Susan Goes to a Conference

October 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I took Susan to a history conference this week. Myron (Mike) Marty (co-author of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship) and I presented a session entitled “Women Who Built with Frank Lloyd Wright” at the 14th annual Conference on Illinois History sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Mike shared images of woman who were associated with designs of Wright and some of the structures that resulted. I revealed in my presentation, entitled “The Wright Connections of Susan Lawrence,” some of the links to Wright and his family that I discovered in my research for Susan’s biography, Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House.

Susan’s first encounter with a member of Wright’s family was more than ten years before she commissioned him to remodel her father’s house. She met Wright’s Aunt Jennie (Jane) in Minneapolis where Susan and her first husband Edwin Dana resided during the first ten years of their marriage. The relationship grew when Jennie and her sister Nell (Ellen) opened the Hillside Home School, a progressive boarding school, on their family’s property in southern Wisconsin. Susan not only generously supported the school financially but also served on the board for several years. Through letters and memoirs, I learned that Susan continued her friendship with Wright’s entire extended family long after the Lawrence House was completed. I found, for example, highly personal letters from Susan to Wright’s mother Anna in which Susan sent greetings to Wright’s children, sisters, aunts and uncles. Through other letters I was also able to trace Susan’s relationship to Frank Lloyd Wright 30 years after the house was built.

This conference offered a smörgåsbord of topics. Mike and I were pleased that many chose to attend our session. It was an opportunity to reveal to a diverse audience women in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life other than those who have been sensationalized in current popular literature. I hope to take Susan to a conference again.

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