Category: 1930s

DECEMBER 27: Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)

The famed actress and fashion icon, Marlene Dietrich, was born on this day in 1901.
Remembered as the woman who made the tuxedo gender neutral, she also had several
relationships with women throughout her life.

Marlene Dietrich dressed in her classic tuxedo and top hat, cigarette in hand (x).

Marie Magdalene
“Marlene” Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901 in a district of
Berlin, Germany called Schöneberg. Her mother was from a prestigious German
family and was heir to a jewelry and clock-making firm while her father served
as a local police lieutenant. As a child she attended Auguste-Viktoria Girls’
School. It was during her school days when her friends began calling her
“Lena.” She soon combined that nickname with her first name, Marie, and began
going by Marlene. After graduating from the Victoria-Luise-Schule, she began
seeking a career in show business.

Her earliest
gig was as a chorus girl with the touring vaudeville troupe, Guido Thielscher’s
Girl-Kabarett. After working in the theater circuit for a while, she made her
film debut with a small role in 1923’s The Little Napoleon. Her big break came
in 1930 when she starred in The Blue Angel; her role as the seductive cabaret
singer Lola Lola struck something within American audiences. Her signature song
from the film, “Falling in Love Again,” also became a hit. Marlene would go on
to make over 45 films in her career and become known as one of the most famous
femme fatales in cinema history.

One of Marlene’s
most famous scenes occurred in the 1930 film Morocco. One again cast as a
cabaret singer, she performs an entire song dressed in a man’s white tuxedo and kisses a woman in the audience. The scene was scandalous at the time, but also indicative of Marlene’s personal breaking of traditional gender roles;
she was known to dress in men’s suits in her daily life and was also one of the first women to be
enrolled at Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin. 

Photographs of Marlene that were taken by the woman she had one of her longest love affairs with, Mercedes de Acosta (x).

The phrase “sewing circle,”
used to describe the underground gang of lesbian and bisexual women in old
Hollywood, is said to have been coined by Marlene herself. Although she was
married to Rudolf Sieber, she had multiple affairs with both men and women.
Some of her most notable lovers included Mercedes de Acosta, Claudette Colbert, Edith Piaf, and many more. She would pass away, aged 90, on May 6, 1992.

-LC

DECEMBER 26: Queen Christina is released (1933…

Based on the
real life lesbian queen of Sweden and starring lesbian starlet Greta Garbo, the
film Queen Christina was first released on this day in 1933.

Despite the
actual documented history of Queen Christina’s life, the story of the Queen
Christina
film follows the queen as she falls in love with a fictional male
Spanish envoy. Stressed out by the demands of the throne and the continued insistence
that she marry her cousin, Karl Gustav, this fictionalized version of Christina
disguises herself in men’s clothing and sneaks out of her castle to enjoy life
as an everyday commoner. When an unexpected snow storm leaves her stranded at
an inn, she is forced to share a bed with an occupant of the inn, a diplomat
sent from Spain named Antonio. Christina eventually reveals herself to be a
woman and the two fall in love.

Despite the
erasure of Christina’s lesbianism, the 1933 film became a touchstone for
lesbian culture for its depiction of a masculine woman protagonist and the
iconic scene where Christina shares a “friendly kiss” with her lady in waiting
and real life lover, Ebba Sparre. The film The Girl King that was released in 2015 recently restored the lesbian aspects of Queen Christina’s true story.

-LC

DECEMBER 23: Christa Winsloe (1888-1944)

The
German novelist and artist, Christa Winsloe, was born on this day in
1888. She is most well-known for having penned the play Gestern und heute,
which was eventually adapted into the iconic lesbian film Mädchen in Uniform.

An undated photograph of a young Christa Winsloe (x).

Christa Winsloe
was born on December 23, 1888 in Darmstadt, Germany. Her mother died when she
was just an infant and she was put in the care of distant family. However,
there was little love there and Christa was sent off to a notoriously strict
boarding school – Kairserin-Augusta-Stift in Potsdam – as soon as she was of
age. She was married off to a rich Hungarian writer named Ludwig Hatvany as soon
as she left the school.

During the
first years of her marriage, Christa wrote her very first novel. Das Mädchen Manuela (“The Child
Manuela”) was based on her years spent at Kaiserin-Augusta-Stift and her
desire to see the piece published caused strain on her young marriage; Ludwig,
a popular writer in his own right, wished for Christa to simply be his wife, not the independent artist she saw herself as. The marriage eventually ended in divorce
and in 1933 Das Mädchen Manuela would finally be published. Christa’s magnum
opus would be the play Gestern und heute
(“Yesterday and Today”). It first premiered on the stage in Leipzig
in 1930 and would be renamed to Children in Uniform when it was performed in
London in 1932. The play’s success resulted in an iconic film adaptation that
we have covered multiple times on the blog.

Christa’s first
lover was an American newspaper journalist named Dorothy Thompson. The two met in the years leading up to World War II when Dorothy was
reporting from Berlin, the same city where Christa had found a home in the Weimar era
lesbian subculture. Their relationship eventually fell apart when the Nazis
rose to power and Christa was forced to flee to France. There, she joined the
French Resistance and found a new lover in fellow freedom fighter Simone
Genet. The two women would die together on June 10, 1944 when they were gunned
down by four Frenchmen in the country town of Cluny after the men falsely
believed them to be Nazi spies.

-LC

DECEMBER 13: Lucía Sánchez Saornil (1895-1970)

The Spanish poet and anarchist, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, was born on this day in 1895.
She is most well-known for her lesbian themed poetry and for being one of the
founders of the feminist group Mujeres Libres.

An older Lucía photographed some time in the 1940s (x).

Lucía was
born on December 13, 1895 in Valencia, Spain. Her mother passed away not long
after her birth and she was raised by an impoverished single father. Lucía’s experiences
growing up poor would eventually become a defining factor in her political
identity. She began writing poetry at an early age and was able to receive a
scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. By 1919,
she had been published in premier literary journals such as Los Quijotes,
Tableros, Plural, Manantial and La Gaceta Literaria under a male pen name. By
using a false name, Lucía was able to publish her love poems about women
without fear of being caught by censors and imprisoned.

Despite her literary success, Lucía
still found herself having to work as a telephone operator in order to make a
living. In 1931, she participated in a strike along with the
anarcho-syndicalist labor union, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT),
against Telefónica. After that inciting incident, she would dedicate her life
to labor activism and fighting for anarchist social revolution. By 1933, she
had been appointed as the Writing Secretary for CNT’s branch in Madrid.

Towards the end of her life, Lucía
began publishing her writing in anarchist-based journals as well as criticizing
the anarchist movement for being so male-centered. Along with Mercedes
Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón, she founded the anarchist feminist organization
Mujeres Libres in 1936. After the break out of the Spanish Civil War, the
organization’s roster grew to 30,000 members. It was while working for Mujeres
Libres
that Lucía met the love of her life, América Barroso.

Due to the defeat of the Second
Republic in the Spanish Civil War, Lucía and América were
forced to relocate to Paris. However, they would return to live in Madrid in
1941 due to the carnage of World War II. The true nature of their relationship
remained a secret, but they lived together for the rest of their lives – América
working as an official at the Argentine consul and Lucía continuing her work as
a anarchist activism and a literary editor. Lucía would pass away on June 2, 1970.  

-LC

DECEMEBER 12: Anita Rée (1885-1933)

The German painter Anita Rée
passed away on this day in 1933. During her lifetime, Anita was a part of Wiemar Era Germany’s avant-garde movement.

“Self-Portrait” by Anita Rée, 1929.

Anita Clara Rée was born on
February 9, 1885 in Hamburg, Germany. Her father was a wealthy Jewish merchant
whose family had lived in Hamburg for centuries trading goods from India.
Despite being Jewish, Anita and her sisters were baptized as Lutheran, which
was common among upper class German Jewish families during this time.

She began studying art seriously
in 1905 when she came under the tutelage of the famous painter Arthur
Siebelist. In 1910, Anita, Franz Nölken, and their fellow painter friends formed
a communal studio in Hamburg, but the union soon broke up due to infighting. Anita would leave to paint Paris in 1912. After returning back to her hometown
of Hamburg to be featured at the Galerie Commeter in 1913, she finally got
her name on the map and became known around the city as a portraitist. In 1926, Anita helped
found an association of women artists known as GEDOK, but it did
not last long due to the rise of the Nazis in Germany beginning in the 1930s. 

Much of Anita’s art was destroyed by the Nazis and antisemitism in Hamburg
eventually lead to her moving to the island of Sylt in 1932. Only a year later, on December 12,
1933, Anita committed suicide in her home. She left a note behind for her
sister, in which she admitted that it was harassment from antisemitic forces
and “disappointments on the personal level” that lead to her depression and
eventual decision to take her own life. Many historians have surmised that the
personal disappointments Anita refers to in her letter is her inability to live
a heterosexual life.

-LC

DECEMBER 6: Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952)

The Dutch musician and composer Henriëtte Bosmans was born on this day in 1895. The prestigious Henriëtte Bosmans Prize is given every year to aspiring Dutch composers in her name. 

Henriëtte Bosmans photographed by Jacob Merkelbach in 1917 (x). 

Henriëtte Bosmans was born on December 6, 1895 in Amsterdam. Both of her parents were prominent and wealthy musicians. Her father,  Henri Bosmans, was the principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and her mother, Sara Benedicts, was a piano teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Her father tragically died when she was only 6 months old and her mother never remarried. 

Henriëtte was musically trained by her mother throughout her childhood and was assisting her with piano lessons by the time she was 17. By the 1920s,

Henriëtte

had made a career independent of that from her parents and was performing regularly at the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. She also traveled extensively throughout Europe with the likes of iconic musicians such as Monteux, Mengelberg and Ansermet.

During her lifetime, Henriëtte had relationships with both men and women. Between 1920 and 1927, she had a relationship with Frieda Belinfante who was a prominent figure in the Dutch lesbian subculture and a popular cellist and composer. Frieda even premiered Henriëtte’s composition, Second Cello Concerto, for the first time in 1923; by the time Frieda made a legacy for herself as a leader in the Dutch resistance against Nazi rule in World War II, she and Henriëtte had long parted ways. 

Henriëtte would go on to be briefly engaged to a violinist named Francis Koene, but her longest lasting relationship was with a woman named Noémie Pérugia. During the last years of her life, Henriëtte’s work mostly consisted of covertly written song dedicated to Noémie. Henriëtte would eventually pass away on July 2, 1952. 

-LC

DECEMBER 4: Anna Vock (1885-1962)

Anna Vock, the trailblazing lesbian journalist and LGBT activist from Switzerland, passed away on this day in 1962.

One of the only known photographs of Anna Vock/”Mammina” (x).

Anna Vock was born on January 13, 1885 in Anglikon, Aargau. Little is known about her childhood or early life, but she made a name for herself in adulthood as one of the leading lesbian voices in LGBT community organizing and activism in Switzerland. Although lesbianism was not nearly as criminalized and monitored in the 20th century as gay men’s sexuality was, Anna frequently came under fire for her work in lesbian specific journalism. She was often followed by Swiss police and even arrested for a period. 

Her activism began with the underground lesbian organization Amiticia, which Anna found together with her friend Laura Thoma in 1931. The goal of the organization was to create an organized coalition of Swiss lesbians and reach out to those lesbians who did not live near the nation’s urban centers to let them know that they were not alone. Anna was the official secretary for Amiticia and oversaw its advertisement in the popular German lesbian magazine Garconne. The advertisement read, “Sisters of Lesbos, you too have a full right to love and its freedom.” Anna would also be the first lesbian to join the gay organization Excentric Zurich Club (EZC), resulting in other lesbians following her lead and their full integration into the organization. 

One of the first editions of Der Kreis published without Anna’s pen name on the masthead was the December 1943 edition (x).

In 2014, a fictionalized film about the history of the organization titled Der Kreis/The Circle was released. Watch the trailer here

Anna was also one of the first writers for Switzerland’s very first LGBT specific magazine, Der Kreis (The Circle, 1942-1967). She worked primarily in the women’s section of the magazine and in the personal ads, but eventually worked her way up to becoming the editor-in-chief and head publisher by 1933. Although Anna worked under the pen name “Mammina,” the tabloid magazines Sheinwerfer and Guggu unearthed her real name and published it along with her home address for the all the public to see. This resulted in her being fired from several jobs and being arrested on suspicion of “communist activity” and “acting as a pander” on account of Der Kreis’s personal ads. 

Although Anna was eventually released from prison after a relatively short sentence, she never returned to her editing position at the magazine. When Karl Meir took over as editor-in-chief of Der Kreis in Anna’s stead in 1943, he published the “obituary,” “Farewell, Mammina. Your name will remain forever united to our cause in Switzerland. You prepared the ground on which we must build. Hopefully we will succeed.” The undeniably life-saving magazine Anna help found eventually outlived its creator, with Anna passing away on December 4, 1962 at the age of 77.

-LC

NOVEMBER 21: Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976)

The influential painter and illustrator Jeanne Mammen was born on this day in 1890. Jeanne’s work is most famous for being apart of the New Objectivity and Symbolism artistic movements, as well as for depicting a specifically lesbian perspective of women’s bodies and the Berlin nightlife of the Wiemar Era. 

A self-portrait by Jeanne Mammen c. 1926 (x).

Jeanne Mammen was born on November 21, 1890 in Berlin, Germany. Her father was a wealthy merchant and was able to afford for Jeanne to live out her youth and be educated at a school in Paris. She would eventually go on to advance her artistic studies in both Brussels and Rome. In 1916, her family was facing internment by the French government and so her parents fled to Amsterdam while Jeanne moved back to Berlin. On her own for the first time in her life, Jeanne’s first years as an adult in Berlin were incredibly influential on her life and work. Due to the fact that the French government had confiscated all of the Mammens’ property, she struggled to make ends meet and ended up interacting with people of varying class background for the first time in her life. 

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Jeanne threw herself into Berlin’s LGBT social and artistic scene. She found work illustrating movie posters and caricatures for satirical magazines, but her true passion was her watercolors and illustrations of the lesbian nightclubs and Bohemian bars she frequented in her daily life. Throughout the 1930s, she published what is now considered some of her most important work – a series of 8 lithographs for Pierre Louÿs’s lesbian poetry collection, Les Chansons de Bilitis. When her artwork of women was displayed at a 1933 exhibition, Nazi officials interrupted the event and deemed Jeanne’s work as “degenerate” and “Jewish.” She was forced to revert back to advertising and abandon the leverage she had been making as a distinctly lesbian artist. 

One of Jeanne Mammen’s iconic depictions of Berlin’s popular lesbian clubs, She Represents, c. 1927-1930. Historian Richard Meyer writes, “She Represents, for example, was first published in Curt Moreck’s 1931 Führer durch das ‘lasterhafte’ Berlin (Guide to Immoral Berlin), a delightfully lurid handbook to the sundry, primarily nocturnal, diversions on offer in the metropolis. Mamman’s picture appeared under the heading ‘lesbian locales’, in chapter six of the guidebook, a chapter that also featured sections of ‘get together spots for homosexuals’, ‘night baths’, and ‘here are the transvestites’.” (x).

In the 1940s, Jeanne experimented with Cubism but did not begin exhibiting her work once again until after World War II. In her later years, she focused on collages and designed the sets for the well-known cabaret Die Badewanne. She would pass away fairly unknown on April 22, 1976, but her work began to be rediscovered and admired by German artists in the 2010s. In 2013, her more abstract pieces were featured in an exhibition during Berlin Art Week titled “Painting Forever!”

-LC

NOVEMBER 20: Marianne Breslauer (1909-2001)

The famous photographer Marianne Breslauer was born on this day in 1909. Today, Marianne is most well-known for her contributions to the artistic richness of Germany’s Wiemar Era as well as her relationship with the Swiss journalist and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach.

A self-portrait by Marianne Breslauer (x).

Marianne Breslauer was born on November 20, 1909 in Berlin, Germany. She inherited an artistic legacy from her parents, her father being the architect Alfred Breslauer and her mother being Doris Lessing, the daughter of the famed art historian Julius Lessing. She began taking photography lessons at age 18 and began to plan for a career as a photographic journalist. Her main inspirations were the well-known German portrait photographer Frieda Riess and the Hungarian photographer André Kertész. Although she had lived and studied in Berlin for all her life, Marianne moved to Paris in 1929 to study under Man Ray. She only stayed briefly, however, and was back in Berlin a year later. Throughout the 1930s, her work was published in esteemed German magazines such as Frankfurter Illustrierten, Der Querschnitt, Die Dame, Zürcher Illustrierten, and Das Magazin

Despite being married to a man named Walter Feilchenfeldt, the center of Marianne’s life was a fellow woman photographer named Annemarie Schwarzenbach. Many historians refer to the two women as simple being “lifelong friends,” but the truth of their relationship was probably something closer to that of lovers. Marianne traveled extensively throughout Europe during her life and created a network of kindred spirits, which is to say, fellow wlw artists. She even became known for her photographs of butch women/”tom boys” throughout the 1930s. It was through one of these lesbian artist friends, Ruth Landshoff, that Marianne and Annemarie were first introduced. The two photographed each other frequently and even traveled to the Pyrenees together in 1933. Annemarie would tragically die in a biking accident in 1942, but Marianne’s legacy would continue to be intertwined with the person she once described as “Neither a woman nor a man, but an angel, an archangel.”

One of Marianne’s multiple photographs of Annemarie Schwarzenbach. In this shot from 1934, Annemarie (left) lies on beach towels with a friend in Potsdam (x).

With the increasing antisemitic climate of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, Marianne’s publishers began pressuring her to publish her photographs under a pseudonym so as to conceal her Jewish identity. When she refused, she, her husband, and children were forced to leave German and emigrate to Amsterdam and then later Zurich. In her later years, Marianne and her husband opened up their own art gallery specializing in French paintings and 19th century art. She took over the business on the occasion of her husband’s death in 1953 and would eventually pass away herself on February 7, 2001.

-LC

NOVEMBER 10: Marion Morgan (1881-1971)

Famed screenwriter and
choreographer, Marion Morgan, passed away on this day in 1971. She is most
well-known for being the longtime partner of the out lesbian director Dorothy
Arzner.

An undated portrait of Marion Morgan (x).

Marion Cahill was born on January
4, 1881 in Paterson, New Jersey. Little is known about her early years aside
from the fact that her father was an attorney and she was raised in an upper-middle-class household. In 1900, Marion married a man named Matthew A. Morgan and
became Marion Morgan. The two had ason named Roderick before separating in
1905. In 1910, Marion left New Jersey to have a fresh start with her son in Long
Island, California. She was able to find a job as a P.E. teacher at Manual Arts
High School in Los Angeles, which eventually evolved into a position as a
choreographer for the Orpheum Circuit, a popular chain of Vaudeville theaters, and then a studio of her own.

Marion first discovered her
passion for choreography when she was offered the position as a dance
instructor for a summer program at the University of California, Berkeley. From
there, she was hired by the Orpheum Circuit as a full-time choreographer and spearheaded
a troupe of 25 dancers. Marion traveled back and forth between Los Angeles and
New York City with her troupe performing interpretive dance routines that were
often based on Egyptian or classical Greek and Roman themes. She cultivated a reputation
for being very strict with her dancers; she required all of her dancers to be vegetarian
and would often require them to study classic literature so that they could
understand the source material for their routines.

Marion (right) photographed with her partner Dorothy Arzner in 1927 (x).

Marion first met Dorothy Arzner in
1921 on the set for the film Man-Woman-Marriage,
which the Marion Morgan dancers were featured in. Dorothy was one of the few
powerful women directors in Hollywood and she and Marion worked together often
on such films as Fashions for Women, Get Your Man, and Manhattan Cocktail. Her breakout film was 1929′s The Wild Party. Their business relationship eventually
blossomed into a romance and they became known around Hollywood as dedicated
partners. In her later years, Marion became involved in other areas of the
theater; she graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1934 and wrote several
short stories and screenplays throughout her lifetime.

In the 1950s, Marion and Dorothy
retired and moved to Palm Springs and lived there together until Marion’s death
on November 10, 1971. Today, all of her dance archives are preserved at the
Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing
Arts.

-LC