On this day in 1931, the film Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform)
was released in the United States. Directed by the out lesbian director
Leontine Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform is
an lesbian cult classic.
An original poster for the film as it was displayed in 1931 shows Manuela (center) gazing longingly at her teacher,
Fräulein von Bernburg (left) (x).
The film follows a 14-year-old girl named Manuela
von Meinhardis, whose mother and father have both died and whose aunt has stuffed her away in an all-girls boarding school. The conditions at the
school are brutal and the headmistress forbids any kindness or leisure be allowed to the students. Manuela’s only brightness in life is Fräulein von Bernburg, the only compassionate teacher at the school. One day when Manuela arrives to
class in old, torn clothes, von Bernburg pulls her aside and offers
to let her borrow some of her own clothes. In a narrative turn that changed the history of film, Manuela bursts into tears and admits
that she is in love with her, to which von Bernburg replies that they can never
be. The rest of the film follows Manuela as she deals with the secrecy of her
love for von Bernburg coupled with her classmates’ secret plot to report their
headmistress’s brutal behavior to the authorities.
Mädchen in Uniform’s love plot between two women is not told
through code or subtext, but is an essential part of the film’s story, and for
this reason the film has often been dubbed the very first lesbian movie of the
western world. Berlin, Germany of the 1930s was thriving with an LGBT nightclub
scene, where the film made a huge splash. Although it was almost banned in the
United States for a goodnight kissing scene between the two protagonists, First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s highly positive review of the film was able to turn the
public opinion (#lesbiansolidarity). Later on when the Nazis began to rise to
power, instead of destroying the film as they did to many LGBT-themed
works of art, the ending of the film was rather altered to seem like a pro-Nazi
production. In 1958,when the film was re-made under the same title, the plot followed the
ending of the original 1931 production.