Happy Halloween! Sadly, we don’t have a spooky story for you today but we do have the story of a lesbian icon who was also a Halloween baby. Natalie Clifford Barney, born on this day in 1876, was an American expatriate in Paris who was famous for her writings and for running the popular Barney literary salon.
Born in Dayton, Ohio on October 31, 1876, Natalie Clifford Barney was of French, German, and Jewish descent. Her father had inherited the family’s railway car manufacturing plant which provided her a wealthy and privileged upbringing. When she was 10-years-old, the family moved to Washington D.C. where Natalie made a name for herself as one of the most rebellious girls of the high society sect. She constantly made newspaper headlines for her “unladylike” adventures and for riding her horse astride rather than sidesaddle. In 1893, Natalie met Eva Palmer-Sikelianos while vacationing at Bel Harbor, Maine with her family. The two eventually became lovers and made the big move to Paris together, living at 4, rue Chalgrin for a number of years.
Natalie, known for her eccentric personality and penchant for non-monogamy, photographed nude by an unnamed French photographer (x).
Natalie would later recount that she had first realized she was a lesbian when she was 12-years-old and became determined to “live openly, without hiding anything.” Her writing career and Parisian reputation became centered on her trysts with women and her unapologetic love for her lesbian identity; Natalie became the talk of the town when she published the tell-all book Idylle Saphique about her affair with the famous dancer Liane de Pougy, and from there the rest is history. She ran her literary salon for over 60 years and became friends with (and sometimes the lover of) some of the most impactful women artists and writers of her day. She had prominent relationships with Renée Vivien, Dolly Wilde, Romaine Brooks, Élisabeth de Gramont, and many more. The most well-known of Natalie’s published writings include poetry and plays such as Some Portrait-Sonnets of Women, Five Short Greek Dialogues, and Acts and Interludes as well as the novels Scatterings, Thoughts of an Amazon, and The One Who is Legion, or A.D.’s After-Life.
Natalie with Romaine Brookes. Out of all her relationships throughout the years, her relationship with Romaine lasted the longest (x).
The salon was put on hiatus during World War II, during which Natalie and her partner at the time, Romaine Brooks, fled to Italy. She returned to her home in Paris after the war ended and continued her salon for a new generation. In her later years, Natalie wrote two volumes of memoirs about her time with the Lost Generation and became friends with figures such as an elderly Alice B. Toklas, Truman Capote, and Marguerite Yourcenar. Natalie eventually suffered heart failure and passed away on February 2, 1972. She is buried next to her last love, Romaine Brooks, at Passy Cemetery in Paris, Île-de-France, France.