PEOPLE: Margo Hobbs Thompson Feed

Archives. Just Do It!


Women_s history in The Digital World Screen Shot
Women's History In The Digital World at Bryn Mawr. Screen Shot.
At DYKE, A Quarterly (as if it were a place, haha) we always thought about preserving the magazine for the future. One of our goals was to make DAQ long lasting and to become a historical artifact and future resource. We used good paper and ink on purpose. The one thing we forgot about was keeping enough of the original print copies. You give away one, then another without thinking about it much for a few decades and then suddenly, you have only a copy or two and you're not sure if there are any copies at all, anywhere. Poof, suddenly the history trajectory looks quite different. 

But then along come digital technologies and we have a new way to collect and literally share/transmit our stories and images. Wow. 

A few weeks ago the editors of DYKE, Penny House and Liza Cowan, went to the wonderful conference at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, USA, Women's History In The Digital World. The conference was produced by Jennifer Redmond and the rest of the amazing crew at The Albert M. Greenfied digital Center for the History of Women's Eductation LINK, a part of the college.

Liza did a powerpoint slide show and talked  about our process of archiving, digitizing and presenting the archive online. The other presenters in our node were Margo Hobbs Thompson and Michelle Moravec.  We networked through twitter, by the way. 

DYKE A Quarterly image from powerpoint Archiving Dyke A  quarterly
Slide from talk: DYKE goes to the MOMA and The Schlesinger Library

We had a fabulous time, meeting so many amazing women,  and sitting in  presentations which were fascinating and sometimes way over our heads, tech-wise - which is good, we think. It's always good to know what you don't know, and to connect with resources for learning it. And how wonderful it was to be in rooms full of smart, articulate, kind and generous women, many of whom were presenting materials from various archives, libraries and institutions around the country, as well as sharing so much great information - technical, anectdotal and historical.

Presenter Michell Moravac, was moved to tweet a day or two after the conference,  "Was #WHDigWrld  the 1st @Birksconference of Digital Women's History?" Michelle's  link
HERE is a link to the conference.  Several of the presentations are available with a link to the visulal portion of the presentation as prepared by the presenters. How convenient, educational and fun, right?

The DYKE, A Quarterly power point is HERE. And if you are interested in digitizing YOUR collections...DO IT.
We discovered that compared to so many institutions and archives, the DAQ digital archive is put together with tins cans and string. But it doesn't matter. It still works. So, for a start in digizing, if you haven't already done so, CHECK HERE Digital Scholarship in The Humanites,   from the blog Exploring the Digital Humanities.

SIDE TRIP: 1970's Lesbian Separatism, Fashion, and the Women of the Left Bank. Margo Hobbs Thompson


1970s Lesbian Separatism, Fashion, and the Women of the Left Bank

by Margo Hobbs Thompson, Muhlenberg College

presented at a seminar at The Modernist Studies Association Conference, 2011

Images here supplied by Liza Cowan, not part of original presentation.


Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton propose that fashion spreads break the male gaze’s circuit to allow feminine gazes to linger pleasurably on pictures of women: “Fashion…generates images of women for women, a system of representations that one might suppose to be cut to the measure of female desire” (10; emphasis in original). Liza Cowan analyzed the evolution of lesbian fashion in a series of articles titled “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” that ran from June 1973 to early 1976 in the lesbian feminist magazines she edited, Cowrie and Dyke. Cowan bucked the tendency among radical feminists at the time to disparage fashion as inevitably an instrument of female oppression, to explore rather its subversive, seductive potential. Fashion spreads, according to several feminist scholars, invite the feminine gaze and also establish “a paradigmatically lesbian viewing position” (Lewis and Rolley, 181). In this paper, I want to sketch my preliminary observations about the interlocking issues of the gaze, fashion, and the representation of sexuality.

Cowan returned repeatedly to the French, British, and American women of the Paris Left Bank before World War II as exemplifying a liberated style to which her readers could aspire. Romaine Brooks’s portrait of Una Troubridge, lover of Radclyffe Hall who authored the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, illustrated an article on lesbian designers that also cited bookstore owner Sylvia Beach and Natalie Barney, as well-known for her a literary salon as for her own writing. Barney had her portrait painted by Brooks in 1920; in it, her talisman is a horse statuette that alludes to her persona, “l’Amazone” in reference to her repuration as a horsewoman, her striking riding habit, and her identification with the mythical Amazons who like Barney rejected traditional gender roles (Crane 154-5). The centerfold of Cowrie 1, 4 (December 1973) incorporated a quotation from Gertrude Stein’s sensual poem “Lifting Belly”: “Cow come out” played on the title of the magazine. The accompanying illustration from a vintage advertisement depicts a vibrant woman with bobbed hair at the wheel of a car. She is dressed in a cap that rolls up at the brim, a coat with dramatic plaid shawl collar and deep cuffs, and snug gloves: she is the height of fashion and modernity circa the 1920s. The juxtaposition of a fashion plate with the Stein poem is apt: Stein took fashion seriously as a cultural expression, an opinion shared by New Yorker correspondent Janet Flaner (Benstock, 110). The following issue (Cowrie 1, 5, February 1974) featured Suzanne Valadon’s The Blue Room (1923) in a double-page spread. It is a painting of a heavy-set, dark-haired woman wearing a camisole and striped trouser bottoms, reclining on a day bed. Valadon’s model is endowed with a life of the mind as the artist represents her with a stack of books at her feet, an abstracted gaze, and a cigarette that suggests thoughtful absorption. There is a tension between mind and body, masculine and feminine in this painting, whose subject is at once odalisque and intellectual.

ValadonSuzanne_BlueRoomSuzanne Valadon.The Blue Room

These references posited for Cowrie’s readers a lesbian history, a self-sufficient women’s community, and a style by which lesbians could recognize each other. Cowan shared her interest in the Left Bank circle with other lesbian feminists, who in the abundance of lesbian periodicals that flourished in the 1970s profiled, pictured, cited, or reviewed Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Brooks, Barney, Troubridge and Hall, Renée Vivien, and Djuna Barnes. Talented and stylish women, living in a self-sustaining society of their own, their fascination for Cowan and her lesbian separatist peers is no surprise. I am interested here in drawing out the implications of this perceived connection: there are provocative similarities in their fashion choices, and these encoded a position with regard to sexuality.

What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,  Cowrie Vol 1 no 3Cowrie Magazine, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear

In the Brooks portrait of Una, Lady Troubridge that illustrates Cowrie 1, 3, she wears a charcoal jacket, striped trousers, and a crisp white shirt tied with a black scarf at the neck. Troubridge is very slender and gamine with indistinguishable breasts and narrow hips, and the cut of her jacket accentuates her lean limbs and torso. She sports a short haircut that smoothly covers her ears, with sleek bangs. Her accessories are minimal: pearl earrings, a monocle, and two dachshunds. She fixes the viewer with a fierce gaze and unsmiling rouged lips. This portrait and the reclining woman in Valadon’s Blue Room reflect Cowan’s preference for women who reject feminine fashion. It is a selective view of the Left Bank: as Shari Benstock writes, not all the lesbians in Paris wore trousers and cropped their hair. Colette, for example, did not regularly dress that way, although her lover Missy occasionally did, and she imagined a community of women from which the masculine would be excluded (58-9). Cowan favored Troubridge’s look and Colette’s separatist vision of a women’s world.

In their 2003 analysis of the modern woman, art historians Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer observed that “the lesbian expatriate crystallized much of what it meant for a woman, in 1920s and 1930s Paris, to be modern: uprooted, mobile, urban, enterprising, culturally ambitious, professionally competent, sexually active, intellectually (and often financially) independent, à la mode—and, finally, visible” (14). Troubridge’s mannish style as represented in the portrait signified these qualities, and had a parallel in straight women’s fashion in the 1920s: la mode garçonne. La garçonne was the title of a popular novel about a woman who has sexual adventures, and demands sexual equality with men as her right. La mode garçonne represented liberation and modernity. (Chadwick and Latimer, 7) Coco Chanel was a proponent of the style, adapting clothing from the (male) British aristocracy and laborers alike (Benstock, 111). Thus a woman in masculine clothing read as modern, heterosexually forward, or lesbian depending upon the context and her audience. The inclusion of sexuality was crucial to Troubridge and her peers: it differentiated them from their 19th century predecessors involved in romantic friendships. Natalie Barney was one who made no secret of her serial romantic entanglements (Crane, 153, 155-6), and sexuality was a crucial aspect of the new generation’s sense of themselves as modern.

What the well dressed dyke will wear, Cowrie magazine vol one no 2, p 11, moregan and laura  . Photo by Barbara Jabaily, text by liza cowan, clothing by Morgan ZaleWhat The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear Cowrie Magazine.

The most chic straight women adopted male clothing again in the 1970s. Yves St.-Laurent designed a tuxedo for women, called “le smoking,” in 1966. Bianca Jagger wore it in 1972, and Helmut Newton memorably photographed it in 1975 for Vogue. Newton’s image of a woman wearing St.-Laurent’s suit, smoking, in an empty street at night attended by another woman nude but for a pillbox hat with veil, heightens the sexual charge already there in “le smoking.” Other fashionable women of the day, like actress Charlotte Rampling, were photographed wearing clothes purchased from men’s departments or boutiques. Surprisingly for someone so current with popular culture and fashion, Cowan did not make reference to these iterations of contemporary men’s fashion-derived styles. Instead, she referenced historical models who had donned the look of la garçonne and in the process claimed for themselves a sexual identity that was as modern as it was untraditional. Cowrie’s editor promised that by aligning herself with a hidden history of glamorous, sexy, independent lesbians, the reader could discover and represent her authentic self.

The authentic lesbian identity that the historical fashions Cowrie featured did not exclude sexual desire. Contemporary lesbian identities did, when they were aligned with feminist politics. Since 1971, the woman-identified woman had been the model lesbian whose sexuality was downplayed to serve a political purpose: it made straight women activists more comfortable allying themselves with lesbians. Poet Adrienne Rich reformulated woman-identification as a lesbian continuum in 1980, on which any woman could locate herself even if she never acted on same-sex desire. To Cowan’s generation of lesbian feminists, butch-femme role-playing was suspect: butches were taken to be “male-identified” while femmes were gullible narcissists consumed by “the beauty ideal” (Scott, 293). Furthermore, the lesbian butch was a working class identity: it was not only gender politics but class estrangement that made the butch unappealing to a privileged cohort of lesbian feminists (Case, 286). Yet Teresa de Lauretis writes in her theorization of lesbian desire and sexuality that it is difference above all that allows desire to move between subject and object; too much alikeness breeds an absence of desire and, implicitly, lesbian bed death. She observes that the most common sign of lesbian desire “is some form of what is coded as masculinity” because masculinity almost inevitably suggests desire for the female body (de Lauretis, 243). The fetish of masculinity is “the lure of the mannish lesbian,” de Lauretis writes: it resists the loss of the female body, and the prohibition of access to it (243).

By reviving the look of the Left Bank lesbians, Cowan brought sex back to her readers: The man-tailored suits worn by some lesbians in pre-war Paris presented a style that foregrounded the difference so crucial to the expression of desire even as it negotiated butchness. Associating her sense of style with theirs, Cowan promoted her preference for clothes that were both comfortable and expressed creative individuality; she described a suit she had made by a lesbian designer that was made of velour and had a flying horse appliquéd across the back. While eye-catching, it was not designed to attract male attention like the high heels and skirts that Cowan believed literally fogged a woman’s mind and made her uncoordinated (Cowan 1975-6, 21). Garments such as this one were “liberating, physically and psychologically, and…beautiful” (Cowan 1974, 22). The lesbian style, or “dyke fashion” as Cowan preferred, was a sign by which lesbians recognized each other (Cowan 1974, 22).

Style is the preeminent subcultural marker. Referring to fashion, style aligns its wearers with a particular group, distances them from a mainstream trend, and conveys shared values. (Freitas et al., 85) With her articles in Cowrie and Dyke describing the well-dressed dyke, Cowan defined a style that suited her ideal audience. With reference to the Left Bank lesbians, she attributed a history and continuity to that subculture. And with guidelines and exhortations to her readers, whom she imagined to be much like herself, Cowan invited them to participate in a lesbian separatist subculture.



Works Cited


Benstock, Shari. Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Case, Sue-Ellen. “Toward a Butch-Femme Aesthetic.” In Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre. Ed. Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

Chadwick, Whitney and Tirza True Latimer, eds. The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Cowan, Liza. “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear.” Cowrie 1, 5 (February 1974): 21-2.

_______. “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear.” Dyke 1, 1 (Winter 1975-1976): 20-5.

Crane, Sheila. “Mapping the Amazon’s Salon.” In Gender and Landscape: Renegotiatinig Morality and Space. Eds. L. Dowler, J. Carubia, and B. Szczygiel. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

Evans, Caroline and Minna Thornton. Women and Fashion: A New Look. London and New York: Quartet Books, 1989.

Freitas, Anthony, Susan Kaiser, and Tania Hammidi. “Communities, Commodities, Cultural Space, and Style.” Journal of Homosexuality 31, 1 /2 (1996): 83-107.

Lauretis, Teresa de. The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Lewis, Reina and Katrina Rolley. “Ad(dressing) the Dyke: Lesbian Looks and Lesbians Looking.” In Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. Eds. Peter Horne and Reina Lewis. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Scott, Linda M. Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.


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” ( 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" »