19th Century Queer Couples
1. 1891 – Photo by Alice Austen
2. 1855 – Martha O’Curry
3. 1890 – via www.ChloeAndOlivia.wordpress.com
4. 1890 – via www.Flickr.com/photos/SShreeves
5. 1899 – via FYeahQueerVintage.tumblr.com
6. 1900 – Anna Moor and Elsie Dale
7. 1900 – Young souple seated in garden, from the Powerhouse Museum Collection, via HerSaturnReturns.com
8. Kitty Ely, Class of 1887 (L) and Helen Emory Class of 1889, Mount Holyoke Students, via VintagePhoto.Livejournal.com
10. Lily Elise and Adrienne Augarde, 1907, via FYeahQueerVintage.tumblr.com
Collected by Marie Lyn Bernard, via retronaut
This is an amazing collection. I think what excites me so much about it, apart from the PDAs which indicate these are clearly romantic relationships and not just friendships, is the women of colour who are included. No 2 is even an inter-racial couple!
To add to this relationships such as these were able to be visible because during this era women were considered sex-less, that is that they did not have sex, so they could only have innocently amorous relationships with other women. In addition, in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era there was a large lesbian subculture where women had openly butch/femme relationships where one partner would often pass as a male and would accompany the other woman in public and be her escort to events and the like. Within that culture were femme/femme relationships, and sometimes butch/butch relationships. This practice was surprisingly popular among the higher class, where it was seen as entertainment for the women involved by the outside world. This culture was also accompanied by theatrical instances of cross-dressing lesbians who often became very famous. On the more extreme side of the culture were groups of high class women who had large balls that essentially would boil down to lavish orgies.
For the middle class, however, it was very easy for women to be in such relationships with little questioning as women were encouraged to live together as living with a male who was not family was immoral, and those who chose to be ‘spinsters’ often lived with a close friend. Often times in these situations the women would be in a relationship, where in some cases one partner would cross-dress though that was not always the case. When women lived together, it was rarely seen as questionable if the two became very close, and women were encouraged to have these sorts of relationships.
also note that the inception of lesbian-directed hate was based in the fact that women who were well-educated often lived together and many forewent heterosexual relationships in favor of academic pursuits, living with a close friend (and occasionally romantic partner) because women made ridiculously low wages and could not afford to live by themselves.
heterosexual, upper class men decided they couldn’t have independent, well-educated women becoming the norm and possibly threatening their hold on political power, so they began demonizing close relationships between women, including relationships between siblings as immoral. this was immediately believed with no questions, and parents began denying their children education opportunities and female friendships.
this served three purposes: 1) keeping women from accessing education and keeping them from scientific and mathematical fields where they could make a difference, and 2) isolating women so they would not band together to overthrow patriarchy or object to low wages, abuse, and discrimination, and 3) enforce the social spheres that were being broken by women working and being educated.
of course, this is hardly true for poor women, immigrant women, and women of color (or women within those intersections), who probably didn’t have access to education. they definitely proved the idea that education would cause lesbianism wrong, though, as there were tons of queer relationships between poor women, immigrant women, and women of color, who were often exempt from white upper-class morality.
in fact, some of the first real queer acceptance movement and queer community building happened in harlem in the 1920s, which acknowledged queer people and tolerated their gender and sexual “transgressions.”
I ship ‘em.