Duke University Press

In the 1880s, early in her career, the American suffrage leader Anna Howard Shaw sported what was at that time a distinctly mannish hairdo. When someone snidely asked her in a roomful of people why she wore her hair so short, she retorted, “I will admit frankly that it is a birthmark. I was born with short hair.” 1 Shaw was obviously intending to be clever, but she had unintentionally delivered a Krafft-Ebingism. It was only a few years before her witticism that the sexologists had defined the female sexual invert as congenitally “a man trapped in a woman’s body.” Whether or not Shaw was aware of how she had revealed herself as a sexual invert, shortly after this incident she began to grow her hair longer and to arrange it in a decorous bun—a style she continued to wear until her death thirty years later. As she later observed of her willingness to adopt a more conventional hairstyle: “No woman in public life can afford to make herself conspicuous by an eccentricity of dress and appearance. If she does so she suffers for it herself, which may not disturb her, and to a greater degree, for the cause she represents, which should disturb her.” 2 Shaw saw the suffrage cause as so crucial that she would make whatever concessions to conformity she was convinced she must make in public. As her personal correspondence indicates, however, at home with her lover, Lucy Anthony, she was as butch as she pleased.

Shaw’s position points up a conflict that I have found ubiquitous in my recent work on late-nineteenth-century women whom we, in our era, would describe as lesbians and who were absolutely crucial in the movements to get the vote for American women, to open higher education to them, and to make a place for them in the professions. The conflict led to ironic contradictions and double lives. In brief, the conflict was this: the nineteenth century had constructed a clean and [End Page 315] clear definition of “woman.” She was, needless to say, white and middle-class—and she was precisely the creature who did not want a voice in politics, who had no use for any form of education that did not enhance her domestic role, and who would not have dreamed of desiring a profession that would have taken her out of her proper sphere.

Indeed, many sexologists of the era suggested that such interests were not only unwomanly but also the inevitable hallmarks of the female sexual invert, that is, of a female who inverted all the natural instincts of womanhood and was characterized instead by what was natural to manhood. In his 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis, for instance, Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s description of the lesbian emphasized, much more emphatically than her love for the same sex, her “masculine soul heaving in the female bosom.” That masculine soul was manifested by, for example, her “painful reflections” in “her consciousness of being a woman and being thus deprived of the happy college life.” 3 Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter came to similar conclusions in the next decade, observing, for instance, that females in the forefront of agitation for the various rights of women—for the vote, education, entrance into the professions—were frequently not only “inclined to attachment to their own rather than the opposite sex” but also “mannish in temperament.” 4

A tautology was thus constructed: if it was mannish to want to step out of the sphere that defined the woman, then of course these pioneers were mannish. However, to be dubbed mannish, that is, “sexually inverted,” was far from neutral. It was linked with congenital anomaly, hereditary taint, and morbidity. The challenge that faced “inverts” such as Susan B. Anthony, Mary Lyon, M. Carey Thomas, Emily Blackwell, and Jane Addams was how to make their movements grow—how to build a critical mass of females who would help them promote suffrage, women’s education, expanded work opportunities—despite the fact that such ambitions in a female bosom were dubbed “mannish” and therefore morbid.

The nineteenth-century pioneers who were particularly successful in promoting their goals were almost invariably sexual inverts who believed, nevertheless, that they must present themselves to the public as “womanly” in order to be spokespersons for women’s rights. Their successes on behalf of “woman” eventually permitted their female legatees (that is, huge numbers of middle-class women in America and eventually in the Western world) to occupy roles that had earlier defined “man.”

I want to look first at the nature of the sexual inversion of these nineteenth-century leaders and pioneers, then at the ways in which they wore what they perceived as necessary masquerades—“lady’s drag”—and finally at how they turned [End Page 316] huge numbers of “women” (in their society’s meaning of the term) into “men,” that is, individuals who could assume a political voice, the right to higher education, and the right to a profession.

Many of the most effective pioneers appear to have stepped right off the pages of Krafft-Ebing or Ellis. Krafft-Ebing, for instance, observed that the young female sexual invert “may be found chiefly in the haunts of boys. She is the rival in their play, preferring the rocking-horse, playing at soldiers, etc. to dolls and other girlish occupations. The toilet is neglected, and rough boyish manners are affected.” 5 In perusing the papers of dozens of nineteenth-century feminist leaders for my latest book, I found that this description of the young female sexual invert fit almost every one of them.

Susan B. Anthony, for instance, the chief leader of the nineteenth-century suffrage movement in America, was described by her detractors as “a grim Old Gal with a manly air” (even though they apparently knew nothing of her several women lovers). She complained bitterly and autobiographically of the state of girlhood, in which the female “is sacrificed to clean clothes, glossy curls, and fair complexions,” all the while wishing she could be “a boy like my brother, so I would wear long boots and thick pantaloons, romp on the lawn, play ball, climb trees.” 6 Frances E. Willard, head of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, who brought her organization’s 2 million sympathizers into women’s suffrage and gave the movement its first important boost in the nineteenth century, similarly confessed that as a girl she had loathed all things that were constructed as feminine, especially the pressure to learn to sew, cook, and iron. Carpentry, on the other hand, she adored. At the age of fifteen, she wrote, she had fashioned for herself sleds and whip handles and had repaired her own guns, while her sister had tended to the dishes. Her childhood playmates had always been boys, whose tree climbing and stilt walking she had preferred to the tamer pursuits of girls. Like the female sexual inverts about whom the nineteenth-century sexologists wrote, Willard admitted to her deep discontent at having to become a “woman” as that creature was constructed in her day: “No girl went through a harder experience than I when my free, out-of-door life had to cease, and the long skirt and clubbed-up hair spiked with hairpins had to be endured.” 7

When M. Carey Thomas, the revolutionary leader in women’s education and president of Bryn Mawr College, was six years old, in 1863, her aunt, with whom she was spending the summer, wrote of her that she was interested only in being dressed in pants and playing with the boys. “Min says she wants to turn into a boy and wants to know why she can’t,” her aunt informed her mother with great amusement. 8 [End Page 317]

What did it mean to “turn into a boy”? To the young Thomas it meant to be able to range widely through life and to escape the overdetermined narrowness of a female’s existence. If she had been a daughter of the lower classes, she might well have donned men’s clothes on growing up and gone through the world passing as a man. She would thus have been able to travel freely without concerns about molestation, as did various of her working-class contemporaries, such as “Harry Gorman,” “Charles Warner,” and “Ralph Kerwinieo” (all of them women). Then she would have been able to do working-class men’s jobs (and get paid double what she would have received had she worn skirts). But she was a daughter of the upper middle class: her father had been a medical doctor and a respected community leader. The binary opposite of domestic trammels in her milieu meant not adventuring on the roads in men’s clothes or working in men’s trades but engaging in “serious” and “dignified” pursuits, as she decided at the age of thirteen, when she and a friend did scientific experiments with a mouse they had caught. She confessed to her diary, “I greatly prefer cutting up mice to sewing worsted.” 9

To prefer dissecting animals to hemming skirts meant not only that Thomas refused to act like a young woman but also that she was not a woman, according to the era’s conception of the term. Women “naturally” preferred domestic occupations. Yet if she was not a woman, what was she? A new answer to that question, based precisely on a female’s refusal to accept her society’s construction of womanhood, was being devised by sexologists at just that time, but for now Thomas could exuberantly advise herself in her 1872 journal: “Go ahead! Have fun! Stop short of nothing but what [is] wrong (and not always that)! Never mind if people call you ‘wild,’ ‘tomboyish,’ ‘unladylike,’ ‘masculine.’ They like you all the better for it in the end.” 10

In contradistinction, to be a woman, in the nineteenth-century definition of the term, was to be imprisoned in domesticity and powerlessness. For a young female like Thomas, womanhood was thus profoundly disturbing. She wrote, for instance, of having translated as an adolescent “the most indecent book I have ever read,” a work titled Les Femmes. “I was beside myself with terror lest it might prove true that I myself was so vile and pathological a thing,” as the author had described “woman.” 11

The pioneering medical doctor Emily Blackwell, founder in the nineteenth century, with her sister Elizabeth, of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and of a medical school connected with it, similarly rejected any identification with womanhood. She was the first to admit that her achievements would not have been possible if she had not escaped those inculcations that were called “woman’s nature.” In her diaries she expressed disdain for the qualities of “femininity” [End Page 318] in women and compared them to her own qualities: “very persevering and very resolute—and very ambitious,” with “a something sprawling in my character and way of doing things.” “Women,” as they had been constructed in her era, were not and could not become medical doctors, she believed, since the attributes required for such a profession were seen as patently unwomanly. As administrator of the infirmary, Blackwell worried about interns who had “little womanly airs,” as she described them. Some of those women may have been intelligent, she granted, but intelligence alone was not sufficient. “Lady-like” women, her characterization of the types opposite to herself, “had no more idea of taking hold of things and working like a man than of flying. . . . They are most utterly disqualified by their nature itself.” 12 Thus, when her detractors accused her, as they often did, of not having a “woman’s nature,” it must have been to her an assurance of her fitness for the challenging work she had elected to do.

But while these females all vehemently rejected the role of “woman,” they felt that they must achieve success at least partly for the sake of womankind. Only through their success could they change the meaning of “womankind” to something grander than what, it seemed to them, it was. Emily Blackwell, for instance, claimed to be determined to alter once and for all the very construction of “woman.” Her reasons were personal as well as principled: ostensibly (though superficially), she was herself a “woman,” and therefore she suffered from the prejudices against females no matter how she dissociated herself from their “feminine” characteristics or prided herself on her “sprawling” character. She was plagued by the notion that in their present form women could never equal men in inventiveness and intellect. Thus she felt that it was crucial to make “woman” something higher than the category presently was. “If I might but see that I was doing something to raise them not in position only but in nature—to inspire them with higher objects—loftier aspirations—to teach them that there is a strength of woman as well as of man,” she fantasized when she was twenty-six years old, imagining woman in very opposition to her contemporaries’ definition of the category. 13

None of the women whom I have mentioned ever married, and all of them had significant long-term affectional and domestic relations with other women. In short, they were, because of their gender views and their sexual preferences, what the twentieth century would have described as lesbians. However, it was not their domestic and affectional preferences that they had to keep hidden. Most of them, apparently, continued throughout the nineteenth century to be convinced that what they had to disguise from others was not their love for other women, which might still be construed as socially condoned romantic friendship or—if it became domestic—as Boston marriage. As Thomas wrote, without inhibitions, to her [End Page 319] Quaker mother in 1880: “If it were only possible for women to select women as well as men for a ‘li[f]e’s love’ . . . all reason for an intellectual woman’s marriage wd be gone. It is possible but if families would only regard it in that light! Apriori women understand women better, are more sympathetic, more unselfish, etc. I believe that will be—indeed is already becoming—one of the effects of advanced education for women.” Similarly, Anthony suggested in her public lecture “Homes of Single Women” (1877) that, rather than marry, more women ought to consider living together and thus enjoy domestic bliss without the terrible drawbacks of marriage. 14

What was problematic and conflictual for these women, however, was not that they would be exposed as homosexuals but that they would be exposed as unwomanly. If they were unwomanly, how could they presume to speak for womankind? And if they could not speak for womankind, how could they lead movements that would get women the vote and open higher education and the professions to them? If they were not real women and could not speak for womankind, they could not produce the critical mass necessary to change the state of the female to what they found not only more equitable but also far more comfortable and interesting.

They were indeed, as sexologists had dubbed females like them, sexual inverts. But to begin to revolutionize the concept of woman into what females have enjoyed in the Western world since, particularly during the last four decades, they had somehow to masquerade as “woman” while thinking and feeling in the fashion that their society had constructed as “man.” For me, it has been a fascinating historical paradox that every one of these lesbian pioneers felt constrained to assume lady’s drag, in one way or another, in order to rid females finally and forever of the need to wear lady’s drag.

They could not have helped understanding that their enemies’ primary point of attack against them was that they did not represent women because they were “unsexed,” as the euphemisms for “mannish” and later “sexual invert” went. For example, when the New York Herald reported the Reverend Antoinette Brown’s speech to the New York Suffrage Convention in 1853, it was to describe her and her audience as “a gathering of unsexed women, unsexed in mind, all of them publicly propounding the doctrine that they should be allowed to step out of their appropriate sphere to the neglect of those duties which both human and divine law have assigned them.” 15 At about the same time, when Emily Blackwell entered a medical classroom at Western Reserve University, the only woman present, she found scrawled on the board a cartoon of an outlandish female in bloomers, with the words “strong-minded woman” (that mid-nineteenth-century equivalent of “dyke”). The insult was intended, obviously, to point up her mannish behavior in invading the male territory of the medical classroom. 16 A few decades later, when [End Page 320] Jane Addams established the profession of social work for women by leading social housekeeping campaigns in Chicago, she received an anonymous letter:

I love your sex . . . but no man can love a woman who takes her place among men as you do. . . . Of course I can speak very plain to you, as your highest ambition is to be recognized as capable of doing a man’s work. When your maker created you, it was evidently a rush job as the most important part of the work was overlooked. Here then is your only resource. Did it ever occur to you that while on a tour of inspection, through alleyways, old barns and such places where low depraved men with criminal records may be found (such a place a virtuous woman would be afraid to go) you might for a small sum induce one of such men to sell you his pecker and balls? It would not be much loss to him and will be your only chance to prove yourself a man. 17

If merely leading a social housekeeping campaign elicited such a violent personal attack regarding a female’s gender, it is hard to imagine that a more openly “rebellious” public persona, such as the women I am discussing felt constrained to avoid, would have had any power at all during the Victorian era to effect the changes they desired. Most of all, if they wished to win converts to their cause, they needed to counter the widespread image of them and their pursuits as mimicking those of men.

Therefore, seemingly in contrast to their revolutionary intent and accomplishments, they believed that they needed to find ways to speak in the voice of woman for the purpose ultimately of altering the meaning of woman, of raising females, as Emily Blackwell said she hoped to do, both in “position” and in “nature.” How did they do this?

Their approach was pragmatic. In our freer and easier times it is perhaps difficult to condone their perceived need to dissemble, their conviction that the end justified the means, their willingness to package their goals in a way that would be palatable to the common run of woman in order to achieve those goals for vast numbers of females. The approach of honest firebrands such as the suffragist Alice Paul may well seem more admirable to us. Paul’s less subtle tactics included such “masculine” approaches as setting fire to public buildings and self-chainings to monuments. Anna Howard Shaw was as impatient for women’s suffrage as the most radical militant. But in contrast to Paul, she possessed the deep conviction, always manifested in her speeches, that the best approach was to allay the fears of recalcitrants, who were already terrified by the uncontrolled potential of women [End Page 321] that suffrage seemed to threaten. The militants’ approach, she believed, exacerbated those fears. But Shaw knew how to use the militants to make her own brand of suffragism look less frightening and less inconsistent with womanliness. “Votes for women can never be obtained by militant methods,” she insisted publicly, pointing up her organization’s sweet reasonableness in its determined pursuit of suffrage. 18

Before Shaw left the presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1915, 2 million American women in twelve states could vote, and total victory was all but inevitable. The tone of the American press had become distinctly favorable toward suffrage; everywhere pro-suffrage audiences were huge, overflowing even the largest halls; and the association’s annual budget had increased tenfold.

Though Shaw’s correspondence with her life partner, Lucy Anthony, and with other women who were her lovers suggests that she was what our era would describe as a stomping butch, her public persona was very different. She crafted her appearance to conform to her audiences’ standard of decorum, but it was a superficial concession. In all other ways she undermined appropriate gender behavior. She was a forceful, dynamic public speaker at a time when virtuous women were supposed to be demure and silent, and she was powerfully assertive when passivity was the norm for women. Shaw was convinced that if she presented herself as being as radical, as angry, and as impatient as she truly was, she could do nothing for the cause. Therefore, as she grew older, she cultivated a “grandmotherly” persona, which helped make her “esteemed by her countrymen, males as well as females.” 19

In her public life Shaw was too shrewd to be a man basher. “We will never win the battle by ‘bully ragging,’” she warned a more “plainspoken” suffragist. But in her private life she had little use for the male of the species. To an old friend who expressed the desire to be married Shaw wrote, “Just think of the men along your street,” and enumerated them with their various faults. “If a human being or a god could conceive of a worse hell than being a wife of any one of them I would like to know what it could be.” After delineating her own rich, full life without a man, she concluded, “I have seen nothing so far which does not make me say every night of my life, ‘I thank thee for all good but for nothing more than that I have been saved from the misery of marriage.’” 20

But it was not merely that she disliked men as a species. How could a female such as Shaw have functioned in a traditional nineteenth-century middle-class marital relationship? She traveled across the United States repeatedly for the suffrage cause. Before she was through, she had lectured to well over a million [End Page 322] people. 21 She led a major organization. How could she have run a large Victorian household and borne and raised eight to ten children, as most of her woman contemporaries did? How could she have spent valuable energy struggling with a husband for time and freedom of movement? But obviously, she never voiced such realizations in her public life.

Indeed, in a lecture of the early 1890s, “The New Man,” Shaw hastened to allay even the pettiest fears of conservatives, such as that the “New Woman” desired to rid herself of her femininity by “invad[ing men’s] prerogative in dress.” “This is a useless fear,” Shaw quipped, “as the real new woman will always want to look as well as she can and no human being could look well in men’s clothes, so the new woman will not wear them for that reason if for no other.” However, after such trivial levity and some crucial assurances that what she was arguing for was not particularly radical (“The new woman is the same old woman, with a few modern improvements”), Shaw moved to the nugget of her message, which was indeed radical: women had the right to the advantages of an education, to the opportunity to acquire any trade or profession that suited them, to walk down any avenue that would bring them into contact with “the larger life of the world” and would permit them to become “more broad-minded and better developed.” 22

As an orator, Shaw was intent on getting her mass audiences to identify with her, which enabled her to bring them to her side. Thus before she delivered her radical “punchlines” Shaw often disarmed her listeners by speaking in the voice of a heterosexual woman and seducing them with her folksy but “womanly” humor, which distracted them from meditating on her “unsexed,” “spinsterly” state. For example, in her lecture “The Fundamental Principle of a Republic” Shaw mocked the antisuffragists who worried that women’s enfranchisement would bring discord into the home in the form of political disagreements. She argued that if two intelligent human beings never disagreed, their relationship would stagnate: “Now it may be that the kind of man . . . the anti-suffragists live with [would prefer stagnation to occasional disagreements], but they are not the kind we live with, and we could not do it. Great big overgrown babies! Cannot be disputed without having a row!” Her audiences would howl at her poker-faced annoyance, and she would continue, “While we do not believe that men are saints, we do believe that the average American man is a fairly good sort of fellow.” 23

The men in her audiences would, of course, agree that they were the “good sorts” who could handle a little disagreement, and none of the women in her audiences would admit that they would tolerate being married to “big overgrown babies.” Having captured her listeners, Shaw would lull them further into domestic coziness before hitting them with her chief argument. She claimed to grant that [End Page 323] “men and women must go through this world together from the cradle to the grave.” But just as you can’t “build up homes without men,” you can’t “build up the state without women.” Women’s participation in the state, Shaw concluded, must be “the fundamental principle of a Republican form of government.” 24 Such speeches by Shaw were wildly popular, in small towns as well as New York.

Shaw drew rave reviews. For example, the North American Magazine, a mass-circulation periodical, opined that she was generally considered “the greatest woman speaker who ever lived” and that many even believed her “without peer in either sex among orators of her day.” The Pomona (Calif.) Weekly Times’s assessment of her as a lecturer reveals the enthusiasm she met everywhere and testifies to her success in persuading her audiences that her assumed persona was authentic and admirable and, most important, that her cause was just: “Miss Shaw occupied seventy minutes and devoted her time to the legal rights of women. Her facts were so evident, her arguments so forceful and logical, her diction so elegant, her satire so velvety, that when done many thought she had used up twenty minutes instead of seventy. Those who differ with the policies she advocates admit that as a good natured, polished, and convincing speaker she has no superior. And she is a woman—a true, lovable woman.” 25

Many of Shaw’s contemporaries who were most salient in the battle to procure the vote, higher education, and entrance into the professions for women were like her not only because they were what nineteenth-century sexologists called sexual inverts, and what our century has called lesbians, but also because their public persona was that of “a woman—a true, lovable woman.” For instance, Willard, called “Frank” by her women lovers, Kate Jackson and then Anna Gordon, accomplished what had appeared entirely unlikely: getting the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to support women’s suffrage. She moved the WCTU’s very feminine, conservative membership into the suffrage camp by co-opting the antisuffragists’ prime shibboleth, “home-protection,” in claiming not only that women would not be unsexed if they were enfranchised but that they could bring their womanly virtues to bear on the public sphere, uplifting it and making politics as pure as women were. Willard’s womanly public image may seem incredible in juxtaposition to her blustering private persona, “Frank,” but it was convincing enough to bring the WCTU in line and to induce journalists to help her in her proselytizing by observing that “her manner is never abrupt or angular [i.e., masculine] but rather gentle, sympathetic, kindly to all who come near her.” Willard’s very interesting slogan, “Womanliness first—afterwards what you will,” says much about her modus operandi. 26

Though females such as Shaw and Willard forced themselves to speak in [End Page 324] the voices of heterosexual women to accomplish their ends, their own loves and domestic lives were not heterosexual. Shaw lived with Lucy Anthony for thirty years. Early in their relationship, as they planned the home they would have together, a refuge from Shaw’s travels all over America in the service of her cause, Shaw wrote her: “I wish I could let you see the inside of my love for you, but, better still, that you could know the depths of my trust and faith in you. I have had so many happy thoughts of that little house we are planning.” Once the home was found, Shaw’s letters to Lucy Anthony became filled with her joyful anticipation of returning home, her loneliness outside their domestic life together, her weariness that could be cured only by being at home with Lucy. “My dear, dear Balance,” Shaw called her. “If I am of any use under the sun, it is because you have given me courage and hope, and my triumphs [as a leader in the movement] are due as much to you as to myself.” 27

Willard, like Shaw, lived in “female marriages” with other women for almost all of her adult life. Near the end of her life, she revealed in her autobiography the truth that she had always felt about what the ideal domestic life was—and it was not heterosexual. The successes of the women’s movement, she observed happily, made possible these new-style marriages:

The loves of women for each other grow more numerous every day, and I have pondered much why these things were. That so little should be said about them surprises me, for they are everywhere. . . . In these days when any capable woman can honorably earn her own support, there is no village that has not its examples of “two heads in counsel,” both of which are feminine. Often-times these joint proprietors have been unfortunately married [to men], and so have failed to “better their condition” until, thus clasping hands [with a woman], they have taken each other “for better or worse.” 28

What did women such as Shaw, Willard, and the others whom I have discussed mean for lesbian history, and what did they really accomplish for the position of women? Their public disguise, which they thought necessary in their day, was surely unfortunate for those of us who call ourselves lesbian today, since their relevance to lesbian history was long hidden. Though they thought like “men,” they acted in public like “women.” They long fooled us, as well as their contemporaries. For the better part of a century, we had no idea that in many meaningful ways those females had much in common with many contemporary lesbians —and that any lesbian who wishes has a right to call them foremothers. Until their letters [End Page 325] and diaries were revealed, they could not serve us as direct inspirations, which is one of the necessary uses of history. Yet they acted as their times forced them to act, if they wished to accomplish anything for females and to change the meaning of “woman.”

Sadly, despite their attempts at masquerade, their detractors continued to call their goals unwomanly and unsexed. The die-hard womanly women continued to fight these pioneers’ achievements. On the eve of the suffrage victory, for instance, the women officers of the Michigan Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage ran an ad campaign that declared: “As women we do not want the strife, bitterness, falsification and publicity which accompany political campaigns. We women are not suffering at the hands of our fathers, husbands, and brothers because they protect us in our homes. . . . Keep mother, wife, and sister in the protected home.” 29

Yet up to 1920 the successes of the lesbian pioneers seemed limitless. Their leadership had procured the vote for American women. Due in good part to their efforts, females by 1920 made up more than 43 percent of all college students in America and more than 30 percent of all college professors. Women had also begun to make a significant dent in the learned professions. For example, there were about nine thousand women doctors. When Emily Blackwell had begun her studies several decades earlier, there had been only her sister Elizabeth, and almost no medical school in the country would admit a woman. Thus by 1920 it truly seemed that these inverts had succeeded, that the definition of woman had been permanently altered—at least for middle-class women—and that it now looked more like what males had earlier claimed the definition of man was, that is, an independent human being who could fulfill himself in a variety of ways.

Then a hiatus ensued for almost half a century, until the rebirth of feminism in the 1960s. I will not speculate here on the cause of the hiatus except to suggest, as Christina Simmons and others have done, that it was related to a new heterosexual imperative and a feminine mystique that reclaimed and revalorized the nineteenth-century image of the “true woman.” 30 I also will not speculate here on the complex reasons why women fell for this tactic. 31 But I will say that among the weapons used against those who fought for women’s rights was one that depicted the entire women’s movement as a lesbian plot.

So, in view of the long hiatus, what did the nineteenth-century lesbian pioneers accomplish for women, after all, despite their uncomfortable masquerade? This: They made the absolutely crucial first steps. They set the machinery in motion, so that when a generation of females came along who were not so terrified of challenging gender notions, they did not have to start from scratch. In the nineteenth century Mary Lyon, the lover of Zilpah Grant, had been one of the first to [End Page 326] fight for women’s right to higher education by arguing that a stringent program of study would better train young women as “educators of youth,” rather than as mere teachers. In the 1990s more women than men attend college in the United States.

In the nineteenth century Emily Blackwell, the lover of Elizabeth Cushier, argued that women should be permitted to study medicine because there were certain areas, such as gynecology and pediatrics, to which they would naturally be more suited than men. In 1994 women composed 40 percent of all medical students in the country, and the 1996 entering class at the top three medical schools, Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins, was more than 50 percent female. Women are now almost equally represented in other professions as well; for example, 44 percent of all students enrolled in American law schools in 1996 were female.

In the nineteenth century Jane Addams, the lover of Mary Rozet Smith, was constrained to argue in Chicago that women wanted suffrage so they could better do social housekeeping. “None of these busy women wishe[s] to take the place of men nor to influence them in the direction of men’s affairs,” she reassured her listeners, “but they do seek an opportunity to cooperate directly in civic life through the use of the ballot in regard to their own affairs.” 32 As the 1990s come to an end, America’s attorney general and secretary of state are female; women make up about a quarter of the membership of the state legislatures; and in the states that have lieutenant governors, women fill almost half of those positions.

In a little-known lecture delivered at the start of this century, “The New Century’s Manly Woman,” Susan B. Anthony, that “grim Old Gal with a manly air,” now more than eighty years old, took the daring but necessary next step after women had won the rights to an education and to economic independence, which she had helped procure. Anthony, perhaps among the first to insist on what we have come to view as a radical, postmodern understanding of the constructed nature of gender and of its mutability, argued that the woman who has been called “manly” is simply the woman who is fully human. In the ideal future, she said, such a woman will be considered entirely equal to men, and men will not be reluctant to develop so-called womanly qualities, such as gentleness, sympathy, and affection. Gender, Anthony implied, will be quite erased as a category that distinguishes male from female. 33 If that ideal future has not yet universally arrived, it is nevertheless a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Lillian Faderman

Lillian Faderman is professor of English at California State University, Fresno. Among her many publications are Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (1981), Scotch Verdict: Miss Pirie and Miss Woods v. Dame Cumming Gordon (1983), Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (1991), and Chloe plus Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (1994). Her essay in this issue of GLQ is adapted from her new book, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America—A History (1999).


1. Anna Howard Shaw, The Story of a Pioneer (1915; rpt. New York: Harper and Bros., 1929), 240.

2. Current Opinion, December 1915, quoted in Wil A. Linkugel and Martha Solomon, Anna Howard Shaw: Suffrage Orator and Social Reformer (New York: Greenwood, 1991), 12.

3. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, with Especial Reference to the Antipathetic Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Forensic Study (1886; rpt. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Physicians and Surgeons, 1908), 334–35.

4. See my article “The Morbidification of Love between Women by Nineteenth-Century Sexologists,” Journal of Homosexuality 4 (1978): 73–90.

5. Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, 334.

6. Quoted in Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, vol. 1 (1898; rpt. Salem, N.H.: Ayer, 1983), 397; Susan B. Anthony, “The True Woman” (1857), Susan B. Anthony Papers, microfilm reel 1, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass.

7. Frances E. Willard, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman (Chicago: Woman’s Temperance Publication Association, 1889), 69.

8. Hannah Whitall Smith to Mary Whitall Thomas, n.d. [summer 1863], M. Carey Thomas Papers, microfilm reel 1, Mariam Coffin Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa.

9. M. Carey Thomas, journal, 26 November 1870, Thomas Papers, microfilm reel 1.

10. Thomas, journal, 23 January 1872, microfilm reel 1.

11. M. Carey Thomas, “Present Tendencies in Women’s College and University Education,” AAUW Journal 3, no. 17 (1908): 46.

12. Emily Blackwell, journal, 15 June 1851 and 20 August 1850, Blackwell Family Papers, microfilm reel 3, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass.; Emily Blackwell to Elizabeth Blackwell, 1 October 1858, Blackwell Family Papers, box 11, folder 163.

13. Blackwell, journal, 6 January 1852, microfilm reel 3.

14. Thomas to Mary Whitall Thomas, 21 November 1880, Thomas Papers, microfilm reel 31; Susan B. Anthony, “Homes of Single Women” (1877), in The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader, ed. Ellen Carol DuBois (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992), 146–51.

15. New York Herald, 9 September 1853, quoted in Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement (New York: Scribner’s, 1923), 27.

16. Blackwell, journal, October 1852, microfilm reel 3.

17. “A Voter” to Addams, 17 January 1898, Jane Addams Papers, Peace Collection, microfilm reel 113.3, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.

18. Anna Howard Shaw, “Militancy,” Trend, 10 October 1913, 31.

19. Halford R. Ryan, foreword to Linkugel and Solomon, Anna Howard Shaw, x.

20. Shaw to Dr. Esther Phol-Lovejoy, 12 March 1914, Anna Howard Shaw Papers, folder 46, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass.; Shaw to Clara Osburn, 19 August 1902, Shaw Papers, microfilm reel 17.

21. James R. McGovern, “Anna Howard Shaw: New Approaches to Feminism,” Journal of Social History 3 (1969): 139.

22. Anna Howard Shaw, “The New Man,” Shaw Papers, microfilm reel 16.

23. Anna Howard Shaw, “The Fundamental Principle of a Republic,” newspaper clipping, 1 July 1915, Shaw Papers, box 20.

24. Ibid.

25. North American Magazine, 3 July 1919; Pomona (Calif.) Weekly Times, 19 June 1895, Susan Anthony Papers, box 1, folder 18, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

26. Boston Times-Democrat, date unknown, in Frances Willard scrapbook 57, p. 63, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union series, microfilm reel 39, WCTU Headquarters, Evanston, Ill.; Willard, quoted in Sara M. Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (New York: Free, 1989), 127.

27. Shaw to Anthony, 24 September 1891, 8 March 1891, and 21 November 1896, Shaw Papers, microfilm reel 17.

28. Willard, Glimpses of Fifty Years, 641–42.

29. Quoted in Catt and Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics, 275.

30. Christina Simmons, “Companionate Marriage and the Lesbian Threat,” Frontiers 4, no. 3 (1979): 54–59.

31. For a discussion of these reasons see Lillian Faderman, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America—A History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

32. Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910; rpt. New York, Macmillan, 1963), 340.

33. Susan B. Anthony, “The New Century’s Manly Woman,” Leslie’s Weekly, 3 March 1900.

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