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

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Riese is the 40-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in California. 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 2988 articles for us.

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