MARY ELISABETH DREIER, 1875-1963
Mary Elisabeth Dreier (also known as Mimi, Mietze, and Tolochee), social reformer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 26,1875, the fourth of five surviving children of Theodor Dreier and Dorothea Adelheid (Dreier) Dreier. Theodor Dreier emigrated to the United States from Bremen, Germany in 1849; he settled in New York City, where he eventually became a partner in the local branch of Naylor, Benson and Co., an English iron firm. In 1864 he returned to Germany for a visit and married a younger cousin, Dorothea. They had five children: Margaret Dreier(1868-1945), Dorothea Adelheid (1870-1923), Henry Edward (1872-1955), Mary, and Katherine Sophie (1877-1952).
MED attended George Brackett's school in Brooklyn. She took classes at the New York School of Philanthropy but did not seek a college degree. A strong religious background helped motivate MED to undertake reform work. In 1899 she met Leonora O'Reilly, a former garment worker who was head of a local settlement house. O'Reilly later brought both MED and her sister Margaret into the New York Women's Trade Union League, a coalition of women workers and middle and upper-class women reformers founded in 1903 to organize working women and educate the public about urban labor conditions.
MED served as president of the NYWTUL from 1906 to 1914 and remained active in the organization until it disbanded in 1950. She was arrested while demonstrating during the 1909 strike of shirtwaistmakers and was henceforth a leading spokeswoman for labor reform on behalf of women workers. She was the only woman on the New York State Factory Investigating Committee, which was appointed after the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911. Between 1911 and 1915 MED, chairman Robert F. Wagner, vice-chairman Alfred E. Smith, and six other commissioners wrote a report that helped to modernize the state's labor laws.
The negative attitude of male trade unionists towards women workers helped turn MED into an ardent supporter of suffrage and women's rights; she chaired New York City's Woman Suffrage Party. On the national level MED often supported Progressive Party nominees, including Robert M. LaFollette and Henry A. Wallace, although like many progressives she was an enthusiastic backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.
MED served on a number of government and private committees concerned with labor and women. Later in life, however, she focused more of her attention on international issues and American foreign policy. Between the two world wars she was a supporter of Soviet-American friendship and an outspoken opponent of the regime in Nazi Germany; after World War II she opposed nuclear proliferation. She was investigated by the FBI in the 1950's.
MED wrote numerous poems, plays and skits during her long life. In 1914 she wrote Barbara Richards, a novel about working women that was never published. In 1950 she published a laudatory biography of her sister, Margaret Dreier Robins: Her Life, Letters and Work.
MED's income came from a trust fund left by her father; she was a generous supporter of causes, the WTUL, numerous friends, and family members. She remained close to her brother and sisters, and to her brother's children and grandchildren, and kept up a long correspondence with relatives in Germany. She never married, but shared a home with fellow reformer Frances Kellor from 1905 until the latter's death in 1952. Thereafter she lived alone, still a busy correspondent and active in favorite causes despite increasingly frail health. She died of a pulmonary embolism on August 15, 1963, at her summer home at Bar Harbor, Maine, at the age of 87.
For further biographical information about MED, see Notable American Women, Vol. IV. The papers of the National Women's Trade Union League are available on microfilm at the Schlesinger Library.
THE DREIER FAMILY
Margaret Dreier Robins (September 6, 1868-February 21, 1945), also known as Gretchen and Bimini, was the oldest of Theodor and Dorothea Dreier's five children. She began to work for various social organizations in New York in her late teens, and in 1904 joined the NYWTUL. The following year she married fellow reformer Raymond Robins (1873-1954; also known as Ahochee) and moved to Chicago, where she continued to work for the League and became its national president (1907-1922). In 1924 MDR and RR retired to Chinsegut Hill, their 2000 acre estate in Florida. MED spent much time at Chinsegut Hill; she was very close to both MDR and RR. MDR died at Chinsegut Hill of pernicious anemia and a heart ailment at the age of 76; MED continued to visit the estate often until 1954, when the invalided RR died. The Robinses had no children but for many years shared their home with Lisa von Borowsky, who remained at Chinsegut Hill after the Robinses' death to care for the estate.
The papers of MDR are at the University of Florida Library in Gainseville. For further biographical information about MDR see Notable American Women, Vol. I, and Margaret Dreier Robins: Her Life, Letters and Work, by MED, 1950. The papers of Raymond Robins are at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison.
Dorothea Adelheid Dreier (1870-1923), also known as Dodo, was the second daughter and a painter. She studied art for several years in Europe but never gained the prominence of her younger sister, Katherine (see below). The papers of Dorothea Dreier are at the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution and are available on microfilm at the AAA in Washington, New York, Boston, Detroit, and San Francisco.
Henry Edward Dreier (1872-1955), known as Edward, was a New York businessman. He worked for his father's company for many years and eventually became its president. He was also president of the Lock Stub Company. In 1901 HED married Ethel Eyre Valentine (1874-1958), a suffragist who was later active with the League of Women Voters and in civic affairs. Her papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.
- The Dreiers had four children:
- 1. Theodore, married to Barbara Loines. Children: Theodore (Ted V, Quintus), "Eddie", Mark, and Barbara.
- 2. John, married to Louisa (Isa) Richardson. Children: John (Jock), Susan, and Alexander.
- 3. Dorothea, married to Peter Voorhees. Children: Dorothea, Peter.
- 4. Nan, married to Garrett Stearley, no children.
Katherine Sophie Dreier (September 10, 1877-March 29, 1952), also known as Kate, was a patron of modern art as well as an artist. In her youth she studied art in New York and as an adult in Europe. In 1914 she helped establish the Cooperative Mural Workshop, and in 1916 joined the newly formed, avant-garde Society of Independent Artists. She made her most lasting contribution to modern art when she joined with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray to found the Societe Anonyme, a "center for the study and promotion of modern art." As an artist, KSD was known for a predominantly abstract style. KSD maintained a deeply affectionate relationship with her sister Mary, with whom she shared a life-long interest in spiritualism. The KSD papers are available at Beinecke Library, Yale University. Most of them deal with the Societe Anonyme. For further biographical information, see Notable American Women, Vol. IV.
From the guide to the Papers, 1797(1897-1963), (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)
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