Epic Gallery: 150 Years Of Lesbians And Other Lady-Loving-Ladies

click here for more posts from “the herstory issue” // “the way we were”

I really threw myself into Herstory Month, in June, eating every accessible herstory archive on the internet and spending hours in the library, accumulating massive stacks of borrowed books which I stored at the foot of my bed. My girlfriend was not a big fan of the stacks of books at the foot of the bed.

I was looking for words but eventually, also, for pictures. Honestly before tumblr it was difficult to find very much lesbian imagery at all online — it was always the same ten or twelve stock photos — let alone pictures of lesbians taken prior to 2000. I wanted to see an evolution of our community, how we’d grown and changed over the years — and not just in a montage of famous out actresses and models, but pictures of actual people, pictures of women who were active in the community — regular human beings, writers and social activists.

So I started collecting them. I scoured tumblr, discovered regional library archives online and visited websites like fuck yeah queer vintage, the new york public library digital archivesout history, and know homo. Unsatisfied with the racial diversity present in the imagery I found online, I began scanning books, screenshotting google books and even screenshotting documentaries. It took months, but every time I look at this post and the faces after faces of queer women throughout history… I get really excited!

Four quick disclaimers: 1) Obviously it’s impossible to verify the sexual orientation of some of the subjects of earlier photos I found on tumblr, the pre-1920s photos especially. But because I found them on vintage queer tumblrs, etc., I went ahead and used them, but some of these photos may just be of cross-dressers or super-close friends. 2) Obviously it’s also difficult to find photos of women of color prior to the 1950’s, because America sucks. 3) I focused on America because doing the entire world is really hard/impossible. It’s possible pics from Canada or The UK [ETA: or France, apparently!] found their way in here, though. 4)I’ve tried to credit where I found these photos and who took them. Unfortunately, because I’m an idiot, I erased the text-edit document where I was keeping track of photo credits. If you see anything here that is improperly credited or if you can identify the origin of any photos that weren’t credited at all, please email me and let me know! (riese [at] autostraddle dot com).

I’d also like to thank the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco for their permission using photos from their collection here.

150 Years of Lady-Loving-Ladies In The U.S.

1850s

Charlotte Cushman and Matilda Hays

1880s

sculptor Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis

Kitty Ely class of 1887 (left) and Helen Emory class of 1889, Mount Holyoke students, via vintagephoto.livejournal.com

1890s

photo by alice austen

via flickr.com/photos/sshreeves

Two women, 1899, via fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com

via chloeandolivia.wordpress.com

1900s

Young couple seated in garden from the Powerhouse Museum Collection, via hersaturnreturns.com

1900, Anna Moor and Elsie Dale

Lily Elise and Adrienne Augarde 1907, via fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com

1910s

Photo from silent film The Amazons (1917) via knowhomo.tumblr.com

via “Gay & Lesbian Richmond” (Adele Clark, bottom center, lived with fellow suffragist Nora Houston “as companions” for years)

Four couples of women pose for a photo, ca. 1910 — Image by © DaZo Vintage Stock Photos/Images.com/Corbis

Education reformer Elizabeth Irwin via historyisqueer.tumblr.com

1918

1920s

photo by Dorothy Schmitz via “Gay & Lesbian Atlanta”

Thelma Wood and Djuna Barnes

via flickr.com/photos/peopleofplatt

1921, Chicago, via fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com

1930s

via vintage affectionate women pool on flickr

1930s Paris, photographed by Brassai. The photographs were part of a series for his 1933 book “Paris By Night,” which focused on working-class dance halls known as bals-musettes.

via bilerico.com

American blues singer Gladys Bentley (1907 – 1960) poses with bandleader Willie Bryant (1908 – 1964) outside the Apollo Theater where posters advertise a performance by Bryant & his band, New York, New York, April 17, 1936. (Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Getty IMages)

1940s

couple in 1946, photograph by weegee, via museum.icp.org

“San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
P82-125a.6000 Training school, Bethlehem Shipbuilding, 10/14/43″

1940’s “louise” via flickr.com/photos/missing_linck

“Evelyn “Jackie” Bross (left) and Catherine Barscz (right) at the Racine Avenue Police Station, Chicago, June 5, 1943. They had been arrested for violating the cross-dressing ordinance.” via blog.chicagohistory.org

Betty “Joe” Carstairs via butch-in-progress.tumblr.com

1940s Wrens, via theinkbrain.wordpress.com

Estelle de Willoughby Ions with a YWCA Art Student, 1954, via “Gay & Lesbian Richmond”

via Wide Open Town: A History of Queer SF to 1965, by Nan Alamilla Boyd, courtesy of Mary Sager

Mabel Hampton and Lillian Foster

1945, Male impersonators posing at Mona’s, via Wide Open Town History Project Records Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

1950s

Keannie Sullivan & Tommy Vasu at Mona’s, via foundsf.org

“1950’s gay and lesbian couples” via flickr.com/photos/missing_linck

Founders of The Daughters of Bilitis with friends at Juanita’s in Sausalito. photo by Miss Cecil Davis, courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society

Bonita Jeffries, standing, with her daughter Ira and Ira’s girlfriend Snowbaby (17), celebrating Ira’s 16th birthday “at a nite club.

Kathryn-Hulme-and-Marie-Louise-Habets

1960s

guests at the bar of the chez moune nightclub (the longest-running lesbian club in Paris), via fuckyeahqueerpomps.tumblr.com

1967, Joan C Meyers via “Gay & Lesbian Philadelphia”

“Two Friends At Home” by Diane Arbus, 1965

Barbara Gittings in picket line, photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen (1965), via NYPL

Lesbian Wedding, 1968. via The Wide Open Town History Project Records. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

1970s

Donna Gottschalk holds poster “I am your worst fear I am your best fantasy” at Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day parade, photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

Jannette Louise Spires, Mary Alice Wesley & Brenda Ann Bush, Tampa, Florida

Three members of Lavender Menace at the Second Congress to Unite Women, New York, 1970 May (May 1970), photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

Gay Activists Alliance Softball Team, photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via NYPL

photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

1971, Albany Gay Rights Demonstration, photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

1970, Sylvia Rivera, photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via NYPL

1971, Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

Gente, A Women’s Celebration at the Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA 1975, photo by Cathy Cade via leslielohman.org

Gay rights demonstration, Albany, New York, 1971, photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

1971, manonla evans and donna-burkett in wisconsin

1971, Gay rights demonstration, Albany, New York, photo by Diana Davies via NYPL

1972, ALA Taskforce

1972 – Lesbian Couple, Hollywood, photo by Anthony Friedkin

1972, The Black Lesbian Caucus at NY Gay Pride

1972 – “Lesbian Couple #1” photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via NYPL

1973 – Gail and Kate Rebuilding Cathy’s VW Engine, Emeryville, CA, photo by cathy cade

1974 – Isis at the IHOP: Seated L to R: Suzi Ghezzi, Stella Bass, Jeanie Fienberg, Nydia Mata, Lauren Draper, Carol MacDonald and Ginger Bianco. Standing is Lolly Bienenfield. via via queermusicheritage.us

Inez Garcia at San Francisco Freedom Day, via leslielohman.org

screenshot via “After Stonewall” documentary

Women embracing at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, 1976, photo by diana davies

1971 – Gay Pride Parade New York City (Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/CORBIS)

via lesbianseparatist.tumblr.com

Gay rights march in New York

New York City Pride, 1977

1977, Germantown couple on porch, photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via NYPL

1977. Photo by Marie Ueda from The Marie Ueda Collection. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

the atlanta lesbian feminist alliance softball team

Salsa Soul Sisters meeting, New York City

“Fat Chance” Dance Group, Berkeley, CA 1979, photo by Cathy Cade via leslielohman.org

via “Gay by the Bay”

1980s

Dykes on Bikes

“lesbian couple” in the east village, 1981, by amy arbus

San Jose Lesbian March

Old Wives Tale Bookstore in San Francisco, California. Photo by Carol Seajay via lostwomynsspace.blogspot.com

C1 Women’s Lib Rally 1982, © 2008 – Don Ventura

Audre Lorde & Angela

“young dykes” (from the Lesbian Herstory Archives photofiles, marches 1980s folder)

Outside the courtroom, the press interviews Marilyn Barnett, accompanied by her attorney, Joel Ladin (right), after a Superior Court judge ruled that she had no right to a $500,000 beach house she claimed was promised to her by her former lover, tennis star Billie Jean King. Los Angeles, California, December 18, 1981. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1983, Castro Street Fair

sistah boom

Chicago

the Common Lives team

the indigo girls with winona laduke

Kitty Tsui by Jill Posener for “On Our Backs” magazine

via “Gay & Lesbian Philadelphia”

lesbian avengers via lesbianavengers.com, photo by carolina kroop

1988, Mariana Romo Carmona and June Chan, photo by Robert Giard via NYPL.com

1990s

ACT UP! photo by donna binder

Yolanda Duque & Cira Domingues

1993 Gay Pride in New York City, photo by Philip Jones Griffith

via sinister wisdom

ACT UP! protest in Chicago, 1990, photo by flickr.com/photos/genyphyr

copyright Saskia Scheffer

Janet Gail and Carolina Kroon, via lesbianavengers.com, photo by carolina kroon

photo by/of Laura Aguilar

Servicemembers in gay Pride parade, photo by cathy cade

Minnie Bruce Pratt & Leslie Feinberg, photo by Robert Giard via NYPL

via lesbianavengers.com, photo by carolina kroon

Dorothy Allison with Alix Layman and Wolf-Michael, 1995, photo by Robert Giard via NYPL

“Two Sandras” by Joyce Culver

The lesbian tent at the Beijing International Women’s Conference

1993 – New York City Pride

1995, “keisha and lia,” photo by joyce culver

1993 Gay & Lesbian March on Washington, via flickr.com/photos/perspective

1993 – NYC Pride March

lesbian couple fighting for custody of their child, 1995, via The Advocate

van dykes at the 1993 march on washington, via “The Advocate”

Susan Meiselas 1995 USA. New York City. Pandora’s Box. via magnumphotos.com

Greenwich Village 1997 via flickr.com/photos/perspective

punk band Team Dresch, mid-90s

dyke march, 1998

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2862 articles for us.

226 Comments

  1. I love this! I was going to make a comment on how your article omitted the word “bisexual” (you know, since Bisexuality Day is this weekend and all), but then noted that your title included “and other women-loving women.” So… all good?
    PS–fyeah Djuna Barnes!

  2. This is amazing! I interviewed the author of Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold back when I lived in Buffalo. Can you search some of these images on Google image search (the drag and drop) to find out where you got them? Also, I think we have a Lesbian Archives at the library at the University of Oregon.

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  4. An excellent collection of queer culture! These are wonderful. I will say that in some of the older ones, the poses were normal for straight people, especially among women who were so segregated. Casual affectionate contact was much more common than today.

  5. I have so many feelings with this photo gallery. Most of them happy, but there’s still that little sad voice in me thinking: “Why does this even have to be a thing? Why does Riese have to spend hours upon hours finding photos validating our love in a time past?” Sigh. I have to go process again.

    Also – huge huge huge props to you, Riese, for finding so many awesome WOC couples =D Thanks to the AS team for being so inclusive and aware of the trappings of our society. Mad respect!

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  7. The photo of Kitty Ely and Helen Emory is part of a photo album that I own. Kitty put it together in her lifetime, and appeared to love cuddling with her friends in front of cameras in photo studios. This photo of Kitty with Helen is wonderful, but it’s not much different than any of the other photos of Kitty and her other friends in the album. (In other words, she doesn’t appear to be Kitty’s “special friend.”) I am quite doubtful that either Kitty or Helen was lesbian. Both went on to marry men and have children.

  8. I would have loved to see something in the disclaimer pointing out that we don’t know whether all of these people identify as female. Not everyone who looks to you like a woman in men’s clothing is cross-dressing. Some of these people may have been trans men. Including them in this gallery without even a note that they might exist is erasing.

  9. Great sexy way to start my day. It’s so vital to know our history. We were fortunate enough to know and love a lesbian elder, Glad, who was part of the DOB and cross-dressed (and arrested) from the 1930’s on. She gave us her photos before she died and said, “No one else will care about them when I’m gone.” Missing her still and it’s been 15 years. Add my THANKS for your inspiration and all your work, Riese.

  10. Eehee, marvellous collection! Aw man. I remember seeing a set of old black and white photos displayed in westport house and there was one titled “The Tango Arrives in Mayo” featuring two ladies dancing very closely. Me and my ladyfriend just giggled to eachother. I SO REGRET not getting a photo of it cos I can’t find it anywhere. ):

  11. Have you not heard of OLOC’s OLOHP, by Arden Eversmeyer and Margaret Purcell. “Gift of Age” & “Without Apology” They have pictures and written accounts of lives of lesbian from the 1920 & forward. I’m proud to say my partner of about 48 yrs and I also marched in the 1993 March of Washington. I video our march down Pennsylvai Ave. Arden & Margaret’s works have now been moved to Smith College in Connecticut. We (J) and I have 40+ yrs of pictures of lesbian in this area. Love, Scottie

    • Dear Alice,
      Forgive my contacting you but I note that you are a member of this group (150 years of lesbian photographs)
      How does one become a member? I left my contact which is close to the end of the list but could not find how to be a member of the group.
      Yours sincerely,
      Catriona Isobel Rose

  12. A wonderful piece chronicling lesbians….wow I never imagined there would be pics going back to the 1800’s!!!! What a collection! Sorry I wasn’t in any of them, lol….70’s plus NYC!!!! Thanks for the memories

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  14. I met my partner when I was 18 We were together for 42 years until she was taken by cancer.
    These were our vows
    I Catriona Isobel Rose P….. take and accept thee, Gweneth B….. as my life partner and companion.Such love, devotion affection and compassion I have are thine as are all things I possess..I hold these words to be true as long as we live.
    Rose P.

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  20. Some of the older pictures reminded me of a picture of my great grandmother. Seeing as she died before I was even 5 and the only time I met her, I was 3, I didn’t really know her. Still, I have my assumptions based off a few photographs and stories in our family history. I mean, I don’t know her so I could be wrong, but I think she was bi at least.
    One of the few pictures of her from when she was younger is her as a teenager dressed in her father’s suit. Apparently that was common enough to get a picture and a story about how she went out to dances as a boy, then danced with other girls. One of those girls was not very happy when she discovered my great grandma was a woman.
    Everyone else in my family considers it just jokes, but, eh, I don’t know. It just seemed like she looked a lot happier in that picture. And I don’t really know a whole lot of straight teenage girls who would jokingly go out on dates with women, pretending to be a man. Also, she definitely fit the stereotype of being a tomboy, even considering she grew up on a farm.
    I guess I’ll never know for sure, but I still wish I could have known her.

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  24. Very,Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, Very, beautiful. I don’t have words!Amazing! Eu estou em êxtase!!!!!

  25. Olá bom dia,
    achei este material de uma qualidade muito boa, e gostaria de saber se vcs não tem aquivos Brasileiros, gostaria de mim ver também , as lésbicas Brasileira

  26. I really want to put the picture of Anna Moor and Elsie Dale in my living room – is there anywhere we can buy enlarged copies of this photo?

    Loved this collection so much!

  27. So many strong women in our pasts. I’d love to thank all of them for being their authentic selves. I think I even spotted “Alice” from the Brady Bunch on a motorcycle! LOL

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  37. The photo of the 4 girls (Dyke Lumber Company, c. 1925, Rogers, Arkansas. Neg. #N009217), were not lesbian. The editor-in-chief of Autostraddle “took it upon herself to research early images of same-sex couples, painstakingly looking through archives, websites, digital collections, and Tumblr sites alike”. Yet the girls in the photo were not in fact same-sex couples nor lesbian.

  38. I remember events organized by NOW (National organization for Womem) in the late ’80’s which were very lesbian friendly – ie a reading by Dorothy Allison. I bet they have some pictures. Also there was a paper in DC called The Blade which was gay orientated. Plus there were Gay Pride parades in DC (along DuPont Circle) and a Black Pride event across the street from Howard University. I seem to also recall a gay bookstore. I bet any of those sources would provide you with more photos.

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  42. Terrific Her-story.Check out my http://www.Romainebrooks.com site and my FB fan page. My gals, Natalie, Lily and Romaine were out lesbians before it was safe or fashionable. They are our foremothers. They had guts and style. I know many of the artists whose work is featured here and I can add a few photographs from my coming out in Miami days. We need to be the keepers of our flames. Thanks for stoking the fire. My new book RomaineBrooks: A Life keeps the embers glowing for new generations. Check out some of the interviews on line at Ms.blog and Strange Flowers and Suzanne Stroh’s site. All part of the conversation.

  43. Fabulous collection, an amazing labor of love! I know a number of women who are not identified in the photos. Would be nice if they were numbered for easy reference.

    Photo after 1971 – Gay Pride Parade New York City (Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/CORBIS – Margaret Sloan Hunter is in front.

    Salsa Soul Sisters meeting, New York City – I’m pretty sure that’s Audre Lorde in the middle.

    Old Wives Tale Bookstore in San Francisco, California. Photo by Carol Seajay via lostwomynsspace.blogspot.com – I doubt the photo is by Carol since she’s on the left, and that was waaay before selfies!

    sistah boom – That’s Carolyn Brandy on the left, and I think Linda Hirschhorn in front on the right. The next photo is also of Sistah Boom members.

  44. Thanks so much for posting these. I’ll echo what a few others have noted, however. Some of these historic photos were not of lesbians, just of women playing dress-up. This was a pastime in the 1920’s and 30’s. I know this for certain: although I would love to imagine that my father’s mother, my grandmother, was a lesbian, and although I have a couple of big photos showing her and her gal pals dressed in men’s suits (1920’s), she was not a lesbian. We have lots of other dress-up photos showing them in harem outfits, wild west costumes etc.
    It’s pretty clear from some of the photos here who is a lesbian and who’s just playin’!
    Thanks very much!

  45. Seeing how brave those ladies in those 50-60’s photos were. I feel like a coward because I never had the nerve to show my feelings toward another woman. It took another 50 years before I’d kiss another and begin to explore my feelings. I was so rapped up in how I’d be precieved. I wish that I could go back and live my life over.

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  47. being a Lesbian and proud of it I find it hard to believe how shunned they were by society and their own families. but I so glad we have awakened as a nation. Now we need to change our feeling toward interracial couples. Looking at lesbian publications I can see some hope by the number mixed couples. In my eyes they make beautiful couples. They don’t seem to see color only love. Keep up the good work and hopefully we won’t need to have stories about how it was, but how great it is. We should all be proud of who we are and how we choose to live.

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