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Chicago Whispers

A History of LGBT Chicago before Stonewall

St. Sukie de la Croix; Foreword by John D’Emilio

Publication Year: 2012

Chicago Whispers illuminates a colorful and vibrant record of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people who lived and loved in Chicago from the city’s beginnings in the 1670s as a fur-trading post to the end of the 1960s. Journalist St. Sukie de la Croix, drawing on years of archival research and personal interviews, reclaims Chicago’s LGBT past that had been forgotten, suppressed, or overlooked.
    Included here are Jane Addams, the pioneer of American social work; blues legend Ma Rainey, who recorded “Sissy Blues” in Chicago in 1926; commercial artist J. C. Leyendecker, who used his lover as the model for “The Arrow Collar Man” advertisements; and celebrated playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun. Here, too, are accounts of vice dens during the Civil War and classy gentlemen’s clubs; the wild and gaudy First Ward Ball that was held annually from 1896 to 1908; gender-crossing performers in cabarets and at carnival sideshows; rights activists like Henry Gerber in the 1920s; authors of lesbian pulp novels and publishers of “physique magazines”; and evidence of thousands of nameless queer Chicagoans who worked as artists and musicians, in the factories, offices, and shops, at theaters and in hotels. Chicago Whispers offers a diverse collection of alternately hip and heart-wrenching accounts that crackle with vitality.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Over the last generation a substantial body of scholarly literature has appeared on the history of sexual and gender identity. We have accounts of social movements and of urban communities; biographical studies; explorations of how medicine and science have shaped common understandings of sexuality and gender...

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pp. xvii-xviii

I’ve interviewed and consulted with hundreds of LGBT Chicagoans over the several years this book was in production, far too many to name here. I give my greatest thanks to those who shared their memories with me, some still hidden in their...

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pp. 3-5

The Chicago El screeches overhead and rains down a firework display of electrical sparklers, while below ground in the belly of the city the bloated trains rumble hungrily to their destinations. The human cargo could be anyone: Women in business suits riveted to Stephen King, men reading newspapers while...

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1. The Explorers

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pp. 6-11

More than any other city in America, Chicago was and still is a city of neighborhoods. After its incorporation in 1837, the remainder of the nineteenth century saw waves of immigrants arriving clutching bare essentials and precious heirlooms...

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2. The Chicago Doctors

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pp. 12-18

Doctor G. Frank Lydston was born in 1858, and in 1879 graduated from Bellevue Hospital Medical School in New York. He was the resident surgeon at the city’s Blackwell Island Penitentiary, then became a professor of genito- urinary surgery...

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3. Chicago’s Cesspools of Infamy

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pp. 19-26

Chicago became a major manufacturing center for the Union army during the Civil War, supplying meat, leather, and weapons to grease the cogs in the modern military machine. Job opportunities attracted thousands of single men to the city, and coupled with off- duty soldiers from Camp Douglas on the South Side...

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4. Mannish Women

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pp. 27-34

In 1889 the Chicago Times published an article headlined “Masculine Corsets,” about a new craze, mostly among “dandies and actors,” for wearing the feminine garment. “It was at Mme. G’s on Broadway,” stated the paper, “that the...

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5. The Little Review

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pp. 35-43

Even as a child Margaret Anderson shunned the rules, was fiercely independent, and valued “ideas” above all else. Her entire life was a constant flight from mediocrity. In Chicago’s Left Bank (1953) author Alson J. Smith describes her as “volatile, unpredictable, brilliantly imaginative, impatient, and stubborn” and notes...

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6. Kings and Queens of Burlesque

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pp. 44-55

In the late- nineteenth century, burlesque and minstrel shows often featured cross- dressing performers. In September 1877 Annie Hindle appeared at Cotton’s Opera House in Chicago. Hindle was one of the most successful male impersonators of her day; born in England in the mid- to-late 1840s, she first sang on stage...

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7. Towertown

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pp. 56-69

In 1914 Margaret Anderson and Chicago- born poet Harriet Monroe ignited the flame of the Chicago Renaissance by launching two magazines that gave venues for writers and artists to publish their work: Anderson with the Little Review and Monroe with Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Monroe lived in an artists’ colony...

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8. Henry Gerber and the German Sex Reformers

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pp. 70-87

On May 15, 1871, the German Criminal Code was revised to include Paragraph 175, a law that made sexual acts between males illegal. The first challenge to the law came in 1897 when Magnus Hirschfeld founded the gay organization Scientific...

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9. Some in the Arts

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pp. 88-96

Although the heyday of the Chicago Renaissance spanned from 1912 to 1924, the city’s rich history of literature and the arts didn’t begin and end with the bohemians of Towertown. In 1888 the morbidly bizarre Whitechapel Club was formed by a group of writers who were no strangers to the occasional cocktail. The...

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10. The Blues and All That Jazz

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pp. 97-108

On February 14, 1920, Mamie Smith walked into the Okeh Record Company’s New York studio and sang “That Thing Called Love,” the first known recording of an African American female vocalist. For months the disc sold some 7,500 copies a week, revealing an untapped African American market the...

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11. Powder Puffs

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pp. 109-119

On July 18, 1926, while touring to promote The Son of the Sheik, silent movie star Rudolph Valentino became enraged when he read an unflattering editorial in the Chicago Tribune headlined “Pink Powder Puffs”: A new public ballroom was opened...

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12. Gay Life in the 1930s

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pp. 120-142

In the “Roaring Twenties” Chicago was hot for jazz, and smoky speakeasies, ballrooms, and dancehalls thrived in spite of prohibition, or in the case of speakeasies, because of it. The Volstead Act handed vice over to Al Capone and the profiteers; alcohol, gambling, and sex, including homosexuality, was controlled by the Mafia...

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13. Bronzeville

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pp. 143-159

On December 10, 1930, Variety reported on a new fad, “The Pansy Craze,” and the growing number of pansy parlors in Chicago, but what the article failed to note is that many of them were on the South Side in African American neighborhoods...

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14. World War II and the 1940s

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pp. 160-168

World War II had a dramatic affect on the lives of Chicagoans, a story documented in the book We’ve Got a Job to Do: Chicagoans and World War II (1992) by Perry Duis and Scott La France. Because Chicago is a railway hub the city would always...

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15. The Cold War

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pp. 169-180

Wisconsin Republican senator Joseph McCarthy is often credited with instigating the 1950s witch hunt of homosexuals working in federal government, but he was only exploiting a purge that dated back to an incident a decade earlier. In...

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16. Masculinity and the Physique Culture

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pp. 181-198

The birth of the modern physical culture movement in the United States was at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, when “Sandow the Magnificent” posed motionless as a Greek marble statue for the crowds. Eugen Sandow was the...

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17. Lesbian Pulp Paperbacks and Literature

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pp. 199-205

Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (1948) was savaged by critics but most likely benefited from the negative publicity, as by 1950 it had sold over two million copies. Two other influential gay books from 1950 were Quatrefoil by James Barr...

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18. Negro Arts and Literature

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pp. 206-217

In the first half of the twentieth century, African American theater groups staged plays intended for a black audience, while Caucasian groups strived for a white audience. One production that broke down that barrier by showing an all- black cast...

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19. The Night Life

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pp. 218-229

The Chicago Sun- Times on July 8, 1951, noted that in spite of the new Near North Side police captain John T. Warren, the area was still a “cesspool of wickedness.” This “cesspool” included a gay neighborhood of bars and low- rent rooming houses...

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20. Trouble with the Law

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pp. 230-235

In early 1968 Mayor Richard J. Daley set about cleansing the city of vice in preparation for the Democratic National Convention in August. At the time, the Democrats were in disarray over the Vietnam War, and add to this the assassinations...

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21. Trans-Forming Drag

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pp. 236-247

On December 1, 1952, a front- page headline in the New York Daily News read “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty; Operations Transform Bronx Youth” and George/ Christine Jorgensen was outed as the first person in the world to change sex. This, of course, was not true, as in 1931 Danish artist Einar Wegener...

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22. The Sodomy Laws

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pp. 248-254

When the Pilgrims founded Plymouth Colony in 1620 the devout religionists brought with them the harsh penalty for sodomy that existed under British law, which was death. In 1636, under the leadership of William Bradford, the Plymouth...

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23. The Gay Pioneers

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pp. 255-267

After World War II the antigay frenzy intensified: On April 1, 1950, the Civil Service Commission took a “no prisoners” approach in its persecution of lesbians and gay men in government positions; two years later, the American Psychiatric Association...

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24. Mattachine Midwest and the Struggle toward a Greater Visibility

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pp. 268-282

The Mattachine Society first met in Los Angeles on November 11, 1950, with founding members Harry Hay, Rudi Gerneich, Dale Jennings, Bob Hull, and Chuck Rowland. The word Mattachine comes from Société Mattachine, a secret society of unmarried male troubadours who performed dramas in medieval France...


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pp. 283-312


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pp. 313-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780299286934
E-ISBN-10: 0299286932
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299286941
Print-ISBN-10: 0299286940

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012