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Archive for February, 2009

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Salt Lake City, Utah

Ada Dwyer Russell home
166
W. North Temple Street

Born in 1863, actress Ada Dwyer (later Russell) was raised as a Mormon. Her father, James Dwyer, had come west in a covered wagon and opened the first bookstore in the far west. He also helped found the Latter Day Saints University. The Dwyers’ residence is listed at this location on North Temple Street beginning in 1867, when Ada was four, but the building is no longer extant.

Ada grew up to be an actress who first performed at the Salt Lake Theater (corner of South First and State) and later on the Broadway and London stages. She married the British actor Harold Russell, and was later widowed. In 1912, she met poet Amy Lowell, a cigar-smoking butch 11 years her junior, at a women’s luncheon club in Boston. The two were instantly smitten; Lowell wrote that “between us lept a gold and scarlet flame.” Two years later, after much coaxing on Lowell‘s part, Russell moved into the Lowell family estate, Sevenels, in Brookline, Mass. She gave up her own career for Lowell‘s, organizing her partner’s life, and became the subject of Lowell‘s explicit lesbo-erotic poetry. Lowell died in 1925, leaving her fortune to Russell; still, Russell maintained until her own death in 1952 that the two of them had only been “friends.”

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Baltimore, Md.

Gertrude Stein residence
2408 Linden Avenue (private)

Gertrude Stein’s (1874-1946) first ambition was not to be a writer, but a psychologist. After studying psychology with William James at Harvard, Stein was accepted at the John Hopkins Medical School, where her brother, Leo (with whom she was very close), was also enrolled. She lived with relatives at this address (on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985) for about a year, then moved in with Leo at 215 East Biddle Street.

Stein was unhappy and unfulfilled in medical school. She was also on the brink of discovering her lesbianism. While living in Baltimore, Stein ran with a lesbian crowd, a group of Bryn Mawr College graduates led by a young woman named Mabel Haynes. Sadly for her, Stein fell unrequitedly in love with Haynes’ “romantic friend,” May Bookstaver. The experience made a deep impression on Stein, whose first novel, Q.E.D., completed in Baltimore in 1903, was an autobiographical account of this lesbian love triangle.

Unlike most of Stein’s work, Q.E.D. was openly lesbian in content and language. Stein put the finished manuscript away for 30 years, and then, in 1932, unearthed it and showed it to her agent, who advised against trying to publish it because of its “controversial” theme. Q.E.D. was finally published in 1950, four years after Stein’s death.

Stein left Baltimore in 1903 to visit Leo, who had moved to Paris, and to try to forget May Bookstaver. Paris agreed with her, and she lived there the rest of her life, meeting Alice B. Toklas, her life companion, in 1907. And May Bookstaver and Mabel Haynes? They both pursued much more traditional lives, ending their affair and marrying men.

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Newport, R.I.

Army and Navy YMCA
50 Washington Square

Since the early 20th century, YMCAs have been gathering places for gay men. Newport‘s Army and Navy YMCA, a Beaux Arts-style building, opened in 1911, and when the fleet was in – Newport was home to an important naval training station – the building was often filled beyond capacity. Here soldiers and sailors could bank, shop at the canteen, and eat a homestyle meal. Activities included swimming, bowling, and jogging (and numerous other “indoor sports,” to be sure). The administrators also showed movies and sponsored cabaret evenings of song and performances.

In his article, “Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era,” historian George Chauncey relates the story of an official navy investigation in 1919-20 of homosexuality in Newport. Under orders from then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt, young enlisted men acted as decoys to entrap homosexuals, gathering information and later testifying before a naval court of inquiry and at several civilian trials. Twenty sailors and sixteen civilians were arrested as a result of the “investigation.”

The decoys reported that the YMCA, as well as nearby beaches and wharfs, were havens of homosexual activity. Some gay sailors lived at the Y, while others just rented rooms for the night. “Fagott” [sic] parties, the investigators found, were commonplace at the Y in the evenings. The gay men who frequented the Y also engaged in homosexual activities in other cities and maintained contacts with gay men in New York, Providence, and Fall River. But, Chauncey found, in addition to the men who identified as “queer,” there were men who regularly enjoyed homosexual sex but thought of themselves as heterosexual.

Newport‘s YMCA reached its peak in 1951, during the Korean War. When the Navy began downsizing during the Nixon administration, attendance at the Y fell off, and it was closed in 1973. It is now an apartment building for low-income residents.

“The Army and Navy Y.M.C.A. was the headquarters of all cocksuckers [in] the early part of the evening…. everybody who sat around there in the evening…knew it.”

–Navy investigator, 1920

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