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 couple 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.
I’ve gotten many asks regarding depictions of queer people of color from art history. While that’s certainly under the purview of this blog, it’s not the main focus, and I know a lot of people would like to see and learn more. fyeahqueervintage seems mostly inactive now, but there are years’ worth of fairly quality posts, with an archive if you want to skim for something specific or your own personal interests or eras. The focus seems to be what is thought of as “Western”, but there are still multi- and cross-cultural perspectives included, and certainly queer people of color from history.