A worldly society hostess, arts aficionado, decorator, memoirist, and what might be called a “culture desk” writer, Muriel Draper’s career in the traditionally female role of hostess and the often-maligned worlds of women’s fashion and homemaking elevated these pursuits into the realm of the arts. In the 1910s, Draper lived in London, where her home became a popular gathering place for artists and writers—Henry James, John Singer Sergeant, and Eleanora Duse visited often. She also befriended Gertrude Stein who was, at the time, writing “portraits” of some of her friends and acquaintances, including her famous Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia. Though she endeavored to make a portrait of Muriel Draper, Stein told Draper that “she could not ‘do’ a portrait of me because I ‘swooped so’ she could not keep me still long enough.”1
When she returned New York in 1915, she began a new career as an interior designer, using her connections in New York society to build a business designing for wealthy clients. She wrote essays about fashion and culture for Vogue and Town and Country; she became known as an expert in good taste. A smart and witty writer and talented public speaker, she lectured often on style, delivering talks entitled “Charm” and “We All Wear Clothes.” Draper also wrote Music at Midnight, a memoir of her years in Europe.
In 1934, she made the first of several trips to the USSR. She wrote articles for American magazines about Russian culture, giving detailed descriptions of ladies’ opera costumes (which she found beautiful, despite a scarcity of jewelry) and the soldiers coats’—“short-waisted, long skirted, smartly in and out pleated garments, tabbed with green, red-violet and scarlet, and have an extremely efficient dash about them that no other modern military coat can equal.” She became increasingly interested in the Soviet experiment; she was a founding member of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship’s women’s division. Late in the 1940s, she helped to organize an American chapter of the Women’s International Democratic Federation. When she was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the group disbanded and Draper withdrew from political activity.