TOPIC: Lesbians in history Feed

DAQ #5, 1977. Lesbian Hoboes by JR Roberts with illustrations by Roberta Gregory

 DYKE, A Quarterly #5, 1977,  featured this historical essay by JR Roberts, with illustrations by Roberta Gregory. Click images to enlarge.


"While reading the book, Sisters Of The Road: The Autobiography of Box Car Bertha (1937) I came across more than a dozen references to Lesbians during the 1920’s and 1930’s. While this life story of Bertha Thompson, as told to Dr. Ben L. Reitman, presents a negative and stereotypical view of Lesbians, it does provide the only references I have uncovered so far which document the existence of numerous and visible Lesbian hoboes during this period. After peeling away the stereotypes there wasn’t much substance left, so I began an investigation to learn more about their lives as women and as Lesbians during those Depression years. This article is the result of that beginning investigation, an investigation which I now consider an on-going project."

 

DAQ Lesbian Hoboes, JR Roberts, illustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications 1977, DYKE A  Quarterly

 

 

DAQ Lesbian hoboes JR Roberts illustrations Roberta Gregory ©tomato publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 38, 39

 

DAQ Lesbian Hoboes JR Roberts, illustrations Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications DYKE A Quarterly 1977 pages 40 and 41

 

DAQ lesbian hoboes jr roberts,illustrations by Roberta Gregory. ©Tomoato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 42 43

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts,illustrations by Roberta Gregor ©Tomoato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 44 45

 

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts, ilustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 46 47

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts, illustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 48 49

 

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts, illustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomaoto publications Dyke a quarterly p 50

 

JR Roberts (aka Barbara Henry) is a Lesbian Librarian who founded The New Alexandria Women's Library in Chicago,within the Lesbian Feminist Center, in 1974. She is also the author of Black Lesbians,  An Annotated Bibliography, Naiad Press 1981. Forward by Barbara Smith. 

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Roberta Gregory lives in Seattle Washington and is responsible for a lot of comics over the years. Best known for "Bitchy Bitch" and "Bitchy Butch" characters and is currently working on Mother Mountain and True Cat Toons. Visit Robertagregory.com and truecattoons.com

She was also a contributing artist to DYKE, A Quarterly. 


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What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: Amazons

Before there was DYKE, A Quarterly, there was COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. It started off as the publication of a local women's group in New York City, Community of Women, COW. Although Community of Women was not strictly a Lesbian group, COWRIE quickly became a Lesbian magazine, independant of COW, taken in this direction by the editors, Liza Cowan and Carol Hardin. 

It was here that Liza Cowan's series, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear originated. Vol. 1 #4 was the Amazon issue, with cover of Amazons and inside, the essay on Lesbian Clothing. Here it is, the original text and graphics: 

 

COWRIE LESBIANFEMINIST VOL 1 #4 FRONT COVER ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. Vol 1 #4, December 1973. Cover design ©Liza Cowan

 

 Look at Greek vase paintings in a book or at a museum, you can always spot an Amazon by the way she looks. Greek patriarchal women are very femme, they wear loose, flowing chitons and are very nice to the men who share their space on the vases. The Amazons wear bold, striking pants, tunics and weapons, and are busy killing the men.

 I spent a lot of time last week tracking down Amazon clothes. The Metropolitan Museum Clothing Institute had nothing. No hints, no leads. A curator at the American Museum of Natural History told me that Amazons never really existed. Katherine Springer of the Greek and Roman department at the Metropolitan Museum was helpful. She told me about a book called Amazons In Greek Art by Deitrich Von Bothmer, which I got at the library and had to spend an hour just figuring out how to read it.  I called her back to ask a question, which she answered, and handed the phone over to her boss, none other than Deitrich Von. B. He told me he wouldn’t do my homework for me, that I obviously wasn’t an expert at anything, etc. etc. So here I am, back where I started, with a few feminist sources and some pictures of Amazons painted by Greek men.

 It is incredible the way our heritage is denied us. I never studied about Amazons in school. My twelfth grade Ancient History textbook never even mentions them. In order to write about Amazon clothes I first have to bust my ass trying to find information about Amazons themselves, information which isn’t readily available, and what is available is mystified, obscured and held by men who don’t want to part with their precious knowledge. Information Imperialism! (There is one excellent book, Mothers and Amazons, by Helen Dinar) We should have learned about our Amazon foremothers before we learned about George Washington. We are never taught about women. Every book that mentions Amazons (excluding Dinar) says they were a mythological race of women. The concise English Dictionary calls them “ A fabulous race of women warriors, masculine women” Men cannot stand the idea that women preferred to live without them.

 The Amazons were a strong, powerful group (or groups) of women identified women who lived according to their own determination, without men. They were forced to fight for survival against a growing patriarchy. Their existence has been documented as early as 1760 BC, when Queen Euripyle captured the Amorite capital in Babylon. They lived in many different places, migrating frequently, conquering new lands. There were Amazons all around the Mediterranean area, in southern Russia, north of the Black Sea, in Asia Minor and in northern Africa. There were two major groups, the Libyan (Libya being the place we now refer to as Morocco) and the Thermodontines. The only pictures of Amazons are those on Greek Vases (and some sculptures,) usually depicting the great war between the Athenians and the Thermodontine Amazons, whose territory extended from the Saramatian Planes to the Aegean Sea (which is roughly southern Russia, the Balkan countries, Greece and Asia Minor. This is the story of that war:

 

COWRIE MAGAZINE VOL 1 #4 WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR ©LIZA COWAN 1973
COWRIE, Lesbian/Feminist. Vol 1 #4, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, ©Liza Cowan

 

In the 13th century BC, a group of Greek men (Heracles and Theseus, according to one version) sailed to Themiscyra, the Thermodon capital on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, to steal the belt of Hippolyte, the Queen. It was a gold and crystal sword belt, one of the Scythian insignia. It symbolized virginity, which meant unmarried rather than unfucked. It was more than the belt they were trying to steal. Patriarchy was trying to conquer and dominate Matriarchal authority. Stealing the belt was a symbol of this intended domination. If Amazons surrendered their virginity, they surrendered their independence, as every Lesbian/feminist knows.

 At any rate, the Greek men fell upon the undefended city and its Queen, while the other Queen was away defending the borders with her army.

 Amazons always had two Queens, one to administer and one to lead the armies. The men stole the belt, killed the remaining townswomen, and abducted Antiope, Hippolyte’s sister. When Oriethia heard the news, she came rushing back, but the men had already left, so she led her army to invade Athens.

They besieged the Acropolis, but were not victorious. Antiope (and maybe Hippolyte) fought alongside the Greek men, and the war ended with a compromise. Oriethia died of grief and shame. Few of the remaining Amazons every reached home again. They were discouraged and almost totally defeated.

 This war is the one that is usually portrayed on the Greek vases. Some others show the Amazons, led by Penthesilea, fighting the Greeks in the Trojan War. The earliest vase paintings were done in the 7th Century BC, most were done in the 5th Century BC, eight hundred years after the Thermodontine-Athenian War. But clothing styles didn’t change as rapidly as they do now, so there’s a good chance that the Amazon clothes depicted on the vases are accurate.

 There is no one Amazon clothing style. The clothes change with place of origin, but there was much migration and communication between locations. The most striking clothes are those that come from Asia Minor, around modern Turkey, near the Amazon capital, Themiscyra. They wore an outfit that looked like a body suit covered by a tunic. The front and back pieces were oblong, sewn together on the shoulders and down the sides, with openings left for the arms. There was a single seam in the arms sewn on the undersides. These coats were usually made of leather, and sometimes wool. They wore tight fitting knit hose with bold geometric designs, checkerboards, stripes, circles, stars and zigzags. 

COWRIE LESBIAN FEMINIST VOL 1 #4 WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR P.2 ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. Vol 1 #4, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Text and image ©Liza Cowan

 

Some sources say that the Amazons were tattooed on their arms and legs, but this is unlikely. The shirts and tunics had tight sleeves, close fitting at the wrists, and were also boldly patterned with geometric designs. They frequently wore long soft red leather boots. The toes of the boots were often curled up, indicating a northern origin. Shoes like this are usually worn in snowy, rocky climates.

 They wore a variety of hats and helmets. One popular hat was from Phrygia (150 miles due east of Lesbos.) This was a tall conical cap, knitted in one piece or made of felt. It had a broad flap which hung over the nape of the neck and two other flaps which came to the shoulders and could be tied.

 In battle the Amazons carried crescent or double crescent shaped shields, emblems of the Moon Goddess, and they frequently wore the crescent emblem on their helmets. They carried bows and arrows, darts, javelins, nets and, of course, the Labyris, double-edged axe, symbol of the matriarchy. They wore armor made of red leather, and sometimes were greaves, armor for the shin area. Some pictures show them wearing no trousers, though I doubt that any self-respecting Amazon would ride into battle without her pants. She would be too vulnerable.  Some pictures show them wearing earrings. Their hair is shown tied back, or is hidden by the helmets.

There are no pictures of Amazons alone with each other, having fun, making love, eating, sleeping, building houses, training horses, playing with the children, or doing anything else but fighting. After all, men were not allowed to hang out with the Amazons so the only way they would have been able to see them was in combat. There are no remnants of Amazon art or artifacts (that I have found, anyway.) Probably everything was destroyed.

 Amazons were our great, great, great grandmothers. The patriarchy almost defeated them, but not quite. Here we are, the North American Amazons. Long live the Amazons.

 

Bibliography

Mothers and Amazons – Helen Dinar (available in paperback) The best book about Amazons so far.

 Amazons In Greek Art – Deitrich von Bothmer. Complete collections of Amazon pictures.

 Les Guerilleres,  Monique Wittig (paperback) not specifically about Amazons but gives, I think, a sense of an Amazon Community. 

COWRIE LESBIAN FEMINIST VOL. 1 #4  WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR P3 ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/Feminist Vol. 1 #4, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Amazons. Text and illustration ©Liza Cowan

Side Trip: Alice Austen in LIFE Magazine, 1951

Just a few months before she died, Alice Austen made her second appearance in LIFE Magazine.

Alice Austen Day Life MagazineAlice Austen Day. Life Magazine, October 29, 1951

"Alice Austen, America's first great woman photographer, had been rescued from the poorhouse and oblivion by the sale of her superb collections of pictures (LIFE, Sept. 24). But until this month the 85-year-old artist had never had a public showing of her work. On Oct. 7, however, the Staten Island Historical Society, custodian of her photographs, celebrated "Alice Austen Day". More than 300 of Miss Austen's old and new friends crowded into the museum to look at her pictures and say hello to her once more. Miss Austen herself was an hour late. Worn out by a television appearance two days earlier, she at first refused to come. But her friends convinced her that she would enjoy herself, and enjoy herself she did. There were speeches and orchids and gifts and refreshments, but above all, there were friends. Some, like Mrs. Charles Barton had posed for her in the old days on Staten Island. Others, like Coapes Brinley of the Staten Island Historical Society, helped win recognition for her work. Miss Gertrude Tate, her closest friend, had lived with her for 27 years at the Austen home until the two ladies lost their money and the home was sold.

The old lady in the wheelchair knew how to get the most out of every moment, although she mostly wept when Mrs. Barton bent over to kiss her hand. As the newspaper and magazine cameras recorded the afternoon, Photographer Alice Austen said proudly, "I'd be taking those pictures myself if I were 100 years younger." When the pictures and the refreshments were over, she went back to the private nursing home where she now lives, a little tired by the festivities but glad that she had lived to see Alice Austen Day."

Alice Austen and trude in LIFE MAG 1951Alice and Trude, now Mrs. Charles Barton, donned corset covers and petticoats and posed for this wicked picture taken 60 years ago on Staten Island. Alice Austen, LIFE Magazine 1951


Alice Austen, Deeply Moved Mrs. Barton, LIFE Magazine 1951Deeply Moved, Alice Austen bites her lips as old friend Mrs. Barton impulsively kisses her hand. Mrs. Barton now lives in New Jersey but visits Alice often.


Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate, 1951, LIFE MagazineHIGHLY PLEASED, Alice Austen beams up at Gertrude Tate, who lived in Austen home, took trips to Europe with her, nursed her during arthritis attacks.

For more on Alice Austen see HERE  and also visit the Alice Austen House Museum Website


SIDE TRIP: Video interview about Alice Austen with directors of Alice Austen House

 

Alice Austen fans...great news. The Alice Austen House has a beautiful new website and Facebook page, and is proud to be one of the only museums in the US devoted to a Lesbian. Yes, that's right. They are proud of it. As they should be. Here's an interview with Alice Austen House directors Carl Rutberg and  Ann Marie MacDonald on New York City TV show, City Talk. 

You will note that they talk about Alice as a Lesbian, which is great, yay, and that they discuss the first time Alice was "outed" at the 1996 NY Public Library Stonewall Aniversary Exhibit. Now, we know this is not true, because DYKE magazine ran an article about Alice as a Lesbian in 1976. However, they filmed this interview before I posted the Alice article here at the Annotated Online Archive...so we forgive them for not knowing, right? Right. Because Dr. Rutberg got in touch with us immediately, and we have been emailing ever since. He now knows that we had the scoop on Alice. And as he said in a Facebook comment to me,  "We want to make sure the LGBTQ community rallies around Alice"

And we will. 

So go to the website and Facebook page, and if there's still time, you can vote HERE for the Alice Austen House to get a $100,000 grant from American Express.


SIDE TRIP: Lesbian Separatism in Cowrie and DYKE, a paper by Margo Thompson 2011

 

Lesbian Separatism in Cowrie and DYKE, A Quarterly

Paper for the Modernist Studies Association Conference, November 2011

Margo Thompson, Muhlenberg College

reprinted with permission of the author


At the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, the motto for their publications collection is “two lesbians, one newsletter, anywhere in the world” (http://www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/tourcoll5.html). The 1970s saw feminist and lesbian feminist publications flourish. There were long-running periodicals that originated with the Daughters of Bilitis, such as Lesbian Tide (Los Angeles), journals of the arts like Amazon Quarterly (Oakland and Cambridge), and single issue outbursts like One to One (New York) and Purple Rage (New York). This paper examines two lesbian feminist journals, Cowrie and DYKE A Quarterly, both edited by Liza Cowan, for their explicitly separatist program.

 The journals’ mission was not to persuade or recruit political lesbians, but to consolidate a political, lesbian feminist identity. For Cowrie’s first three issues beginning in spring 1973, it was the newsletter for Community of Women (COW) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. With the fourth issue, Cowrie became independent and reflected the interests of its editors, Liza Cowan and Carol Hardin. They wrote, “We are anti-heterosexual… We work exclusively with women and for women.” To publish a magazine “by, for, and about Lesbians” was “political in itself,” the editors declared (Cowrie 1, 4, Dec. 1973, p. 3). That is, the lesbians represented in its pages constituted a significant subculture that challenged the gender hegemony of patriarchy. Cowan and Hardin expected their readers were women like themselves: well-educated, New York Jews, from upper middle class families who prized intellectualism and activism.*

 

Cowrie Magazien, Lesbian Feminist new york city amazon 1974Cowrie Magazine 1974


Cowan left Cowrie after the June/July 1974 issue, and it folded soon afterwards. She left the city and moved with her lover, the folksinger Alix Dobkin, to a small town in upstate New York where they purchased a farmhouse on seventy acres of land with an inheritance from Cowan’s parents. From there, she published DYKE magazine. DYKE was for lesbians only: the cover warned it was “to be sold and shared by women only!” The editors, Cowan and her childhood friend Penny House wrote, “We believe that ‘lesbian culture’ presumes a separatist analysis. If lesbian culture is mixed with straight culture, it is no longer lesbian; it is heterosexual, or heterosocial because energy and time are going to men.” They retained the right to discuss straight culture, however, “to analyze it and in this way preventing it from retarding our growth” (DYKE, A Quarterly 1, 1, Winter 1975-1976, p. 4). Cowan and House were immersed in straight culture, judging from their reading list of periodicals and newspapers printed in the inaugural issue. They assumed that their readers were equally well read, and would turn to DYKE for the lesbian feminist content that was missing from Vogue, TV Guide, and Organic Gardening. Cowrie and DYKE carried articles on a wide range of issues including women in prison, coming out at work, gardening, music, and the topic on which this paper will concentrate, fashion.

 American feminists interpreted fashion—the industry and the media that promoted it—as instruments of the patriarchy. Fashion was part of “a culture at war with women’s bodies, constantly seeking to sanitize and deodorize, depilate, stereotype, and control the unpredictable feminine body” (Evans and Thornton, 3). Radical feminists wrote treatises on the manipulations of Madison Avenue, and the unrealistic fantasies and self-doubt which advertisements for clothing and cosmetics sowed. Women who followed fashion were gullible at best, they believed (Scott, 291). Cowan did not share this perspective: While she rebelled against the fashion industry alongside other feminists, she was not hostile to it. Neither did she think that clothing was a trivial concern. Dressing “like herself” was a claim to her gender and sexual identity. Women’s studies scholar Linda M. Scott observed that women of Cowan’s generation viewed fashion as playful, youthful, and self-inventive even as they subjected it to feminist critique (Scott, 251-69). In fact, fashion is a discourse: It signifies, and as such is ripe for deconstruction and subversion through a liberating counter-discourse. This is precisely what Cowan offered in her series of columns titled “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” which ran from the second issue of Cowrie (June 1973) to the first issue of DYKE, A Quarterly (Winter 1975-1976).

 In brief, the “well dressed dyke” would resist feminine fashions in favor of clothing selected to fit “her politics, her astrological signs, her size, her favorite colors, and her needs” (Cowrie 1, 3:10). Women’s fashions were designed by men to attract male attention, to reflect male fantasies of how women should act and appear. The lesbian required clothing that would deflect the masculine gaze while attracting women’s attention. Lesbians needed ways to become visible to each other. Cowan’s columns were at once descriptive of what she and her friends chose to wear, and prescriptive for her readers. In wording reminiscent of mainstream press trend pieces Cowan wrote, “It seems that many women are growing tired of the Dyke Schlepp [sic] uniform that has been so popular of late, and are wanting to dress more creatively and individually” (Cowrie 1, 3: 11). As this trend continued, she predicted, “there will begin to evolve a true Dyke fashion, just as Dyke music and theater is [sic] already beginning to appear” (Cowrie 1, 5: 22). The magazines printed letters from readers that enthusiastically agreed or disagreed with the author’s point of view, including whether discussions of clothing were politically relevant.

Cowrie dec 73 amazon cover medCowrie Magazine. 1973.

 Cowrie and DYKE advanced a dual-pronged subversive strategy in the “Well Dressed Dyke” columns that reflected Cowan’s lesbian separatist convictions. It was economic: women should find ways to deny male-run businesses their money. They could make their own clothes, or seek out craftswomen who could design and tailor clothing that was comfortable and flattering to a woman’s body. It was historical: Cowan sketched an alternate history of women’s fashion from the Amazons to the free thinking women of Paris’s Left Bank in the 1920s. Both of these propositions incorporated complexities that quickly surfaced in correspondence from readers. Class privilege was assumed in the recommendation that women have clothes tailor-made for them. On the historical front, aside from the essentialism implicit in the notion of a hidden women’s history, the mannish sartorial style of the Left Bank ladies whom Cowan favored seemed too prescriptive and impractical for lesbians who favored long hair and dresses or needed to wear such a uniform at work.


Continue reading "SIDE TRIP: Lesbian Separatism in Cowrie and DYKE, a paper by Margo Thompson 2011" »


SIDE TRIP: FILM: The Oldest Lesbian in The World

Nearing 100 years old, a national treasure, Bobbie Staff whimsically exposes a rare and revealing insight into the romantic life of a butch lesbian born in 1913. Accompanied by her long time friend, Sweet Baby J’ai,  Bobbie takes us on a trip down a very steamy memory lane, through photographs and vivid memories of many decades living her life as an out lesbian in New York City and Los Angeles. More HERE
Copyright © 2012 [traipsing thru films,Inc.]. All rights reserved.

 


DYKE A Quarterly, no. 3. 1976. pp 34-43. Alice Austen

 

Dyke No 3 p 34
DYKE, A Quarterly. No 3. p 34.  1976. Alice Austen

Alice Austen - Photographs

By Penny and Liza

Alice Austen was a Lesbian born on Staten Island, NY in 1866. She started taking photographs at the age of twelve and continued until the nineteen thirties. She was an enthusiastic athlete, excelling in swimming, cycling, boating, golf and tennis in a n age when women were just being allowed to do any sports at all. She was an excellent mechanic who with her lover, Gertrude Tate, and other friends, took long car journeys in a time when there were almost no paved roads. 

Dyke No 3 p 35. Alice Austen and her dog PunchAlice Austen and her dog Punch. Alice leaving for the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Alice is holding the concealed bulb of the remote shutter release. DYKE A Quarterly No. 3 p 37

She thoroughly documented her own life and that of her friends, where were well-to-do young women, both Lesbian and straight, and who wer straining against the last remnants of Victorian morality. She photographed extensively the immigrants and street life of the lower east side of New York City. The style of her photographs was unusually realistic for her time.

Alice austen photo of violet ward and her lover. Dyke a quarterly no 3 pAlice Austen Photo. Violet Ward and her lover. DYKE A Quarterly, no. 3 p 36

In 1929 she lost all her money. She and Gertrude supported themselves by selling their furniture, renting rooms in their home, running a tea room, and by the income from Gertrude's dance classes, which she taught until she was in her late seventies. They were finally forced to leave their home on Staten Island in the nineteen forties. They moved into a small apartment, but soon were forced to separate. Alic, 83 years old, suffered from severe arthritis and Gertrude had a difficult time caring for her. Gertrude's younger straight sister, who had long tried to separate the two, took advantage of Alice's ill health and the morality of the time which dictated a two bedroom apartment which they could not afford. Gertrude went to live with her sister and Alice to a nursing home. Gertrude visited regularly, bu they were both very lonely. Alice was kicked out of several different nursing homes for her too independent nature, and at 84 was admitted to the hospital ward of the Staten Island poorhouse.

Her plate glass negatives had been sold to the Staten Island Historical Society, and in 1951 were "discovered" by a photographic historian. He sold some of the photographs to magazines and turned the money over to Gertrude, who moved Alice to a pleasanter home Alice began to be recognized for her life long work as a photographer. A year later, in June of 1952, she died, sitting in her wheelchair in the sun. Gertrude lived on for ten years, and when she died her sister was unable to bury her next to Alice, as they had wished.

Alice Austen photo of Violet Ward and Daisy Eliot
Violet Ward and Daisy Eliot. Photo by Alice Austen. Violet was a childhood friend of Alice's. Daisy Eliot was a professional gymnast. Violet, an enthusiastic cyclist, invented a mechanism for bicycles that was universally adopted. Alice took the photographs for Violet's book, Bicycling for Ladies, published in 1896. Daisy was the model.


Alice Austen, Bessie Strong's Bedroom, in DYKE A Quarterly no 3, 1976.Bessie Strong's Bedroom. Bessie was a friend of Alice's. One of the special aspects of Alice's work is that she was interested in documenting the the intimate details of young women's lives, where few other photographers were willing or able to do so. Note Alice's photographs tacked up on the walls. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976


 THE PHOTOGRAPHS

Of the estimated seven to eight thousand glass plate negatives that Alice took, approximately one half are known to survive. Alice was a stickler for detail, often making her friends pose for hours and hours until she could get the exact expression, setting and light she wanted. She carefully marked the envelope for each glass plate with the time, date, place, exposure and lens type.


Alice Austen, newsgirl on NYC's lower east side from DYKE  A Quarterly no 3 p 40Alice Austen, Newsgirl on NYC's Lower East Side. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976

Alice carried nearly fifty pounds of photographic equipment on her journeys. She always liked t have at least two cameras with her, as each camera could take only one size print. No enlargements were possible in those days.

"Alice luckily was a tall and strong woman, perfectly capable of carrying her own heavy camera, tripod, and box of plates...She spent hours on end in her closet -like darkroom, developing plates and 'toning' and 'fixing' her prints...Because there was no running water in the house when she was young, she carried [the plates] all downstairs and out into the garden to be rinsed in a basin under the hand operated pump, winter and summer. sometimes she changed the rinse water twenty five times, she recalled. Gertrude Tate attributed Alice's photographic success to a combination of artistic sense, the tirelessness of an athlete, and sheer stubbornness of will."

Alice Austen, portrait of Gertrude Tate, circa 1900, from DYKE A Quarterly, No. 3 p 41Gertrude Tate, Alice's lover, circa 1900. DYKE A Quarterly No. 3, 1976


"The originality of Alice Austen's work becomes strikingly clear when it is compared to that of other photographers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Women photographers in particular succumbed to the fashion of making photographs to illustrate romantic tales of childhood, and of colonial village life or popular works such as The Rubiayat of Omar Kayyam... Daily American life, if pictured at all, was sentimentalized beyond recognition. The children picked posies of wild flowers in sublime landscapes while their mothers struck classical poses in diaphanous flowing garments of some eclectic style...most photographers of her period did [their] best to prove that photography was a form of art by trying to disguise the fact that [their] pictures were made by mechanical means -the precise fact that Alice enjoyed about photography. Alice's work was out of tune with the fashionable dictates of her time.

Alice Austen, Gertrude Tate circa 1920. From DYKE A Quarterly No 3 p. 42Gertrude, circa 1920. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976


"Alice Austen...photographed people and places as they actually appeared, focusing her lens so sharply that every small detail of leaf or woodwork, facial expression or lettering on a sign, was recorded. She approached her subjects straightforwardly, without any attempt at the refinement, grace and decorative sense encouraged in the photographic journals of her most productive years...Pictorialists may have portrayed nymph-like young women floating apparently weightless in unruffled ponds and dancing on tiptoe effortlessly through flower filled fields: Alice Austen recorded her friends in the flannel skirts and woolen stockings of clumsy bathing suits calculated to impede the movements of the strongest swimmers, and she showed them doing  their daily gymnastic exercises to develop the strength their daily lives required. Alice Austen's women ride bicycles and horses, work in the streets and market places and are a vigorous and real as Alice herself."

Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate. from DYKE A Quarterly no. 3. p 43
Alice and Gertrude. DYKE A Quarterly No. 3. 1976

Thanks to Ann Novotny for help, information and photographs. All quotations are from Ann's book, Alice's World - The Life and Photographs of An American Original: Alice Austen 1866-1952, which will be published this fall by Chatham press. Quotations printed with permission of the author.

Alice austen, that darned club, from DYKE A Quarterly no 3, 1976Cover photo. Alice and her friends, Trudy, Julia and Sue formed a cooking and sewing club. "The four girls spent so much time in each others company that disgruntled young men referred to 'the darned club,' a name the members delightedly adopted." Alice is on the left, once again holding the remote control shutter release.


Ann is chairwoman of The Friends Of Alice Austen, who are trying to restore Alice's house and turn it into a museum of her life and work. They plan to have rotating exhibits of women photographers. Anyone who is interested or would like to help should write to Friends of Alice Austen, 315 W. 78 Street, New York, Ny 10024 #1,

Photographs courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society.


End of story

 

See more about creating the cover for issue No.3. using Alice's photo That Darned Club, here

DYKE A Quarterly no 3, 1976 photo by Alice AustenDYKE A Quarterly, No. 3. Photo That Darned Club by Alice Austen

 

The Alice Austen House did come to pass. It is a National Historic Landmark on Staten Island. Ann Novotny died of breast cancer shortly after we wrote our story, but her work and passion lives on. Read about the Alice Austen House HERE.


kodak, woman photographer. 1898


For more on women and photography at the turn of the last century try this wonderful blog, Kodak Girl. Kodak invested heavily in marketing their cameras to women, quite successfully. 

 

Bicycling for Ladies, ME WardBicycling for Ladies. ME Ward. Maria Ward aka Violet. See more HERE



how to coast illustration ME Ward Bicycling for Ladies from photo by alice austen
How To Coast. Illustration from Alice Austen photo in Bicycling for Ladies by ME Ward.

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston 1Frances Benjamin Johnston, American photojournalist, took this self portrait with a bicycle. Johnston wrote What A Woman Can Do with a Camera for the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, a year after Bicyling For Ladies was published. Notice the painted on moustache. The ladies did like to lark about.

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The Alice Austen House Website is gorgeous and filled with great photos and information. Do CHECK IT OUT

And they have a Facebook page too.

Welcome to the Alice Austen House | Alice Austen HouseScreenshot of Alice Austen House website. April 2012. www.aliceausten.org