The Art Archives



Muriel and Gilbert on their honeymoon, 1891.
Countess Muriel De La Warr, nee Brassey (1872-1930), became a member of The Theosophical Society as a convinced and active suffragette. She did not pride herself on her progressive work and her financing of the movement, according to a close friend, the Christian Socialist George Lansbury. Lansbury was one of the founders of the Daily Herald and a fervent supporter of women’s rights. His campaigns were largely funded by Muriel. George had been a railway contractor before his political career, just as Muriel’s grandfather had been, Thomas Brassey (1805-1870). He laid the railways throughout the whole of the British Empire. And had as a result become unfathomably rich. But this was not enough for Muriel. She wanted to have the title of a countess. Therefore Muriel married Gilbert Sackville, 8th Earl De La Warr (pronounced as: Delaware) in 1891. Gilbert belonged to the oldest of English upper-class families. However, his family’s fortunes had dwindled, and he needed money. Muriel had enough of the stuff.
Naughty daughter Idina Sackville

Everybody happy, one could suppose. But Gilbert went on to blow his luck by having a fling with an actress in his home-town Bexhill-on-Sea, with whom he went to live a couple of houses down the street of his wife’s. Needless to say that the marriage ended in 1902. Muriel went on to be a suffragette, and so did her eldest daughter Idina. This Idina however became famous as a ‘bolter’: someone who lives a very promiscuous life. She married five times and was the scandal of the English peerage. The biography The Bolter (2008) recounts her very naughty adventures. The book was written by Frances Osborne, a descendant of the Brassey family.

Emily Lutyens
Within the Theosophical Society Muriel’s network and financial back-up was also important, and not only hers. She was introduced to the Society by member Lady Emily Lutyens, the wife of the famous architect Edward Lutyens - himself of very lowly background but artistically gifted, who worked his way up through (intimate) contacts with women - and daughter of a Viceroy of India, Robert Bulwer-Lytton. The Lutyens family was directly related to Arthur Balfour, the conservative prime minister between 1902 and 1905, and his brother, the alcoholic architect Eustace, who married Lady Frances Campbell. This last-mentioned, somewhat bohemian couple became close friends of the painter Edward Burne-Jones and his wife. All these women were committed suffragettes. See for a listing E. Crawford, The women's suffrage movement: a reference guide, London 2001.
Edward Burne-Jones, Lady Campbell, 1880

At the time Muriel became a member of the Society, she lived in London with her friend and co-member of the Theosophical Society, Mary Hoadley Dodge. It took some time to figure out who she was, because her name is always misspelled as Headley, and she is always mentioned as the heiress to the Dodge car emporium. Mary Melissa Hoadley Dodge (1861-1934) however was not the heir to the cars, but a daughter of William E. Dodge, one of two controlling partners in the Phelps Dodge Corporation, one of the largest copper mining corporations in the United States. Guess what: Mary’s grandfather was David Hoadley, the president of the Panama Railway Company. So now we’ve made full circle to Muriel’s grandfather’s business.
William Dodge had a house built in Tudor Revival style by one of the most famous American architects at that time, James Renwick Jr. William also was a philanthropist, who raised funds for, and was on the executive board of, the MOMA in New York, and was a member of a host of other institutions, such as the National Academy of Design in New York. Mary’s sister Grace was also active on the women’s rights movement in the US. For an indication of the sheer wealth of the family: at her death in December 1914 Grace left a net estate of 7 million Dollars, of which she bequeathed more than 1,5 million to religious, charitable, and educational institutions. 

Railways and money were not the only shared elements in the biography of Mary Dodge and Muriel De la Warr. They both housed the brothers Jiddu and Nityananda Krishnamurti, when they were shipped to London from India, first in Muriel’s house Old Lodge in Ashdown Forest, then in a flat belonging to Muriel at Robert Street, Adelphi, and then in the house of Mary Dodge on West Side Common. The Krishnamurti brothers were educated under their wings, and Jiddu went on to become the World Leader of modern theosophy. The daughter of Emily Lutyens, Mary, became the first biographer of Krishnamurti. Watch terrific original footing here:


William Blake, Gabriel appearing to Zacharias, c. 1800.
The famous modern dancer Ruth St. Denis at Krotona, 1918.
Mary Dodge was not only involved in art – she collected e.g. Blake, shown left – she was also influential in further establishing the position of the Theosophical Society. She settled a life annuity of £500 on Krishnamurti, an income of an undisclosed amount on Annie Besant, the second President of the Theosophical Society, and she paid for the acquisition of about 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of land at Ojai, California, for use by the Theosophical Society. It is the home of Krotona, the American headquarters of the Adyar Branch of the TS, which first was located in Hollywood. The architectural historian Alfred Willis researched the building history of the original Hollywood colony in all its details. One of the most colorful persons of Krotona was co-founder and Wagnerian opera singer Marie Barnard Smith Russak Hotchener. But she will be part of another story on theosophists...