In the infamous and widely publicized “toothpick incident,” Theodore Dreiser and Marie Pergain were indicted on a charge of adultery for spending the night of Friday, November 6, 1931 together in a hotel room in Pineville, Kentucky. They had traveled to Kentucky together, Dreiser to chair hearings of the so-called Dreiser Committee into the conditions of striking mine workers.
Marie Pergain, one of Dreiser’s lovers, was the “mystery woman” involved in the scandal.
In Theodore Dresser Interviews, edited by Frederic E. Rusch and Donald Pizer (University of Illinois Press, 2004), interviews with Dreiser that were published in the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel on November 3 and November 6, 1931 are included. The following is from the editorial commentary in the book:
Also accompanying the group was Marie Pergain (probably a fictitious name), Dreiser’s “companion.” (footnote, pg. 246)
Marie Pergain has never been identified; the name was probably adopted for the occasion. (headnote, pg. 253)