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Jack Reed and Mabel Dodge — Their Lasting Legacy

John (Jack) Reed

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Russian Revolution, and so we celebrate the rise of John Reed who chronicled the Revolution from a first hand perspective.

It could be said that the rise of iconic Villager John (Jack) Reed was born in the legendary salons (and arms) of Mabel Dodge.  Dodge’s Salons were, in her own words, created “To dynamite New York!”  Sometimes hundreds of guests would gather at 23 Fifth Avenue to debate radical politics, free love, psychoanalysis, the single tax, birth control, Wobblies, cubism, and women’s suffrage, just to name a few of the topics.  Enlightened individuals of all stripes would convene within the walls of Dodge’s Greenwich Village apartment; writers, artists, journalists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, labor leaders, clergymen, psychiatrists, poets, playwrights…  they were there to “upset America with fatal, irrevocable disaster to the old order!”

A genius at managing people without anyone’s knowledge, Dodge would act as a channel or an instrument of thought and discourse.   On the subject of art she emphasized modernist painting and prose, in the conversation around sex she would guide toward the question of women’s rights, and in politics, she focused discussions on the labor movement.

Portrait of Mabel Dodge by Mary Foote

At one such Labor Movement salon, the primary topic was the recent “Paterson Strike.”

Paterson, New Jersey was known as the “Silk City of America.”  More than one-third of its 73,000 workers held jobs in the silk industry.  In 1911 silk manufacturers in Paterson decided that workers, who had previously run two looms, were now required to operate four simultaneously. For this and other grievances, 800 employees of the Doherty Silk Mill went on strike when four of the workers’ committee were fired for trying to organize a meeting with the company’s management.  Within a week, all silk workers were on strike and the 300 mills in the town were closed.

Dodge’s evening gathering, this time held at the cozy apartment of Margaret Sanger, was convened to discuss the strike.  Big Bill Haywood, a founding member of the IWW and an executive committee member of the Socialist Party of America, was the key speaker and throngs of enraptured Villagers came to hear Big Bill, just released from jail, report on the strike.  Dodge suggested that, because there was a news blackout on the topic, something must be done in order to create interest in the strike and educate New Yorkers about the plight of the workers. She declared that the strike should be brought to New York and show it to the workers.  “Why don’t {you} hire a great hall and reenact the strike over here?  Show the whole thing!  In Madison Square Garden!”

A voice from the back of the room said, “I’ll do it.”  And Jack Reed emerged from the shadows.  “That’s a great idea.  We’ll make a pageant of the strike.”

Jack Reed had made his mark as a crusading journalist, published in both the commercial press and the radical Masses before his mid-20s.  Reed was on his way to successfully forge solidarity between the intelligentsia and the workers; a common theme in Dodge’s salon.

After that night, Dodge and Reed proceeded to scheme on the event.  They wrote the scenario together, enlisted painters, and designers, prepped Madison Square Garden, rehearsed the striking silk workers in their insurrectionary slogans and songs to the tune of “Harvard, Old Harvard,” and created, what was reported by one New York paper, to be an event with such poignant realism “that no man who saw will ever forget.”

Through the course of their common cause and struggle to create the pageant, Dodge and Reed fell madly in love. The day after the Madison Square Garden event, they left together for a tour of Europe.

Reed was well known at the time for his propensity for falling in and out of love.  And his affair with Dodge, while intense and sincere, flamed out in a spectacle of sparks. The “Queen of Bohemia” had united with the “Poet Laureate of the Village” and neither could thrive with the other.  The symbiosis both began to feel was the very thing that drew them apart.

Reed began to travel more and more. When the war broke out, Reed posted to the western front of Europe.  Dodge grew weary of his absence while he grew weary of her smothering nature.  Eventually the two would part and Reed would go on to post from the front of the Russian Revolution.  His book, Ten Days That Shook the World, was his first-hand account of the Revolution.

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    5 responses to “Jack Reed and Mabel Dodge — Their Lasting Legacy

    1. I knew of Reed from Russian history, but nothing of Dodge’s influence. Thanks for the fascinating connection I learned from your story.

      1. Same . Jack Reid is a name I encountered in college Russian history class , but knew absolutely nothing about his relationship with Mabel Dodge Luhan . Mabel died in Taos , NM and I live in Albuquerque . She is well known among New Mexicans .
        I learned something today too . Thanks for posting

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