Friday, March 13, 2015

Loving Frank - Living Outside the Doll's House with Frank Lloyd Wright

In my book "The Peacemaker" I attempted to create fictional women of the early 20th Century living in a society that gave them only one choice - marriage and family. I created characters that didn't fit into this mold and developed stories that recounted their struggles to break free from "The Doll House" and live authentically while thriving as women and doing what their passions dictated. These fictional women came from not only the upper class but the middle and lower class as well. Their stories revolved around the woman's movement for equal pay, ending sexual and child abuse (especially that of the owners of the sweat shops of the early industrialist movement), property rights,the end of continual warfare, and civil rights for all the oppressed minorities. Lucretia Mott, one of the leaders of the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention of 1848, was wise enough to know that none of these changes would happen until women got the right to vote - thus the suffragette movement of the early 20th Century.

I recently read a book entitled "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan and found that this book covering the seven year love affair between Mamah Borthwich Cheny and Frank Lloyd Wright embodied everything I was trying to say in my generational account of the women's movement. Through Mamah's eyes I relived a lot of my own struggle growing up in the sixties and trying to find a place in society being created outside the vision of my southern upbringing that revolved around home and family. Like Mamah, I was a teacher who married into the upper middle class and struggled to find my authentic place with my home and two children. Unlike Mamah I did not have the courage to leave my marriage when it became difficult because I did not have the strength to leave my children. I do not regret that decision nor harbor any ill feelings toward my husband who became desperate enough to leave the marriage when he did. Had I done what he did, I would have been scandalized by society the way Mamah was. Her treatment was made worse because she was involved with an internationally acclaimed architect. More than either spouse, Mamah and Frank were hounded by yellow journalists who put more emphasis on their living situation than the European events that were to lead to World War I.

As I read this story, I couldn't help but think about the current call for women's rights and equality. As mostly male partisan political leaders punch and jab and judge, women are falling farther and farther into the mold that defines "The American Dream."  Romance novels and reality television keep the illusion of the Cinderella fairy tale alive and young girls are still taught they can "bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan." As women's group fight for equal rights, girls are still fed the fairy tale of marriage and family and end up with the same dilemma as Mamah after a while. Their emotions are torn between their love for their children and their female drives to build a nest while feeling a lack of real love and authenticity in their lives.

The phrase "the more things change the more they stay the same" kept running through my head as I read this book. It was easy for me to substitute current stories for the stories of the characters in the novel. Ibsen had his "Doll's House." We have the Red Carpet. Mamah had the Woman Movement; we have women's liberation. Had Mamah and the house that Frank Lloyd Wright built lasted, her story may have led to some authenticity to the Women's Movement of her time. Unfortunately, she along with many early leaders of the movement were cast from the history books and the building of Doll Houses in America as well as abroad continued. Women as well as men continue to live unauthentic, loveless lives and let the media direct their children's attitudes and opinions that validate the Glass House existence that is continually battered with stones of judgement and pointing fingers with few having the courage to break free.