Category: lesbian history

JULY 18: Lillian Faderman (1940-)

365daysoflesbians:

Happy birthday to Lillian Faderman!! The critically
acclaimed author and historian who pioneered the study of lesbian history turns
77 years old today!

Lillian Faderman is photographed giving a talk by Donn R. Nottage (x). 

Lillian was born on July 18, 1940 in New York City. Her
mother and her Aunt Rae had managed to flee their shtetl in Latvia, but tragically, the rest of their family were murdered in
the Holocaust. Her mother Mary was young,
unmarried, and working in a garment factory when she gave birth to Lillian; although Lillian’s
biological father had tried to pressure Mary into getting an abortion as she
had done with their first two pregnancies, she refused with the third one, and
so, Lillian was born. Lillian recalls having a hard childhood living in New York’s
working class, Jewish community and being greatly affected by her mother’s
grief for her murdered family back in Latvia.

When Mary eventually married when Lillian was a teenager, the
family moved to Los Angeles. In the heart of the American entertainment
industry, Lillian took up acting classes for fun and began a brief modeling
career to help bolster the family income. It was through her connections in the
performing world that Lillian discovered L.A.’s booming gay bar scene of the
1950s and found that she was a lesbian. In her senior year of high school,
Lillian married one of her friends who was a much older gay man. Although the
plan was for them to act as each other’s cover ups, the hiding put much
emotional stress on the two’s relationship and the marriage was dissolved
within a year.

Lillian with her partner Phyllis (left) and their son Avrom in 1979 (x). 

Out of both high school and her unhealthy marriage, Lillian
began attending University of California, Berkeley and then later transferred
to UCLA. Her first book was published in January of 1975 and was titled Speaking for Ourselves: American Ethnic
Writing
. Today, she has written over 17 novels. Her work includes her
multiple memoirs, lesbian fiction, and several tomes of crucial LGBT history. She was one of the
first authors to ever dissect lesbian history and culture as something
independent of gay men’s history and culture; her most popular novels
include Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A
History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, To Believe in Women: What
Lesbians Have Done for America – A History
, and Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick
Lesbians
. To date, Lillian has been awarded 6 Lambda Literary Awards, 2
American Library Association Awards, and her work has been translated into over
7 different languages! She currently enjoys life with her partner of over 40
years, Phyllis Irwin, and their son Avrom. Thank you for paving the way,
Lillian!!

-LC

JULY 17: Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)

365daysoflesbians:

Born on this day in 1898, the photographer Berenice Abbott
was at the center of lesbian society throughout the early 20th century
and rubbed elbows with the likes of Janet Flanner, Thelma Wood, and Else von
Freytag-Loringhoven
and made a name for herself with her architectural photography of New York City in the early 1930s.

Berenice Abbott photographed by her friend Walker Evans in 1930 (x). 

Berenice Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio on July 17,
1898. She was raised in a working-class household by a single mother, Lillian
Alice Bunn, and recalled having had an unhappy childhood. She fled home to study
journalism at Ohio State University as soon as she graduated high school, but eventually
became disenchanted with academia and ran away again – this time to New York
City – after only a year at the university. In New York, Berenice found a love
for sculpture and sought to make a career out of it, but in the meantime she
was only able to make money by working as a dark room assistant, a waitress,
and even by acting in minor roles at The Famous Provincetown Playhouse. In
1921, Berenice had once again grown tired of her surroundings and purchased a
one-way ticket to the city of Paris. It was there where she met and befriended
the man who would change her life: incomparable photographer Man Ray who found
the plucky, eager dark room assistant he was looking for in Berenice.

Berenice’s self-portraits from throughout the years show her sporting her signature short hairstyle and butch fashion sense (x). 

And thus began Berenice Abbott’s photography career, her
dreams of being a sculptor long forgotten. She would later recall, “I took to
photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else.“
With Man Ray allowing her to use his studio in Montparnasse for her own work, Berenice specialized in taking portraits of all the big names in Parisian
society  and her work began to be shown at the popular “"Au
Sacre du Printemps.” Her subjects included everyone from the popular authors Jean Cocteau and James Joyce to her own close friends from the lesbian salons of the day, Jane Heap, Janet
Flanner,

Marie Laurencin, and many others. Her friend Sylvia Beach once wrote that “To be ‘done’
by Man Ray or Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody.”

While in Paris, Berenice took many portraits of her lesbian socialite friends, including (from left to right) Djuna Barnes, Peggy Guggenheim, and Solita Solano (x). 

In 1929, Berenice took a trip back to New York City with the
intention of finding a publisher for her photograph collection and then
returning to Paris, but fate had other plans. With her new artistic mind,
Berenice became entranced by the cityscape of New York City and immediately
began the project that would make her career in America – Changing New York. For almost 6 years, Berenice used a Century
Universal camera, which produced large format 8 x 10 inch negatives, to capture
the everyday life of both work and play of the people of New York. The project
eventually evolved into a sociological study and she began to be funded by
Federal Art Project to continue her work. Today, Changing New York can be seen in its entirety at The Museum of the
City of New York.

One of Berenice’s iconic photos from Changing New York; Waterfront, South Street, October 25th, 1935 (x). 

In her later years, Berenice began to experience lung
problems and so she and her partner, the art critic Elizabeth McCausland who
she had lived with for over 30 years, decided to move and settle down in the
small town of Blanchard, Maine. She practiced photography until her
death on December 9, 1991; her last collection ever published was A Portrait of Maine in 1968 and, at the
time of her death, there was a documentary about her life in the works. In her
last interview for Berenice Abbott: A
View of the 20th Century
, Berenice says, “The world doesn’t like
independent women. Why? I don’t know, but I also don’t care.”

-LC

JULY 16: Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990)

365daysoflesbians:

American screen legend Barbara Stanwyck was
born on this day in 1907. The lesbian starlet spent many years of her life as
the highest paid woman in the U.S. and as an icon for the LGBT community. 

image

In her heyday, Barbara Stanwyck was famous for her film noirs, and in her later years, she rose to prominence once again for her western films (x).

Barbara was born as Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907
in Brooklyn, New York. She was the fifth child born to working-class
parents and would experience a traumatic childhood after the death of her
mother and the mysterious disappearance of her father – two weeks after Barbara’s
mother died from complications from a miscarriage, her father took a job digging
the Panama Canal and was never seen again. Barbara’s older sister Mildred did
her best to raise her younger siblings, but Barbara and her brother Byron were
eventually placed into foster care. Barbara ran away from the foster care system at the age of 14 and joined her sister Mildred
working as a showgirl. 

Her big break came to Barbara just two years later; when she was 16-years-old, she auditioned for and was given a part with
the Ziegfeld Follies, one of New York’s premier theater groups of the 1910s and
1920s. Later in life, Barbara would say, “I just wanted to survive and
eat and have a nice coat,” but it was with the Ziegfeld Follies that she
made a name for herself choreographing dance numbers at the Texas Guinan gay
and lesbian speakeasy and where she met the famous director Willard Mack. Willard cast
Barbara in his play The Noose, which
was a breakout success and eventually found its way onto Broadway. It was also
Willard who gave her the idea to change her name from Ruby Stevens to Barbara
Stanwyck – Barbara for the name of her character in The Noose, and Stanwyck
was stolen from another actress who was in the production. And just like that,
the Barbara Stanwyck we know today was born.

image

Between her starring roles in films such as Breakfast for Two (1937) and A Message to Garcia (1936), Barbara earned a reputation as a more masculine leading lady compared to many of her contemporaries (x)(x). 

The 1927 silent film Broadway
Nights
was Barbara’s very first film role; although she played a minor
role, she would go on to star in over 40 films and 4 television series throughout
her career! Some of her most iconic films include Double IndemnityThe
Lady Eve
, and Night Nurse,
and she was awarded two Emmys, a Golden Globe, and three different Lifetime
Achievement Awards before her death. One role that secured Barbara’s legacy in
film history was that of the very first out lesbian to be shown in American
cinema – Jo Courtney in Walk on the Wild Side. Despite the film’s portrayal
of Jo Courtney being far from progressive, the film did earn Barbara a huge
lesbian following and piqued the media to her own not-so-secret lesbian past.

Although Barbara
was married twice, the rumors of the day said that they were both “lavender
marriages” – a term coined in the theater community to mean a gay man and
lesbian who married each other to avoid media speculation into their sexuality.
When a journalist named Boze Hadleigh famously asked Barbara about these
speculations in 1962, she reportedly kicked him
out of her house. There are stories about Barbara sleeping with almost every other
popular actress in her day; from Greta Garbo to Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. However, in Barbara’s later years, her
serious partner was her live-in publicist Helen Ferguson, whose “friendship”
with Barbara lasted almost 30 years.

image

Barbara and her longtime “gal pal” and publicist, Helen Ferguson (x).

Barbara Stanwyck
died on January 20, 1990 due to congestive heart failure.
According to her will, no funeral service was given and instead her ashes were
scattered over Lone Pine, California, her favorite destination which she had
come across while filming several of her western films. In the book
Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Popular Culture by Luca Prono, Barbara’s legacy
and importance to the LGBT community is summed up with: “Stanwyck acquired the
status of icon within lesbian communities…Stanwyck was a woman…whose screen
persona challenged respectability because of the strong and independent women
she embodied in the 1940s.”

-LC

JULY 15: Bi Any Other Name is published (1991)

365daysoflesbians:

On this day in 1991, the book Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out was published. Edited
by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka’ahumanu, the anthology was one of the
cornerstone publications in the bisexual rights movement of the modern age.

You can purchase the anthology and read more about its “sequel” productions here!” 

Spearheaded by its editors Loraine Hutchins and Lani
Ka’ahumanu, who was a seminal bisexual rights activist and the only bisexual
speaker to attend the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal
Rights and Liberation
, Bi Any Other Name
is an anthology book that ponders bisexuality in the internal and external
through a collection of poetry, art, and personal essays. The book was an
instant success and sold so many copies that it quite literally invented the
formal category of bisexual literature – after Bi Any Other Name was forced to compete in the category of “Lesbian
Anthology” at the 1992 Lambda Literary Awards, the American bisexual community
raged a protest that successfully concluded in the creation of multiple
bisexual specific Lambda Literary Award categories in 2006.

The book’s success also led to the publication of 10 other
books by the same contributors, making Bi
Any Other Name
a series! Today, the original book has been
republished 3 different times, has over 4,000 copies in circulation, and was even
translated and sold in Taiwan beginning in 2007. Despite the original
controversy with the Lambda Literary Awards, Lambda has included the book in
its “Top 100 Queer Books of the 20th century” list. Bisexual rights legend and
former president of BiNet USA, Wendy Curry, once wrote of Bi Any Other Name: “This groundbreaking book gave voice to a
generation of previously unseen bisexuals. Rather than arguing statistics or
debating the sexuality of long dead celebrities, Hutchins and Ka’ahumanu gave a
space to normal bisexuals who told their lives. This created a new genre for
books on bisexuality.”

-LC

JULY 14: Jane Lynch (1960-)

365daysoflesbians:

Happy birthday to Jane Lynch!! If you’re a Dirty
Millennial™

likes us, you might recognize Jane as the menacing, tracksuit
wearing Sue Sylvester from Glee, but the
famous lesbian comedian has had a career over 40 years in the making!

In 2013, Jane Lynch received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (x). 

Jane was born on June 13, 1960 in Evergreen Park, Illinois
to a banker father and a secretary mother. Soon after her birth, the Lynch
family moved to Dolton, Illinois, which became the town where Jane spent her
youth. After she graduated high school, she originally went to Illinois State
University to receive her Bachelor’s degree but she eventually went on to finish out her
career in academia by receiving an MFA in theater from the prestigious Cornell
University.

After graduating from Cornell, Jane returned home to
Illinois and joined Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She spent over 15 years performing for various theater troupes,
in many of which she was the only or one of the few female members. Her most
notable on-stage role was as Carol Brady in The Annoyance Theater’s The Real Live Brady Bunch. She began her
screen career in 1988 with the film Vice
Versa
and has now appeared in over 18 films and 20 television shows,
including her starring turn on Glee
and in the iconic lesbian series The
L-Word
.

In 2005, Jane Lynch was named one of the “10 Amazing
Gay Women in Showbiz.” As an out lesbian in Hollywood, she has taken part in
many LGBT-themed events, such as starring in the opening play – Oh Sister, My Sister – for the Los Angeles Lesbians
in Theater program in 2004, and as performing in 8, a staged reenactment of the trial that overturned Proposition 8.

-LC

JULY 13: Danitra Vance (1954-1994)

365daysoflesbians:

Comedy legend and the very first lesbian ever cast on
Saturday Night Live, Danitra Vance, was born on July 13, 1954 and would have
celebrated her 63rd birthday today!

Throughout her career, Danitra was awarded an NAACP Image Award, an Obie Award, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award (x). 

Danitra was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Thornton
Township High School. Despite having struggled with dyslexia in elementary
school, she thrived as a member of her high school’s theater program. After graduating high school she attended Roosevelt University, where she studied
playwriting and acting; a play she wrote in college titled “Skylark” is an
iconic piece still performed on the campus today. Danitra also went to London
to receive her MFA in acting, returning home to Chicago in 1971 determined to
get her big break.

One of her recurring characters on SNL was “That Black Girl,” an actress who was constantly denied starring roles because of her race. The skit was a parody of the 1960s sitcom That Girl (x). 

A teacher by day and a performer by night, Danitra developed
her comedic voice in nightclubs throughout the 1970s. She was a member of the
successful Second City Comedy Troupe for a while before deciding to move to New
York City in 1981. Her big break came four years later when she was accepted
into the cast of Saturday Night Live! Danitra made history as the first black
woman to become an SNL series regular, the first SNL member to have a learning
disability, and the very first lesbian to ever be cast on SNL – and still to
this date is the only black lesbian to ever perform on the series. SNL made
Danitra Vance a household name, but she left after only season with the show
due to the writers consistently giving her racist stereotypical roles like “That
Black Girl” and Cabrini Jackson the teenage mother.

Danitra laughs with Ray Charles, who she co-starred with in the 1989 film Limit Up (x).

Having left SNL, Danitra began a career on Broadway that
would eventually earn her both an NAACP Award and an Obie Award. Her award-winning
turns were in two George C. Wolfe plays, The
Colored Museum
and Spunk. She
also starred in four movies during her post-SNL career, one being Little Man Tate alongside fellow lesbian
icon, Jodie Foster. In 1990, when Danitra was diagnosed with late-stage breast
cancer, she penned the semi-autobiographical play The Radical Girl’s Guide to Mastectomy. The cancer eventually
overtook her on August 21, 1994 when she was 40-years-old. It was only
revealed after her death that Danitra was a lesbian who had been with her
partner, Jones Miller, for over ten years.

-LC

JULY 12: Malta legalizes same-sex marriage (20…

365daysoflesbians:

In a surprising announcement, the strict Catholic nation of
Malta has just legalized same-sex marriage beginning on this day – July 12,
2017!

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People celebrate in front of the Auberge de Castille, the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, which is lit in rainbow colors after the Maltese parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage on the Roman Catholic Mediterranean island, in Valletta, Malta, July 12, 2017 (x).

Malta has historically been a mixed bag when it comes to
progressive politics; the nation only made divorce legal in 2011, but legalized
civil unions for same-sex couples just three years later in 2014. Although 98%
of the population in Malta identify as traditional Roman Catholics, support for
the full legalization of same-sex marriage has been high ever the 2014 ruling
on civil unions. Malta’s parliament responded to the general public’s wishes when it was announced that a vote to officially
make the language of Malta’s wedding laws gender neutral to include same-sex
couples, and thus make same-sex marriage legal, had passed by 66-1. 

The single
MP who voted against the bill was Edwin Vassallo, who offers his religion as
his reasoning: “A Christian politician cannot leave his
conscience outside the door.” As for the 66 other MPs who supported the bill,
they have voted for the classic line “you are now husband and wife” to be
replaced with “you are now spouses,” for “maiden name” to be replaced with “surname
at birth,” and for “mother and father” on adoption documents to simply be replaced with “parents.” Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Musca has expressed satisfaction
with the changes, calling the old legislation which secluded same-sex couples
to civil unions “discriminatory.” Congratulations, Malta!!

-LC

JULY 12: Else von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-19…

365daysoflesbians:

On this day in 1874, the “Mama of Dada” was born. The Baroness
Else von Freytag-Loringhoven, as she was known, was an eccentric bisexual woman,
a living work of art, and the originator of the iconic art piece Fountain.

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Else photographed going about her daily life in Harlem, New York on January 10, 1921 (x).

Born Else Hildegard Plötz in Pomerania, Germany, Else’s
father was a mason who afforded the family middle-class status. She began
training as an actress and vaudeville performer at a young age and eventually
moved off to Dachau to study art. After finishing her studies, Else relocated
to Berlin – the heart of German Dada. It was in Berlin where she found a
community of like-minded artists who challenged the era’s gender and sexual
mores and refused to separate their selfhood from their art, but still, she was
one of the few women actively involved in the community. Other women included
the writer Mina Loy and the expressionist painter Gabriele Münter, both with
whom Else had affairs. 

In 1901, she married an architect named August Endell
and the two had an open relationship until they divorced in 1906. She was soon
married to a translator named Felix Paul Greve, and although this relationship
would soon fall apart as well, Else’s marriage to Felix would change her life.
In 1909, finding himself penniless and in mountains of debt, Felix convinced
Else to help him fake his own death. The couple’s plan was to disappear from
Germany forever and start a new life in America, but after Else joined her
husband in the U.S., he abandoned her and Else was left alone in a foreign
country with no friends.

In America, she was forced to start her life from the ground up; she found work in a
cigarette factory and she also started modeling for photographers in New York City. It
was through her modeling career in New York City that she met and became
friends with legendary photographers such as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, powerful connections that, once again, allowed Else to become involved in an artistic society. In
1913, she was finally able to give up the hustle and focus more on her art when she
married the wealthy Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven; during this time,
her poetry was picked up by the prestigious journal The Little Review and her sculptures/“living collages” began
being shown in galleries. In recent years, it has
been discovered that legendary Dada artworks like Fountain
and God that were once attributed to
male artists and close friends of Else, Marcel Duchamp and Morton Livingston
Schamberg, were actually created by Else herself.

In 1921, Else left New York and moved back to Europe. First,
she returned to Berlin, but found it to be a devastated shell of her former home in the aftermath of World War I. She eventually settled in Paris, where she
struggled to make ends meet and had to be financially assisted by her wealthy
friends such as Djuna Barnes and Peggy Guggenheim. Else died a mysterious death
on December 14, 1927; she was found dead in her home, curled up with her beloved
pet dog. The cause of death was pronounced to be gas suffocation, but the exact
circumstances that led to the gas being left on in her apartment are unknown.

-LC

JULY 11: Orange is the New Black premieres (20…

365daysoflesbians:

On this day in 2013, Orange
is the New
Black premiered on Netflix. Ever since the show burst onto
everyone with an internet connection’s radar, it has been praised for its fresh
depictions of women’s stories and has been introducing baby lesbians to their
new celebrity crushes with characters like Poussey Washington, Alex Vause, and
Nicky Nichols.

The ensemble cast of Orange is the New Black pose for a promo photo for season one (x). 

Loosely based on a 2010 memoir titled Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, the show
tells the story of Piper Chapman, a wealthy white woman who is sentenced
to 15 months in Litchfield Penitentiary for having been involved in her
ex-girlfriend’s drug smuggling business 10 years prior. Although Piper is in a seemingly happy marriage with her husband Larry, her relationship status is complicated when she discovers that her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause, is also doing time at Litchfield. Piper is technically
the main character of the series, but she has been described as a “Trojan horse” by
the series’ own creator, Jenji Kohan; it is through Piper’s perspective that
the audience enters Litchfield, but when there, the show is undeniably stolen by
her nuanced and lovable supporting characters. Piper’s privileged life is put in stark contrast
with the unprivileged lives of her prison mates who are varyingly lesbian, trans,
low-income women of color.

Take a trip down memory lane and watch the trailer for season one of the series!

The fifth season of Orange
is the New Black
was just released in June of 2017 and, to date, it is the
most viewed original series Netflix has ever produced. After the first season
was released in 2013, the series won an impressive 12 Emmy wins and has been nominated
for a collection of Emmys and Golden Globes ever since its debut. Although the
show attempts to tackle social issues such as the prison-industrial complex and police
brutality, it has often missed the mark and received backlash,
particularly for the killing of Poussey Washington in season four who was a
beloved fan favorite and one of the few black lesbian characters in today’s
television landscape. Despite the criticism, you can expect to see Orange is
the New Black
back on your laptop or television screen for at least two more
years as it has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season. What are your
thoughts on the show? Who is your OITNB crush?

-LC

JULY 10: Alexandra Hedison (1969-)

365daysoflesbians:

Happy birthday to Alexandra Hedison!! The L-Word actress, director, and photographer turns 47-years-old
today!

Alexandra has published three book collections of her photography, which you can view here! (x)

Alexandra was born on July 10, 1969 in Los Angeles,
California into an Italian-American family. Growing up in the heart of the
American entertainment industry and with an actor as a father, she had many
creative influences from a young age. She would go on to attend the State
University of New York at Purchase and University of California, Los Angeles,
from which she graduated in 1992. She began photography right out of college
and had her first exhibit in 2002 at Rose Gallery in Bergamont Station. Alexandra
soon became famous for her abstract landscape pieces and today her work has
been displayed in galleries all over the world.

After dating for a year, Alexandra married actress Jodie Foster in April of 2014 (x).

In addition to her photography career, Alexandra has also
had a robust acting career. She got her start with a minor role in the 1994
film Sleep with Me and has been in
over 18 films and television shows. She has also directed two films – an
animated film in 2005 titled In the Dog
House
and a 2005 documentary titled The
Making of Suit Yourself
. Her most popular role was as Dylan Moreland in the
iconic lesbian series The L-Word!
Alexandra first “came out” to the general public when it was announced that she
was dating Ellen DeGeneres in 2001, but she was just recently married to Jodie
Foster in 2014. This year alone, Alexandra’s work has been shown at three different
prestigious exhibits: “The Useful and the Decorative” at The Landing
in Los Angeles, as well as “Found Paintings” at both H Gallery and La Salle René
Capitant-Mairie du Panthéon in Paris.

-LC