The famously “boyish looking” and “sexually magnetic” Thelma
Wood was born on this day in 1901. Outside of her relationships with almost
every famous lesbian who lived in Paris in 1920s, Thelma was also a professional
sculptor and silverpoint artist.
Thelma Wood photographed in Paris, 1921 (x).
Thelma was born in Kansas on July 3, 1901, but the family moved
to St. Louis, Missouri when she was just a baby. In St. Louis, Thelma enjoyed a
happy childhood as the middle child of a middle-class family until her mother
and little brother fell victim to the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Their deaths
splintered the family and when Thelma left to study art at Washington
University her relationship with what remained of the Woods was weak. When she
and her college girlfriend, Myra Marglous, left to continue studying art in
Paris in 1920, Thelma saw it as an opportunity to start over and build a new
life for herself.
One of Thelma’s silverpoint sketches, the technique she was most known for, titled “Two Giraffes” (x).
In Paris, Thelma soon broke up with Myra and found
herself entering into a series of relationships with some of the most famous
lesbian artists and writers of the era. She had a fling with the photographer
Berenice Abbott in 1921, and then with the author Edna St. Vincent Millay the same year. One
of her more serious relationships was with the poet Djuna Barnes, who was even
introduced to Thelma through Berenice Abbott (*insert joke about small lesbian
dating pools here*). From 1921 to 1929, Thelma and Djuna rode out an intense
and unhealthy relationship fueled by a mutual love of sex, alcohol, and
partying. Thelma was notorious for being unfaithful to her girlfriends and
Djuna was no exception, although later on in life both women referred to each
other as one of their “great loves.”
Djuna Barnes (left) and Thelma Wood (right) photographed by one of Thelma’s ex-lover and lifelong friend Berenice Abbott (x).
After the relationship with Djuna ended,
Thelma began dating an American heiress named Henriette McCrea Metcalf.
Together they moved around from Paris, to New York, to Florence with Henriette funding
Thelma’s art studies all the while. The biggest exhibit of Thelma’s work
happened in 1931 at New York City’s Milch Galleries and some of her sketchbooks
are now on display at the University of Maryland. After the 16 year relationship with Henriette ended on bad
terms, Thelma became involved with a woman named Margaret Behrens which lasted
until her death. In the 1960s, Thelma was tragically diagnosed with breast
cancer and she eventually passed away on December 10, 1970. Her ashes were interred
at Margaret’s family plot in Bridgeport, Connecticut.