Louise Bryant, the daughter of the radical journalist, Hugh Moran, was born in Reno, Nevada, on 5th December 1885. Later, after the death of her father, she adopted the name of her stepfather, Sheridan Bryant, a railroad conductor. According to her biographer, Barbara Gelb, "she was slender and small-boned with vividly pretty Irish features - reddish-brown hair, a pert nose, mischievous mouth, and blue-gray eyes set widely apart in a heart-shaped face."
Bryant attended the University of Oregon where she became active in the struggle for women's suffrage. According to her biographer, Mary V. Dearborn: "A good student, known as a considerable flirt, she had grown into a beautiful woman, with auburn hair, creamy skin, and very long lashes of which she was vain. Bryant wrote a senior thesis on the Modoc Indian Wars."
Bryant graduated from university in January 1909. She worked briefly in a canning factory in Seattle. Later she claimed that the "grim working conditions and pitifully low wages that prevailed in factories at the time, that aroused her social conscience." She also briefly worked as a schoolteacher before establishing herself as a journalist in Portland working for the Portland Spectator . During this period she mixed with a group of people who held progressive ideas on politics.
On 13th November, 1909, she married Paul Trullinger, a wealthy dentist. Barbara Gelb argues that "Paul regarded himself as a free thinker and some thing of a bohemian and quietly endorsed Louise's radical political views and espousal of the suffrage cause." During this period she became close to Sara Bard Field. She continued to write and in 1912 began contributing to the radical journal, Blast, a San Francisco anarchist weekly edited by Alexander Berkman.
In 1915 Bryant met the radical journalist, John Reed. He told a friend: "I think I've found her at last. She's wild, brave and straight-and graceful and lovely to look at. In this spiritual vacuum, this unfertilized soil, she has grown (how, I can't imagine) into an artist. She is coming to New York to get a job with me, I hope. I think she's the first person I ever loved without reservation." Bryant remarked: "I always wanted somebody who wouldn't care when you went to bed or what hour you got up, and who lived in the way Jack did."
Reed took her to New York City and she was introduced to a group of radicals associated with the journal, The Masses. This included Max Eastman, Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill, Upton Sinclair, Amy Lowell, Mabel Dodge, Floyd Dell, Inez Milholland, Carl Sandburg, Crystal Eastman and Boardman Robinson. Bryant began writing for the journal. Waldo Frank got to know her during this period. He later recalled: "She was an Irish beauty, thin, with pale skin, very romantic. She was intellectually alive and responsive, although not profound."
In the summer of 1916 Bryant and Reed decided to rent a home in Provincetown, a small seaport in Massachusetts. A group of left-wing writers including Floyd Dell, George Gig Cook, Mary Heaton Vorse, Susan Glaspell, Hutchins Hapgood, William Zorach, Theodore Dreiser and Neith Boyce, who lived in Greenwich Village, often spent their summers in Provincetown. In previous year, several members of this community, established the Provincetown Theatre Group. A shack at the end of the fisherman's wharf was turned into a theatre. Later, other writers such as Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay joined the group. Bryant wrote: "It was a strange year. Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place."
On 28th July, 1916 the group performed Bound East for Cardiff, a play written by the young playwright, Eugene O'Neill. The cast included George Gig Cook, John Reed and O'Neill, who was persuaded to play the one-line role of the ship's mate. It was the ideal play for the Provincetown Theatre. Susan Glaspell later recalled: "The sea had been good to Eugene O'Neill. It was there for his opening. There was a fog, just as the script demanded, fog bell in the harbour. The tide was in, and it washed under us and around, spraying through the holes in the floor, giving us the rhythm and the flavour of the sea while the big dying sailor talked to his friend Drisc of the life he had always wanted deep in the land, where you'd never see a ship or smell the sea."
O'Neill's one-act play shared the bill with The Game, that had been written by Louise Bryant. According to Barbara Gelb: "Louise hurried to finish her play, The Game. Though it was a rather stilted attempt at parable... it caught the interest of William and Marguerite Zorach, both artists, who thought they could create an innovative stage setting, and it was accepted for the second bill." Mary V. Dearborn, the author of Queen of Bohemia (1996), remarked: "The play boasted a remarkably overstated and formalized acting style... Utterly, deliberately non-realistic, the play received more acclaim than it perhaps deserved."
In June 1916, John Reed went to see a doctor about his health problems. He was told that he needed an operation to remove one of his kidneys. While he was away Bryant became close to Eugene O'Neill. The author of So Short a Time (1973) argued: "Louise was spellbound by O'Neill's marathon swims. Sometimes after watching him from her window, who would join him on the beach. O'Neill could no longer pretend that he was not deeply and unhappily in love with her... He was convinced that Louise, committed to Reed, would be offended by his love. He not only concealed his feelings, but tried his best to avoid her; he was the only one to whom it was not plain that Louise was pursuing him." Louise sent a note to O'Neill that read: "I must see you alone. I have to explain something, for my sake and Jack's. You have to understand." As a result of the meeting, Louise and O'Neill became lovers and soon most of their friends were aware of it. However, John Reed was completely ignorant of the affair. Dorothy Day, who was a close friend of O'Neill during this period. She later recalled: "we were all so young. We all knew that Gene was in love with Louise, and believed that he was nursing a hopeless passion. we regarded him as a romantic figure - a genius unhappily in love."
On 9th November 1916, Louise married John Reed. Eleven days later, Reed had one of his kidneys removed at an hospital in Baltimore. His friend, Robert Benchley, who worked for the New York Tribune, wrote to him while he was recovering from the operation: "Allow me to to condole with you on your recent bereavement. we never realize. I suppose, what a wonderful thing a kidney is until it is gone. How true that is of everything in life, after all, isn't it?"
In early 1917 Lincoln Steffens suggested that Reed should go to Russia. He was keen that Louise should accompany him and so he helped her to get accreditation as a foreign correspondent to report the war for the Bell Syndicate. The notation clipped to her application read: "I suppose I will have to issue a passport to this wild woman. She is full of socialistic and ultra-modern ideas, which accounts for her wild hair and open mouth. She is the wife of John Reed, a well-known correspondent."
John Reed and Louise Bryant left for Petrograd in August 1917 after Max Eastman and Eugen Boissevain raised money for the trip. As Theodore Draper pointed out: "Max Eastman scraped together the money, and he reached Petrograd in September 1917. Thus he had two months before the Bolsheviks seized power. These were the days that shook John Reed. He went to Russia purely as a journalist, but he was not a pure journalist. He could not resist identifying himself with underdogs, especially if they followed strong, ruthless leaders. Reed was first and foremost a great reporter, but he was at his best reporting a cause he could make his own."
Reed wrote to Boardman Robinson: "We are in the middle of things and believe me it's thrilling. For color and terror and grandeur this makes Mexico look pale." According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "He made his way into the Smolny, where the Bolsheviks had their headquarters; into the City Duma, stronghold of liberal democracy; into the soviets of workers and soldiers and into the soviets of peasants; into barracks, factory meetings, street processions, halls, courts; into the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks dispersed; into the Winter Palace when it was being defended by student officers and a woman's battalion, and again when it was being overrun and looted. All Russia was meeting, and John Reed was meeting with it."
On another occasion the couple were nearly killed. Bryant later wrote about the incident in Six Months in Russia (1918): " We found ourselves crammed against a closed archway that had great iron doors securely locked. There were twenty in our crowd and about six were Kronstadt sailors. The first victim was a working man. His right leg was shattered and he sank down without a sound, gradually turning paler and losing consciousness as a pool of blood widened around him. Not one of us dared to move. One thing that I remember, which struck me even then, was that no one in our crowd screamed, although seven were killed. I remember also the two little street boys. One whimpered pitifully when he was shot, the other died instantly, dropping at our feet an inanimate bundle of rags, his little faced covered with his own blood. The hopelessness of our position was just beginning to sink in on me when several Kronstadt sailors with a great shout straight into the fire. They succeeded in reaching the car and thrust their bayonets inside again and again. The sharp cries of the victims rose above the shouting, and suddenly everything was sickeningly quiet. They dragged three dead men out of the armoured car and they lay face up on the cobbles, unrecognizable and stuck all over with bayonet wounds."
While in Petrograd she interviewed Alexander Kerensky, the new prime minister: "I had a tremendous respect for Kerensky when he was head of the Provisional Government. He tried so passionately to hold Russia together, and what man at this hour could have accomplished that? He was never wholeheartedly supported by any group. He attempted to carry the whole weight of the nation on his frail shoulders, keep up a front against the Germans, keep down the warring political factions at home."
It took her several weeks before Lenin was willing to see her. "He is a little round man, quite bald and smooth-shaven. For days he shuts himself away and it is impossible to interview him." She compared him with Kerensky: "Kerensky has personality plus... one cannot help but be charmed by his wit and his friendliness... On the other hand, Lenin is sheer intellect - he is absorbed, cold, unattractive, impatient at interruption... Lenin has tremendous power; he is backed by the Soviets... Lenin is a master propagandist. If any one is capable of manoeuvring a revolution in Germany and Austria, it is Lenin... Lenin is monotonous and through and he is dogged; he possesses all the qualities of a chief, including the absolute moral indifference which is so necessary to such a part."
Bryant was able to spend a lot of time with Leon Trotsky: "Trotsky is slight of build, wears thick glasses and has dark, stormy eyes. His forehead is high and his hair black and wary. He is a brilliant and fiery orator... During the first days of the Bolshevik revolt I used to go every morning to Smolny to get the latest news... Running a government was a new task and often puzzling to the people in Smolny. They had a certain awe of Lenin, so they left him pretty well alone, while every little difficulty under the sun was brought to Trotsky. He worked hard and was often on the verge of a nervous breakdown; he became irritable and flew into rages."
Louise Bryant arrived back in New York City on 19th February, 1918. On her return Bryant commented that the Russian Revolution had increased her belief in women's suffrage: "I wish I could believe it, but I can never see spiritual difference between men and women inside or outside of politics. They act and react very much alike; they certainly did in the Russian Revolution. It is one of the best arguments I know in favour of women's suffrage." She added that she had never met a people so kind and generous as the Russians, who refused to hate anybody, and dislike to kill anyone except their officers and oppressors."
On her arrival back she wrote to Eugene O'Neill in Provincetown. At the time O'Neill was living with Agnes Boulton. She later recalled: "Louise wrote that she must see him - and at once. She had left Jack Reed in Russia and crossed three thousand miles of frozen steppes to come back to him - her lover. Page after page of passionate declaration of their love of hers, which would never change. She had forgiven him. What if he had picked up some girl in the Village and become involved? There was no use writing letters - she had to see him! It was all a misunderstanding and her fault for leaving him, for going to Russia with Jack." Boulton persuaded O'Neill not to see Louise.
John Reed arrived back in New York City on 28th April, 1918. He was immediately arrested and charged with Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Art Young, Boardman Robinson and Henry J. Glintenkamp for violating the Espionage Act by publishing anti-war articles and cartoons in The Masses. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort.
Louise Bryant found that Reed's arrest resulted in her losing work. The Philadelphia Public Ledger, which had run her Russian articles, refused to publish a proposed series on Ireland. "In view of the fact that your husband has again been arrested, I think it would be wiser for you to let the matter rest a while. Your identity as Mrs. Reed has been pretty widely established, and I am afraid the newspapers would not go in for a series from you until Mr. Reed has cleared up all his troubles."
In February, 1919, Bryant was arrested after she spoke at a rally where an effigy of President Woodrow Wilson was burned. Bryany went on hunger-strike and she was soon released. She later explained: "If you go without food and become weak, the authorities let you out because they do not want you to die in jail." The New York Times commented the day after her release: "There may be some who will regret that she was not permitted to test that strike to its fullest limit, like so many of the victims of the Bolshevism of which she approves."
JJohn Reed returned to Russia in 1920 and attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. According to the author of Strange Communists I Have Known (1966): "The order of business for the Second Congress had been determined by Lenin. Having concluded that the great push for world revolution had failed, and with it the attempt to smash the old socialist parties and trade unions, Lenin set it as the task of all revolutionaries to return to or infiltrate the old trade unions. As always, Lenin took it for granted that whatever conclusion he had come to in evaluation and in strategy and tactics was infallibly right. In the Comintern, as in his own party, his word was law."
Reed and other members of the Communist Party of the United States and the Communist Party of Great Britain disagreed with this policy and tried to start a debate on the subject. To do so, they needed to add English to the already adopted German, French and Russian, as an official language of debate. This idea was rejected. Reed became disillusioned with the way Lenin had become a virtual dictator of Russia. His friend, Angelica Balabanoff later recalled: "When he came to see me after the Congress, he was in a terrible state of depression. He looked old and exhausted. The experience had been a terrible blow."
Louise Bryant arrived in Moscow in September 1920. She wrote to Max Eastman that she "found him older and sadder and grown strangely gentle and ascetic." In another letter to her mother she remarked that he was tired and ill and close to a breakdown." Louise later recalled: "He was terribly afraid of having made a serious mistake in his interpretation of an historical event for which he would be held accountable before the judgment of history."
On 28th September, John Reed complained of dizziness and headaches. A doctor confirmed he was suffering from typhus. Louse wrote to her mother: "I got permission to stay with him although it is no means customary to allow any one but doctors and nurses to remain with a patient." Louise later recalled: "He was never delirious the way most typhus patients are. He always knew me and his mind was full of stories and poems and beautiful thoughts. He would tell me that the water he drank was full of little songs."
John Reed died on 19th October, 1920. He was given a state funeral and buried in the Kremlin Wall. Louise wrote to Max Eastman: "I haven't the courage to think what it is going to be like without him. I have never really loved any one else in the whole world but Jack, and we were terribly close to each other... No one has ever been so alone as I am. I have lost everything now."
Clare Sheridan was devastated by the death of John Reed: "Everyone liked him and his wife, Louise Bryant, the War Correspondent. She is quite young and had only recently joined him. He had been here two years, and Mrs. Reed, unable to obtain a passport, finally came in through Murmansk. Everything possible was done for him, but of course there are no medicaments here: the hospitals are cruelly short of necessities. He should not have died, but he was one of those young, strong men, impatient of illness, and in the early stages he would not take care of himself."
In her book, Russian Portraits (1921), she described the funeral that was also attended by Nickolai Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai: "It is the first funeral without a religious service that I have ever seen. It did not seem to strike anyone else as peculiar, but it was to me. His coffin stood for some days in the Trades' Union Hall, the walls of which are covered with huge revolutionary cartoons in marvellously bright decorative colouring. We all assembled in that hall. The coffin stood on a dais and was covered with flowers. As a bit of staging it was very effective, but I saw, when they were being carried out, that most of the wreaths were made of tin flowers painted. I suppose they do service for each Revolutionary burial... A large crowd assembled for John Reed's burial and the occasion was one for speeches. Bucharin and Madame Kolontai both spoke. There were speeches in English, French, German and Russian. It took a very long time, and a mixture of rain and snow was falling. Although the poor widow fainted, her friends did not take her away. It was extremely painful to see this white-faced, unconscious woman lying back on the supporting arm of a Foreign Office official, more interested in the speeches than in the human agony."
Bryant continued work as a journalist and published a second book, Mirrors of Moscow, in 1923. She also published interviews with Benito Mussolini and Enver Pasha. In 1924 she married the former assistant secretary of state William Christian Bullitt. The author of Queen of Bohemia (1996) has argued: "What did Louise Bryant see in Bill Bullitt? At first, it seems, not much - beyond a pleasant dinner companion and a man in a position to help her. Jack Reed, so much admired by Bullitt, had never particularly liked him... Certainly Bill's politics, both before and after the peace mission, were in line with Louise's - though she and Jack may have had reservations because of his great wealth... With his retreat from the world of public affairs, Bullitt seemed to be turning his back on a life of propriety and convention. He would never exactly be bohemian, but he was iconoclastic enough to do what he pleased and defy the expectations of both of his tightly constructed social class and the status quo in general, a quality Louise would have fully appreciated."
Bullitt and Bryant spent time with Lincoln Steffens and his young girlfriend, Ella Winter, while they were living in Paris. Winter later wrote in her autobiography, And Not to Yield (1963): "We saw much of Louise Bryant and Billy Bullitt, Louise very pregnant in an Arabian Nights maternity gown of black and gold that I thought could have been worn by a Persian queen. Billy hovered over her like a mother hen." Anne Moen Bullitt, was born in 24th February, 1924.
Justin Kaplan has argued that Bullitt was not an easy man to live with: "Bullitt was an emotional man, not always entirely rational. Indeed... Bullitt's faults were as excessive as his good qualities. Arrogance he possessed in great measure, as well as a sense of entitlement that went hand in hand with a belief in a levelling democracy. He was an impatient man, who, when he decided on a course of action, could not be swayed from it. He did not take advice well."
While in France he began work on a satirical novel about the wealthy people he knew growing up in Philadelphia. His biographer, Mary V. Dearborn, has pointed out: "The hero is John Corsey, a class-bound Philadelphia aristocrat who works as a newspaperman. He falls in love with the sculptor Nina Michaud, a character closely modeled on Louise, but marries Mildred, the socially proper woman his mother has chosen for him, who bears a distinct resemblance to Ernesta. Mildred is frigid, and an unhappy John is impotent. At the novel's end he rediscovers Nina, who has borne him an illegitimate son, a Communist rebel hero clearly based on Jack Reed."
It's Not Done was published in 1926. The New York Herald Tribune described it as "a triumph of audacity" and a "tour de force". The New York Times claimed that it was "a propaganda novel, directed against a single institution, the American aristocratic ideal, and whose defect is that the smoke does not quite clear away so that one can accurately count the corpses." Several reviewers commented on the "frank sexual discussions and steamy love scenes". It was a great commercial success, selling more than 150,000 copies and going into twenty-four printings.
Bullitt's marriage to Bryant did not always run smoothly. The historian, Kenneth S. Davis, claimed that Bullitt was not an easy man to live with: "Ardent, charming, brilliant, highly emotional, a romantic idealist of conspiratorial temper for whom everything was purest white or deepest black (from the first to last he had an excessively vivid sense of plot and counterplot going on all around him), he had several characteristics of the spoiled rich boy who won't play if he can't make the rules."
In 1928 Bryant developed Adiposis dolorosa. As Mary V. Dearborn pointed out: "It causes its sufferers so much pain that they frequently resort, as did Bryant, to drugs or alcohol." Bryant wrote to Art Young: "I suppose in the end death gets all of us. It nearly has got me now."
William Christian Bullitt objected to Bryant's heavy drinking, especially as he felt it was damaging her ability as a mother. On 28th September, 1929, Bullitt discovered letters that indicated that Bryant was having a sexual relationship with the sculptor Gwen Le Gallienne. When confronted with this information, Bryant attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills and was admitted to the Neurological Institute of New York. Soon afterwards Bullitt obtained a divorce and gained custody over his daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, following his testimony that his wife was having a lesbian relationship with Gallienne.
Louise Bryant died in Sèvres in on 6th January 1936. Newspaper accounts said that her death was caused by a cerebral hemorrhage. She had collapsed while climbing the stairs to her room in the Hotel Liberia.