from Flower of Bronze: The Auto/Biography and lost works of Louise Bryant (1885-1936)" collected/by antoinette nora claypoole

this project is partially funded by an Oregon Literary Arts (Portland, Or) 
fellowship  awarded to antoinette nora claypoole  

from Flower of Bronze: The Auto/Biography and Lost Works of Louise Bryant

" Part Three, Biographical Sketch"
by antoinette nora claypoole
(please note: ENDNOTES can be found at the bottom of this page) 

While Louise travelled Europe and the Middle East, reporting and writing pieces for the  International News Service,  she was still deeply lost without her lover and comrade, Jack Reed.  Her work sustained her but loneliness plagued her personal life. Her Riga Journals shared with us that angst and explained her remedy: work.  Still, there was a personal longing for a partner and her desire to have a child was clearly a collaborative expedition she was determined to accomplish. Her bravado accomplished the best of her dreams.

And so. During her News Service years a  man whom she and Jack Reed had met in Washington, D.C. in 1918, William C. Bullitt, appeared in her life. Sending her a note with the letterhead from Putnam, an established publisher, Bullitt convinced her to meet him for an evening in New York.  In mid 1921, just months after Reed’s death.  The invite was “to discuss business”.[i]  It’s unclear whether Louise agreed to that meeting but Bullitt persisted.  He and his wife at that time were Philadelphia “aristocracy”, independently wealthy, and both  were known to  follow Louise to her writing posts overseas [ii], insist she join them for dinner and overall made a point of being in her life.   Soon into these encounters with Bullitt and his wife Ernesta,  however, Bullitt’s  intentions to “woo” Louise  and leave his wife became evident.

 It is difficult to know exactly why/how the Bryant/Bullitt “romance” emerged.  Louise’s own cables and letters, studying her personal, collected archives for clues as to the truth is neither entirely reliable nor conclusive, as with Bullitt’s temperament it is a certainty that Louise Bryant’s personal memorabilia could have easily   been sorted and censored after her death, by Bullitt or his attaches.   We have mostly,  Bullitt’s history to consider regarding how Louise Bryant came to marry William C. Bullitt.   His story is, perhaps, the key.

 Bullitt had been “with the Department of State”, a Wilson ally when Jack Reed was first accused of treason.[iii]  A letter by the Dept. of State referencing Reed’s efforts to have Bullitt “retrieve his confiscated papers” (his writings which would become the book Ten Days that Shook the World) confirms the connection.[iv]  Bullitt in fact could in all honesty claim a connection to Reed.   Anyone with a connection to Reed was welcome solace; Bryant was obviously, bitter sweetly comforted by those occasions of memorys.

But Bullitt  had “left” the government position around 1920 under unclear circumstances.

 At the time of Reed’s death the red scare was taking hold and it is clear that Louise Bryant was under investigation by the Military Intelligence Department--MID (an early incarnation of the FBI). Whether Bullitt knew of that surveillance and was a part of undercover operations is not known. Later, during their divorce Louise expressed concerns about this possibility. We do know that Bullitt announced to his friends and made it clear to Louise that he was finished with government  and was going to be a writer.

 This was sometime around his work with the League of  Nations.  Louise was quite proud of his role in those negotiations though in the end they did lead to his leaving Government service.  It is clear the bravado to leave impressed her.  Along with his new found passion: being a writer.  Bullitt began working on a book and  it was during this novel-writing time that he courted Louise.  Having "known” Reed and now becoming  a “writer”, Bullitt was  obviously a draw for Louise. He promised to leave his wife and claimed to understand Louise’s consuming “passion for Jack”.  It was well known and understandable that anyone who had known Reed brought Louise comfort. The Bullitt/Reed connection created a thread of familiarity. And the writer aspect of Bullitt was reminiscent of her days with Reed when their deepest bond was spent writing, parallel Bohemian lives.    She acquiesced to Bullitt’s pursuit.  While at the same time doing some of her finest reporting (as presented in Part two of this collection).  

 Other than the fact that she married Bullit only eight weeks before her baby was born,[v] there is little known of their plans to marry, other than the fact that Louise was pregnant. From it’s inception  the Bullitt  union was wrought with uncertainty,  their marriage date a window into the landscape of reluctance texturing their residential traumas.

 It was a mere two months before the baby was born that Louise had  agreed, reluctantly, it appears,  to marry Bullitt. Louise succumbed to Bullitt’s insistence that he and she were “meant to be” as portrayed in his long, doting and demanding love letters sent during their courtship.[vi]  She did, apparently, love him—some of her early letters to him express a rather “motherly” type connection-- yet  friends remember that when they saw Louise and Bill Bullitt together, she in fact spoke of Jack Reed, often and freely. [vii] Louise married Bullitt when she was 7 months pregnant, in Dec. 1923. No journal entries nor writings were found in Louise’s collection  per the marriage.

What we do have are her  handwritten fragments.  As found in her personal archives. On a slip of paper found on pages of a work in progress by Louise (from” Letters to myself: Soul Stuff” )--months after the baby was born--she  writes: 
Chap on Women
 who deceive their
 husbands—  D’s (D’Annunzio)
 story---Ready, are


Women who have
Children by men
Other than their husbands”[viii]

 Nine months before Louise gave birth to her daughter, Louise, though staying with Bullitt in Turkey in an “exotic gilded castle”[ix]  was also apparently travelling to visit with/interview Gabrielle D’Annunzio, a famous Italian writer/poet who had emerged as a fascist on Italy’s contentious post war stage.  Louise’s travels and time with D’Annunzio coincide with her pregnancy. For, what is known, per a timeline, is that in the Spring of 1923 Louise began her work on a famous piece about the “cloister of beauty” within which poet  Gabriele D’Annunzio resided. [x] It is her writing,  within that piece,  which gives us a timeline: “When he was ill and thought about God more than he does these uplifting Spring days...”

 With the knowledge that Louise spent much time with D’Annunzio, and  in Italy, nine months before giving birth,  one can speculate that Bullitt may not have necessarily been the father of her baby.   In those days of course, no DNA nor discussions of “real fathers” existed. The fact is, the spring Louise conceived her baby was  spent in Italy and with Bullitt, travelling back and forth.

 It appears the Bryant/Bullitt marriage, being rather “last minute”,   was not a celebration of vows. As no writings exist about the event.  Or her possible apprehensions were censored/removed from her archives,  after her death. The exact nature of their courtship/marriage may never be known.  We have no love letters nor exposes of love toward Bullitt, by Louise, upon which to base their union.  It would seem that at least, the marriage occurred to offer the baby  “a father’s name”, which made a child’s life easier in those times. Louise had known what it was like to live without a father, and apparently wanted to be certain her daughter did not inherit the same fate.  On Feb. 23, 1924 the baby was born with gorgeous dark eyes, a head of coal black hair, a Mediterranean gem. Neither Louise nor Bullitt were olive-skinned beauties. And so.  Louise birthed her first and only child, Anne Moën Bullitt.  And William Bullitt was named father, after their marriage just weeks earlier.  He  wrote a mythical, celebration piece about the birth and child, though nothing of Louise’s personal writings from that era survived. [xi]

To their merit Bullitt and Bryant did try to be “good parents”--as can be seen via their numerous love letters/correspondences for and about Anne—yet they were nonetheless plagued with discord. Within the six years that followed their uncertain union, Louise Bryant became ill with what was diagnosed, in 1927 as “Dercum’s Disease” [xii]
(something which might be,  in our times, seen as symptoms related  to menopause) and subsequently  “sent”  to a sanatorium in Baden-Baden Germany. It was controversial diagnosis which has had little sustaining credibility in the medical community over the decades.[xiii]  The “diagnosis” was even refuted by a close friend who said in a letter to Louise: “all you need is someone who cares to listen to your ideas---and a little freedom!”. Long stays in “treatment” which Bullitt insisted upon and intermittently Louise questioned, lead to long separations from her daughter,  but never dissolved Louise’s love for Anne. The tender connection between mother and daughter was evident.  Their early separation due to Louise Bryant’s illness tragically  foreshadowed the nature of their lives—apart.

 The sanatorium years were the omen that would depict the nature of  mother/daughter relationship. Tragic seperation and claims of abandonment would ensue.  During these early mothering years, however,  the  loving letters and cards to Anne reflect Louise’s deep, motherlove. Resolve to remain connected.  Despite Bullitt’s claims of her “drunkeness” and disregard for Anne.  A lie that Louise didn’t know he was designing until the late fall of 1929. He was loathe to accept her life as an artist and she was unaware of the depths of his discontent. And Bullitt’s reasons for his bullying Louise Bryant soon after their marriage, doing a ‘360” as we would call, moving from celebrating her freedom seeking Bohemian ways to criticizing her temperament, insisting she was mentally unstable and needed to see “Dr. Freud”  who “may not care to even see you” [1] and destabilizing her health condition by insisting on visits to a German Sanatorium where she was subject to treatments which forced huge weight loss.  He even wrote odd, antagonistic markings on their daughter’s artwork. (see “story of a woman who looked like a balloon”).    That was 1926. 

During her married/mothering years Louise Bryant tried to continue her “revolutionaire” life-style, lived in Paris via “La Vie de Boheme”, visited Ashfield/Conway, Mass. in the summers  and was as equally committed to her baby daughter as she was to her writings, her own health and her husband.  Those  years from 1924-1930, with Bullitt and her child were tumultuous, yet true to the temperament of a woman trying to make sense of living in a world not quite ready for the artist   who wanted to be writer, mother AND wife. Coupled with an ailment the medical community could not address accurately. Naturally.  Some part of the Louise’s life script was expected to be edited/slandered.   Nonetheless, at  the time Louise Bryant remained true to being the colorful,  textured collage of a time when we as women were emerging from centuries of obscurity and conscious silencing.

 She would soon be banished because of the art she was creating.

But create she did. Poems and fiction works in progress were her experiments with one piece she kept neatly filed, “A Turkish Divorce” published when her baby was two years old.  Bullitt, though he wrote a ghoulish novel based on his loathing of lesbians,[xiv] apparently never wrote again.  Though he did “insert” comments into her “Letters to Myself: Soul Stuff” and wrote a covertly brutal “child’s story” attached to one of Anne’s drawings.  Louise persisted, her handwritten note found as the first page of the work-- “don’t disturb these papers”—ever so telling!

These the mothering years, the “bohemian” years,  the trying to write books while cooking up ‘baby formula” years,  were the days  Bryant took  lovers and life,  imagining the world embraced her nuances. She wrote a plethora of “love poems” during that era. And yet.   Her affair with artist Gwen La Galliene became-- though in the fashionableness of Parisian lifestyle-- intolerable in Bullitt’s eyes.  The divorce was inevitable. The lose of her daughter unfathomable.

Anne and Louise forever lost one another in that divorce. Having given her daughter a “legitimate” father, only to lose her to a vindictive husband,  was a sad irony which Louise Bryant had not foreseen.   Yet, theirs was a love which was  infused with delicate drawings and free-spirited canaries, Pie-Pie the family pooch and precious postcards of  poetry.  In the end.  The story of Louise Bryant and her lively, spirited and artful daughter Anne, is tragic.  There were only their early years to cherish. And decades of deceit which only now become unraveled.


[i]LBP: first note from Bill Bullitt to be found in Louise personal papers. Circa Spring 1922:
Dear Miss Bryant –
       George Putnam,
the publishers & I are very
anxious to have a talk
with you tonight----------

We will call after the show
about 11 pm & hope you
will go out for a talk
about the book and the Bewoort (sp).

from Bullitt.  
Putnam was a well-known publishing Company in New York City.  And William Bullitt was never employed by them.
[ii]VG: Louise sent a cable to her lawyer, Arthur Hays, asking him to request that Bullitt “call off these people who are following me”, in late 1929 on her trip to Algiers.  Also, Virginia Gardner, Louise Bryant’s first biographer quoted extensively from a letter Louise wrote to Corliss Lamont ( Harvard committee to honor John Reed) on May 18, 1935.  She mailed the letter, according to Gardner, to Lamont via her lawyer, Arthur Hays.  Hays sent it to Lamont on June 7, 1935.  It is apparently 14 pages of a diatribe about everything from how to contact her daughter Anne, to details of William Bullitt’s ongoing surveillance of her life.  Excerpts from that letter are found in this section, Part Four.  Efforts to locate the actual letter itself , difficult.  Though Gardner cites “Corliss Lamont Archives”, contact with Corliss Lamont’s last wife “Beth” by this author (email/phone Feb. 28, 2011)  found no record of the letter in the personal papers of Lamont.  Likewise, Columbia Library which house some Lamont archives, has no record of the letter either.  Houghton Library at Harvard confirms that Lamont did donate “letters to him from Louise Bryant” in 1967, however the 14 page letter to Lamont was not located.  All other correspondences from Louise to Lamont, from 1935, were found.  The research librarian confirmed that “often people do request to have their donations returned” (phone research March 8, 2011. ) Gardner, being a thorough biographer, can be trusted to have quoted her source with accuracy.  However, Corliss Lamont passed away in 1993, nearly twenty years after Gardner wrote her Bryant book, could have requested the letter be returned.

[iii] Bullitt’s early  role in the State Dept. in relation to Jack Reed circumstances are still unclear, but a book by Anthony Sutton (see below) presents the web of deceit which was predominant in the Reed/Bryant/Bullitt exchanges.
[iv] Anthony Sutton,  Chapter VIII;  endnote/source for the following letter, as provided by Mr. Sutton, as follows: U.S. State Dept. Decimal File, 360. D. II21.R/20/221/2, /R25 (John Reed).

The letter was transferred by Mr. Polk to the State Department archives on May 2, 1935 though Sutton does accomplish much in the way of State Department documentation to his Wall Street theories, Sutton goes on in his book to suggest Reed might be a Soviet Agent, using the last line of said letter as “proof”.  The  proposal that John Reed was a “soviet agent” displays Sutton’s  naïve understanding of how the government establishes a “chance” for recruiting agents.

 from Anthony Sutton book: “Document in the State Department files, a  letter to William Franklin Sands from John Reed, dated June 4, 1918, and written from Croton{-}on-Hudson, New York. In the letter Reed asserts that he has drawn up a memorandum for the State Department, and appeals to Sands to use his influence to get release of the boxes of papers brought back from Russia. Reed concludes, "Forgive me for bothering you, but I don't know where else to turn, and I can't afford another trip to Washington." Subsequently, Frank Polk, acting secretary of state, received a letter from Sands regarding the release of John Reed's papers. Sands' letter, dated June 5, 1918, from 120 Broadway, is here reproduced in full; it makes quite explicit statements about control of Reed:


    June fifth, 1918

    My dear Mr. Polk:

    I take the liberty of enclosing to you an appeal from John ("Jack") Reed to help him, if possible, to secure the release of the papers which he brought into the country with him from Russia.

    I had a conversation with Mr. Reed when he first arrived, in which he sketched certain attempts by the Soviet Government to initiate constructive development, and expressed the desire to place whatever observations he had made or information he had obtained through his connection with Leon Trotzky, at the disposal of our Government. I suggested that he write a memorandum on this subject for you, and promised to telephone to Washington to ask you to give him an interview for this purpose. He brought home with him a mass of papers which were taken from him for examination, and on this subject also he wished to speak to someone in authority, in order to voluntarily offer an>, information they might contain to the Government, and to ask for the release of those which he needed for his newspaper and magazine work.

    I do not believe that Mr. Reed is either a "Bolshevik" or a "dangerous anarchist," as I have heard him described. He is a sensational journalist, without doubt, but that is all. He is not trying to embarrass our Government, and for this reason refused the "protection" which I understand was offered to him by Trotzky, when he returned to New York to face the indictment against him in the "Masses" trial. He is liked by the Petrograd Bolsheviki, however, and, therefore, anything which our police may do which looks like "persecution" will be resented in Petrograd, which I believe to be undesirable because unnecessary. He can be handled and controlled much better by other means than through the police.

    I have not seen the memorandum he gave to Mr. Bullitt — I wanted him to let me see it first and perhaps to edit it, but he had not the opportunity to do so.

    I hope that you will not consider me to be intrusive in this matter or meddling with matters which do not concern me. I believe it to be wise not to offend the Bolshevik leaders unless and until it may become necessary to do so — if it should become necessary — and it is unwise to look on every one as a suspicious or even dangerous character, who has had friendly relations with the Bolsheviki in Russia. I think it better policy to attempt to use such people for our own purposes in developing our policy toward Russia, if it is possible to do so. The lecture which Reed was prevented by the police from delivering in Philadelphia (he lost his head, came into conflict with the police and was arrested) is the only lecture on Russia which I would have paid to hear, if I had not already seen his notes on the subject. It covered a subject which we might quite possibly find to be a point of contact with the Soviet Government, from which to begin constructive work!

    Can we not use him, instead of embittering him and making him an enemy? He is not well balanced, but he is, unless I am very much mistaken, susceptible to discreet guidance and might be quite useful.
            Sincerely yours,
            William Franklin Sands

The Honourable
      Frank Lyon Polk
         Counselor for the Department of State
             Washington, D.C.


author note: It is apparent  via Sutton’s research,  that in fact the U.S. government did/was intervening on Jack Reed’s behalf. But that does not indicate he was an active agent. Yes Reed agreed to talk to the Government about “Russian affairs” but that was because Reed’s relationship with Trotsky was such that Reed trusted that he might accomplish the role of liaison to establish trade between the nations or at least open up a dialogue about such. Trotzky’s desire for U.S./Russia relations was no secret. As can be seen in were clear as f in his letter to the U.S. Constable, 1933. The letter, oddly, was  as found in William C. Bullitt’s Papers at Yale.

The author’s personal experience in the American Indian Movement taught me one thing: the gov’t can act like a helper in order to set a person up to look like a friendly to others  and can do this by making a person reliant on the favors of the government which are bestowed AFTER illegal acts are accomplished against a person, ie confiscate someone’s papers and then “benevolently” return them. 

So. Dispelling the notion that Reed was an agent is important.  But only because it leads us to the reality that there WAS agent activity during the “red scare”, it was real the Reed/Bryant family were part of the target. There is no evidence in any archives of Louise Bryant that her husband Jack Reed, was an agent.  It is clear that he reached out for help in the State Dept, and did receive it.  Was the “Bullitt” named in this letter helpful (yes the same “Bullitt” that Louise Bryant would later be courted by and, and subsequently marry)?  We don’t know his exact role in either confiscating Reed’s papers and/or “helping return them”, but most obviously Bullitt was a key player in the drama of government seizure of Reed’s work, otherwise why would Reed be writing him?

So if Reed was not an agent, who was?

 If anyone in this scenario  was misrepresenting their fullest intent, there is in fact reason to believe that Mr. Bullitt, who is referenced in the above quote, may have in fact been actively trying to subvert both Jack Reed and his wife Louise Bryant.  After Reed’s death, Bullitt moved into Louise Bryant’s world with a fury. He contacted her under the guise of Putnam assistant.   The fact that until not long before her death she continued to write pleas/requests for Bullitt to “refrain from hiring people to follow me”, as found in both a letter in her private collection and referenced by Virginia Gardner as a “14 page letter to Corliss Lamont” which depicted various incidents of “being followed”. This  means that it is at least possible that  Bullitt who held may have created a “double identity” in Soviet Politics.  As it is a fact that though he presented himself as a “Russian sympathizer” and “Jack’s acquaintance”  to Louise Bryant, by 1936 as Ambassador to Russia Bullitt was espousing  anti Russian sentiment, and was deeply critical of Russia, antagonistic and in a mere two years left Russia and his position, to become the Ambassador of France, where he remained after the Nazi takeover.
[v] WBP: Wedding certificate. “Dec. 1923”
[vi] WBP: only one of those letters is included in this collection, but a plethora of them remain in the Bullit archives at Yale.
[vii] VG: Bryant biography research notes
[viii] LBP: handwritten, rough manuscript entitled “Letters to Myself: Soul Stuff”; box 10, folder 6.
[ix] WBP:  birth of Anne story included in Part Three.
[x] LBP: “Secret of D’Annuzio’s Hermit Life: Louise Bryant Lifts Curtain from Poet’s Mystic Silence in Cloister of Beauty”  New York American, July 15, 1923.
[xi] WBP:  Though the birth story was not found in Louise’s collection, it seems appropriate to include in this book as it is the only account of the birth found.  Perhaps, along with Louise’s “Bullitt Journals” and the entirety of her Jack Reed memoirs, the writings of her daughter’s birth, and those pregnancy months, were taken from Louise’s belongings after her death.  As she had meticulously written during/after the Jack Reed years, as her journal entries after his death reveal, it is hard to imagine she wrote nothing of the birth of her daughter. But because no works  was located (and Bullitt as well Anne did have access to Louise Bryant’s personal papers for decades) the author has decided to include the Bullitt birth expose is in this collection, as it  provides an account of Louise’s state of mind/health at the time and does reflect the love for Louise’s child which Bullitt, from the onset, did carry, however ridden with Freudian overtones it did, in the end, reflect.  Anne never had children of her own, was married five times, and only learned that her father divorced her mother AFTER his death, when she was perusing Louise’s personal papers.
[xii] Dercum’s Disease: Adiposis Dolorosa or Dercum Syndrome “A subcutaneous connective-tissue dystropy of the arms and back, associated with symptoms resembling myxoedema.”  from Dr. Dercum, University of Medical Magazine Philadelphia, 1888; and from Garth L. Nicolson, M.D. : “A rare condition characterized by multiple, painful iipomas.  These lipomas mainly occur on the trunk, the upper arms and upper legs.  The diagnosis of Dercum’s Disease implies a long, chronic pain disorder of debilitating nature. The exact cause of Dercum’s Disease is unknown.  Pain may be caused by lumps pressing on nearby nerves.  Dercum’s disease mainly occurs in adults, and more women are affected than men.  In some cases patients also experience weight gain, depression, lethargy and  experience of feeling overheated.”  All of these last symptoms can be attributed to “menopause” and the vagueness of treatment which prevails, even today, suggests that being as Louise Bryant was 43 when she was diagnosed with the disease, it could have easily been menopause strain she was experiencing.  Being treated at sanatoriums where she was forced to “lose weight” would have only worsened menopausal issues, as fatty tissue is now known to be needed to create estrogen and strengthen bones, etc.  When she received her diagnosis Louise was told she was “bound to die, in pain” although today it is treated with pain killers and not considered, fatal.  Medical marijuana is one of the current prescribed drugs to alleviate the pain. From more recent research. See “Dercum’s Disease (adiposis dolorosa): a new case-report”  Joint Bone Spine, Vol. 71, Issue 2, pp. 147-149. B. Amine.
[xiii] VG  Bryant biography endnotes regarding controversial diagnosis. pg. 358
[xiv] the only novel written by William C. Bullitt: It’s Not Undone. Harcourt, Brace. New York. 1926. According to Virginia Gardner, and her 1970’s interviews of Bullit/Bryant friends, especially George Biddle, Bullitt based his novel on the lesbian community of Paris at the time he and Louise were living there.  And actually the main character’s wife is “modeled” after Louise Bryant. Even in it’s time it was seen as provoking an anti lesbian sentiment. 

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