Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Uncovering Lesbian History, circa 1909

Larry Harnisch uncovers a real gem of a story from 1909.
Two women in Los Angeles were arrested for dressing up as men. There were laws on the books against women dressing as men. One woman supposedly was going to ride the rails from LA to San Francisco to visit her husband. She figured she couldn't ride them in her dress so her and a friend dressed as men. Then they started drinking beer with some other women, made a lot of noise which caused someone to call the police, and then were discovered and arrested for violating the crossdressing ordinance.

This is an incredibly fascinating stuff. First, I don't believe the visiting the husband story for a minute. I suspect this was an alibi in case these women were caught by the police. Second, we know much more about gay history than lesbian history because gay men were harassed by police much more. Because gays and lesbians couldn't really talk about their lives publically in 1909, we don't know much about it except through police records. So to see more information uncovered about early 20th century lesbian history is fantastic. Even if these women were not lesbians and really were just dressing as men to ride the rails, we still have an anti-cross dressing law on the book that at least applied to women, if not men. The women were released by the cops, but only by promising to leave the city, which suggests that a) they were poor and b) the cops really did see them as a threat.

Great stuff, if sad as well.