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Elsie de Wolfe Lady Mendl
(December 20, 1865 - July 12, 1950) U.S.A.

Elsie de Wolfe

Actress and interior decorator


Born in New York, New York, the daughter of Georgina Copeland and the doctor Stephen de Wolfe, as Elsa Anderson de Wolfe. She was educated privately in New York and in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she lived with maternal relatives. Through that connection she was presented at Queen Victoria's court in 1883 and introduced to London society. She spent her teenage years mixing with London society. She embarked upon a stage career in New York in 1886.

Elsie de WolfeElsie started adult life as an actress before becoming famous for her interior design and, in lesbian circles, for her relationship with the lesbian theatre agent Elizabeth (Bessie) Marbury. The two women met in 1886 in the house of the two unmarried sisters Sara and Eleanor Hewitt, who were close friends of Marbury. Their relationship lasted for 30 years; they were openly received in New York society.

In 1887 de Wolfe and Marbury set up home together. They both made trips to Europe and, in 1907, decided to move into the Villa Trianon in Versailles, which they eventually shared with Anne Morgan, a wealthy US heiress. The three were knwn as the "triangle of Versailles" living in a ménage à trois.

Elsie de WolfeElsie retired from the stage in 1905, devoting herself to interior design. In 1910 de Wolfe became active in the Woman Suffrage Party but the outbreack of the WWI necessitated a swift return to the USA. De Wolfe, however, was keen to return to Europe with Anne Morgan, to work for the Red Cross. De Wolfe's relationship with Marbury gradually began to drift and in 1920 Marbury sold her part in the Villa Trianon.

In March 1926 de Wolfe married Sir Charles Mendl, a British diplomat in France, for companionship and for his social connections; this move alienated her from Marbury, even though this marriage is not regarded as a physical relationship. Despite this event, Marbury eventually forgave her, aided by her new relationship with Elizabeth Arden. On Marbury's death in 1933, de Wolfe became her sole heir. On the outbreak of World War II they moved to Hollywood, California; Lady Mendl was restored to American citizenship, which had been lost by her marriage, by special act of Congress. After the war de Wolfe returned to Villa Trianon, where she died.


Source: excerpts from: Gabriele Griffin, Who's Who in Lesbian and Gay and Writing, Routledge, London, 2002 - et alii


  • Thermidor (1891)
  • The way of the world (1901)
  • After all (1935)
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