"This book will raise eyebows and consciousness."Dianne Wood Middlebrook
To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America - A Historyby Lillian Faderman Professor, John Radziewicz (Editor)
From the author of the acclaimed Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, a landmark work of lesbian history that both "sets the record straight (or unstraight)" for all Americans and "provides a usable past" for lesbians "This is a book about how millions of American women became what they are now: full citizens, educated, and capable of earning a decent living for
From the author of the acclaimed Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, a landmark work of lesbian history that both "sets the record straight (or unstraight)" for all Americans and "provides a usable past" for lesbians "This is a book about how millions of American women became what they are now: full citizens, educated, and capable of earning a decent living for themselves. But it departs from other such histories because it focuses on how certain late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century women whose lives can be described as 'lesbian' were in the forefront of the battle to procure the rights and privileges that large numbers of Americans enjoy today." A groundbreaking reappraisal of those women known by history but whose histories are incomplete, To Believe in Women examines how their lesbianism may in fact have facilitated their accomplishments. Lillian Faderman, twice winner of the Lambda Award, persuasively argues that even before a "lesbian identity" was defined, many early female leaders had what would now be called lesbian relationships, free from the constraints of traditional heterosexual arrangements that might otherwise have impeded their pursuits in education, politics, and culture. A book of impeccable research and compelling readability, To Believe in Women will be a source of enlightenment for all, and for many a singular source of pride.
Many think the struggle for women's rights began with the feminist movement in the 1960s, but in To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for AmericaA History, author, researcher, and two-time Lambda Award winner Lillian Faderman proves otherwise.
Through meticulous research and review of the letters, diaries, and speeches of several notable women leaders in the 19th and 20th centuries, Faderman documents the genesis of modern-day feminism and women's rights as far back as the Civil War. What's more, Faderman offers compelling and convincing proof that lesbianism was not only a significant factor in many of these women's lives, it very likely facilitated their remarkable accomplishments.
Faderman highlights many of the ups and downs, advances and setbacks, from the Civil War to the present, that have occurred as American women struggled to find their place in society and gain rights equal to those of men. Along with documentation of the efforts these women made on behalf of women everywhere, Faderman reveals details about the lesbian relationships these women enjoyed and argues that it was their very lesbianism that allowed them to achieve what they did. Without the constraints imposed by traditional heterosexual relationships and the duties of marriage, the women were free to pursue their goals in education, politics, culture, and various professions.
Faderman's research is thorough as well as entertaining, and the end result is a groundbreaking and enlightening rewriting of American women's history. The women Faderman highlights vary from the wellknownto the little known, but all have two things in common: They had a tremendous impact on the development of women's rights in America, and they enjoyed loving lesbian relationships.
Faderman covers such events as the development of the Women's Trade Union League in 1903 in response to organized labor's efforts to keep women out of the workplace for fear they might glut the labor market. She also tells of the watershed years when women reigned in certain halls of academia and when numerous lesbian couples lived together in what came to be called Boston or Wellesley marriages. Faderman hits on the setbacks that occurred in the postwar '40s and '50s with the growth of conventional family values, a societal shift that created a witch-hunt environment that drove many gay people underground.
Compelling, persuasive, and even empowering, To Believe in Women should prove to be a source of pride to many and a consciousness-raiser for all.
The Women's Review of Books
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Read an Excerpt
THE LOVES AND
I shall go to Chicago & visit my new lover dear Mrs. [Emily] Gross en route to Kansas. So with new hope & new life...
Susan B. Anthony
From its inception, women's fight for the vote was largely led by women who loved other women. It was a grueling battle. As Carrie Chapman Catt, the leading spokesperson at the time the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, summed it up, success was won only after 56 state referendum campaigns, 480 legislative campaigns for state suffrage amendments, 47 state constitutional conventional campaigns, 277 state party convention campaigns to get suffrage planks in the party platforms, and so forth and so on. What Catt did not say in her dry summation was how many female couples (including herself and her partner, Mollie Hay) were in the forefront of the struggle, and how their intimate relations helped them endure and stay focused on their elusive goal through years of discouragement.
In view of the distrust of marriage that was prevalent among so many of the woman suffrage pioneers, as well as their era's disdain for "illicit" heterosexual relationships and "illegitimate" pregnancy, which was a danger of loving a man out of wedlock, where could these leaders have turned for intimacy and succor if not to one another? To whom else could they have trusted themselves? Where could they lay down their shields? As Susan B. Anthony wrote to Anna Dickinson, her "Dear Anna DickyDarly [sic]," she needed Anna to help soothe her when she was exhausted by the frays of her public battles. The relationship renewed her, she told Anna: "Somehow your very breath gives me new hope and new life." She understood that Anna too needed encouragement, and she coaxed the younger woman from her dark moods by sweet blandishments: "Ah, Anna, your mission will brighten and beautify every day if you will but keep the eye of your own spirit turned within ... [where] that precious jewel of truth is to be sought and formed And darling you will find it & speak it, and live it and all men and women will call you blessed." Such often-reiterated support, which was frequently peppered with what we might today call sexy and reassuring flirtation, was vital to pioneering women who regularly faced the hostilities of those who saw them as "unsexed" or "grim." To know they were not so to each other gave them the emotional fuel to carry on the tiring and often lonely battle.
Overcoming "Real" Women
Throughout the woman suffrage movement, antisuffrage women insisted that real women neither wanted nor needed to be enfranchised. Even when both houses of Congress had already passed an amendment that required only state ratification before equal suffrage became the law of the land, the "antis" were still insisting, as the female officers of the Michigan Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage declared, that, "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."
Unlike them, the women who are the focus of this book eschewed the "protected home" for themselves. They actively sought the strife of worldly engagement from which female antisuffragists, who typically presented themselves as the "true women," in keeping with the Victorian construction of that concept, claimed to wish to be sheltered. They relied on each other rather than on fathers, husbands, and brothers. Because they would never be represented in civil matters by a spouse, women's enfranchisement was crucial to them indeed, a sine qua non, since all other progress for which they worked, such as higher education and entrance into the professions, would be meaningless if women continued to be second-class citizens.
In the hostile nineteenth-century media, these women were not described as lesbians but rather as females who were manlike, or "unsexed." Despite the pioneers' common ploy their argument that women needed the vote to extend moral housekeeping and nurturance to society the media often emphasized their "gender-inappropriate" wishes for a place at the polls alongside men. Newspapers and journals dramatized the point by accusing those whose appearance was not conventionally feminine of being male. For example, the St. Louis Dispatch meanly proclaimed that Sojourner Truth, an African-American abolitionist and women's rights advocate, "is the name of a man now lecturing in Kansas City." (Tired of such repeated slanders, Truth bared her breast on the lecture platform at a women's rights convention in Indiana.)
The accusation that suffragists were unsexed was intended to be a weapon of denigration that would discourage other women from joining the movement, but obviously it also revealed the widespread fear that suffrage would actually threaten a woman's biological capacities and thus the argument expanded in geometric proportions the future of the human race. The New York Herald, for example, used the term to indicate disgust with the minister Antoinette Brown and her cheering audience of five thousand at a national suffrage convention in i853, "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." The reporter's tirade concluded with the hysterical question, "Is the world to be depopulated?" Such allegations would surely have been difficult for any woman to bear, but the sting must have been especially painful for heterosexual women whose very stock in trade was their ability to present themselves to men as womanly. It is possible that for a time many women turned away from the suffrage movement because they feared working with "unsexed" women and becoming "unsexed" themselves.
There were, of course, married women and women who hoped to be married in the suffrage movement from its inception. Some, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were even among the most unladylike and unconventional of the suffragists; her husband and seven children notwithstanding, Stanton saucily declared in the mid-nineteenth century, "It is a settled maxim with me that the existing public sentiment on any subject is wrong." But for the most part, women who intended to make their lives with other women rather than placing themselves on the marriage market had greater freedom in asserting leadership within the suffrage movement: they could feel that they had much less to lose if they were called unsexed than the average woman, who depended for sustenance, emotional and otherwise, on men.
There were also, of course, men who actively supported suffrage for women and to whom such allegations would not have mattered. Yet the problems in being a heterosexual suffrage leader, even if married to a supportive man, remained complex. Nineteenth-century wifehood and motherhood were not compatible with work for the cause. For example, the suffragist leader Lucy Stone married Henry Blackwell when she was thirty-seven years old. Eight months later, the suffragist orator Antoinette Brown married Henry's brother, Samuel. Both of the women's careers in the suffrage movement came to a standstill for a long while.
They did not cease working because their husbands opposed suffrage. In fact, Henry Blackwell convinced Lucy Stone to marry him in 1855 by promising that he would work by her side for women's enfranchisement, and he was true to his word. Yet neither he nor Lucy could foresee her societally inculcated guilt, which the marriage brought to the surface. Lucy continued her active career in the suffrage movement right after her daughter, Alice, was born, in 1857. However, when she lost a second child in 1859, she became so anxious about Alice's well-being that she gave up her work for the next seven years in order to be a full-time mother. Though she was again an important figure in the suffrage movement by the end of the 1860s, Lucy's correspondence with her husband indicates that she felt uneasy because she was not a better homemaker. Henry Blackwell also felt guilty, as Alice reported after her mother died in 1893: "Papa ... has been blaming himself for marrying mamma at all. He says he spoiled her career." Whether Henry Blackwell's guilt was at all merited, Alice, who also became a suffrage activist, apparently believed that there was some justice in his self-accusation. She herself chose other women as her loves and never married.
Susan B. Anthony (who declared to her diary when she was eighteen, "I think any female would rather live and die an old maid") was horrified when strong suffragists were lost to the cause through the effects of heterosexual marriage. When Antoinette Brown married Samuel Blackwell in 1856, her career as a lecturer for suffrage came to a halt for eighteen years while she busied herself bearing seven children and raising the five who survived infancy. Anthony foresaw such dangers to the movement; in terms that were only nominally joking, she wrote to Antoinette after the second pregnancy in 1858, "Not another baby, is my peremptory command." But obviously Susan Anthony had no control over what went on in the Blackwells' bedroom.
Similarly, when Ida Wells, the African-American woman suffrage and civil rights leader whom Anthony had befriended and supported, became Mrs. F. L. Barnett in 1895 and then had two babies, Anthony could not hide her distress. Wells reported in her autobiography that when she was Anthony's houseguest in the course of a lecture tour that took her to Rochester, New York, Anthony "would bite out my married name in addressing me." Finally Wells asked her, "Don't you believe in women getting married?" Anthony answered, "Oh yes, but not women like you who had a special call for special work.... You are distracted over the thought that maybe [your eleven-month-old baby] is not being looked after as he would if you were there, and that makes for a divided duty." The most consistently effective early suffrage leaders had no such divided duty.
"A Closer Union Than That of Most Marriages":
Female Couples Among the Early Suffragists
Many of the early leaders of the suffrage cause began their careers as abolitionists. In 1840, eight women who had been involved in the American antislavery movement hoped to attend the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London as delegates, but the convention voted to ban them from participating. The women claimed that the experience was an epiphany for them, making them understand that they, like the enslaved Africans whose freedom they worked to procure, had been kept socially and legally inferior to white men. They did not give up their abolitionist sentiments, but their frustration led two of the rejected delegates, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to call a convention of their own, devoted to women's rights, in 1848. Other frustrated female delegates to the world antislavery meeting, such as Mary Grew, joined them. Out of that meeting in Seneca Falls the women's rights movement was born.
Female same-sex love was common among this first generation of social activists, but regardless of whether such relationships were sexual, they were usually characterized as "romantic friendships." Mary Grew, for example, described her life with Margaret Burleigh in such terms in 1892, just after Burleigh's death, when Grew responded to a condolence letter from the younger suffragist Isabel Howland:
Your words respecting my beloved friend touch me deeply. Evidently you understood her fine character; & you comprehended and appreciated, as few persons do, the nature of the relation which existed, which exists [still, despite the death of Burleigh's body] between her and myself....To me it seems to have been a closer union than that of most marriages. We know that there have been other such between two men, & also between two women. And why should there not be. Love is spiritual, only passion is sexual.
Since Howland was herself romantically involved with women, Grew's conviction that Howland "comprehended and appreciated" her relationship with Burleigh "as few persons do" may have conveyed a special recognition between them of an unnamed identity. Under the guise of romantic friendships, such relationships might still be widely condoned in the nineteenth century. They were acknowledged by many observers as an "affection passing the love of men."
Both Grew and Burleigh were revered among abolitionist and suffrage women. Grew was for many years a high official in anti-slavery societies. She was an especially powerful speaker for the cause and had successfully challenged the early prohibition within the movementshared even by her abolitionist fatheron women speaking in mixed gatherings. Like most female antislavery lecturers who were agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society, she never married in the conventional sense, but she lived most of her adult life with Margaret Burleigh, a schoolteacher. Burleigh also worked closely with Grew, both in the antislavery movement and for women's rights. After the Civil War, in 1865, they fought side by side against the move to disband the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, on whose executive committee they both served. Their argument was radical at the time: the society's work had not finished with the Emancipation Proclamation, they insisted, but needed to continue until the constitutional amendments granting the former slaves full citizenship were ratified.
To their abolitionist and suffrage acquaintances, Mary and Margaret made no secret of the fact that they shared both a home and a bed. Nor did they hide from their friends their general distrust of heterosexual relations and the married state. To young William Lloyd Garrison II, who was contemplating marriage, Mary preached, "When I say that I think you are qualified to be a good husband, I think I say a great deal, for that manner of man is rare." Even well-intentioned men failed at matrimony, she said, because of "the low ideal of a wife's position...[and] the marriage relation," a relation from which she believed she was saved through her "union" with Margaret Burleigh.
Once Grew turned to the cause of women's rights, she became a leading figure in that movement as well. She fought successfully for a married woman's property law in Pennsylvania. She was the founding president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and continued as president until 1892, and she became the national president of the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1887. Almost until her death at the age of eighty-three, she was a dynamic and popular speaker for social causes. The suffragist Emily Howland (Isabel's aunt) spoke of the admiration of Grew's fellow workers in the movement in summing up her life on her eightieth birthday, in 1893: "The largesse of life is yours, dowered with a brain alive to the issues of your time and heart aglow with service for truth, blessed with a friendship as rare as the friend [Margaret Burleigh] was noble your joy is all immortal." As much as the "old maid" was reviled outside the women's rights movement, those within believed that in a life such as Grew and Burleigh shared, nothing was missing.
How the Suffrage Movement Got Off the Ground: Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony began her public career as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and the temperance movement. She turned to the cause of women's rights in 1852, after being denied permission to speak at a temperance rally because she was a woman. As a result of that experience, she helped form an all-women's temperance organization, and there began her close working relationship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton led Anthony even further into women's rights issues as they began organizing state and national women's rights conventions and presenting formal demands to the New York legislature for improvement of that state's laws on married women's property. Before they could begin their daily work, however, Anthony had to help the overburdened Stanton with housekeeping and care of her seven children so they might, as Anthony described it, "sit up far into the night preparing our ammunition and getting ready to move on the enemy."
Their relationship was not simply a working one. Though a wife and mother, Stanton characterized it in terms that were almost romantic and revealed the depth of emotion that spurred them on in their shared work: "So closely interwoven have been our lives, our purposes, and experiences that [when] separated, we have a feeling of incompleteness." She provocatively quipped about her love for Susan Anthony, "I prefer a tyrant of my own sex, so I shall not deny the patent fact of my subjection; for I do believe that I have developed into much more of a woman under her jurisdiction."
Though Stanton was as committed to suffrage as Anthony, she was less mobile than her friend, who did not have responsibility for a husband and numerous children. Anthony could more easily travel for the cause. In the years after the Civil War, it was she who could invest the most time in working for an amendment to the Constitution that would grant suffrage to all American women and not just to the male freedmen.
In 1869, Anthony and Stanton called the first post-Civil War women's suffrage convention, which resulted in the formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Their organization quickly split with less radical women suffragists over the Fifteenth Amendment. "Do you believe the African race is composed entirely of males?" Anthony and Stanton asked those who said that "the negro's hour" to be enfranchised had come and that woman suffragists must hold in abeyance their demand for their own enfranchisement. Anthony was especially angry that regardless of their level of education, women were denied the vote, while the freedmen, who were largely illiterate, were enfranchised by virtue of being male. It was one more bitter reminder of women's devaluation. But the issue was not one of race for her; she maintained close relationships with African-American woman suffrage leaders such as Mary Church Terrell and Ida Wells, and she often raised the concerns of African-American women before her largely white suffrage organization.
Susan B. Anthony became the driving force of woman suffrage for the next four decades, traveling widely and constantly to promote the cause virtually until her death, in 1906, bringing one generation of younger women after another into the movement. She indisputably earned the posthumous honor of having the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted American women the vote, named after her.
Anthony was far more radical in her public pronouncements than many of the women's rights activists who followed her. Her speeches often gave vent to her fury at historical and contemporary heterosexual arrangements. In an 1857 lecture that she called "The True Woman," she complained that women had never been treated fairly by men. She decried the barbarism of the past, when women had been degraded to "merchantable property...fit only to minister to man's animal comforts, pleasures and passions." She revealed her disgust with her own era, in which "all the richly endowed colleges...are open to young men alone" and women, regardless of their abilities, were told, "'Rest content, we pray you, and be the true woman, the teacher of children, the genial companion of man, the loving mother of sons.'" Anthony challenged the notion of the "true woman" as "the exponent of another." As unpopular as the idea was in her day; she threw her energy into the argument that a woman had a right to develop her talents for her own ends. The "true woman" of the future, she insisted, would not lean upon a husband, but rather would know that "bread and strength and happiness are sure only to the self-producer."
The average woman of the nineteenth century was little prepared for so heroic ("so selfish," they would have said) a view of female potential. Perhaps to counterbalance her fierce challenge to gender notions, Anthony attempted to appear ladylike on the platform, usually wearing a modest black silk dress. Yet despite her drag and though she was not at all masculine, her militancy inspired the antisuffragists to call her "a grim Old Gal with a manly air." In "The New Century's Manly Woman" (1900), Anthony actually attempted to defuse such accusations against her and other suffragists by claiming and redefining the term "manly." She was among the first to insist on what we have come to view as a radical, postmodern understanding of the constructed nature of gender and its potential mutability. Anthony argued that the woman who had been called "manly" was simply the woman who was fully human. In the ideal future, such a woman would be considered entirely equal to men, and men would develop "womanly" qualities such as gentleness, sympathy; and affection. Despite those expressed hopes for the future, however, Anthony and many of her fellow suffragists preferred to love those who already had such excellent "womanly" qualities.
Elizabeth Stanton, perhaps wishing to explain away the fact of her friend's spinsterhood, remarked in The History of Woman Suffrage that "the outpourings of Miss Anthony's love element all flowed into the suffrage movement." However, Anthony's extant letters reveal the great degree to which her love element also flowed into other women. Though Anthony was hated by the antisuffragists and was often in conflict with those who made up the rival suffrage group, the American Woman Suffrage Association, she was adored by women throughout the country, certainly as a leader but also in a much more personal way. Anna Dickinson was one of several women who caused Anthony to reciprocate that affection intensely. The emotional, playful, and erotic letters between Anthony and Dickinson in the 1860s demonstrate that their relationship transcended by far their mutual political interests.
Throughout her life, Anna Dickinson was often the recipient of billets-doux from other women, who declared to her, "I have an irresistible desire all through this letter to make love to you," and "Sweet Anna, I shall hope to see you soon & kiss your soft, tender lips," and "I am so glad that I have got you for my darling that I can't find words to express my delight in my new love." But judging from Dickinson's letters to Susan B. Anthony; it appears to have been the younger woman who was the aggressor. She wrote Anthony a charmed and charming loverlike missive in 1862: "I want to see you very much indeed, to hold your hand in mine, to hear your voice, in a word, I want you I can't have you? Well, I will at least put down a little fragment of my foolish self and send it to look up at you."
If we look at the existing correspondence between the two women, we cannot doubt that Anthony returned Dickinson's desire for personal contact and shared the mood of her 1862 letter. She addressed Dickinson as "My Dear Darling Anna" and "Dear Chick a dee dee." In these letters she often implored Dickinson to speak at various suffrage meetings, to "speak right out in words the deep, rich, earnest love for your own sex that I know lies in the inner courts of your being." These appeals were almost always punctuated with flirtations and intimacies. In a December 1866 letter, Anthony said that she was coming to Philadelphia, where she hoped "to snuggle you darling closer than ever." In a letter written several months later, she informed Dickinson that she was going to Kansas for a suffrage campaign, but "I cannot bear to go off without another precious look into your face my Soul." En route to Cincinnati three months later, she wrote, "Well, Anna Darling I do wish I could take you in these strong arms of mine this very minute."
Dickinson, a star of the lyceum circuit, was often linked in 1860s gossip columns to eligible bachelors. Anthony was displeased both for her own part and for the sake of the movement. In an 1868 letter to "My Dear Chicky Dicky Darlint," she said she was writing to tell Dickinson not only that she loved her but also to "engage" her "not to marry a man" and instead to commit herself to "speak for Equal Rights." In several letters she invited Dickinson into her bed, which was "big enough and good enough to take you in." After such an invitation in one letter, she called Dickinson a "naughty Teaze" but promised that the younger woman wouldn't be scolded a single time if she would "share it [that is, Susan's bed] a few days." In a particularly provocative note of November 11, 1869, to "Dearly loved Anna," Anthony said how much she missed her and longed to see her "for more reasons than one," reiterating "I must see you & can't put it on paper my heart is full."
In some of these letters, Anthony, who was twenty-two years older than Dickinson, presented herself as being motherly However, such a disclaimer notwithstanding and while we cannot be sure of what actually happened between the two women when they were in Anthony's "big... good" bed there can be no doubt of the flirtatious nature of their correspondence. Dickinson, who actually played pant roles on the stage later in her career, was Octavian to Anthony's Marschallin in these sparking letters.
Yet Anthony wanted more than occasional intimacies. Though she lived with her sister Mary for many years and often said that Mary "made my life-work possible," she felt that her sister was necessary but not sufficient to her, and she longed for another kind of partner to share her life and struggles. As she poignantly confessed to Elizabeth Stanton, "I have very weak moments and long to lay my weary head somewhere & nestle my full soul close to that of another in full sympathy." The desire never went away. Much later in life, Anthony admitted to having confessed to her niece Lucy, the mate of the suffrage leader Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, "that I wanted what I feared I shouldn't find, that is a young woman who would be to me in every way what she is to the Rev. Anna Shaw." What did she mean to signify by those words "in every way"? While Lucy Anthony sometimes served as Anna Shaw's assistant in movement business, there can be no doubt that Susan Anthony was aware that her niece also played a more intimate role in Shaw's life. In 1897, for example, Lucy was to accompany her aunt to a convention where she would act as her secretary, and Shaw would join them at a later point. Rehearsing arrangements for the trip, Susan promised her niece, "I will try to get [you] a bedroom large enough for you to take in your Rev. Lady when she comes."
Perhaps in the later years of her life, Susan Anthony wistfully wanted a relationship such as Anna Shaw had with Lucy because she had come frustratingly close to one in her intimacy with Emily Gross, a Chicago woman who was the wife of a wealthy businessman, Samuel Gross. While no correspondence between Susan Anthony and Emily Gross has come to light, it is possible to trace their relationship through various sources, including letters that Anthony wrote to friends and relatives.
The two women may have met when Anthony addressed the Congress of Representative Women at the Columbia Exposition in Chicago during the spring of 1893. That summer, Emily Gross went to visit Susan Anthony at her home in Rochester. Anna Shaw saw them there and wished for them what she herself had with Lucy; as she wrote in her diary:
I am so thankful for the new friend for Aunt Susan. How nice it is! ... Whenever anything like this good fortune comes to her, it is a great comfort to me. Whenever I come into [her] house it makes me feel sad, for it does need someone who can get out of a little rut and make it homelike. I wish it could be done. Aunt Mary is an angel but not a housekeeper except in the sense of great neatness and stiffness.
Though Emily Gross was not in a position to brighten Susan's home permanently as Lucy brightened Anna Shaw's, she apparently did bring joy and pleasure into Susan's life of duty. Susan was obviously ecstatic about the relationship, as she told both friends and relatives. To a niece, Jessie Anthony; she revealed the same exuberance she had to Isabel Howland in the letter that serves as an epigraph to this chapter, writing that before she would visit Jessie in California, she intended first to "call in Chicago at my new lover's Mrs. Gross 48 Lake Shore Drive." It must be noted in this context that Susan B. Anthony encouraged many of the women to whom she was close in the suffrage movement to call her Aunt Susan, and she referred to them as her nieces. But "lover" was not a term she bandied about to describe the legions of women who admired her.
The spring 1895 reunion in Chicago between Susan and Emily must have been a success, as their visits during the two previous years had been. Now Susan impulsively invited Emily to accompany her to California, where they spent the rest of that spring and much of the summer together. That trip was so fulfilling that they repeated it the following year, Susan combining her leisure with suffrage work. When she was interviewed by a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle on June 28, 1896, it was surely her relationship with Emily Gross that gave her the immediate impetus to brag, "I'm sure no man could have made me any happier than I have been.... I never found the man who was necessary to my happiness. I was very well as I was." From that point, Susan and Emily traveled regularly together.
Emily Gross is an elusive figure, though what she meant to Susan B. Anthony is less elusive. Gross supported woman suffrage, but she was not actively involved in the movement, and she made no name for herself outside her connection with Anthony. For this reason, Anthony's biographer Katherine Anthony (no relation) was puzzled by a mysterious picture that was sent to her for possible inclusion in her book. In the picture, "the great Susan B.," as Katherine Anthony calls her, is in the background. In the foreground is a woman whose face "looks slightly Jewish, and I remember that Mrs. Gross was a Jewess." The picture ostensibly disturbed the biographer. "What surprises me is that she (whoever she was) was so naive as to place herself in the foreground of a photograph which included Susan B. It was no doubt Miss Anthony's suggestion, but the lady in the photograph should have known better," Katherine Anthony concluded in a 1952 letter.
Was Katherine Anthony, herself a lesbian, whose life partner was the progressive educator Elisabeth Irwin, perhaps being disingenuous with her correspondent in order to save her beloved subject's reputation during homophobic times? As familiar as she was with Susan Anthony's life, she must have understood why Anthony would have been happy to place the woman she adored in the foreground of a picture. And there can be little doubt that Susan Anthony did adore the beautiful, wealthy Emily Gross. In an 1894 letter, Susan boasted of Emily's elegance and the grandeur of a party in her lavish home, where Susan stayed with her. "If you could have seen Mrs. Gross in her `Worth' made dress," she gushed. The following year, by Emily's side, Susan wrote to her niece Jessie that her beloved was "splendid as ever," and related their acquaintance with the lesbian sculptor Harriet Hosmer (whom they may have met through another sculptor, Bessie Potter, who created a statue of Susan and Emily in 1896).
Though they did not live together, the two women managed to be together for long periods of time. Anthony's death on March 13, 1906, affected her lover deeply, as a mutual friend wrote to Anna Shaw twelve days after Susan died: "Times are very hard with dear Mrs. Gross I fear." The last recorded trace of Emily Gross was in March 1919, around the thirteenth anniversary of Susan Anthony's death, when Shaw, visiting Chicago, paid her respects to Emily Gross in "a long talk."
Personal relations such as those between Susan B. Anthony and Emily Gross were mirrored everywhere among the suffragists. They were, of course, encouraged by their venerable leader, who understood the pressures on pioneers in a controversial movement and the exhausting loneliness if one could not "nestle [one's] full soul close to another in full sympathy." Thus, for example, when Isabel Howland became the devoted companion of Harriet May Mills, another suffragist lecturer, Anthony happily addressed them together in 1892 as "My Dear girls" and sent to them her "heart full of love and rejoicing over my two new young girls .... You are just lovely." She saw their "union" not only as good in itself but also as being important, because it would help them help the cause. When Isabel's father financed a trip to Nova Scotia for her and Harriet, Anthony expressed her delight, "for the trip will make you both all the better for the work before you." She knew too, from observation of Elizabeth Stanton and other women who had to juggle heterosexual domesticity with their commitment to the cause, that female couples made less emotionally torn suffragists because they were not distracted by the wifely duties and innumerable pregnancies that followed marriage.
Meet the Author
Lillian Faderman is the author of such acclaimed works as To Believe in Women, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, and Surpassing the Love of Men. Among the many honors her work has received are the Yale University James Brudner Award for Exemplary Scholarship in Lesbian/Gay Studies, three Lambda Literary Awards, and the Paul Monette Award. She teaches literature and creative writing at California State University at Fresno.
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