This week in history: Frank Lloyd Wright’s love life goes public
The famed architect, born June 8, 1867, first made headlines in 1910 not for his work but for his marital affairs.
As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Frank Lloyd Wright changed American architecture when he introduced the “Prairie style” of homes to Chicago in the early 1900s. His lifelong focus on creating affordable homes that became an intricate part of the environment, not just a house on a slab of land, influenced architects for generations.
But throughout his lifetime, Wright’s love life often garnered more attention than the homes he built, especially in the early days of his career. A series of Chicago Daily News reports in 1909 and 1910 chronicled the budding architect’s affair with an Oak Park client and neighbor that caused a scandal in the otherwise quiet suburb.
On Nov. 9, 1909, the story broke in the Daily News that Wright and Mrs. Edwin H. Cheney left their prospective partners and fled to Europe together. Friends pleaded for them to come home.
“The deserted wife and the neglected husband refused today to renew the discussion of their missing mates,” the report said. “Mrs. Wright declined to be seen at her beautiful bungalow at Chicago and Forest avenues in Oak Park. Mr. Cheney was found at his office on the sixteenth floor of the Marquette building.”
Edwin Cheney refused to discuss his wife, who the paper consistently referred to as “Mrs. Cheney,” with the reporter.
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Almost a year later, Wright and Mrs. Cheney had not returned from Europe, but an Aug. 3, 1910 article in the Daily News said that reconciliation could be on the horizon. Catherine Wright had plans to reunite with her husband.
“I still love my husband and I blame him for nothing that has happened,” she told a Daily News reporter. “I received a letter from him this morning. He is in Europe and he asked me to leave at once with our children and meet him there. I am sure there will be a reconciliation as soon as we meet. I intend to start for Europe Thursday or Friday. I have my trunk all packed ready for the journey across the water.”
The paper claimed Mrs. Cheney would be returning home from Europe, but failed to track her down. According to the Aug. 4 report, her children had retreated to a summer camp “about 20 miles distant from their home” and “their father makes frequent visits to them.” Later that same day, an informant told the paper of the camp’s location in Cary, Illinois, and the Daily News sent a reporter out to the town.
On the property, the reporter found two tents and flags where “two women were seen nearby preparing the meal which awaited the father of the children when he should arrive from the city, and three children were at play beneath the trees.”
In a move that would be frowned upon by modern journalists, the reporter then spoke to 11-year-old John Cheney, likely without parental consent, although the women (a governess and a cook) may have approved the interview.
“‘Sure I like it out here,’ he said in answer to a question, ‘but,’ growing sad-eyed and with just an indication of a tear starting in his eye, ‘I wish my mamma would come home. She has been away so long that I am afraid I’ll forget how she looks,’” the reporter wrote of the boy’s comments.
Mrs. Cheney likely never arrived. An article dated Sept. 24, 1910, announced that Wright would be returning to Chicago — without Mrs. Cheney.