Wickedness Not to bee Named


 

Here’s the wicked place this blog starts from. Most of Northampton’s queer history it is still missing, hidden until an informed search can be made of the town’s early documents. Thanks to the work of gay and lesbian historians, though, we have a lens through which to view that past in the knowledge that same-sex eroticism and cross-gender expression existed in Massachusetts from its very beginning. Jonathan Ned Katz provided the first book, Gay American History, in 1976. The first regional history, Improper Bostonians,was published by the [Boston} History Project, in 1998. Since then, an increasing amount of scholarship has provided greater detail and filled in many of the gaps in knowledge of New England’s queer past. What follows is a brief summary of 17th century Massachusetts deviant history. My intention is to provide a context for the founding of Northampton in 1654, and for both the expression and constraint of certain behaviors in the new plantation.

higginson fleet 1629

Higginson fleet 1629

In 1629, the newly patented Massachusetts Bay Company “sent divers ships over [from England] with about three hundred people.” Aboard the bark Talbot, Rev. Francis Higgeson wrote in his diary, “This day we examined 5 Sodomiticall boyes, which confessed their wickedness not to bee named. The fact was so foul we reserved them to be punished by the governor when we came to new England, who afterward sent them backe to the company to bee punished in ould England, as the crime deserved.”

When Thomas Hutchinson wrote the first history of Massachusetts, History of the Colony and Province, around 1760, he deliberately omitted these two sentences about “sodomy.” They were discovered in the handwritten manuscript and restored to the public record by historian Jonathan Katz. They give evidence of the struggle of the authorities to control same-sex eroticism from the very founding of the Colony.

References to the Biblical city of Sodom, which God destroyed for its sinfulness, are the source for the word “sodomy,” as the greatest sin of that community. However, Katz cautions that at the time the term “Sodomite” referred to any of Sodom’s sinful citizens and their whole array of vices, but rarely to persons guilty specifically and only of sodomy.

A year after the Talbot delivered its immigrants  to the Massachusetts Bay, the man who was to become the Colony’s first Governor wrote an impassioned goodbye to a male friend before embarking from England with the next fleet of colonizers. In 1630, John Winthrop wrote to William Springe,”…I must needs tell you, my soul is knit to you, as the soul of Jonathan to David: were I now with you, I should bedew that sweet bosum with tears of affection…” The History Project discovered this letter and explains that masculine friendships were customary at the time. Such relationships allowed for open expressions of love as well as being “bed-fellows,” without the accusation of sodomy.

john winthrop

John Winthrop

The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s authority, and that of the earlier established (1620) Plymouth Colony, was resisted by Europeans who had already settled here. Most notorious among them was Thomas Morton, who had set up his own Merrymount Colony near present day Quincy.  The pagan, poet, and admirer of indigenous people was banished several times for challenging the Puritan monopoly in the area.

Morton had a successful trading post and agrarian colony run equitably with former indentured servants. Their celebration of May Day,  with an 80 foot tall May pole, provided the Puritans with an excuse to crack down on their competitors. According to Plymouth Colony’s governor William Bradford, in 1628, Morton and other male settlers at Merrymount were guilty of “great licentiousness.” The men’s consorting with Indian women is mentioned along with what Bradford called worse practices associated with ancient Roman feasts. Bradford explained that “…sodomy and buggery (things fearful to name) have broken forth in this land oftener than once…”  Plymouth militia chopped the Maypole down and arrested Morton, ultimately charging him with selling firearms to the Native Americans, and holding him for return to England.

Frederick_Goodall_Raising_the_Maypole

A poetical interpretation of the Merrymount May pole celebration

The “worse practices” in the case of Thomas Morton may have referred to interracial sex. It could also be an oblique indication that the European men may have had intimate relationships, not only with Native American women, but with each other and/or Native American men.  It is possible that the various groups of First People present in new England had very different attitudes toward same-sex intimacy and what we now call gender roles.  Though no mention has yet been found in records from the eastern colonies for the Eastern Woodlands people, other early European explorers of the continent as well as later observers in the rest of the country discovered  gender and sexual expression differing from the Europeans in at least 130 Native American societies. More exploration of First People from their own perspective needs to be done.  Individuals crossed gender in dress, work, and speech as well as sexual activity. French explorers called the men a derogatory “ber dache”.  There were also women who were gender variant.

In 1636, the Reverend John Cotton drafted the first set of laws for the Colony, which were based on the Old Testament. Under those crimes designated as capital, which were punishable by death, Cotton included “Unnatural filthiness, whether sodomy, which is carnal fellowship of man with man, or woman with woman, or buggery, which is carnal fellowship of man or woman with beasts or fowls.” Cotton’s proposal wasn’t adopted, but is notable for his inclusion of women. Only New Haven Colony eventually included women in a similar statute as a capital offense.

When Northampton was settled in 1654, it came under the Body of Liberties, which were adopted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641. Article 8 in Capital Crimes quoted directly from the Old Testament, Leviticus 20:13: “If a man LYETH WITH MAN-KINDE as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed abomination. They both shall surely be put to death.A revision in 1648 added the stipulation:  “except one who was forced or be under 14 years of age in which case he be severely punished.” This statute would stand until 1698, when “sodomy” was changed to “buggery,” grouped with bestiality, and the phrase “contrary to the very light of Nature” was added.

In 1983 in the Gay/Lesbian Almanac , Jonathan Katz compiled records of at least twenty legal cases in the eastern Colonies involving charges of “sodomy” or other erotic acts between men or between women from 1607 to 1740. Seven of these occurred in Massachusetts Colonies *. Within these twenty cases, there is good evidence of four men having been executed for “sodomy,” and two to four others may also have been. Only one has been found to occur in Massachusetts.      Legal historian George Haskins speculates that a greater concern about non-procreative sexual acts occurred at the beginning of the colony because of the need for more laborers. He notes that passage of sodomy law and a cluster of sodomy, bestiality, and related cases in 1641-42 coincided with an economic depression, a halt in immigration, and the return of new colonists to England (or movement to other colonies), in part, because of the growing reputation of Massachusetts for intolerance.

Katz agrees that “sodomy” and other non-procreative crimes (including rape, bestiality, adultery, and masturbation) were considered to be, not only sins against the family and posterity, but also threats to the economic prosperity of the colony. Perhaps because prosecution of capital crimes required two witnesses, the colonial court records discovered by Katz indicate same-sex eroticism was most often punished as a lesser offense. These were variously charged as unchaste or lewd behavior, unseemly practices, uncleane carriage one with another, uncivell living together, licentiousness, lascivious speech, and disorderly living.” Punishments included public repentance, fines, whipping, branding, disenfranchisement, and banishing.

Puritan-Life-Puritan-Morality-Enforced

Though cases are rarer and punished to a lesser degree, women were also included in this proscription. Katz found two court cases in the Massachusetts colonies  and minister commentary from five New England ministers that made references to acts of women with women.

Three cases of cross-dressing in the 1600’s, two involving women wearing men’s clothing, hint at enough of a phenomena that the Massachusetts Colony passed a law in 1695 prohibiting the wearing of the clothes of the opposite sex.

Statutes concerning “sodomy,” and particularly some legal commentaries and trial records, are fairly explicit. Outside the courtroom, however, there is a marked reticence to be so frank, as though these actions, even the knowledge of them, were infectious. In addition to Rev. Higgeson’s wickedness not to bee named and Bradford’s “things fearful to name,” Katz documents instances in which “buggery” is referred to as a sin “amongst Christians not to be named,” and a note that the private confessions of some youths being tried were so filthy that they were “not fit to be known in a public way.” Katz observes that in Puritan Colonies , sodomitical impulse was not thought of as a sexuality or an identity, but as an inherent potential that could be drawn out of the fallen by bad example.

This, then, was the colonial culture that informed Northampton’s beginnings in 1654.

 

*Multiple Massachusetts colonies; Plymouth Colony founded 1620, Massachusetts Bay colony founded 1628, Maine Colony founded sometime 1640s, all three joined together under one charter as the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

 

Further reading online sources:

__http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/the-age-of-sodomitical-sin/1620s/legal-case-boys-massachusetts-

__Thomas Morton became a popular figure in American literature and his myth is hard to sort from the facts. Multiple online sources are available; http://ancientlights.org/morton.html

https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h576.html

https://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/morton.html

Morton’s account of the revels at Merrymont: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/19-mor.html

The new English Canaan text https://archive.org/stream/newenglishcanaan00mort/newenglishcanaan00mort_djvu.txt

__An entry site for indigenous peoples queer history is chapter 17 of  An Online Guide to LGBT History https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/pwh/index-am.asp#c17

__Bowen, Gary. “Transgendered Native Americans.” American Boyz. 1996. http://web.archive.org/web/20030213203638/http://www.amboyz.org/articles/native.html

__Parker, Wendy Susan. “the Berdache Spirit.” http://reconciliation.tripod.com/berdache.htm

_Multiple sources Native American gender variance: http://www.angelfire.com/on/otherwise/native.html

SOURCES:

__Emmerson, Everett H. Letters from New England: the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1629-1638. University of Massachusetts Press, 1976.

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History. Meridian, 1976. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/991788.Gay_American_History

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. Harper & Row, 1983. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/766631.Gay_Lesbian_Almanac

__[Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/194550.Improper_Bostonians?ac=1&from_search=true

__ Haskins, G. L. Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts – A Study in Tradition and Design. Macdonald & Co.1960.

__Foster, Thomas A. Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America. New York University Press. New York, New York. 2007. https://nyupress.org/books/9780814727508/

__D’Amelio, John and Freeman, Esther. Intimate Matters: a History of Sexuality in America. University of Chicago Press. 1988. https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/I/bo14770063.html

 

 

 

Misses Packard and Giles


Two Valley women, Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles, were included in a recent Autostraddle.com post: “16 Lesbian Power Couples From History Who Got Shit Done, Together.”

Sophie Packard and Hattie Giles never called themselves “lesbians,” a term that had yet to be popularized in the late 19th century. They may well have been horrified to have – or be thought to have had – a sexual relationship. I include them as two of our own, as Autostraddle.com has done, because they stepped outside of the strictures of patriarchal marriage to embrace a committed union with each other.

Miss Packard said in an 1888 reunion address to alumni at New Salem Academy that she had found her “life companion” there at the school. She was referring to Miss Giles, with whom she lived and often worked for the thirty-six years from 1855 to 1891.

Both were born and raised in New Salem, Massachusetts, the small hilltown on State Route 202, east of and above what is now Quabbin Reservoir. It was perhaps because of their four year age difference that they had not been close before the Academy. Miss Packard was born in 1824 and Miss Giles in 1828.  Sophie Packard began her career as a school teacher at the age of sixteen in Shutesbury, but continued her education at New Salem Academy. At New Salem, she was a preceptor, which was a student role roughly like a teaching assistant. There she met Hattie, who attended the Academy from 1843 through 1848.

The two may have begun living and working together after Hattie’s graduation. Academy alumnae accounts merely note that they were both assistant teachers at the Academy in 1853 and 1854. They taught together in various private and public schools in Fitchburg, Dana, Orange, Greenfield, Petersham, and other places.

Sophie Packard also graduated from Charlestown Female Seminary in 1850 and subsequently became principal of several institutions where Hattie Giles taught as well. After she became an active leader in the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society, Miss Packard sought more fulfilling work. She became a pastor’s assistant in Worcester for eight years, serving young women who came to the city to work in the factories.

In 1881, the two, now in their fifties, took a trip South to see where they might start a school to offer an education to African American women in the first generation after the Civil War. They thought Louisiana might be a likely place, but on their way there, they stopped in Atlanta, Georgia. There, they met Reverend Frank Quarles. Rev. Quarles was the minister of Friendship Baptist Church and, as a leader in the Atlanta Black community, had been seeking ways to build an education system. Rev. Quarles offered Miss Packard and Miss Giles the use of the Church basement as the beginning of a collaboration.

basement
image via Autostraddle.com from educating for citizenship courtesy Spelman College Archives, Atlanta, Georgia

Several weeks later, on April 11, 1881, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary opened in the “dink-damp” basement of the church. There were eleven girls as students. Miss Packard and Miss Giles were teaching, but had little yet in the way of equipment or materials. Rev. Quarles and the Yankee schoolmarms soon made trips North to secure funding, not only for supplies, but also additional teachers and larger, permanent facilities. Rev. Quarles fell ill on such a trip. He died, but not before seeing his own daughter Frankie begin school in the first class.

Two years later, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary moved with sixty students to a converted military barracks purchased by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Sophia Packard was the Seminary’s first president. Over the years, the Seminary added vocational training in nursing and teaching training, as well as a high school diploma program, and later a college curriculum. John D. Rockefeller gave substantial amounts of money to fund the buildings. In 1884, the institution changed its name to Spelman Seminary in order to honor the anti-slavery activist parents of Rockefeller’s wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller.

misses Giles and Packard_edited-1
image from Reunion Banner 1895 courtesy Amherst MA Jones Library Special Collection

 

Miss Sophie Packard died in 1891.  Miss Hattie Giles took over the role of Seminary President until her own death in 1910. But that time, Spellman had become the largest Black women’s seminary in the world. Today it is known as Spelman College. Miss Packard and Miss Giles are buried next to each other in the Packard family plot in the Silver Lake Cemetery in Athol, Massachusetts.

Sources:

__Riese. ”16 Lesbian Power Couples From History Who Got Shit Done, Together.” Autostraddle. March 31, 2017. https://www.autostraddle.com/16-lesbian-power-couples-from-history-who-changed-the-world-together-372223/

__Bullard, Eugene. History of New Salem Academy. New Salem,   Massachusetts; 1913.

__Mitchell, Deborah. “Father Quarles and Aunt Ruth: Leaders for Spelman and All of Georgia. Accessed 4/21/17. NOTE this is the source for the photo of the two women used by Autostraddle.com, which apparently got it from Spelman College Archives. The names however are mislabeled, the opposite of what was included in the identical photos printed in the Reunion Banner. http://kcac.kennesaw.edu/thematic_content/educating_for_citizenship/leaders.html

__Reunion Banner. New Salem Academy. New Salem, Massachusetts: 1881, 1888, 1895, 1910.  Sophie Packard and Hattie Giles reported their news to their former classmates here over the years, including the photographs of them and Spelman Seminary. Available locally at Amherst MA Jones Library Special Collections.

__Young, Allen. North of Quabbin Revisited. Athol, Massachusetts: Haley’s; 2003. A thank you to Allen who first informed me of the local ladies.

 

Freshman Frolics


Before there were Wimmin’s dances in the 1970s in the Valley, there were turn-of-the-century “Freshman Frolics” at Smith College, as elucidated here by Smith alumni Stacy Braverman, who was a student when she wrote this piece for the original chapbook. The Freshman Frolics ended in 1939 and it appears to me to be one of the changes incurred when the College reacted defensively to the invention and popularization of the concept of the homosexual as a perverse identity.

 

Crushes at Smith by Stacy Braverman

In the early days of Smith College, there was a strong tradition of “crushes” between first-year students and upperclasswomen. A 1900 article entitled “Unwritten Laws at Smith” details the rules:  First-years were expected to have older crushes, and run errands for, bring flowers to, and compliment them at every opportunity.  Rumors spread with great velocity about who had a crush on whom.

From approximately 1890 to 1915, the Freshman Frolic, which had been held since 1879, became centered on the crush relationship.  Older students would invite first-years to the dance, and serve as their escorts for the evening. They serenaded their guests, presented them to the student body, and danced with them. After the dance, students ate dessert in their escorts’ bedrooms and then rushed home for their 10pm curfews. By the 1920s, parents began attending the Frolic and the crush aspect disappeared. The Frolic itself ended in 1932.

While having a crush was an important part of a Smith student’s first year, it was not expected to become a truly romantic relationship in the modern sense. Nonetheless, the crush was disdained by many outside of Smith. A 1904 article in the Smith College Monthly depicted a typical student’s first trip home from Smith. When she told her aunt about her crush, her aunt described Smith College life as “unnatural.”

crushes-at-smith
courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.

 

SOURCES:

__ Braverman, Stacy. 2004. One of a series of pieces on Smith College’s LGBTQ history written for this project when it was to be a chapbook published for Northampton’s birthday. Stacy was the archivist for the SC LGBTQ group and with another student is responsible for preserving and making available a collection of material from that group.

__Graphic in Crush folder at College Archives (in the Magic File).  Pamphlet called “The Babies’ Own Journal” page 4, “The Lady from the Lodge.”  Humorous magazine produced by the Class of 1908, describing crush customs. Courtesy Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.

 

 

 

 

 

“T” is for…


The UMass Student Homophile League got a cubicle next door to the Students for a Democratic Society to use as an office on the mezzanine of the Student Union. Stopping in between classes became a habit of mine even though it was mostly gay men who were hanging out. It was here I first heard the word “T-room.” Since, in context, I understood it to mean that the men were going to cruise the Goodell Library restrooms for casual sex, I thought the “T” I was hearing meant “toilet.”

Only decades later, upon reading Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn, did I come to understand the “T” was “tea,” and that cruising the “tearoom” was very old American gay vernacular, the origins of which had been lost over time. Not only that, but Jan, a Northampton resident as well as a restaurant historian, had discovered an example in the city of the early 1900s Bohemian tearoom phenomena that, like others of its type, may well have been cruised by men we would today call gay. Whether the men were there or not, we know that the tearoom which was enormously popular with women was run by a gender bender former actress who had passed through NYC.

cropped-rose-tree-inn-11.gif
Postcard of the Rose Tree Inn (courtesy of Jan Whitaker)

For fifteen years, 1908-1923, Madame Anna  deNaucaze ran Ye Rose Tree Inn at 252 Bridge Street. Madame  had several different women partners in the business. Like many other tearooms of the time, the Rose Tree Inn introduced the dining public to a setting with special décor and food that was a great improvement over the usual hotel or tavern meat and potatoes fare. Well-prepared fresh ingredients were featured. Salads and sandwiches were introduced for lunch. There was also afternoon tea, sumptuous six-course dinners and extravagant deserts. Above all, tearooms like the Inn were mostly women-run and, for the first time in the U.S., provided a welcoming place for women unaccompanied by men. In fact, according to Whitaker, “real men” didn’t generally eat in tearooms, perhaps because they were uncomfortable on women’s turf.

In addition to being the province of women, a genre of tearooms became popular in Bohemian Greenwich Village. These even more exotic venues gained a reputation for welcoming those outside the new heterosexual norm, as well as other social mavericks. While we have lost the presence of such dining/lounging establishments, gay lore has retained the use of the word “tearoom” to designate places worth strolling through to look for kindred souls.

In Northampton, the Rose Tree Inn proprietor A. dN., as she signed herself, was such a maverick, and so was subject to local criticism. She has been described by a Smith College student as wearing “mannish suits and stiff collars” and that “there is a mystery surrounding her. No one knows if whether it is a man or a woman.” Although no alcohol was served at RTI, she is recalled as visiting Anna Bliss, an unmarried woman friend living down the street, where behind drawn shades, they would share some port and a cigar. According to the stories Bliss told her nephew de Naucaze also lost a lot of money gambling in  Monte Carlo one summer.

naucaze
Anna deNaucaze, 1919 Smith College yearbook paid ad (courtesy Sophia Smith Collebction, Smith College, Northampton MA)

In 1910, she came to the defense of her Inn and others, by publishing a newspaper entitled, 4ALL: They Say- What They Say?- Let Them Say.  In decrying townspeople who spread rumors about the Inn and her customers, she said, “Nor do I wish to blazen forth the weakness of any individual picked up on Main Street, limp of limb and thick of speech. Neither do I desire to spread scandals…I shall at all times be delighted for the sake of truth… I have no use for people who talk through their hats and veils, protecting themselves with their hatpins to the detriment of their neighbors.”

The former New York City actress moved to the area in 1907. After briefly trying to run a tearoom in Goshen, she packed all her pots and pans into a horse-drawn wagon and moved to Northampton. She and Marie VonVeltheim (aka the Countess), who was a painter of miniature portraits, bought a 200 year-old farmhouse on the edge of town from an Irish family.  This became the Rose Tree Inn.

The Inn opened in December of 1908. It rapidly became popular with Smith College faculty and students. Perhaps because so many of its customers were on an academic schedule, the Inn was closed during the summers. In an entrepreneurial spirit, deNaucaze also owned, for a brief time, a summer Rose Tree Inn in Maine, and two “annexes:” the Rose Tree Hut on Arnold Avenue in 1918 and the “Queer and Quaint” Rose Tree Den on Masonic Street in 1919.

Contemporary accounts credit her personality as being as great a draw as the Inn’s fine food. Her wit and intelligence are repeatedly noted. Many Smith faculty visited in her book-lined “den” at the Inn to exchange views. She was unpopularly outspoken about many contemporary affairs.  She was against women’s suffrage, vehemently anti-German, and in favor of America joining the Great War, now known as World War I. This latter opinion, she felt, was the reason she was eventually forced to close the Inn.

No mention of a “Monsieur” deNaucaze has been found, and she refused to tell the 1910 Census taker if she was divorced. A friend recalled that A.dN. had been born in Belgium to the Irish Montgomery Moore family, was educated in Paris, married, and had a son.  This same friend said that when A.dN. began her stage career, she had adopted the deNaucaze name from an aunt who was an actress in Paris. The Countess probably lived with her at the Inn until 1912.  Kate Sangree joined the Inn partnership in 1919. In 1923, “Mrs.” Sangree and deNaucaze were planning to adopt an infant girl that had come into their care in some unspecified way.

Although A.dN. cited other issues as well, being popular with Smith students seems to have led directly to the demise of the business. In order to serve students, establishments had to be on the College’s approved Warden’s list. DeNaucaze was variously forced to prohibit dancing, smoking, and drinking.  She was also required to provide a “matronly” cashier to act as chaperone at her places of business. In 1923, despite student protest, the Rose Tree was dropped from the Warden’s list of places approved by the College, allegedly because students had been smoking there. The resulting loss of business forced Madame, at age 69, to sell the Inn. She moved briefly to Maryland and then to New York City where she died a year later of pneumonia.

Even under a new woman owner, the Rose Tree Inn wasn’t able to regain Smith College approval. In 1928, the Rose Tree Luncheonette became the Rose Tree Filling Station. Today, what remains of the original structure houses Duffy Tire. An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1989 to preserve and restore the building as the Inn.

9479061_origduffy tire
The current use of the former Inn at 252 Bridge St. (Google map street view)

 

Further reading: See more on the Inn

__at Jan Whitaker’s restauranting history blog   http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/tag/roadside-restaurants/page/2/

__The building has been inventoried as a historic site

http://www.northamptontimelines.org/bridge-street-252.html

__ Elizabeth Kent presented research in 2012, http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/2012/03/01/northamptons-lgbt-ancestor-anna-de-naucazes-story-intrigues-inspires

__and in  again in 2015

http://www.historicnorthampton.org/rose-tree-inn.html

 

Sources:

__Whitaker, Jan. Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. 2002. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

__Pease, Kathleen. “Rose tree: Local historians seek to save inn built in early 1700s.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 18, 1989.

__Murray, Clarence. “Reminiscence of what told by Anna Catherine Bliss, friend of A. dN.. 1987.” This is a handwritten account by Bliss’ nephew of stories told him by his aunt. Historic Northampton.

__DeNaucaze, Mme. Anna. “Baby at ‘Rose Tree” not Kidnapped.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Sep. 1, 1923.

__”Madame De Naucaze sells ‘Rose Tree.’” Daily Hampshire Gazette.  Sep. 7, 1923.

 

Coming Next: autumn 1971

 

 

 

Just Before the Revolution


Was there a gay revolution in Northampton? A look at the gay subculture that existed here just before 1970 may help answer that. I am still looking for and surveying existing literature but here’s a summary of one piece of research.

Lack of documents is one thing noted by Vincent Bonfitto in his 1990 search for Valley gay history prior to the modern gay and lesbian political movements. Only by interviewing seven older gays and lesbians (all of whom may have been white), including Warren Clark and Jean Grossholtz, for his Master’s thesis at UMass was he able to add a little to our sparse knowledge of post-WWII Valley gay subculture.

In general he found this subculture was largely limited to very private social networks meeting in each others homes; and, often isolated individual couple relationships. Gays and lesbians in this era often had to go out of town to find venues for meeting each other. The experiences of men and women and their subcultures differed in significant ways.

Those interviewed by Bonfitto noted that social life for gay male academics centered around private Smith College cocktail parties and trips to Jacob’s Pillow dance center in  Becket MA in summer. Gay male social life was absent at Amherst College, where a gay male faculty member had been asked to resign in the 1950s. No information was included on UMass, except that couples existed. One social network consisted of gay priests in the diocese. Three of the four men interviewed had lost jobs because of homosexuality, one not rehired at Amherst High School in 1962 for, among other things, being “effeminate.”

Gay men in the Valley cruised public facilities for anonymous sex in Amherst, Holyoke, and Greenfield, as well as Northampton. The largest cruising grounds familiar to the men were in Springfield, including the lobby of the Bridgeway Hotel, a huge public men’s room next to City Hall, and the park behind Old First Church off Court Square.

The nearest gay bars were also in Springfield. Though they occasionally were visited by gay women, they were largely for men, with varying clientele. The fourth floor bar and restaurant Blakes was run like a private club, very “high class,” and had drag balls during the holidays. The Arbour was a formal, “posh” piano bar for the over-thirty crowd, while the Arch and Sports Lounge were more informal and mixed class. The Arch, in particular, was known as a pickup place. Bonfitto doesn’t mention the race of bar patrons, the location of the bars, or dates of existence.

Gay women’s or lesbians’ culture appears to have been much more restricted and largely separate from the men’s. Throughout his thesis, Bonfitto refers to the women as “lesbians,” with no note of the actual self-referents of those he interviewed. The three women noted very closed social networks, little bar attendance, but the known existence of a reputed butch-femme bar culture with alcohol-fueled violence. At Mt. Holyoke College, students who came out (were discovered) were moved by the administration to live by themselves in single dorm rooms or off campus. The only alternative to the Springfield bars mentioned above, for women,  was attendance in Boston at Daughters of Bilitis events and vacationing in Provincetown.

Aside from Bonfitto’s thesis there are a few other published sources I have yet to review that contain bits about this period. Some scraps have come my way. I was told by a Smith College alumnae who came to live at Green Street in the early 70s that she had been suspended for a semester and sent home to get psychiatric treatment because her feelings for another woman became apparent to others.

In 1969, among the many old WAC friends who visited my partner Susan and me in Williamsburg, was a gay female couple then living in New York. They brought the portentous news that one of them was transitioning to male. Because of Susan’s regular correspondence with Ladder editor Barbara Grier, our friend Karl (literary pseudonym) wrote what may have been the first article on transsexuals published by the magazine. In 1972, the couple, now legally married and with an adopted child, moved to Northampton and totally assimilated.

The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Written by a transsesexual who moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.
The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Karl (a literary pseudonym) moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.

The semi-rural nature of the Valley and the generally small size of towns, even those with academic institutions, undoubtedly contributed to the very private and often isolated existence of gay people in Northampton and the area prior to 1970.

What began to change and how it happened are the topics of the next series of blogs on the 1970s. I am very much looking forward to getting my personal copy of Lillian Faderman’s new history the Gay Revolution. It’s been given fine reviews and I’m sure, like the other volumes I have of her work, I will underline, highlight and scribble madly in its margins. A timely publication that can be referred to as we lay out the story of the revolution here in the Valley. Stay tuned in!

COMING NEXT: A Kind of Revolution: Overview.

SOURCES:
__Bonfitto,Vincent F. “The Formation of Gay and Lesbian Identity and Community in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts, 1900-1970.” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 33(1) 1997, 69-96. Haworth Press. I will include more material in future blogs.
__Ericsen, Karl. “The Transsexual Experience.” The Ladder, Apr/May 1970, 25-27. Daughters of Bilitis, San Francisco.

FUTURE WORK? LOOKING FOR: I have also been told about, but not yet verified and researched, semi-pro women’s baseball and basketball teams in Springfield, and a Valley-wide industrial women’s softball league that may have existed in the 1960s. Who knows about this? Also were there male equivalents? Or bar leagues as have been found in other large cities? Does anyone know the location of the Springfield bars mentioned by Bonfitto, or (pie in the sky) have photos? I will post a blog soon on the Girls Club, lesbian bar in Chicopee started in the 1940s.