Women and Love: Two Chicago Stories, Two Personal Sacrifices

BlogHer Original Post

Within these first three days of 2008, two very different news stories with common underlying themes came out in my local paper, The New York Times. Both were stories about women from Chicago. One woman, Marion Mahony Griffin, died in 1961 after a long and fascinating (but mostly unaccredited) life as an architect and urban planner. The other woman, Monika Rani, was only 22 years old when she was killed by her father at the end of 2007. What these women have in common is more than just geography. They both made sacrifices for love.

Mahony Griffin was trained as an architect at MIT. In 1895, she became Frank Llyod Wright's first employee. Her drawings formed the basis for a compendium of designs that Wright published in 1910 in Germany. According to the Times, a co-worker reminisced that, "Wright filed away her drawings for future use, chastising anyone who referred to them as 'Miss Mahony's designs.'"

Mahony Griffin didn't speak out publicly about Wright's use of her work until she deposited copies of the manuscript of her memoir with the Art Institute of Chicago and The New York Historical Society. In the memoir, which can be read online through The Art Institute (and according to the Times, is "as easy to navigate as a blog, and shares some of a blog's characteristics, including enthusiastic attention to personal grievances, sort of making Mahony one of the first women bloggers in a sense, albeit I take offense at the paper's characteristics of bloggers…), Mahony Griffin describes Wright as "a cancer sore" who "originated very little but spent most of his time claiming everything and swiping everything." Heh.

So what does Mahony's Griffin's story have to do with sacrificing for love? It seems that her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, is guilty of the same crime, except that for him, Mahony Griffin willingly used her talent to promote him. After they married in 1911, Marion began asserting her ideas and designs through Walter, allowing him to take sole credit for their joint work or even work done primarily by her. Her memoir, in fact, mostly focuses on her work as a supporter of her husband's career. Their most productive years were spent in Australia, which they arrived at after Walter won a competition to design Canberra, for which she designed the presentation drawings that were pivotal to the judges' decisions. As the Times concludes, "There is no doubt that Wright would have been an important architect with or without Mahony. It's harder to say how Walter Burley Griffin would have been received without his wife."

Marion Mahony Griffin's decision to sacrifice recognition for her skill and hard work was her choice. While this may seem a traditional decision by an unconventional woman (female architects were unheard of at that time; her memoir also covers many progressive topics such as environmental degradation and classism), it was her choice and I respect it, even if I wish she had sought some glory for herself.

Monika Rani, on the other hand, had the consequences of her decisions regarding love imposed upon her. Rani married a man from a lower caste against the wishes of her father, Subhash Chander. The last weekend in December, Chander doused her apartment with gasoline and lit it, killing Rani (who was five months pregnant with their second child), her husband Rajesh Kumar, and their three year old son.

In the Times article about the crime, Smita Narula, the faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, said that she was surprised that such a murder would take place in the United States. I wish I could say the same. It seems that any time any culture allows men total or near complete domination over women's lives and decisions, tragedies like these occur. (Another horrific example, as lainad recently wrote at BlogHer, a Canadian girl was killed by her father for not dressing modestly enough.)

What others are saying about Monika Rani and violence against women in general:

The two stories struck me in that both women paid a price of some sort for following their hearts. Just as the consequences of their actions differed dramatically, so did the freedom they had to make their choices in love. Here's hoping that in 2008, women across the globe will have the ability to find happiness in love without paying any price.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is lucky that her partner and family is supportive of her choices in life

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