Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

The Suffragette and the Dodge Heiress

Marty Bax – The Netherlands

Public Eye Bax  b  Muriel and Gilbert
Muriel and Gilbert on their honeymoon, 1891

Countess Muriel De La Warr (née Brassey 1872-1930), became a member of the Theosophical Society as an active suffragette. According to her close friend, the Christian Socialist George Lansbury, Muriel did not pride herself on her progressive work and her financing of the movement. Lansbury was one of the founders of the Daily Herald and a fervent supporter of women’s rights, and his campaigns were largely funded by Muriel. Before his political career, Lansbury had been a railway contractor, just as Muriel’s grandfather, Thomas Brassey (1805-1870) had been. Brassey was responsible for laying the railways throughout the whole of the British Empire, and became unfathomably rich. But wealth was not enough for Muriel, she wanted to have the title of a countess. Therefore Muriel married Gilbert Sackville, Eighth Earl De La Warr (pronounced Delaware) in 1891. Gilbert belonged to the oldest of English upper-class families. However, his family’s fortunes had dwindled and he needed money. Muriel had plenty of it.

 

Public Eye Bax  c Idina SackvilleNaughty daughter Idina Sackville
 

One could suppose that everyone was happy. But Gilbert went on to blow his luck by having a fling with an actress in his hometown Bexhill-on-Sea and eventually went to live with the actress a couple of houses down the street from his wife. The marriage ended in 1902 and Muriel went on to be a suffragette, as did her eldest daughter Idina. Idina, however, became famous as a “bolter,” someone who lives a very promiscuous life. She married five times and was the scandal of the English peerage. The biography The Bolter (2008) recounts her very naughty adventures. The book was written by Frances Osborne, Idina’s great-granddaughter.

 Public Eye Bax d Emily lutyens Emily Lutyens

Within the Theosophical Society, Muriel’s network and financial backing, as well as others, was important. She was introduced to the Society by Lady Emily Lutyens, the wife of the famous architect Edward Lutyens — a man of common background but artistically gifted, who worked his way up through (intimate) contacts with women — and the daughter of a Viceroy of India, Robert Bulwer-Lytton. The Lutyens family was directly related to former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (1902-1905). Balfour’s brother, Eustace, was an alcoholic architect who married Lady Frances Campbell, and this somewhat bohemian couple became close friends with the painter Edward Burne-Jones and his wife. All these women were committed suffragettes. (See for a listing E. Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, London, 2001).

 Public Eye Bax e Burne Jones lady Balfour CampbellEdward Burne-Jones, 
Lady Campbell, 1880

At the time Muriel became a member of the Society, she lived in London with her friend and co-member, Mary Melissa Hoadley Dodge (1861-1934). Dodge’s name is often misspelled as “Headley” and she is mistakenly thought to be the heiress to the Dodge car emporium. Mary Melissa Hoadley Dodge was the daughter of William E. Dodge, one of two controlling partners in the Phelps Dodge Corporation, one of the largest copper mining corporations in the United States. Mary’s grandfather was David Hoadley, the president of the Panama Railway Company. So now we’ve made a full circle to Muriel’s grandfather’s business!

Public Eye Bax f Greystone Dodge house 
Greystone Dodge House

William Dodge had a house built in Tudor Revival style by one of the most famous American architects at that time, James Renwick Jr. He was also was a philanthropist, who fundraised and was on the executive board of MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Dodge was also a member of a host of other institutions such as the National Academy of Design in New York. Mary’s sister Grace was also active in the women’s rights movement in the U.S. To give an indication of the wealth of the family, at her death in December 1914, Grace’s net estate was worth $7 million, of which she bequeathed more than $1.5 million to religious, charitable, and educational institutions.

Public Eye Bax g Blake the Angel
William Blake, Gabriel appearing to Zacharias, c. 1800

Railways and money were not the only shared elements in the biography of Mary Dodge and Muriel De la Warr. They both hosted the brothers J. Krishnamurti and Nityanandan, when they arrived in London from India. Muriel first housed them in Old Lodge in Ashdown Forest, then in a flat on Robert Street in Adelphi. Mary Dodge provided them housing in West Side Common, Wimbeldon. The brothers were educated under their wings, and Krishnamurti went on to become known as the World Teacher by some Theosophists. (According to Mary Lutyens, when the boys first came to London, Frank Arundale and Mrs. Besant were looking after them.) The daughter of Emily Lutyens, Mary, became the first biographer of Krishnamurti.

Public Eye Bax h Ruth St
The famous modern dancer Ruth St. Denis at Krotona, 1918

Mary Dodge was influential in further establishing the position of the Theosophical Society. She settled a life annuity of £500 on Krishnamurti and an income of an undisclosed amount on Annie Besant, the second president of the Theosophical Society. She also paid for the acquisition of about 6 acres of land in Ojai, California, for use by the Theosophical Society. It is the home of Krotona, one of the ES centers. The architectural historian Alfred Willis researched the building history of the original Hollywood colony in all its details. One of the most colorful persons of Krotona was co-founder and Wagnerian opera singer Marie Barnard Smith Russak Hotchener. 

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