Those who study the world of contemporary literature may have a passing acquaintance with the name Theodore Dreier - as one of the central figures in the creation of the Black Mountain School. A review of the accomplishments of members of Dreier's immediate family - in particular, his four paternal aunts and his mother - reveal the extent to which the opportunities of family wealth built on industrial activity at the turn of the 20th century was capable of leading, in its immediate beneficiaries, to leadership in arts, cultural and social affairs.

In fact Dreier's aunts were key figures in the Labor Movement, Women's Suffrage and even in the introduction of modernist art to the American scene in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

Theodore Dreier (1902-1997) was among the original founders of Black Mountain College, where he taught physics and mathematics between 1933-1949, served as treasurer, and was active in securing funding for the College. It was in 1933 that he joined John Andrew Rice, another professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla, in embarking on the creation of an unconventional center of learning near Ashville, NC. the college became home to an incredible array of influential and creative individuals, and included the likes of Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Joseph Albers; Robert Creeley and Charles Olsen; John Cage, and even Buckminster Fuller. After leaving the College he worked for General Electric on power sources for the first nuclear submarine. His wife, Bobbie who learned dance at an early age from Isadore Duncan, and maintained a lifelong interest in dance.

The Dreier family fortune was founded on the innovative entrepreneurship of The founder of the Dreier family in America was Theodor Dreier, who emigrated to the United States from Bremen, Germany in 1849. The paternal grandfather of Black Mountain's co-founder, 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. They had five children: Margaret Dreier (1868-1945), Dorothea Adelheid (1870-1923), Henry Edward (1872-1955), Mary, and Katherine Sophie (1877-1952).

While the son carried on the family business, maintaining the wealth which made his sisters' philanthropic activities possible, the four daughters made waves on the political, social and arts scene.

The eldest sister was Margaret Dreier Robins, an international leader in the movement to improve the condition of women and children in industry during the first half of the 20th century. Married to Col Raymond Robins, who led the American Red Cross mission to Russia during the Russiam Revolution of 1917-18, she reached the pinnacle of influence as a woman in social action during the era. Founder of the Women's Municipal League of New YOrk, which sought to interest women in municipal, social and industrial legislation, she rose to the positio of president of the National Women's Trade Union League in New York, launching a crusade to publicize the poor working conditions and long hours suffered by workers in the first decade of the 20th century. After marrying Robins, she moved to Chicago and rose to the presidency of the national organizgion, and served in that capcity for fifteen years. One of her crowning moments came when, in March 1911, a fire in the New York City sweatshop run by the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. killed 146 people, mostly young immigrant women - many of whom were unable to escape because doors were kept locked to prevent theft. Enraged by the tragedy, the Women's Trade Union League, under the presidency of Mrs. Robins, launched a scathing four-year investigation of factory conditions that led to the creation of health and safety legislation, including factory fire codes and child-labor laws. One of those involved in the legal work on the investigation was Bertha Rembaugh, later a Northport resident and prominent civic and governmental leader locally.

Dorothea Dreier was the second daughter and a painter. She studied art for several years in Europe but but died young, having contracted tuberculosis while painting in rural Holland, and never gained the prominence of her sisters.

The third sister, Mary Elisabeth Dreier was also a social reformer. In 1899 she met Leonora O'Reilly, a former garment worker who was head of a local settlement house. O'Reilly brought both Mary and Margaret into the NYWTUL. Mary 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. Later Mary chaired New York City's Woman Suffrage Party. 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.

Mary is also heralded by those studying feminist writing of the era, having written 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.

The youngest of them all was Katherine S Dreier, a prominent American painter and modern art museum founder, who had a lifelong affiliation with Marcel Duchamp and was a champion of the work of Kurt Schwitters. Instead of focusing on her considerable artistic talent, Dreier turned most of her energies towards gaining acceptance in the United States for modern art - having said “[America] has developed along the material rather than the immaterial, the concrete rather than the divine.” Along with artists Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, she established Societe Anonyme in 1920, New York City's first museum of modern art, 1920, whose aim was to promote the work of the international avant-garde. According to family biographers, there was a strong identification with German culture in the Dreier home, and the family often traveled back to Europe to visit relatives. Between 1907 and 1914, Katherine Dreier traveled abroad studying and buying art and participating in several group exhibitions in Frankfurt, Leipzig, Dresden, and Munich. In Paris she visited Gertrude Steins’ salons seeing the Fauves and Picasso and reading (in the original German) Kandinsky’s ‘Concerning The Spiritual in Art’ in 1912 just as it was published. And in 1913 she was invited to exhibit her own work and her collection in the influential 1913 Armory Show.

It was in 1917 that Katherine was Introduced to Marcel Duchamp, they struck up a friendship that lasted Dreier’s lifetime, and he introduced her to the circle of progressive artists and poets which had formed around Walter Arensberg’s house and given rise to the Anonyme - among them William Carlos Williams, Picabia, Mina Loy, Marsden Hartley and Edgar Varese.

Throughout the twenties Anonyme was New York’s first museum of modern art, presenting an international array of cubists, constructivists, expressionists, futurists, Bauhaus artists, and dadaists. It hosted the first American one-person shows of Kandinsky, Klee, Campendonk, and Leger.

When the Museum of Modern Art opened in 1928, it eclipsed her museum and she was reduced to organizing shows instead of pursuing her dream of a permanent museum. By 1939 Dreier was planning to open ‘The Country Museum’ (also known as the Haven), at her house in West Redding, Connecticut-this merged the Société’s and her own private collection. But funding from Yale University did not work out, and she eventually donated portions of it to that institution - though it is said that The Société Anonyme’s art collection eventually became the basis of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim collections.

Meanwhile their brother Henry Edward Dreier held down the fort, following in the footsteps of his father. It was Henry Edward Dreier, known as Edward, who was the financial mainstay of the family. Henry worked for his father's company for many years and eventually became its president. With a summer family home in Fort Salonga, Long Island, he was an avid horseman (having served in the reserves as a cavalryman, and becoming famous for an unexpected and death-defying leap off a cliff during exercises known in the corps as "Dreier's Leap"), was member of the Meadowbrook Club and other sporting groups.

In 1901 Henry married Ethel Eyre Valentine (1874-1958), a suffragist who was later active with the League of Women Voters and in civic affairs. Her influence in Fort Salonga was well known after 1941, when the family moved to the home permanently - Ethel became active in the community as a member of the Garden Club, the Board of the Fort Salonga Association, and the Board of Education. But her influence was far more wide than that. In fact the New York Woman Suffrage Party, with Carrie Chapman Catt as honorary chair, listed Mrs. H Edward Dreier as chairman of the Brooklyn chapter on Jan 19, 1919.

She graduated from Packer Collegiate Institute in 1895. After graduation Ethel organized and became president of Brooklyn's first social settlement, All Sorts and Conditions of Girls. She was also president of the United Neighborhood Guild (consisting of five settlements) and the People's Institute of Brooklyn. In 1912 Dreier was named chairman of the Woman Suffrage Party of Brooklyn. Under her leadership its 23 Assembly Districts were organized and after New York state won suffrage in 1917 (Brooklyn cast the largest vote for suffrage of any county in the state), she continued in a leadership role group as chairman of the Brooklyn League of Women Voters. From 1924 to 1930, and again from 1932 to 1936, Dreier was president of the Women's City Club of New York. Dreier was also active in housing projects for low-income groups as a member of the Brooklyn Committee for Better Housing.

And finally, Dreier also spent several years on the advisory council of Black Mountain College in Black Mountain, North Carolina.




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