The film The Children’s Hour was released on this day in 1961. Adapted from
the Lillian Hellman play of the same name, The Children’s Hour was revolutionary
in its depiction of lesbian schoolteachers and the social stigma of
When writing the original play,
Lillian Hellman was inspired by the 1809 true story of two Scottish teachers
whose lives and careers were tarnished when a student accused them of
being in a lesbian relationship. Hollywood attempted to adapt The Children’s
Hour first in 1936, but due to the Hays Code of the time which prevented any
overt mention of LGBT existence, These Three – as it was titled – became the
story of a schoolteacher who was exposed for sleeping with her colleague’s fiancé.
In 1961, the story was restored to
its original roots. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, the film
follows two old college buddies, Martha and Karen, who operate a private girls’
school together. After Karen punishes a particularly conniving student named Mary,
the student decides to get retribution by spinning a story to her wealthy and
influential grandmother about how her teachers Martha and Karen are secret
lovers. The result of Mary’s story is catastrophic; the two women file a libel
suit, the reputation of their school is ruined, and most destructive of all,
Martha realizes that she has in fact been in love with Karen ever
since the day they met.
The concluding scene of Karen
breaking open the door to Martha’s bedroom and finding herself hanging from the
ceiling having committed suicide after her love confession, has gone down in
history as an iconic moment in LGBT cinema.
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.
The name Henry James is legendary in the literary world, but
a lesser known name is that of his sister – Alice James – who was born on this
day in 1848. Today, Alice is famous for her published diaries and her
tragedy-riddled life story.
Alice James is photographed lying in bed, where she spent the majority of her last years. In her own words, she had become “an appendage to five cushions and three shawls” (x).
Alice was born on August 7, 1848 in New York City. She was
the youngest out of 5 children to be born to the wealthy and intellectual James
family; most notable of her siblings were, of course, Henry James the novelist
and also William James the psychologist. From the early age of 12, Alice began
to show signs of what was then called “hysteria.” The only daughter of the
James family and thus the only James child whose intellect was snuffed out
instead of encouraged, she ended up having her first nervous breakdown at the age
19. A lifetime struggle with mental illness and sporadic physical ailments would
follow. While her older brothers were being sent to Harvard one after another,
Alice was at home taking care of their father and writing in her diaries that
illness was to be her life’s work.
A rare photo show Alice (bottom left) posing with friends (x).
A gay man himself, Alice had a special relationship with her
brother Henry. Whereas most members of the family resigned Alice to a life of
misery in their minds, Henry was consistently writing letters to his little
sister encouraging her to “look for the little good in each day as if life
were to last a hundred years” and even to take opium if it would help with her
physical pain. Alice, for her part, was in a “Boston marriage” with a journalist
named Katharine Loring. During the 19th and early 20th
century, “Boston marriage” was a term used to describe two women who lived
together without any financial dependency on a man. While the public often
treated these women as simple “old maids” who lived together platonically, the
reality is that many of them were in romantic relationships. Alice and Katharine
were no exception, rather they were one of the most famous “Bostonians” of
their day – as the two were the inspiration for the protagonists of Henry James’s
1886 novel of the same name.
Katharine Loring reads to Alice in bed. According to one of Alice’s many biographers, Katharine acted as “man and woman, father, and mother, nurse and protector, intellectual partner and friend” for Alice from the day they met in 1873 until her death (x).
When she was 43, it was discovered that Alice had breast
cancer. After dealing with depression and suicidal ideation her whole life, she
was ecstatic about her diagnosis. She would die a year later on March 9, 1892.
One of the last entries in her diary would read, “I am working away as hard as
I can to get dead as soon as possible.” Although ignored during her lifetime, the
publishing of her diary in the 20th century would drag the name
Alice James right alongside those of her brothers’ in the history books.
Today is the 110th birthday of Mexican painter and
bisexual feminist icon, Frida Kahlo. Born on this day in 1907, Frida embodied the
concept of living unapologetically; she was disabled, she was a communist, and
yes she had a unibrow, and she took the world by storm.
Frida photographed by her lover Nickolas Murray in 1931 (x).
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on July 6,
1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City to a German father and a “mestiza” mother. Her
childhood was often trying and, in Frida’s own words, “very, very sad.” Her
parents fought constantly and her father’s photography business suffered
economically during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, which only worsened
the family’s relationships. Frida was forced to enter school at a late age due
to having contracted polio when she was only 6-years-old; the disease caused
her right leg to be shorter than her left and the isolation that came along
with her diagnosis led to Frida becoming an introvert. Despite
the late start, she eventually became one of the first girls ever accepted to
the prestigious National Preparatory School.
Always a rebellious personality, Frida poses for a family photo in a full three-piece suit in 1927 (x).
When Frida was 18-years old, she was in a tragic bus
accident that would change her life forever. While on her way home from school, the
wooden bus Frida was riding on collided with a metal streetcar. Many people
were killed and Frida was one of the passengers to suffer severe injuries; she
fractured her ribs, collarbone, both her legs, and a metal rail impaled her
through the pelvis. Her recovery process took three months – one in the hospital
and two at home – but the chronic pain and complications from her injuries
would follow her for the rest of her life. It was during these months of
bedrest when Frida found that painting was a constructive way to pass the time
and she soon developed a true passion.
During one of her periods of bedrest, Frida paints a family tree. The painting seen in this photo was ultimately unfinished at the time of her death (x).
In 1929, Frida married Diego Rivera, one of the most famous
painters in Mexico at the time. Frida was only 22 and Diego was a 42-year-old
womanizer. Despite the age difference and the infamous infidelities
their relationship would suffer throughout the years – many of which were
between Frida and women, and most notably, with the dancer Josephine Baker – Frida
& Diego are still remembered as one of the art world’s greatest romances. It
was as the famous Diego Rivera’s wife that Frida got her first tastes of celebrity
status. The Mexican newspapers covered their relationship insistently and the two often traveled to the United States when Diego was commissioned for
murals by American cultural icons such as John D. Rockefeller. Although her
career stood in the shadow of Diego’s at this time, it was during their
extended stays in America when Frida created some of her most
Photographed by Martin Munkácsi in 1933, Frida and Diego were an odd couple to everyone who knew them and their marriage was described as “between an elephant and a dove" by Frida’s own father (x).
Frida’s star began to rise out of Diego’s shadow when they
separated in the late 1930s and she became incredibly prolific in her work. Out
of this period came classics such as My
Nurse & I and What the Water Gave
Me and when she began attending high-profile art exhibits in America, her
Indigenous Mexican fashion caused a “sensation.” This period lasted until 1940,
when she and Diego reconciled and were officially remarried. During the late 1940s,
Frida’s health began to drastically decline and she found herself painting more
and more from her wheelchair or from her bed. In 1953, her leg was amputated
due to gangrene and the resulting depression caused Frida to attempt suicide.
The downward spiral continued and she passed away on July 13, 1954 at home in
her bed. Although the official cause of death was pulmonary embolism, there are
many who speculate that Frida had finally succeeded in committing suicide. Her
body was laid in state under a communist flag and her ashes are displayed at La
Casa Azul – her iconic blue home and favorite place.
On this day in 1951, one of the pioneers of the modern day
LGBT rights movement, veteran of the Stonewall Riots, and bisexual transgender
icon, Sylvia Rivera, was born in the Bronx. On what would have been her 66th
birthday, we take a look back at Sylvia’s life and legacy.
In 2015, Sylvia Rivera became the first transgender American to have her portrait in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (x).
Sylvia was born on July 2, 1951 to a Venezuelan mother and
Puerto Rican father. She only met her father once in her life and her mother
tragically committed suicide when Sylvia was only 3 years old, leaving her to be
raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother highly disapproved of her feminine
behavior and eventually kicked Sylvia out of her home after she began wearing
makeup to school in the fourth grade. In a 1998 interview with Leslie Feinberg,
Sylvia recalls, “I left home at age 10 in 1961. I hustled on 42nd Street. The
early 60s was not a good time for drag queens, effeminate boys or boys that
wore makeup like we did.” While working as a prostitute on the streets of New
York, she was taken in by a supportive group of drag queens; with her new
found family of street queens she began going by her iconic name, “Sylvia.”
It was Mafia-controlled bars like the Stonewall Inn where
many LGBT sex workers found refuge and community, and so it was where Sylvia
and her best friend Marsha P. Johnson found themselves hanging out on the night
of June 28, 1969 – the night that would burn both women’s names into the
history books. When police raided the bar expecting the usual crack down and
round up that was so common of gay bars in the 1960s, Sylvia, Marsha, and the
other patrons of Stonewall fought back, culminating in a series of violent
riots that became the beginning of a fierce, new civil rights movement for LGBT
Americans. Many sources even claim that it was Sylvia who threw the first brick
that spurred on the riots.
Marsha P. Johnson (far left) and Sylvia Rivera (far right) march together in a post-Stonewall demonstration (x).
After Stonewall, Sylvia began attending meetings of the Gay
Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA), but was shunned by
the other white middle class member of the both the GLF and GAA. After
repeatedly experiencing discrimination from within the white, cis-oriented LGBT
community, Sylvia and Marsha took the bull by the horns themselves and opened Street
Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that focused on
activism and care for homeless trans people in New York City. STAR remained
active throughout the early 1970s, but eventually “died out” according to
Sylvia. With STAR no longer providing her with a community and facing hatred
from both the general public and the majority of those in the LGBT rights
movement, Sylvia attempted suicide in 1974. She would try again in 1994 after the
death of her best friend Marsha in 1992 left her grief-stricken.
Sylvia re-opened STAR in response to the heartbreaking murder of a trans woman
named Amanda Milan and also began working for trans inclusion in the Empire
State Pride Agenda. Tragically, Sylvia suffered from liver cancer and she
passed away on February 19, 2002 at the age of 51. In one of her last fiery
declarations, Sylvia is remembered as saying, “Before I die, I will see our
community given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave
without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I
go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome"
Today is the fourteenth anniversary of Katharine Hepburn’s death, who passed away on June 29, 2003. Although she is
most well-known for her Oscar-winning turns in films such as Morning Glory and Bringing Up Baby, the not-so-straight icon actually got her start
in acting by chopping off all her hair with fingernail scissors and becoming “an
engaging boy, roguish and merry” for the play The Truth About Blayds.
One of the most famous actresses in American history, Katharine Hepburn was known to be deeply involved in the process of filmmaking, having had opinions on everything from costumes to camerawork (x).
Katharine was born on May 29, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut
as the sixth child of a very progressive family; her father was a urologist
and her mother was a feminist activist who campaigned enthusiastically for
women’s suffrage and the right to birth control. As a child, Katharine was a
tomboy who liked to keep her hair cut short, put on shows for the neighborhood
children, and play golf – at one point she even made it all the way to the
semi-final of the Connecticut Young Women’s Golf Championship. Her idyllic
childhood was interrupted when she discovered the dead body of her brother Tom, who
had hanged himself in the attic of a family friend’s home. The trauma Katharine
suffered from that experience resulted in her dropping out of school, only
returning in 1924 when she was accepted in to Bryn Mawr College. At Bryn Mawr,
Katharine was able to find some semblance of her old self back when she
discovered a passion for acting. In her first stage play, The Truth About Blayds, she played the role of a man named Oliver and received astounding reviews. After graduating with degrees in
history and philosophy in 1928, Katharine began a career in theater.
Famously unglamorous, Katharine preferred pants and suits to the usual dresses Hollywood starlets were known for. In a 1981 interview, she recalled, “I put on pants 50 years ago and declared a sort of middle road. I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted” (x).
After several years making a name for herself on Broadway, Hollywood agent Leland Hayward eventually scooped her out of her breakout
role in The Warrior’s Husband and set
out to make Katharine Hepburn a household name. When Katharine starred in the
film A Bill of Divorcement with heavy
hitter John Barrymore, Leland achieved just that. Just two years later in 1934 she would receive her first Oscar nomination and win for the film Morning Glory; throughout her career, Katharine
would receive twelve Oscar nominations and four wins. The 1930s and
early 1940s would prove to be Katharine’s heyday, but her career also saw a revival
in the 1960s and 1970s and she worked steadily in film, television, and theater
throughout her lifetime.
Katharine (right) sits in her a car with one of her many lady loves from throughout the years, Laura Harding (x).
Nicknamed “Katharine of Arrogance” and notorious for her
reluctance to welcome the public into her personal life, Katharine Hepburn was
a disliked and moody figure in the press. This reluctance could possibly be
linked to the fact that she had multiple relationships with women. Although she was briefly married to the socialite Ludlow Ogden
Smith, by the time her Hollywood career took off they were divorced and she was
free to romp around with the likes of Laura Harding, Nancy Hamilton, Frances Rich, and Phyllis Wilbourn. Phyllis
was perhaps her greatest love, having stayed together with Katharine for nearly
thirty years and being described by Katharine as “my Alice B. Toklas,” who was a lesbian icon and lifelong wife of Gertrude Stein! Katharine also had a twenty-year-long
relationship with the actor Spencer Tracy, but the validity of that relationship
has come into question in recent years, with even gay icon and AIDS activist
Larry Kramer proclaiming in 2015 that “Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were both gay…they
were publicly paired together by the studio. Everyone in Hollywood knows this
epitomizes the Lesbian Grandma aesthetic by holding a bouquet of flowers and standing next to ‘Please Go Away’ and ‘Keep Out’ signs at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut (x).
Katharine lived an incredibly long and fruitful life. She eventually passed away at the age of 95 at her family home in Fenwick,
Connecticut. Although she had requested that there be no memorial service, the
nation mourned the loss of a stage and screen icon. Upon her passing, the White
House issued a statement which said Katharine “will be remembered as one of the
nation’s artistic treasures.“