The Women of Frank Lloyd Wright
Wright was born Frank Lincoln Wright on June 8, 1867, to Anna Lloyd Jones Wright and William Carey Wright in Richland Center, Wis. His parents divorced in 1884, after which Wright changed his name to Frank Lloyd Wright. Monetary care of Anna and her three children was overtaken by her brothers, all part of the close-knit Lloyd Jones clan of Welsh immigrants in the area of southern Wisconsin.
Anna Lloyd Jones was a strong, self-reliant woman who had a huge influence over Wright's life, to the extent that he would always say she had chosen his career path into architecture for him before he was even born. Much more than that, she was a very possessive mother who would maneuver to stay at the forefront in his life, continuing her interference until she died in 1923.
Catherine Lee Tobin was Wright's first wife. Nicknamed Kitty, she and Wright met while he was working in Chicago as a draftsman at an architecture firm, and they married two years later on June 1, 1889 (much to the protest of Anna). Wright started his own practice in 1893, setting up shop in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. The Arts and Crafts Movement swept into town at this time, and Wright and other young architects embraced it, for it gave them a niche: home-grown quality-crafted American architecture. The couple would have six children before Wright left her in 1909. Kitty refused to grant him a divorce for 14 years, but she finally relented, and their divorce was eventually finalized on Nov. 13, 1923.
Mamah Borthwick Cheney met Wright while he was working on a house for her and her husband, and they began an affair. This continued quietly until Wright decided to leave his family, his wife and, perhaps most notably, his practice to sneak off to Europe with Mamah (pronounced Maymah). This caused an uproar at home when newspapers reported the scandal, and while Mamah's divorce was proceeding, she spent the better part of two years in Europe. Wright began construction on a home for the two of them -- Taliesin -- in 1911 in Spring Green, Wis., during which time he also worked on projects like the Midway Gardens in Chicago. Mamah would not enjoy the house for long, however. On Aug. 15, 1914, a manservant at the house, Julian Carlton, inexplicably set fire to Taliesin and murdered first Mamah, then her two children and then four others who were part of a work crew staying at the house.
Wright set about rebuilding Taliesin. He soon took up with Maude Miriam Noel who, among other things, was a morphine addict and a spiritualist. A member of the upper crust, Noel was very stylish and cleverly angled her way into his life in no time at all. The two remained together as lovers until Kitty finally granted the divorce to Wright. The couple married later that month. Their tumultuous time together ended after a two-year separation and an extended, positively gruesome, divorce and legal battle.
While still technically married to Miriam (she had left him after only about six months of marriage), Wright met Olga Ivanova Lazovich, better known as Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. A dancer from Montenegro and soon to be divorced, Olgivanna and Wright hit it off right away, and she moved into Taliesin in early 1925. She became pregnant later that year, and they had one daughter, Iovanna, together. Once they were able to marry, they did -- and remained that way until Wright's death 1959 at the age of 91. Olgivanna, about 30 years younger than Wright, lived until 1985.
Despite his age, Wright's death surprised those around him, for though his life has been speckled with catastrophes and calamities, he had spent most of his long years in generally good health.