The Victorian lesbian power couple Elsie de Wolfe (1859-1950), often credited as America’s first professional interior designer, and Elisabeth “Bessie” Marbury (1856-1933), one of the world’s leading, and pioneering female, theatrical agents and producers, lived in this house at the corner of East 17th Street and Irving Place, near Union Square, between 1892 and 1911. They first met in 1887, and their relationship lasted nearly 40 years.
When they began leasing the house in 1892, de Wolfe was an actress and Marbury was just then establishing her career as an agent to the leading European and American playwrights (her clients included Oscar Wilde). Their house was located near the home of Marbury’s parents and several friends and was close to the Union Square theaters. In 1897 and 1898, de Wolfe began to redecorate and simplify the interiors of No. 122, gaining experience and publicity that enabled her to launch her career as an interior decorator in 1905.
De Wolfe and Marbury opened their home to their many friends from abroad, and in 1897 began to host famous Sunday afternoon “teas.” These attracted American and European celebrities connected with the worlds of the arts, society, and politics. Marbury characterized the house as “a glorified Ellis Island.”
“You never know whom you are going to meet at Bessie’s and Elsie’s but you can always be sure they will be interesting and you will have a good time.”