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Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney

A Tragic Ending to Their Affair

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Having left his wife and six children, Frank Lloyd Wright began a scandalous relationship with Mamah Cheney. Their relationship ended tragically when Mamah and her two children, along with four other people, were murdered at Taliesin.

Born:

Frank Lloyd Wright: June 8, 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His birth name as Frank Lincoln Wright. He changed his name after his parents divorced.

Martha (Mamah) Borthwick Cheney: June, 1869 in Boone, Iowa.

Died:

Frank: April 9, 1959 in Phoenix, Arizona (Taliesin West) at the age of 92. Frank never retired.

Mamah: August 15, 1914 in Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin. Mamah, her two children, and four others were murdered by one of Frank's employees, Julian Carlton. Julian set fire to Taliesin and attacked those trying to escape with an axe.

Mamah is buried at Taliesin near Unity Chapel. Initially, there was no headstone, but later Frank placed a simple one on her grave.

How Frank and Mamah Met:

Frank and Mamah met while Frank was working with her husband Edwin Henry Cheney to design a house for Edwin and Mamah. Mamah had previously met Kitty at a social club.

Frank left his wife Kitty in 1909 to travel throughout Europe with Mamah. When Frank and Mamah returned from Europe, they lived together at Taliesin.

Previous Marriages:

Mamah and Edwin Henry Cheney were married in 1899. They divorced in 1911. Edwin later married Elsie Millor. Elsie and Edwin had three children. He died in St. Louis, Missouri.

Frank and Kitty Tobin were married on June 1, 1899. They didn't divorce until November 13, 1922.

Children:

Mamah had two children with her husband, Edwin.
  • John Cheney. Born 1902. Died on August 15, 1914 in Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin.
  • Martha Cheney. Born 1905. Died on August 15, 1914 in Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Occupations and Interests:

Frank: Notable architect and designer. Frank loved to entertain.

Mamah: Translator who spoke six languages.

Pictures:

  • The Taliesin House
  • Quotes:

    Frank, while in Europe with Mamah: "I have never loved Catherine -- my wife -- as she deserved. I have for some years past loved another."
    Source: Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, page 210.

    Frank, about Mamah, January, 1912: "... I love the woman who has cast in her lot with me here not wisely but too well. She too has her remunerative work -- as I have. She is quite able to supply her own needs -- and we work together ..."
    Source: About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright, page 73.

    Frank, about not having a monument on Mamah's grave: "All I had left to show for the struggle for freedom of the five years past that had swept most of my former life away had now been swept away. Why mark the spot where desolation ended and began?"
    Source: Many Masks, page 233.

    Frank, after Mamah's death: "Something strange had happened to me. Instead of feeling that she, whose life had joined mine there at Taliesin, was a spirt near, she was utterly gone!"
    Source:An Autobiography, page 211.

    Frank's eulogy to Mamah: "To you who have been so invariably kind to us all, I would say something to defend a brave and lovely woman from those who attack her in death as viciously as they did in life. ... We lived frankly and sincerely and we have tried to help others live ... according to their ideals." Frank Lloyd Wright: An Interpretive Biography, page 136-137.

    Robert Twombly, author, description of Mamah: "She was a noble woman who valued her freedom more than motherhood, wifehood, or chastity, and who had the courage to live by her convictions." Frank Lloyd Wright: An Interpretive Biography, page 136.

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