She wasn't conventionally beautiful. And not traditionally feminine. Those traits were important way back then. So, Elsa Maxwell might have gone through life an outcast. Then came The Big One, the San Francisco earthquake.
As Sam Staggs explains in his offbeat biography of Maxwell, that devastation provided this misfit with the need to invent for herself an indentity which could get her a place in society. The book is "Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World." Here you can order the book from Amazon.
The narrative Maxwell put together was that she was dirt poor, post-earthquake. That was not true. However, the earthquake gave her the gift of hunger. Before that she had been essentially financially comfortable.
The rubble in San Francisco was no platform for her to put together a career. She headed east. The rest is history. Will the current earthquake also be a game-changer for some inventive folks?