Lesbian Historiography, or a Talk about the “Sweaty Sheet Fantasies of Certain Modern Tribades”

Eras Journal – Newman, S.: Lesbian Historiography

Lesbian Historiography, or A Talk about the “Sweaty Sheet Fantasies of Certain Modern Tribades” [1]
Sally Newman
(Monash University)


Freud called it epistemophilia and more recently Derrida has described it as archive fever. It is the pursuit of knowledge and it has been characterised variously as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, as the acting out of past trauma, and most entertainingly by the novelist A.S. Byatt as being possessed by, and possessive of, the artifacts of the past. [2] For feminist theorist Toril Moi, the drive for knowledge and the desire to know are:

Crucially bound to the body and sexuality…the presence of the body produces the drag in our discourse and the muddle in our thoughts. And this meddling body is always already libidinal.[3]

What all these conceptions (of the desire to have and to create knowledge) share in common, is the understanding that the role of the researcher is crucial to the construction of particular types of knowledge. Critiquing the concept of objectivity in scholarly work has been a major methodological and epistemological project of feminist scholarship over the last three decades. [4] One outcome of this scholarship has been a shift to what feminist theorist Catherine Waldby calls “embodied authorship”, generally signaled by the use of “an explicitly sexed authorial ‘I’ as a means of demonstrating the limits of disembodied scholarship.” [5] What is also embedded in this statement, as in much feminist theory, is the assumption of heterosexuality and the pre-eminence of gender as an analytic category. What difference does it make when the authorial/authoritative “I” is, for want of a better term, “lesbianised”? [6]

This paper is a preliminary excursion into theorising lesbian historiography, by examining the interpretive context created by the role of the lesbian historian in the production of lesbian history, and her/my libidinal investments involved in the pursuit of traces of desire through archival collections. The question of how to read photographs, diaries, and letters and their often-coded representations of lesbian desire becomes a central issue in the realm of the history of sexuality. Where is the desire located? Is it in the text or in the interaction of the lesbian historian with the text? The practice of reading is a process that involves the scholar as an interpreter of textual material and, as such, is intimately implicated in the construction of meaning.

Crossing cultural and historical contexts, I examined an archival collection that collectively spans the early to mid-twentieth century. [7] This is an institutional archive located at Smith College, an elite women’s college in Massachusetts. There are two sets of photographs I will discuss: the first is a range of stills from theatrical productions staged by Smith students in the 1880s-1890s, the second set are two photographs of what are intriguingly identified as “Man dances” and “Half-man dances” and are dated 1911-1914. What both sets have in common is that they show women students in what Smith President L. Clarke Seelye described as ‘male attire’, and, in the case of the Half-man and Man dances, in full black tie, complete with varying degrees of facial hair and cigarettes. Together they raise interesting questions about the nature of evidence and the politics of interpretation in the process of writing lesbian history.

Although the material I discuss covers a period of twenty years, from the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century, there is no time here to focus in any specific way on the different historical/cultural contexts of their production. I focus instead on the mosaic of same-sex desires that can be discerned in this archive. I use the term “lesbian” to refer to the possibilities of reading same-sex desire, although I am aware of the potentially reductive and ahistorical implications of doing so. As Judith Halberstam argues, “…many contemporary lesbian historians cannot extricate themselves from contemporary understandings of lesbian identity long enough to interpret the vagaries of early same sex desire”. [8] While Halberstam is generally right, I would argue that it is impossible to extricate yourself from your historical and cultural positioning, and that in fact, it is the collision of temporalities in the body of the lesbian historian which marks a site of desire and which is inscribed in the work she produces. For instance, even being able to conceive of writing lesbian history is itself the product of a particular historical context – that of the mid- to late twentieth century.

The late nineteenth century has become a focal point for historians of sexuality, identified as the period during which the heterosexual/homosexual classification was constructed – most famously elucidated by Michel Foucault in theHistory of Sexuality[9] For some lesbian historians, however, the nineteenth century has been perceived quite differently. Lillian Faderman’s groundbreaking book, Surpassing the Love of Men, drew attention to the existence of intense same-sex friendships that, she argued, had been socially accepted and encouraged from the sixteenth century through to the early twentieth century. [10] The last decades of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries saw the “end” of this view according to Faderman, as sexologists included romantic friendships in their classificatory system of sexual inversion. [11] Although as Martha Vicinus comments,”a major difficulty these historians [of romantic friendships] have faced is that of dating: exactly when did the theories of the medical men become well known among the general public?”. [12] This becomes a crucial issue when attempting to define or contextualise same-sex friendships/relationships in this period. It also highlights a long-standing division of opinion in gay and lesbian historiography over whether the influence of sexological literature was detrimental for men and women whose sexual and emotional relationships were categorised as abnormal or perverse. Or did these categories provide a framework for understanding desire that could not speak its name?

To date, college archives have been used by scholars such as Faderman and Carroll Smith Rosenberg to argue for the existence of a “female world of love and ritual”, in which women maintained passionate relationships with each other but which were essentially asexual. [13] Histories of “Progressive Era” education, family life and the “women’s sphere”, focused on the east-coast of the United States or New England area during the nineteenth century. Such histories usually include an obligatory section about crushes and romantic friendships between students, however, these discussions are generally framed in an ignorance/knowledge binary. Expressions of affection, love or passion between female students are described as “unselfconscious” or “innocent”; the notion of asexual romantic friendship is deployed to resolve/deflect the spectre of the lesbian, and this is contrasted, often implicitly, with the historical position of the scholar. [14] As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick observes, by emphasising the differences between homosexuality as “we know it today” and homosexuality in the past, we are assuming “a unified homosexuality that ‘we’ do ‘know today'”. [15]

Nancy Sahli provided one of the first in depth examinations of the prevalence of “crushes, smashes and mashes” inUS women’s colleges in the mid-nineteenth century. [16] Others, such as Martha Vicinus in her lengthy studyIndependent Women, have examined the erotic dynamics of the “crush” relationship in great detail.[17] Rosemary Auchmuty and more recently Sherrie Innes have discussed girls’ school stories for their representation of same-sex love and desire. [18] But the questions that have animated all of these debates and discussions in lesbian historiography are the dual notions of definition and evidence, and the interlinked problems of reading and interpretation.

My research in the Smith College archives has challenged many of my own assumptions about the sorts of archival material lesbian historians can use. Student scrapbooks provided one of the most interesting examples, as they constitute mini archives of the social practices of different periods at Smith. Certain patterns can be discerned amongst the scrapbooks, such as the keeping of dance cards, valentines, invitations to bats (which were a type of barbeque), programs for theatrical events at the college and theatrical props such as cigarettes and moustaches. But what has been lost is the significance of the names on those cards and the details of the relationships between the keeper of the scrapbook and those whose names she so carefully preserved. What was most interesting about the scrapbooks however, was the large number of photographs – cyanotypes on blue paper that showed students cross-dressed in various types of male clothing. I was intrigued by this find, not least because I was reading the photographs as evidence of a lesbian presence at Smith over a thirty year period. This is a reflection of my own historical positioning, as Laura Doan has persuasively argued in Fashioning Sapphism:

…the critical analysis of lesbian visibility and identities in the early twentieth century inevitably focus on what we – as contemporary viewers – see when we look at such photographs. And as a result, contextual specificity – whether in terms of history or visuality – is conspicuous by its absence. [19]

As I tried to contextualise the photographs, I found that many of the questions I had asked of textual material were still applicable here, but with a slight twist. For instance, how could I read the representational codes of these photographs? What were they evidence of? For photography critic John Tagg:

What lies ‘behind’ the paper or ‘behind’ the image is not reality…but reference: a subtle web of discourse through which realism is enmeshed in a complex fabric of notions, representations, images, attitudes, gestures and modes of action which function as everyday know-how, ‘practical ideology’, norms within and through which people live their relation to the world. [20]

What then, are the contexts in which I should read these photographs?

A major interpretive context is provided by the culture of the college (as seen in the archives) in these years. From the rituals that shaped every college experience, such as “Chapel dates”, sophomore dances, “mock weddings” [21], “the institution of crush” [22], the giving and receiving of valentines cards, “eats” (midnight feasts in the houses), to theatrical productions, students formed intense and erotic relationships with other women that were socially sanctioned; indeed, it was a part of the college culture. Diana Fuss suggests that the school is “one of the specific institutions in which a new sexual subject emerges in the modern period…[taking on] added importance as a dynamic site of social and historical change.”[23] In this way, Smith College provides an opportunity to understand the specific social and cultural context in which a particular type of student body (singular and plural), was produced.


In 1881 President Seelye banned the wearing of “masculine attire” in theatrical productions but said that students could adopt a “suggestive style” in their rendition of masculine roles. According to reports in the Smith College Monthly , the student reaction was subversive. Their immediate response was to put up a flyer for their latest play, stating it would be performed in “the suggestive style” and then the actors dressed in excessively “feminine attire”, and walked around the stage with placards which read “this is a man”, “this is rock”, “this is a tree”. [24]

Photo: One Summer: Alice Buswell and Alice Johnson, 1888[25]

After this we find photographs of students, dressed to all intents and purposes in “male attire” (this includes facial hair etc.), from the top of the head, to waist height, but we do not see below the waist. As the photograph of “One Summer” indicates, the students went to inordinate lengths to hide their skirts in order to keep the mood of the play; the “male” character lounges with a degree of cultivated insouciance, behind a log! So what you have here is, to my mind, an even more gender-bending concept of half-man, half-woman, but this appears to have been acceptable, as long as the lower half of the body was dressed in “feminine clothes”. Madeleine Wallin, writing in Kappa Alpha Thetamagazine in 1892 emphasises the humour that students saw in this situation:

The only drawback to the realistic effect of these performances is the fact that President Seelye objects to the wearing of complete masculine attire by the fair amateurs, and as a consequence heroes and villains stalk the boards draped in very narrow, clinging black skirts, which look as if they felt the inappropriateness of their appearance in connection with the periwigs, ruffled shirts, swords, slouch hats and other masculine appurtenances with which the girls are permitted to deck themselves. [26]

Photo: ‘The Amazons’, Dickson House Play, January 1896[27]

When or whether Seelye’s ban was lifted, or whether it simply faded away, is hard to tell from the remaining sources. The first photographs I have come across of students wearing full “male attire” for theatrical productions is for the 1896 staging of Arthur Pinero’s “farcical play” called The Amazons[28] The play was a popular one with four productions over ten years and it provided students with the opportunity to cross-dress in a perfectly respectable fashion. The play revolves around the three daughters of Lady Castlejordan, who have been brought up as young men and follows their secret liaisons with three male suitors without their mother’s knowledge. The ensuing gender disruption is totally chaotic to say the least, with girls dressed as boys kissing boys, who are actually girls, and vice versa.


Surely, one of the reasons for the popularity of theatrical cross-dressing was the opportunity it gave the students to experiment with the same-sex erotic possibilities offered by taking on “masculine attire”. In the quest for “authentic” characterisation of male parts, students were able to play with the idea of same-sex desire, but with the understanding that the artifice involved was contained by the temporary and fictional boundaries of the play and its staging. As cultural studies theorist Marjorie Garber comments: “The ideological implications of this pattern are clear: cross dressing can be ‘fun’ or ‘functional’ so long as it occupies a liminal space and a temporary time period: after this carnivalization however…the cross dresser is expected to resume life as he or she was.” [29] Smith student, Eleanor Little, writing a letter to her mother in 1907, describes the reaction of her fellow students to one of the cross-dressed actors:

I went to the Hubbard House play last night. It was An American Citizen and was very funny. One of the girls, who took the part of the hero was so good looking that all the girls fell in love with him, or should I say her.[30]

What stands out in this excerpt is that students themselves seem aware of the erotic possibilities offered by the cross-dressed figure of theatrical productions. As Little’s revealing clarification of pronouns – from he to she – seems to indicate, the spectatorial pleasures for the female audience could range from wanting to be, be desired by, and/or desire the cross-dressed woman on stage. [31]

Recent scholarship on the nineteenth century theatre and music hall phenomenon of “breeches roles” for female actors such as Charlotte Cushman and male impersonators like Annie Hindle suggests that there is a whole other dimension to the popularity of these cross-dressed performers that needs to be further investigated. As theatre historian Laurence Senelick comments of Hindle:

Their [female fans] attraction to this equivocal appeal was certified by the number of ‘mash notes’ Hindle received. She once compared billet-doux with Henry J. Montague, the matinee idol of Wallack’s Theatre, and her admirers all women, far outnumbered his. [32]

The student response to the cross-dressed figure of Smith’s theatrical productions reflects this wider phenomenon but does raise other issues, such as the conflicting restrictions on “male attire” that produced a sartorial hermaphrodite and what this might signify in the context of women’s education at this time.

Photographs: Half-Man Dance at 103 South Street, Smith College, 1910-1911 [33]

Man Dances

There are several photographs of students dressed in full black tie titled “Man dances” or “Half-man dances”. The most tantalising aspect of these photographs stems from the absence of information that is available about them. Basically all we have left are the photographs, many are found in student scrapbooks, others in house files or as part of the drama club records which presents an interpretive dilemma as historian Jennifer Green-Lewis notes: “When it is taken out of its original context, a photograph cannot serve as evidence of history, however, or in fact as evidence of anything at all beyond itself.”[34] There is a single undated reference to them in the Social Regulation files which has a section on “Unwritten laws at Smith” and which also refers to the affectionately named “Squelch Committee” (c.1900) tabooing Man dances in the houses. [35]


The dates on the photographs I have viewed indicate that Man dances were not just one-off events, but continued for at least 16 years from 1898 – so obviously the Squelch Committee was not entirely effective! That the Man dances were a major event at Smith can be discerned from the quality of the photographs from the South Street dance (1910). Captions on photographs in scrapbooks such as that of Elizabeth Coakley (1898) titled “‘Man’ dance after exams” indicates that the Man dance could also represent, to repeat Garber’s phrase, a period of “carnivalization”, a celebratory end to the academic year that enabled students to cross class, gender, or race boundaries. [36] Worth noting here is the way that “Man” is designated (in inverted commas) in this photograph, which seems to point to a consciousness of the constructed-ness of (the performance) of masculinity. The photograph of the South Street “Half-man dance” seems to refer to the composition of cross-dressed men and women in the dance party (for instance, half of each). There are several photographs of this dance and they appear to have been taken professionally, although that information is no longer available. What does their attire tell us? What questions should we be asking of these photographic performances? Is this a performance of masculinity? Why the black tie outfits? Smith hosted freshman/sophomore dances which took place every year to introduce new students into college culture and where the sophomore was expected to “play the part of the gentleman” to the younger student. This event was also fraught with complex erotic interplay, however, all students wore dresses. What is it about the wearing of full black tie with the accessories of masculinity that invites a lesbian reading?

For Cheshire Calhoun, a lesbian studies theorist, it is the mannish or butch lesbian who most powerfully represents the lesbian:”…butches figure the lesbian in ways their more feminine counterparts cannot. In their power to generate the question ‘To which sex does s/he belong?’ they invite a reading of them as lesbians.” [37] This is the specific problem I am faced with, thinking how to describe/unpack my own reading practices of these photographs. First, what are these images evidence of? If I am looking to locate a lesbian reading in the representation of students in black tie, what am I focusing on? Is it the cross-dressing I see that I am conflating with the “mannish” woman and reading as lesbian when, as Marjorie Garber argues, it is this tendency to “look through rather than at the cross-dresser” [38] which characterises discussions of the transvestite. What is it about the cross-dressed woman that suggests the possibility of a lesbian reading? Is there any connection between cross-dressing and lesbianism? Garber is fairly quiet on the topic of lesbianism specifically, but does make the following observation:

The history of transvestism and the history of homosexuality constantly intersect and intertwine, both willingly and unwillingly. They cannot simply be disentangled. But what is also clear is that neither can simply be transhistorically “decoded” as a sign for the other. [39]

I have not yet untangled my confusion about how to decode the representational codes of these photographs, but I do find Biddy Martin’s discussion of “femininity played straight” a helpful counterpoint to Calhoun’s article. Because, while I agree with Calhoun that “visibly” the butch or mannish woman is more obvious than the femme, I agree also with Martin that in this view “femininity becomes the tacit ground in relation to which other positions become figural and mobile”. [40]


The most obvious question that arises here is whose desire is it anyway? As Carol Mavor reminds us:

All historical research, whether the objects of study are from a long time ago or yesterday, feeds upon a desire to know, to come closer to the person, object under study. Though we go to great pains to cover up our desire, to make our voice objective, to see that our findings are grounded, to dismiss our own bodies, we flirt (some of us more overtly, others more secretly) with the past. Flirting, as a game of suspension without the finale of seduction, keeps our subjects alive – ripe for further inquiry, probing further research. The more we flirt, the more we fantasize about our subject, the more elusive and desirable it becomes. [41]

In this paper I have focused on the role of the historian in constructing versions of the past, and on the lesbian historian in particular, to reveal the complex intersection of sites of desire in the making of lesbian historiography. What is really needed to further this project, and what this article sketches the vague outlines of, is a theoretically inflected account of the dynamic of transference as it is configured in lesbian historiography. This will provide crucial methodological insights to counter the “epistemological privileges” of heterosexuality that are so deeply embedded in the creation of knowledge, I do not see them myself most of the time.


I would like to thank Marian Quartly and Maryanne Dever for their suggestions on this article over its (long) development! I would also like to acknowledge the unstinting and good-humoured assistance provided by Smith College Archivist Ms Nanci Young, both during my research at SCA and over the last three years of follow-up queries and requests.


[1] Ivor C. Treby, The Michael Field Catalogue: A Book of Lists, De Blackland Press, London, 1998, p. 65. Ostensibly a catalogue of the Michael Field collections and bibliography, Treby infuses annotated entries with his own particular brand of homophobia. This comment refers to feminist and lesbian scholarship that highlights the erotic aspect of the collaboration of Katherine Bradley and her niece Edith Cooper as the late nineteenth century poet “Michael Field”. Although there is much that could be unpacked in this short comment I invoke it specifically to invert his homophobic comment, to reclaim it and to say yes I am driven by my own desire to write lesbian history, this is a project in which I have invested passionately: as Marilyn Frye comments “Attention is a kind of passion. When one’s attention is on something, one is present in a particular way…this presence is, among other things, an element of erotic presence.” Marilyn Frye,”To Be and be Seen”, in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory, The Crossing Press, New York, 1983, p. 172. Back

[2] Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women and Historical Practice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. & London, 1998. A.S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance, Vintage, London, 1990. Back

[3] Toril Moi, “Patriarchal thought and the drive for knowledge”, in Teresa Brennan (ed.), Between Feminism and Psychoanalysis , Routledge, London & New York, 1989, p. 203. Back

[4] See for example, Alison M. Jagger “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology”, in Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall (eds), Women, Knowledge and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Routledge, London and New York, 1996, pp. 166-190; Joan Acker et al, “Objectivity and Truth: Problems in Doing Feminist Research”, in Mary Fonow and Judith Cook (eds), Beyond Methodology: Feminist Scholarship as Lived Research , Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1991, pp. 133-153. Back

[5] Catherine Waldby “Feminism and Method”, in Barbara Caine & Rosemary Pringle (eds), Transitions: New Australian Feminisms, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, 1995, p. 23. Back

[6] I am aware that there are other considerations here, not least as Judith Butler states: “Where there is an ‘I’ who utters and thereby produces an effect in discourse, there is first a discourse which precedes and enables that ‘I’ and forms in language the constraining trajectory of its will. Thus there is no ‘I’ who stands behind discourse and executes volition or will through discourse.” Judith Butler “Critically Queer”, in Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” , Routledge, London & New York, 1993, p. 225. Back

[7] The Smith College Archives had been collecting material since the early twentieth century. http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/archives/info.htm#access accessed 30/10/03.Back

[8] Judith Halberstam Female Masculinity, Duke University Press, 1998, p. 50. Back

[9] “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.” Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, translated by Robert Hurley, Penguin Books, London, 1990, p. 43. Back

[10] Lillian Faderman Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1981. Back

[11] Havelock Ellis, as Esther Newton comments “…simplified Krafft-Ebbing’s four part typology [with] an ascending scale of inversion, beginning with women involved in ‘passionate friendships’…” Esther Newton “The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman”, Signs, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1984, p. 567. Back

[12] Martha Vicinus “Distance and Desire: English Boarding School Friendships”, Signs, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1984, p. 601.Back

[13] Lillian Faderman Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present , William Morrow & Co, New York, 1981; Carroll Smith-Rosenberg “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth Century America”, in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1985. Although scholars from such different perspectives as Lisa Moore and Judith Halberstam have challenged the romantic friendship model, which they argue de-sexualises lesbian identity, it still remains one of the most influential explanatory frameworks for conceptualising lesbian identity in this particular historical context. Back

[14] For example, see Nancy Cott The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780-1835, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1977; Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s, Alfred A. Knopf, 1984; and Carol Lasser “‘Let us be sisters forever’: The sororal mode of nineteenth century female friendship’, Signs, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1988, pp. 158-181.Back


[16] Nancy Sahli “Smashing: Women’s Relationships Before the Fall”, Chrysalis 17, Summer, 1979, pp. Back

[17] Martha Vicinus Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women 1850-1920, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1985. Back

[18] Rosemary Auchmuty “You’re a Dyke, Angela! Elsie J. Oxenham and the rise and fall of the schoolgirl story”, inLesbian History Group, Not a Passing Phase: Reclaiming Lesbians in History 1840-1985, The Women’s Press, London, 1989, pp. 119-140; Sherrie A. Inness Intimate Communities: Representation and Social Transformation in Women’s College Fiction, 1895-1910 , Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Bowling Green, 1995. Back

[19] Laura Doan Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 165. Back

[20] John Tagg “A Means of Surveillance: The Photograph as Evidence in Law”, in The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Macmillan Press, Basingstoke & London, 1988, p. 100. Back

[21] From the number of photographs of “mock weddings” in the archives this seems to have been quite an institution. An undated (c.1889-1893) newspaper clipping titled “Smith College Girls on a Lark” reporting on the marriage of two Smith students from Dewey House approaches the event in terms of its humour (lark) concluding “The whole town is laughing over the affair today and wondering when the holiday will end.” Box 1477 (Helen Putnam photos 80 CLA) Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1893. Back

[22] For instance, the Freshman Grind for 1909 titled “Baby’s Own Journal” includes a full page humorous discussion of the etiquette of the “Institution of Crush”, with such advice as “Crush must not be handled with gloves. This is bourgeois; and besides, cats in gloves catch no mice.” There are conflicting representations of the crush culture at Smith during the period 1890-1920. These range from the practical and humorous, as above, to serious discussion about the stigma attached to crushes and student letters and diaries whose authors struggle with the term as inappropriate or insufficient to describe their own or other students’ feelings: “We are having such a queer time now with the girls. Several of our friends have gotten into entanglements which are causing both them and us a great deal of worry and annoyance. The heart-to-heart talks, and the good advice that we sane people lavished on our temporarily insane friends yesterday would fill a volume. It is hard to explain in a letter, but it is about crushes (if you choose to look at them that way). There is one case that I have prayed over, and what the end will be God only knows. It is not a crush, it is something far too serious and heart-rending for that”. Eleanor Little Johnson, April 22nd, 1907, Smith College Archives, Northampton, M.A. Back

[23] Diana Fuss “Sexual Contagions: Dorothy Strachey’s Olivia” in Identification Papers, Routledge, New York & London, 1995, p. 112. I am indebted to Dr Lee Wallace for this reference and for suggesting that Smith College be approached in terms of offering a chronoscope through which to view these social/historical developments.Back

[24] Smith College Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 8, May 1899, pp. 403-404. Back

[25] Photograph of dramatic club production of “One Summer”: Alice Buswell and Alice Johnson”, Box 2033 Smith College Archives, Northampton, M.A., 1888. These photographs are reproduced with kind permission of Smith College Archives. Back

[26] Madeleine Wallin “A View of Smith College”, Kappa Alpha Theta Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1892, p. 68.Back

[27] Photograph of Dickson House production of “The Amazons”, Box 1258 Smith College Archives, Northampton, M.A., January 1896. Back

[28] Worth noting is Malcolm C. Salaman’s comment in the introduction to the 1895 edition, that “the quaint prettiness of the girls’ masculine attire captivated the playgoers of New York…” A.W. Pinero The Amazons: A Farcical Romance in Three Acts, W.H. Baker & Company, Boston, 1895. While I do not have time here to examine this phrase in detail, “quaint” may belong to the lexicon of words including “odd”, “queer”, “peculiar” that have been used to signify variation from the “straight and narrow”, but also more specifically, the conjunction of quaint and prettiness seems to recognise the transgressive appeal of the cross-dressed actors but deflects the anxiety through use of the term “girls”. Back

[29] Marjorie Garber Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, Penguin Books, London, 1993, p. 70. Back

[30] Eleanor Little Johnson, April 28th 1907. From the other side of this phenomenon, Gertrude Gane, who appeared in the theatrical production of The Rivals wrote to her other: “I can imagine you will smile when I say that I was told over and over again that I was extraordinarily handsome and everyone fell in love with me”. Box 1487 (Gertrude Gane) Smith College Archives, Northampton, M.A., February 16th 1892.Back

[31] Referring to one of the nineteenth century’s most famous cross-dressed actresses, Lisa Merrill comments on Charlotte Cushman’s huge popularity with female fans: “Charlotte was a woman they might both desire to be or to be desired by.” I have taken the liberty of adding onto this succinct phrase. Lisa Merrill When Romeo Was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and Her Circle of Female Spectators , The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2002. Back

[32] Laurence Senelick The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre, Routledge, London & New York, 2000, p. 330.Back

[33] Half-man dance at 103 South Street, 1910-1911, Class Records (80) A-O, Smith College Archives, Northampton, M.A. Back

[34] Jennifer Green-Lewis Framing the Victorians: Photography and the Culture of Realism, Cornell University Press, Ithaca & London, 1996, p. 13. Back

[35] “Unwritten Laws at Smith”, (undated) newspaper clipping from Social Regulations File No. 34, Smith College Archives. Interestingly, the term “Squelch” is part of Smith College crush terminology http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/smith/writings/1893-94/slang/01.htm accessed 22 April 2003. Back

[36] Garber suggests that the black-tie signifies a class crossing, associated as it is with a specific type of masculinity (white, upper class, dandy). There are also photographs of students in “black-face” cross-dress which represents what Garber denotes a “double-crossing”. Marjorie Garber Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, Penguin Books, London, 1993, pp. 267-303. I would like to thank Dr Jane-Maree Maher for drawing this to my attention.Back

[37] Cheshire Calhoun “The Gender Closet: Lesbian Disappearance Under the Sign Women”, in Martha Vicinus (ed.),Lesbian Subjects: A Feminist Studies Reader, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1996, p. 222. Back

[38] Marjorie Garber Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, Penguin Books, London, 1993, p. 9. Back

[39] Marjorie Garber Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety , Penguin Books, London, 1993, p. 131.Back

[40] Biddy Martin, “Sexualities Without Genders and Other Queer Utopias” in Mandy Merck et al (eds), Coming Out of Feminism, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1998 p. 32. Back

[41] Carol Mavor Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden , Duke University Press, Durham & London, 1999, p. 16. Back