Frieda Lawrence


Who was Frieda Lawrence?

The University of New Mexico and the D.H. Lawrence Ranch Initiatives are grateful to her gift of the Ranch to UNM.

Biographical sketch from the Harry Ransom Center – University of Texas Austin, Frieda Lawrence Inventory

Born Emma Maria Frieda Johanna Baroness (Freiin) von Richthofen, Frieda Lawrence (1879-1956) was the second of three daughters born to Prussian Baron Friedrich von Richthofen and Anna Marquier von Richthofen. The family lived in a rural suburb of Metz, an area recently conquered in the Franco-Prussian War and subjected to a regime of forced Germanization. Frieda attended a local Roman Catholic convent school but found few friends among the French population. Her social world was composed of her sisters, with whom she alternately competed for parental attention and allied herself with in order to manipulate their parents, the family servants in whose care the girls were generally left, and Prussian soldiers whom she met while playing in the trenches left over from the war.

In July of 1898 Anna von Richthofen took Frieda and her younger sister on their annual summer visit to Freiburg, in the Black Forest. It was here that Frieda met Ernest Weekley, a language scholar and lecturer at University College, Nottingham. Overwhelmed by Frieda’s looks and natural intelligence, he quickly made an offer of marriage, which she accepted. They were wed on August 29, 1899, and the couple settled in Nottingham, England, where Weekley continued his teaching and Frieda endeavored to fit into the working class neighborhood. Their first child, Charles Montague, was born in June of 1900, followed by Elsa Agnes Frieda in September 1902, and Barbara Joy in October 1904.

Between 1902 and 1912, Frieda had a series of affairs, including one with Otto Gross in 1907. In 1912 she met David Herbert Lawrence, then a student of her husband, and within a few months they eloped. They traveled first to Metz and then spent the summer traveling through the Alps and into Italy. In 1913 they returned to England where Frieda attempted to see her children, but was prevented by Weekley who filed for a divorce. The divorce was made final in May of 1914 and it was not until the late 1920s that she was able to freely communicate with her children again. Frieda and D. H. Lawrence were married in a private ceremony in July 1914.

For the next several years they traveled almost constantly in France, Italy, and Germany, staying with friends, or in borrowed housing, borrowing money when they needed to. Prevented from leaving England during World War I, they stayed in remote towns where they were harassed by police and ostracized by the local citizens because of her nationality and his burgeoning reputation as a pornographic writer. After the war they traveled mostly in Italy between 1919 and 1921.

In 1922 they sailed for America via Ceylon, Australia, and Tahiti. They reached San Francisco in September 1922 and traveled on to Taos, New Mexico, at the invitation of Mable Dodge Luhan. They spent the winter there before moving on to Mexico in the spring of 1923. Later that year they returned to Europe to visit Frieda’s children and ailing mother. In 1924 they revisited the American Southwest for the last time before D.H. Lawrence’s death. In 1930 D.H. Lawrence died near Vence, Italy, of tuberculosis and was buried nearby. Shortly after his death, Frieda returned to England in an attempt to sort out his estate, and then traveled between Italy and Germany for the rest of the year. In 1931 she returned to Taos in the company of Angelo Ravagli.

Frieda purchased land in Taos and built a ranch which Ravagli managed. In 1934 Not I, but the Wind, Frieda’s memoir of life with D.H. Lawrence, was published. Kiowa ranch became a summer home when Frieda acquired a winter home in El Prado, Mexico. During World War II, Frieda and Ravagli, subjected to suspicion and harassment in America, stayed in Mexico. In 1950 Frieda married Ravagli. The union was largely a matter of convenience to protect his immigrant status, as their relationship had become more of a business partnership than romance. Frieda made a final visit to England in 1952 to visit her children and meet her grandchildren.

Frieda Lawrence died of a stroke, early in the morning on her birthday, August 11, 1956. Her autobiography, “And the Fullness Thereof,” which she had been slowly pulling together over several years, was published posthumously in 1964 as Frieda Lawrence, the Memoirs and Correspondence.