Monday, December 2, 2013

Pauline Gibling Schindler, Taliesin, to Eugene Debs, Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, August 22, 1920

(Click on images to enlarge)
Pauline Gibling Schindler at Taliesin, 1920. From Archives of American Art.

A 1915 graduate of the socially progressive cauldron of Smith College, Pauline Schindler was a radical political activist who along with her new husband Rudolph joined the American Communist Party upon its formation in Chicago just days after their August 1919 wedding. An inveterate letter writer, Pauline had a lifelong penchant for cross-pollinating her modernist ideals with the leading radical thinkers of the period and her socialist-leaning friends in the arts. Her poignant letter to Eugene Debs (see below), then incarcerated in the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta for his anti-war activities, is an example of how she boldly shared her thoughts and beliefs with whomever she thought might listen and help move her cause du jour forward.

The Liberator, May 1919. Debs cover.

-Eugene V. Debs (The Liberator, May 1919, p. 4).

Pauline Gibling Schindler letter to Eugene Debs, August 22, 1920. From Wabash Valley Visions & Voices Digital Memory Project.

At the time of Pauline's letter to Debs, she was living at Taliesin with her husband Rudolph. RMS was at the time deeply involved in completing the plans for Aline Barnsdall's Olive Hill complex before Wright's next trip to Tokyo to supervise the construction of the Imperial Hotel. Just a week earlier, RMS had submitted his entry for the Free Public Library design competition for Jersey City, New Jersey's Bergen Branch, near Pauline's girlhood home in neighboring South Orange. This strongly suggests that Pauline's parents may have played a role in alerting Schindler of the competition (see below). A few months later the Schindlers would themselves be on their fateful way to Los Angeles. 

Free Public Library, Bergen Branch, Jersey City, New Jersey Design Competition entry, August 16, 1920. R. M. Schindler, architect. (Park, Jin-Ho, "Schindler, Symmetry and the Free Public Library," arq, Vol. 2, Winter 1996, p. 79).

Debs was the titular head of the Socialist Party of America, then the third largest political party in the country. He was running for president from his prison cell (see below). Despite running the campaign from behind bars Debs managed to win 919,000 votes, or 3.5 percent of the popular tally. Deb's imprisonment and fame also gave a boost to another cause embraced by Pauline, i.e., the amnesty movement, which was designed to free political prisoners for speaking against WWI. (

Presidential Campaign button for Eugene Debs, 1920. From 

In her letter Pauline referenced and appended a translation of one of the last letters of martyred German communist Rosa Luxemburg written to Sonia Liebknecht from the Breslauer Women's Prison in December 1917 (see letter later below). Luxemburg and Sonia's husband Karl Liebknecht were tortured and brutally assassinated by the Friekorps, a German volunteer anti-communist paramilitary group of World War I veterans in January 1919. Pauline's idols, The Liberator editors Max Eastman and Floyd Dell, devoted much of their March 1919 issue to the martyred Luxemborg and Liebknecht (see below). They published the duo's 1918 Spartacus League Manifesto, "The Hour of the People Has Come," originally published in the New York Times, and "Liebknecht Dead," an article by John Reed covering the facts surrounding the murders of Karl and Rosa, the founders of the German Communist Party. (For much more on Eastman and Dell see my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Reginald Pole and Their Dramatic Circles").

The Liberator, March 1919, cover featuring Karl Liebknecht

Die Fackel, July 1920, cover. From Austrian Academy Corpus.

Pauline seemingly obtained Luxemburg's letter from the previous month's issue of the Viennese Die Fackel edited by Karl Kraus who was very close friends with her husband's mentor Adolf Loos. Kraus was a writer, journalist and satirist who directed his satire at the press, German culture, and German and Austrian politics. 

From left, Adolf Loos, Karl Kraus, and Herwarth Walden, ca. 1909. From The Looshaus by Christopher Long, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 81.

The translation of Luxemburg's touching letter was possibly done by Pauline in collaboration with RMS as she was fluent in German from her childhood years spent in her mother's ancestral homeland. RMS had likely subscribed to the magazine after being exposed to it and possibly befriending Kraus through Loos. Upon reading Luxemburg's letter Pauline immediately equated her portrayal of the beaten down ox to Debs' incarceration and wanted to share it with him in an attempt to cheer him up. In her letter to Debs Pauline mentioned that Kraus was reading Luxemburg's letter at his lectures and considered it of Goetheian importance to the German philosophical literature. 

The Liberator, October 1920 cover. From

Pauline's correspondence with Debs is a perfect example of the breadth, depth and synthesis of her Socialist thinking and beliefs. Telling Debs of her intention to forward Luxemburg's inspirational letter to The Liberator where Debs was a contributing editor clearly illustrates her penchant for cross-pollinating avant-garde thought between the Socialist, artistic and literary communities. Pauline's translation of Luxemburg's letter (see below) was soon published verbatim in the October 1920 issue (see cover above). Schindler was not credited for her submittal and its translation but the provenance is clear that she was indeed the contributor.

"Rosa Luxemburg to Sonia Liebknecht," The Liberator, October 1920, pp. 12-13.

Debs was equally moved by Luxemburg's letter and forwarded it to his brother Theodore with a note saying that when he read the letter his heart became sad and his face became filled with tears and that wherever Luxemburg is now he honors her with all his heart (see below).

Pauline Schindler translation of December 1917 letter from Rosa Luxemburg to Sonia Liebknecht with annotations by Eugene Debs. 

After their December 1920 move to Los Angeles the Schindlers immediately befriended the local leaders of the Socialist Movement and immersed themselves in their activities. This was evidenced by their attendance at a lecture by Liberator editor Max Eastman at the residence of "Parlor Provocatuer" Kate Crane Gartz in April 1921 around the time the below picture was taken by new Schindler friends Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston. (For much more on the radical bohemian activities of the Schindlers during their early formative years in Los Angeles and their relationship with Gartz and her circle see my "The Schindlers and the Westons and the Walt Whitman School").

Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston, "Max Eastman Seated on Railing," Los Angeles, 1921. Collection The Museum of Modern Art. From Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration by Beth Gates Warren, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2001, p. 79. 

Postscript pertaining to Karl Kraus and Die Fackel:

Betty Katz in Her Attic, 1920. Photo by Edward Weston. © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.

Rudolph Schindler also wrote passionately of his Viennese friend Karl Kraus and his lecturing skills to his and Edward Weston's mutual friend and lover Betty Katz Kopelanoff (see above and  below). Schindler would later design two projects in Palm Springs for Kings Road habitue and tenant Kopelanoff who was also an intimate lifelong friend of Pauline's. (Author's note: For much more on the Betty Katz-Pauline Schindler friendship see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association.").

R. M. Schindler to Betty Katz Kopelanoff, n.d., ca. early 1920s.
 Courtesy of Dottie Ickovitz, great niece of Betty Katz Kopelanoff Household Brandner.