Making Modernism

Letter from Margery Currey to Eunice Tietjens, 1912

This correspondence between Margery Currey and Eunice Tietjens discusses what Currey calls Chicago's “first suffrage parade,” which took place during the Progressive convention in 1912. The correspondence points to the often overlooked role that female salonnières and editors played in the Chicago Renaissance and highlights the interconnection of arts movements and Progressive causes in turn-of-the-century Chicago.

Though Currey and Tietjens are often written out of literary history, both were central figures in the literary and artistic networks that made Chicago a hotbed of intellectual activity in the 1910s. Currey and her husband Floyd Dell ran an influential salon that brought together a diverse group of artists and thinkers. Margaret Anderson credited Currey's salon with providing the impetus for founding the Little Review, which famously serialized James Joyce's Ulysses, and poet Arthur Davison Ficke reportedly paid homage to Currey's influence on the Chicago arts scenes with the lines, “Why does all of sharp and new / That our modern age can brew / Culminate in you?” In addition to promoting artistic experimentation, Currey was an ardent advocate for women's rights and the labor movement. She was often discussed for her “feminist marriage” to Dell; they kept separate apartments and divided their domestic labor equally. In this letter, Currey describes her work to get women's suffrage included in the Progressive platform for 1912 as “a well of mineral water, and a band of music, and a ride on an aeroplane,” explaining that she “was never so busy and so exuberant in [her] life as during this convention week.”

Tietjens was less overtly politically radical than Currey, but was no less engaged in creating a progressive, cosmopolitan literary culture in Chicago. Tietjens traveled widely, serving as a war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News in France from 1917-1918, and living in Japan, China, Tunisia, New York, and Chicago at various points. Tietjens was associate editor of Poetry magazine for twenty-five years, heavily influencing that magazine's interest in and promotion of poetry that explored cosmopolitan themes and aesthetics. Her correspondence with Currey shows her support for feminist and Progressive political causes as well as her concern with creating a vibrant and expansive literary scene centered in Chicago.

Currey eventually moved to Greenwich Village, and Tietjens continued to roam far from Chicago throughout her life. But for both women, Chicago was a key site for gathering the political and literary energies that went into the making of modernism.

-Erin Kappeler, Missouri State University

Link to the finding aid for this collection

This page has paths:

This page references: