Mabel Dodge Organizes New York City’s First Real “Open Mic?”: Intimate Memories

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Dublin Core

Title

Mabel Dodge Organizes New York City’s First Real “Open Mic?”: Intimate Memories

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

Mabel Dodge Organizes New York City’s First Real “Open Mic?”

Dodge’s memoir shows that she herself didn’t technically coin the title of her gatherings as “Evenings”. But Dodge’s recordings of conversations with Lincoln Steffens reveal her role in crafting the ideology behind them. The ideology is ultimately what is interesting and revolutionary about the gatherings at Mabel Dodge’s apartment in Greenwich Village. Dodge’s “Evenings” were a radical space for an era where a certain political ideology could actually still end someone in prison. For example, some of Dodge’s less affluent confidants, like Margret Sanger and Emma Goldman, were both arrested on multiple occasions for ideas and propaganda that they generated and spoke freely about at Dodge’s “Evenings”. Goldman was even deported! Dodge understood the importance of bringing together the most radical sides of an issue like labor reform in order to understand the full complexity of the issue. Dodge’s core belief in creating this “blank” space without a clear political stance was important and radical in itself. Dodge as a figure was also important to the environment which she functioned in. Her presence evoked calm and acceptance. This was well articulated by Steffens in their conversations about crafting “Evenings” for the public. By advertising her meetings to the public, Dodge essentially created the first real “open mic night” for ideas, art, and any other type of performance that the Bohemians could muster. The advertised aspect of the “Evening” is key in comprehending Dodge’s beliefs in expanding discourse. Dodge understood that in order for radical ideas to instigate radical change that they could not only function in underground meetings — they had to be glamorous and entertaining to a wider audience.

Lincoln Steffens or “Steff” as Dodge refers to him as, describes Dodge as having “a centralizing, magnetic, social faculty.” He tells her, “You attract, stimulate, and soothe people, and men like to sit with you and talk to themselves! You make them think more fluently, and they feel enhanced” (Luhan 2785). Steffens's comments illustrate how Dodge’s role as an organizer of radical ideas could not be taken on by just any passionate individual. His description conveys Dodge’s inherent openness, which makes a space like her apartment in Greenwich Village thrive. Without the liberating air which Dodge exudes the idea of an open form for conversation could not have flourished in the same radical way. It was Dodge’s calculated social prowess and ability to navigate through various circles that truly formed the platform of discourse among the reformers, activists, and artists of “The Village.” Alfred Stieglitz once referred to Dodge as a “creator of creators,” and her establishment of “Evenings” was a huge piece to how she accomplished this constant support of the diverse discourse (Barnet 138).

Dodge was clearly skilled at her ability to bring people together—but it is often overlooked how much Dodge did actually carry an ideology along with her “Evenings”. Dodge is often described as a hostess, but in a way she is almost more like the mediator of a discussion in an academic sphere. After Steffens suggests organizing people, Dodge responds, “But I thought we don’t believe in ‘organization’?” which is important because her assertion conveys how much she values open conversation. Dodge wants to control this concept and was not entirely led by Steffens's initial idea. Dodge solidifies the ideology behind the meetings on her own and therefore the importance of Dodge as an active orchestrator can be fully understood (Luhan 2787). Dodge’s comment about her own work ethic when she says, “I never needed more than a hint of an idea, if it seemed a good one to me, to seize it and make it my own,” which conveys that she is aware of the importance of not just having good ideas—but seeing them through to actualization as well (Luhan 2789).

There were dozens of publications floating around The Village, such as The Masses and The Village Voice, which makes Dodge’s decision to advertise her “Evenings” in a mainstream publication even more clearly purposeful. She is again taking the underground to forefront of society. The headline in New York Life read, “THE PRINTED PAGE WILL SOON BE SUPERSEDED BY THE SPOKEN WORD,” DECLARES MRS. MABEL DODGE, WHO HAS BEEN HOLDING A NEW YORK SALON FOR FREE SPEECH” (Luhan 2801). Dodge’s bold promotion of free speech protects the radical nature of the ideas discussed in her space. Dodge had become such a mainstream figure that her approval of this space made even the radical ideas of figures like Emma Goldman more reputable. Though they were still seen as radicals, their ideas were being distributed and therefore more conversations were being started across the city.

Barnet, Andrea. All Night Party: The Women of Bohemia Greenwich Village and
Harlem. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2004. Print.

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2779-2801). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.


Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Intimate Memories

Publisher

University of New Mexico Press

Date

Published 1999, Written ca. 1913

Contributor

Lois Rudnick

Format

Written Memoir

Language

English

Type

Memoir

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

“You have a certain faculty,” Steff told me one autumn afternoon as we drank tea together by the fire that glowed in the white marble chimney place. “It’s a centralizing, magnetic, social faculty. You attract, stimulate, and soothe people, and men like to sit with you and talk to themselves! You make them think more fluently, and they feel enhanced. If you had lived in Greece long ago, you would have been called a hetaira. Now why don’t you see what you can do with this gift of yours? Why not organize all this accidental, unplanned activity around you? This coming and going of visitors, and see these people at certain hours? Have Evenings!” “But I thought we don’t believe in ‘organization,’ ” I told him reproachfully, for had not he and Hutch said again and again that organizations and institutions are only the crystals of living ideas—and “as soon as an idea is crystallized, it is dead. As soon as one makes up one’s mind, it is time to change it!” “Oh, I don’t mean that you would organize the Evenings,” he flashed at me with a white smile beneath his little brown bang. “I mean, get people here at certain times and let them feel absolutely free to be themselves and see what happens. Let everybody come! All these different kinds of people that you know, together here, without being managed or herded in any way! Why, something wonderful might come of it! You might even revive General Conversation!” So, really, the Evenings were, in the first place, Steffens’s idea. I never needed more than a hint of an idea, if it seemed a good one to me, to seize it and make it my own. Just a little push has always been enough for me if I liked the direction. Perhaps intuitive people like Steffens have sometimes seen the possibilities before I knew them myself—have noticed the bubbling before the artesian thrust and rise of energy—and by suggesting the activity already preparing to express itself have helped to bring it to the surface. Certainly this is what skillful psychologists try to do. Anyway, ideas as congenial as this one Steff offered seemed to me already mine as soon as he uttered them, and months later, when the Evenings had become a feature of New York life, I was able to take the entire credit for them in an interview by a Mrs. Pearson: “THE PRINTED PAGE WILL SOON BE SUPERSEDED BY THE SPOKEN WORD,” DECLARES MRS. MABEL DODGE, WHO HAS BEEN HOLDING A NEW YORK SALON FOR FREE SPEECH."

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2779-2801). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Original Format

Written Memoir