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.


Charlotte Cushman and Matilda Hays


sculptor Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis

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


photo by alice austen

via flickr.com/photos/sshreeves

Two women, 1899, via fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com

via chloeandolivia.wordpress.com


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


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



photo by Dorothy Schmitz via “Gay & Lesbian Atlanta”

Thelma Wood and Djuna Barnes

via flickr.com/photos/peopleofplatt

1921, Chicago, via fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com


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)


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.


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.



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.


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”


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


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


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

Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Join A+


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 2910 articles for us.


  1. Riese, thank you so much for this post. I absolutely adore every single one of the Herstory posts that goes up, and I think this one might be my favorite. These images are wonderful; thank you for collecting them and putting them together for us.

  2. This is so lovely!

    Sometimes I view gay politics a bit too much within the context of it being okay-to-talk-about (probably because I am still young and a little self-absorbed about my own generation) and forget that this shit doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that there were people who quietly just destroyed gender boundaries and expectations for decades before Harvey Milk even dared to ask people to come out.

    Seeing those women documented is so poignant and I’m grateful to all of them.

  3. so cool. i love seeing a visual catalogue of lesbian history. the lesbian couple in the east village in 1981? so over the top, ridiculous 80’s and stylish at the same time, lol. and the two women in the 1990’s wearing zoot suit pants, big hoop earrings, and hats standing by the classic car? fantastic. and all of the gorgeous women in the past 150 years being gender trangressive and wearing the hell out their suits? totally inspiring.

  4. I hardly ever comment here, and when I do it’s usually a (constructive) criticism, but this is a FANTASTIC post. So much work must have gone into this. Thank you so much, this is such a valuable contribution to this website and to the queer knowledge base as a whole. Thank you, Riese.

  5. Riese, this is such a lovely thing to look at – thank you for compiling it so diligently.

    I love it for a number of reasons, but my prevailing reaction was ‘awesome clothes, ladies!’ Queer women: always stylish. And the evolution of hairstyles is fascinating as well.

    Here’s to all the people who have determinedly chipped away at heteronormativity – long before that was even a word – and here’s to all those who continue to do so.

  6. This is so awesome, not only for my interest but also for my always ongoing research on lesbian women in photography. For sure that I’ll recognize some of the photographers, so an email will be on its way to you Riese! Thanks a bunch for this post!

  7. I’m currently reading ‘Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers’ by Lillian Faderman, but it’s the Kindle edition and the pictures suck. So I’m just going to pretend that this post is a super expanded and extended much-better accompaniment to that book.

  8. What an incredible post! Really well researched, fascinating and thorough visual record of lesbian history. Definitely one of the best Autostraddle posts ever.

    I remember my nan talking about “those queer ladies”, some people she used to know many years ago – a presumably lesbian “female companion” couple who lived together for about 60 years until their deaths in a tiny country village in Dorset where my grandmother grew up. She talked about them fondly – they were popular and well-liked by the locals, and I always wished there was some record or photographic (or even written) evidence of their lives. If it existed I’m sure Autostraddle would have found it!!

    • See if you can get your hands on some histories of Dorset! Local history collections often aren’t on the internet because the people who curate them aren’t generally young and hip or well-funded.

  9. I never comment but seriously, this is FANTASTIC!! Thank you so much for making such an effort and annoying your gf with all the books and allthe stuff and all the stuff!! made my day (and I’ve had a pretty great day so that’s saying something)

  10. Well that was incredible. Wow. Thank you SO MUCH for this plethora of lesbian historical evidence. This made me really happy. :)

    Also the woman in the bottom center of the Patrons at Mona’s picture looks exactly like my grandmother. Like, exactly.

  11. I rarely comment on AS, despite the fact that I read at least half of the articles. I was having an awful day today, but this post turned it around. I wish I could have seen this as a teenager just a few years ago. I knew I wasn’t really alone, but since the only queer girls I knew were also the only hipsters I knew, I didn’t really fit in and thought that my sexuality was a phase tied to a style of dress or way of acting. It is so nice to see this myth debunked again in powerful and beautiful photos from the past 150 years. We are undying; we are not alone. Thank you for posting this.

  12. riese this is wonderful. have you considered submitting this to an archive and/or making a bigger project out of it? i mean because i know you are really bored and have nothing to do and all… ;)

    no but seriously, this is so clearly a labor of love and an incredible final product. thank you <3

    • FIRSTLY WOW! I am so happy and warmed by everybody’s response to this post!

      secondly, i know that a book would be so amazing and cool i would love it and die of happiness BUT i can’t because i don’t own the rights to any of these photos. having them up on a website is one thing, but reproducing them to sell to people would be super illegal and unethical, like profiting from their work. unless of course we went through and found the copyright holders for all these photos and then paid them to let us re-publish them? i don’t know how much that would cost. maybe it’s worth looking into.

  13. This post has caused me to have the hugest smile on my face. If ever I have a bad day, this is the post to revisit.

    I am loving the couple who broke the law on cross-dressing, in jail together. I can’t believe they even had laws against that kind of thing back then.

  14. This is so fantastic. I love AS history posts so much, I always feel like I’m discovering ancestors I never knew I had. Some of these photos killed me, I wish there were stories to go with them. Also, the girl on the left in the first of the 1940s photos? I want that outfit.

  15. Autostraddle is always awesome. But this post is a whole other level of awesome.

    In fact, Riese, I think you should try to publish this as a book. Seriously. I think this is something people would buy. Talk to publishers. Talk to an agent. Its really, really, amazing.

  16. thank you! this is amazing. gay history is erased and erased time and time again, and it’s the best type of validation to get to see such tangible, vibrant, awesome proof of our existence. not only did we exist – despite the efforts of erasure – but we existed in the most exciting ways.

  17. This is wonderful! Just one note – if it’s the same Nikki Lee as I’m thinking of,she’s an artist who dresses/presents as a member of a subculture and then takes a picture. She has done this with many groups, including the lesbian community. So the image of her is one of her posing as a lesbian – which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include it, just something you might want to know.

    • yes i know, i got it from her website actually, i can’t remember how i found her work, maybe via leslie lohman — i thought that she was actually a lesbian though? in addition to choosing that subculture to photograph. but maybe she’s not. i’ll take it down until i’m sure either way.

  18. Riese, I absolutely loved this post! It has to be one of the most inspiring things I’ve cast my eyes upon in a long time. I’ve seen that photo of Barbara Gittings picketing before but her dignity and strength always slay me. As a gay woman with a disability I was particularly moved by your inclusion of the women with disabilities. Thank you so much for all your hard work and perseverance, it would be amazing if this was made into a book!

  19. What a wonderful collection!
    If any of these photos are available for donation to a repository like ours, they would have a lovely home here in San Francisco.

    Tess McCarthy, SAA Member, MLIS – December 2012
    User, Reference, Access and Outreach Service Specialist
    The Center for Sex & Culture Library and Archives
    1349 Mission Blvd.
    San Francisco, CA

  20. Hey,

    Jumped in from the boingboing link…. What a great collection of pictures! I agree the sexual preference and even gender of some of the earlier/more ambiguous photos may be questionable but in all a superlative collection. Thanks!

  21. Oh my gosh. All these photos are so sweet and cute. I couldn’t help but imagine myself as a lesbian through the ages and what my life may have been like in the various eras. I’m so glad that all these women went ahead and kept on loving women loud and proud despite the adversity they my have encountered. Now I just wanna go around holding my baby’s hand everywhere I go!

  22. Pingback: 150 years of photos of American lesbians - More happy things! | More happy things!

  23. Getting real tired of woman being used as short-hand for CAFAB. “Here’s a bunch of people dressed as men… lesbians obv, unlike trans women who do not seem to appear here.” oh, and yes, if we could have more stuff from the Daughters of Bilitis, because they aren’t problematic at all.

    Please stop pretending womyn like me were invented in 1991 or something.

    • Sylvia Rivera was listed in the 70s, but yes – I would definitely love to have seen more trans sisters in this timeline.

      If you or anyone else knows of any good resources for historical photos of queer trans women, I bet lots of us would love to know about them. (I mean, I can google of course, but any better ideas…)

  24. Awesome collection of lesbians. It’s amazing to see that we’ve been around so long. The love on some of these women’s faces is amazing. It’s beautiful to see how long we have loved each other. Always, eh? Beauty. Thank you!

  25. A great gallery — for which I can provide a couple of details. The photo titled “1930s Lesbian Couple at Club via medusasseveredhead.tumblr.com” was taken in Paris by the great photographer Brassai. It originally appeared along with a series of other photographs of working-class dance halls known as bals-musettes in his 1933 book Paris by Night: http://www.francetoday.com/articles/2012/04/28/brassai_paris_by_night.html.

    One other photo in the 1960s section also shows a Paris lesbian club: Chez Moune at 54 Rue Jean-Baptiste in the Pigalle district. Chez Moune was the longest-running lesbian nightclub in Paris; it opened in 1936 and remained an exclusively lesbian club into the 1980s. It then started targeting a mixed clientele, but maintained Sundays as lesbian night until 2009.

  26. I came out in the early 80s, and was acquainted with Cathy Cade, who published a book of dyke photos, if I recall…
    Anywho I LOVED this collection-great job, Riese!
    I thought I might see some of the artists from Olivia Records, who used to give concerts in Oakland and Berkeley and easily draw audiences of 10,000 women, but since there are no musicians, it must be a copyright thing, I guess. Meg Christian and Cris Williamson were very key to my journey. (Your mom probably used to drive you crazy with their songs, Riese!)

    • DEB! haha! yes she did! yes i found this amazing website with so much stuff about olivia — queermusicheritage.us
      when i started collecting photos i felt like doing musicians would just open up a whole door to another gallery, basically? but a few got in there.

    • Actually, there is a photo of the fabulous Linda Tillery in “Gente, A Women’s Celebration at the Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA 1975, photo by Cathy Cade via leslielohman.org,” but she’s not identified. She’s on the right with the mic.

  27. Congrats all you lesbian cats! Lovely photos of a proud tradition of lesbian solidarity!

    I adore the photo of the two dapper ladies in the suits and top hats!

    Gender roles? The kids where onto that scam 100 years ago!

  28. Time to set the (my) record straight. Am an 80 year old man. Straight. Please accept my apologies for my terrible thoughtlessness toward gays over so many years.

    My gosh I’ve never seen so many pictures of people with all of them smiling.

    Go well you folks, go well.

  29. Wonderful to remember the Pride Marches in NYC and the Marches on Washington, these events usually had beautiful weather. If you ask, thousands of lesbians might send you a picture of their local events. If you want pictures of me as a young dyke in 79/80, I would happily contribue.


        I’ll see if I can rustle up stuff from overseas. It’ll likely be more recent materials and there might be the issue of outing people, but there’s historically significant stuff like the gay Jamaican wedding you guys covered or another lesbian Indian wedding, or the gay prides in India after section 377’s repeal and the Uganda pride, stuff that is culturally significant.

  30. This is a great collection of photos, thank you for collecting and posting them.

    One possible correction, though. In the photo of Gladys and Annabelle, The house, their style of dress (in particular, Annabelle’s dress is well above her ankles), the blue ink, and the overall quality of the photo suggests early 1930’s rather than the 1880’s.

  31. I guess “Herstory” is defined as inaccurate history.

    Some of these may not actually show lesbians. Rather, displays of same-sex affection in photographs used to be relatively normal – concepts such as homosexuality as a trait, rather than a lifestyle choice, are relatively modern, so the sight of two people of the same gender posed together didn’t cause people to bat an eye.

    So, yeah, this is a reach

  32. My favorite is the photo of Adele Clark and Nora Houston. Also when I looked at it the first thing that came to mind was that it looked like it had been taken out of Downton Abbey.

    Also…Dyke Lumber, anyone?

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!