In 1903, Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her husband commissioned their neighbor Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for them in Oak Park, IL. By 1909, Mamah and Wright had departed for Europe leaving behind two spouses, eight children, and an outsized scandal.
Although Loving Frank is a work of fiction, it is based on the true circumstances of Mamah and Wright’s seven year affair.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s brilliance and eccentricities are well documented, but Loving Frank is about the lesser known Mamah. A college graduate and a teacher before she married, Mamah is frustrated with her restrictive roles as mother and wife. She takes classes at the University of Chicago and volunteers for the suffrage movement, but she longs for more. Her sister tells her, “You always wanted to do something big. Something important.” Wright is both big and important, especially in his own mind. Mamah is dazzled by his ideas, his confidence, and his attention. He is the something more.
But dramatically abandoning her traditional life does not bring Mamah immediate happiness. Hounded by the press and struggling with guilt and the mercurial Wright, Mamah’s liberation comes with a high price. Mamah’s efforts to carve out a new identity for herself make for a poignant, engrossing, and surprisingly contemporary story.
This ECW Classic Review was originally published in NFocus magazine.