Latest from GOHI 2020-01-27T21:34:13+00:00
2704, 2021

“As most of us knew her:” Leaving Space for Queerness in the Archives

April 27th, 2021|

“As most of us knew her:” Leaving Space for Queerness in the Archives

By Karen Robertson

Five years ago, I wrote this blog post about a collection of family photographs from the late 19th century. The collection was pretty average in the scheme of things I see in my line of work- an average family doing average things at a fairly average point in the past. But for some reason, it felt like there was something more to be found in these papers and photographs.

The people who appear most often in this collection are Laura Belle Cunningham, Lucy Ross, and Mary Eva (or Ned) Ross. Lucy is Ned’s older sister, and Laura is their cousin (and the compiler of the collection, so it bears her name). Laura Cunningham, Lucy Ross, and Mary Eva Ross lived together in Lebanon, Ohio, throughout their adulthood.

Ned Ross in particular lived a life full of hobbies and career successes. She served as the postmaster in Lebanon, Ohio, apparently learned how to ride a bike, and was an amateur photographer. She was so good that she even included a professional photographer’s mark on many of the photographs in the collection.

Recently, after reading this article, titled Queer Possibility, I slowly realized what I had missed about this collection. I couldn’t seem to see it at the time, but now it is clear that Ned Ross was living outside of the gender norms of her society in a queer way.

In the article, author Margaret Middleton points out that museums (and by extension, historians) generally only mention that a historical figure may have been a member of the LGBTQ+ community if the figure described themselves that way, or if there is strict documentation of queer behavior. These rules are so entrenched that I applied them to Ned without even realizing what I had done.

So why do we keep following these rules? Often it comes down to two key points: language and phobia.

Language evolves, as do our conceptions of gender and sexuality. Ned almost certainly did not use the word “queer” to describe herself and lived during a time when Americans were only just beginning to define terms like “lesbian” or “gay.” So to define her by our own modern terms and understandings will always be imperfect.

In the photographs in this collection, Ned is frequently posed in masculine stances and dressed in masculinized clothing, with jackets, ties, and hats. Her sister and cousin also wear these types of clothing, as they fell into the fashion of the time, but never to the extent of masculinized presentation that Ned follows.

Ned and her sister Lucy.

Clearly Ned was experiencing gender presentation in a very different way than her peers, but on my first pass through this collection, I ignored this part of Ned’s story, because there didn’t seem to be a word that fully encompassed her experience. Was Ned a tomboy? Masculine? Making unique fashion choices?

The people of our past lived in a completely different culture from our own. But as historians, our job is to translate the past for a modern understanding. Although imperfect, we have to use our own modern language to explain our history. As Middleton points out, if Leonardo da Vinci traveled to 2021, he would likely be just as confused about being described as a gay man as he would “Renaissance” artist. Neither of these terms are of da Vinci’s time, but these are the terms we have to understand da Vinci.

With all of this taken into account, I believe the modern term that Ned might have chosen would be gender queer, gender nonconforming, or transgender. (If there was more information available, it might be possible to narrow this down further.) Identity is a tricky and personal thing. It is always best to define a person in the way that they define themselves, past or present. But often details of a person’s life are left out of the historical record, and we have to make inferences. Why not infer queerness?

Judging by details available in the collection, one of the inferences we can make about Ned is that she preferred her more masculine nickname by the end of her life. In letters and notes from her teenage years, family members and classmates addressed Ned as “Mary Eva” or just “Eva.” The nickname probably did not develop until early adulthood- it first appears in her photographer’s mark. The very fact that Ned would have used this name on an official and lasting mark, that likely cost her some time and money to create, indicates an inclination towards the name.

Ned-4.jpgYou can see Ned’s mark on this photograph she took of Lucy and Laura.

Furthermore, when she left handwritten notes on the back of many of the photographs in this collection, Laura Cunningham used the name “Ned” to identify her cousin. This likely means that, by the end of their lives, this was the name Ned was using with those closest to her. Laura’s notes appear to follow the pattern of someone labeling a collection for the purpose of donation, so that future archivists (like me) would know what was being represented in the photos. If this is the case, then Laura is also signifying that “Ned” is the name future historians should use for her cousin.

Historians are afraid to infer queerness, because we don’t want to leave a negative mark on someone’s historical record. However by refusing to make space for reading queerness, we reinforce the idea that queerness is a negative thing worth hiding from. I might be wrong about Ned, but I also might be wrong about the hundreds of other inferences I’ve made as a historian. To say “based on this evidence Ned Ross might have been queer” should not be more shameful than saying “based on this evidence Ned Ross probably enjoyed riding bicycles.”

A final piece of important information in this collection comes from a photograph of Ned with a particularly interesting annotation on the back. One simple sentence reads: “Ned Ross, as most of us knew her.” This sentence suggests that in this photograph Ned is presenting in a way that may not have been known to the public, but certainly was to her friends and family.

“Ned Ross, as most of us knew her.”

Practically speaking, a history that invites queerness is simply a more accurate history. Queer people helped build Ohio, and their queerness affected those experiences. But most importantly, we must start to invite a queer lens to our history to allow ourselves to see our own reflections.  Queer people deserve to know their ancestors, and young queer people, who are doing the hard work of getting to know themselves, deserve access to the stories that might help them understand their own lives.

Let’s include more queer stories in our history books, so that next time an archivist comes across a Ned Ross in their work, it doesn’t take five years to figure out what makes her collection so important.

All photographs featured in this blog come from AV 298 Laura Cunnigham photograph collection.

2704, 2021

Alice Dunbar Nelson: A Life Lived Outside the Box

April 27th, 2021|

Alice Dunbar Nelson: A Life Lived Outside the Box

By Karen Robertson

Content warning: This post includes a brief mention of domestic violence and sexual assault.

At the Ohio History Connection, you will find items related to Paul Laurence Dunbar, a name you are likely familiar with. Dunbar was a famous and influential writer in the early twentieth century, and he started and ended his life in Dayton, Ohio. His home there is now a part of our site network.

But if you look closely enough in our collections you will also find traces of a remarkable woman who, although she never lived in Ohio, is permanently attached to our history through her relationship with Paul Laurence Dunbar. Alice Dunbar Nelson, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s wife, was herself an accomplished writer, activist, and teacher.

Alice Moore was born in New Orleans in 1875. Her father was a Creole seaman and her mother a formerly enslaved seamstress. Alice’s father was absent from her life, but her mother and her aunt worked hard to ensure that she and her sister were afforded the education they desired. Alice graduated from Straight (now Dillard) University by the age of 17, and was soon working as a teacher herself. She published her first book in 1895, at the age of 20, the same year that she first met Paul Laurence Dunbar- through the postal service.

In April 1895, Dunbar read a poem that Alice had published, accompanied by her photograph, and decided to write to her in New Orleans. For two years, the couple courted each other through correspondence. Their writings were thoroughly romantic, Paul calling Alice “the sudden realization of an ideal!”


The Dunbars were married in 1898. Unfortunately, Paul was increasingly violent towards Alice, leading to their separation in 1902. Before their marriage, Dunbar raped Alice, leaving her with significant injuries. During their marriage, he continued to be violent, pushing Alice to leave after a particularly rough encounter. After she left, Dunbar attempted to win Alice back by sending letters filled with the flowery language that had first won her heart. In reply, she sent one telegram that simply read “No.”

Alice learned of Paul’s death in 1906 when reading the daily news. Although their marriage ended in strife, Alice did keep the Dunbar name throughout her life and continued to speak about Paul and help to preserve his legacy.

Although she was attached to his name for most of her life, Paul Laurence Dunbar was actually a short moment in the story of Alice Dunbar Nelson. She was a teacher- covering the earliest years of elementary school through the college level. She was also an activist- working for women’s suffrage, African American civil rights, and anti-lynching legislation. In fact, in 1920, she was fired from her teaching job for her activism. Perhaps most notably, Alice was a writer, with many works that, had she been a man, may be more prominently featured on the shelves in our libraries today.

Alice Dunbar Nelson spent much of her life living outside of society’s boxes. She was biracial, bisexual, and a writer who worked in almost every medium. To understand her life, it is perhaps best to examine the binary expectations of race, sexuality, and career that she broke throughout her life.


Alice Dunbar Nelson was biracial, and her Creole heritage meant she had light skin and auburn hair. She was often able to pass, but was clear about her desire not to blend into white society. She faced derision for her appearance and race from both white and Black people in her life.

Alice often used her writing to explore the experience of living in this in-between space. In particular, her short story, “The Stones of the Village,“ tells the story of a Creole man who, after a complicated childhood, chooses to pass as white. He spends his childhood alone, unwanted as a playmate by white children, and encouraged by his grandmother not to play with Black children. After deciding to live as white, the main character, Victor, is plagued with guilt and confusion until, as Dunbar Nelson writes, “The secret died with him….”

Unlike Victor, Alice Dunbar Nelson was always clear about her identity as a Black woman. She worked throughout her life to support her community- advocating for the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, helping to establish the White Rose Mission in New York City, and using her skills as a writer to speak out against discrimination and offer a platform for Black voices.

As her career progressed, Alice turned from her frequent work in poetry and prose to nonfiction and journalistic styles. This allowed her to speak more clearly about her activism in pieces such as “Negro Women in War Work,” and “Politics in Delaware.” Alice also worked to provide a platform for others. For example, she coedited the Wilmington Advocate, an important Black publication, with her husband Robert.

In 1920, Alice edited a volume titled The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer, including works by and about the Black community (including works by Paul Laurence Dunbar himself). In this volume, Alice did include a few white voices, such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Walt Whitman. However, in her table of contents, she marked these names and wrote, “The names marked with an asterisk are the names of members of the Caucasian Race.”



Determining a historic figure’s sexuality should not be taken lightly, or a historian risks removing the person’s agency in their own story. Everyone should have the agency to choose the labels they do or do not use. However in many cases, historic figures that would today fall into the LGBTQ+ community lived in societies that actively removed their agency to choose these labels honestly in their own time.

As is documented in her diary, Alice Dunbar Nelson experienced romantic and intimate relationships with both men and women during her lifetime. So what we can say is that Alice Dunbar Nelson’s experiences might today be defined under the umbrella of bisexuality.

“Love and beautiful love has been mine from many men, but the great passion of four or five transcended that of other women — and what more can any woman want?” –Alice Dunbar Nelson in her diary, 1931

Alice wrote freely about her relationships with women in her diary, and wrote poems dedicated to those women that caught her eye. Alice burned most of these poems before her death in 1935. Some, unpublished, do survive today, including “You! Inez!” (1921).

After her marriage with Paul Laurence Dunbar ended, Alice moved to Delaware and began dating Edwina Kruse, the principal at the school where she worked. The two appear to have dated for a few years. Kruse, like Dunbar before her, wrote elegant words for Alice, saying in a letter, “I want you to know dear, every thought of my life is for you, every throb of my heart is yours and yours alone.”

Not long after her relationship with Kruse ended, Dunbar settled into her third and final marriage, to Robert Nelson, a journalist and similarly activist-minded man. But Alice’s duality of experience continued. Interestingly, she once wrote about a fight the couple had by saying, “Bobbo and I had a fearsome quarrel yesterday morning, about the car, of course, and I burst out that I am tired of being the man.” The couple seemed to live outside the strict binary gender roles they had been assigned, but occasionally Alice was annoyed by it.

Alice also continued relationships with women after her marriage to Nelson, in particular with activist Fay Jackson Robinson and artist Helen Ricks London. Initially, Alice kept these experiences a secret from her husband. But by the end of their marriage she carried on with his (supposedly reluctant) blessing, navigating what today might be termed an open relationship.

In the public eye, Alice Dunbar Nelson lived as a straight woman, but privately she stepped into a different identity. Unfortunately Alice’s secrecy means this experience is not often reflected upon in her writing. But, as her diaries help prove, it was certainly not an unusual experience for women in her social circle. Historian Lillian Faderman points to an “active black bisexual network among prominent ‘club women….’”



Alice Dunbar Nelson’s many experiences outside the binary are perhaps reflected in her willingness to vary the medium in which she worked as a writer. Alice wrote poetry, prose, essays, criticisms, and even a play. As an activist, Alice expressed her message through stories like “The Stones of the Village,” or  essays like “Negro Women in War Work.” But she also completed works like “People of Color in Louisiana,” which is essentially the work of a historian.

Alice also wrote frequently and with elegance in her diary, sometimes even penning poems in its pages. She kept the details of her life, but often described these details with prose that feels polished and purposeful. For instance, to explain her sadness one day, Alice wrote, “Blue. My God! I’m so blue that if I were a dog, I’d sit on my haunches and howl and howl and howl …”

After a long life of work, Alice Dunbar Nelson passed away in 1935, suffering from heart failure. However it is through Alice’s diary, her writing never meant for a public face, that we continue to know the genius that was Alice Dunbar Nelson.
Interested in learning more? Alice Dunbar Nelson’s diary is today published under the name Give Us Each Day. Many of her works are available online- where possible they have been linked throughout this blog post. The Rosenbach in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has also recently created a digital exhibition about Alice Dunbar Nelson with hours worth of accompanying content for you to explore. Check it out here. Below are some of the resources that were used to write this blog post:

Poetry Foundation
Encyclopaedia Britannica
The Paris Review
Black Past

2704, 2021

“Give Us the Ballot, Men of Ohio! Give your Women the Help They Beg into a Broader, Deeper, Richer Life”

April 27th, 2021|

“Give Us the Ballot, Men of Ohio! Give your Women the Help They Beg into a Broader, Deeper, Richer Life”

From October 2019-October 2020, The Ohio History Connection featured a special guest blogger once a month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The post below, from June 2020, is being cross-posted to this blog.

This post comes from Anne Delano Steinert, a preservationist, educator, and historian whose work focuses on the built environment in urban America. You can learn more about the original blog series here.

Like many, I am mostly staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally I would be working on getting an urban history museum going in Cincinnati, writing a dissertation, prepping classes for summer and fall, and being a single mom in the usual way. Instead, what I notice as this crisis continues is that the work of the house is taking over. There are more dishes to do, more meals to cook, more hours in which my child needs to be entertained, and so my professional work has to give way.

This is a real-life illustration of the subject of one of my dissertation chapters: a lesbian couple in the 1910s and 1920s who created rich lives of work, activism, and civic engagement largely by freeing themselves from the drudgery of housework to allow the work of their minds and hearts to flourish. Before I tell you about them, I want to note that I call them lesbians, because that is what we would call them today, but doing so puts me on the tricky footing of applying a contemporary label to people in the past. When Loueen Pattee died, Mary MacMillan wrote poems about how she wished she could kiss her and how she couldn’t bear to see her shoes under the bed. So, I call them lesbians, but they wouldn’t have used that word themselves and it may denote things today that wouldn’t have applied in the past.


1920 census record recording Mary MacMillan and Loueen Pattee.

In the 1920 census, Mary MacMillan and Loueen Pattee were listed as “partners” (though some census official later crossed out “partner” and replaced with “boarding”). Together they were deeply involved in civic and artistic life, including suffrage activism. They had time to do this work because they were free from the demands of heterosexual marriage and lived in a place where their needs could be met with minimal housekeeping. Though I find this pair extraordinary, many women in this era enjoyed what historian Trisha Franzen has called “as close to a golden age for independent women as can be found in United States history.” In fact, she says, “the generations of women born between 1865 and 1895 had the highest proportion of single women in U.S. history,” peaking at 11 percent for women like MacMillan and Pattee, born between 1865 and 1875. These women were the drivers and beneficiaries of a shifting range of opportunities for women to support themselves outside of married life.

Outside of suffrage activism, MacMillan and Pattee made scads of civic contributions. MacMillan was a founder of the College Club, an early member of Cincinnati’s MacDowell Society, and a guiding force in the Ohio Valley Poetry Society. She brought famous poets to Cincinnati for sold-out readings, sponsored a working group for local poets, and wrote plays to be performed as fundraisers for many local women’s organizations including the Consumer’s League which advocated for the rights of “shop girls.”

Loueen Pattee came to Cincinnati in 1916 to replace fierce women’s rights advocate Emilie Watts McVea as Dean of Women at the University of Cincinnati when McVea left to become the second president of Sweet Briar College. Before coming to UC, Pattee lived in Munich where she ran a school for American girls and, when World War I broke out, ran a Red Cross hospital. Her life in Cincinnati included leadership in a UC scholarship fund for French women to continue their studies through the war, and in the Woman’s City Club where she taught a course in suffrage in 1918. At UC she taught romance languages and art history in addition to her role as Dean.


Loueen Pattee, 1917

I am drawn to MacMillan and Pattee because their lives were both ordinary and extraordinary. They went to work, did the shopping, cooked meals, had adventures with their friends, wrote letters, and explored their city and their world in much the way I might live today. They also entertained luminaries like Jane Addams and Edna St. Vincent Millay. And they had an impact on suffrage in Ohio.

In 1912 Ohio attempted to amend the State constitution to give women the right to vote through a referendum of the state’s voters who were, of course, all male. This issue, known as Amendment 23, went before the state’s voters in September of 1912. The referendum failed with 57% voting against the change. During the 1912 campaign, Mary MacMillan served as Chairman of the Press Committee of the Women’s Suffrage Party of Cincinnati. As such, she wrote regular newspaper columns and responding to questions and attacks about women’s right to vote.

In one of these columns, MacMillan wrote something which strikes me as relevant in today’s COVID-19 world, she said, “Shut a man up in a hothouse with four small children, peach preserving, and picture hats alone for one day and see what he will say about women’s sphere and its ennobling effects.” One of my favorite impacts of this otherwise tragic COVID-19 crisis is that many of us are spending our time walking miles in the shoes of caregivers and teachers and finding out just how hard this work actually is.  MacMillan pushed the voters of Ohio to “give woman a taste of science, of knowledge and thought of history, business, politics, of activity with other inspiring minds in the world and see if she wants to return to the narrow life in which she has been held fast… It isn’t the home that is in danger, it is the woman.”

I can only guess how hard it was for her to read the articles written by “antis” that ran beside her columns. They argued, “political responsibility for women will eventually work great harm to women, and through them cause a marked deterioration of the race,” and they inextricably believed that women should leave politics to men since political work was, “difficult and dangerous because of the nervous tension involved.” They urged men to, “protect us as far as they can in this emergency,” and misrepresented other members of their sex by asserting,, “we women realize that government rests upon force, upon power of muscle, brain and money. We know that we cannot bring to government any of these essentials.”


Mary MacMillan, Image Courtesy of Ed Loyd.

These arguments must have infuriated Mary MacMillan, and yet her responses to them were calm. She did mock the antis on one occasion, writing, “we wish the refined, frail, home-loving anti could send her vote in scented lavender note paper to the polls, while she goes down and elbows her way through the Sixth Street Market.” But most of her columns stayed on message and presented arguments that were both poetic and persuasive. On August 18, 1912, she wrote that woman had “come to need political recognition and to want to take her share in the great public housekeeping.” She believed that “suffrage is the next step in the development of women,” and linked it to modernity and progress. She wrote, “suffrage as a radical issue . . . is modern. That is why people are afraid of it. It is new. They are not used to it. It makes them uncomfortable to think of it like a fresh-starched shirt after a bath.” I love the housekeeping metaphors and the way she ties the familiar experience of a starched shirt, which everyone would have known would become more comfortable over time, to the chaffing of modernity against old-time lavender-scented Victorian sensibilities.

The Ohio amendment didn’t pass in 1912 or in 1914, but the national movement gained momentum, notably in the middle of a pandemic. In 1918 when the US Senate rejected the amendment that would later become the 19th Amendment, the Cincinnati Enquirer reached out to Loueen Pattee for comment in her role as Dean of Women at the University of Cincinnati. She said, “Since the United States Senate has disposed of the women question, I suggest it now turn its attention to the Spanish Influenza. Of course, it is quite probable both disquieting disturbances will return next autumn.” She was right on both fronts. Though she deflected the question of suffrage, presumably because she felt hamstrung by her administrative position at the university, she then wisely called for her legislators to take leadership on the international pandemic at hand.

I spent my day today wondering what Loueen Pattee and Mary MacMillan would be doing right now to care for those around them and to advocate for change in the COVID-19 crisis. Women have the right to vote thanks to thousands of local activists like MacMillan and Pattee. It is our responsibility to use that vote responsibly to care for our sisters and brothers through good works and good leadership.

Anne Delano Steinert is a preservationist, educator, and historian whose work focuses on the built environment in urban America. She holds master’s degrees in historic preservation and urban history and is currently finishing a PhD in urban and public history at the University of Cincinnati. She is the founding Board Chair of the Over-the-Rhine Museum and the curator of three recent exhibitions on urban growth and change in Cincinnati including the award-winner Finding Kenyon Barr: Exploring Photographs of Cincinnati’s Lost Lower West End.  She teaches at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University. On top of all these projects, Steinert’s most challenging and rewarding position is as mom to nine-year-old Seneca.

“Exult Over Suffrage Defeat: Cincinnati Women Elated by Blow Given Amendment,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), October 2, 1918. 14.
Trisha Franzen, Spinsters and Lesbians: Independent Womanhood in the United States (New York: New York University Press), 1995.
“Harm to Women and the Race Would Result from Giving Suffrage to ‘Weaker Sex,’ Declares Mrs. Scott and Massive Meeting of Anti-Suffragettes. Statement by Miss MacMillan of Suffrage Party—Prize Awarded for Posters—Debate Scheduled.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), June 26, 1912. 16.
Mary MacMillan, “Consensus of the Competent,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio)August 25, 1912. D7.
Mary MacMillan, “The Next Step,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), August 18, 1912. D7.
Mary MacMillan, “Proof of the Pudding,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio)August 11, 1912. 49.
Mary MacMillan, “Styles,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio)July 28, 1912. 49. C8.
Mary MacMillan, “The Other Side of the Coin,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio)September 1, 1912. 49.
Mary MacMillan, “After Reading Thomas Hardy’s Poems ,” Ohio Valley Verse v. III(Cincinnati, OH: Ohio Valley Poetry Society), 1927.
“Nineteenth Amendment”
Ohio History Central: Ohio History Connection (accessed May 19, 2020)
“Ohio Women’s Suffrage, Amendment 23” Ballotpedia,_Amendment_23_(September_1912) (accessed May 19, 2020)
Anne Delano Steinert, “No One Ever Came for Dean Loueen Pattee,” in Greg Hand (Ed) From the Temple of Zeus to the Hyperloop:University of Cincinnati Stories (Cincinnati, OH: University of Cincinnati Press), 2018.
United States Federal Census, 1920, Hamilton County, Ohio, Enumeration District 434, Ward 25, page 8

2704, 2021

Pride Month 2020: The Past Informs the Present

April 27th, 2021|

Pride Month 2020: The Past Informs the Present

By Karen Robertson

“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.” – Marsha P. Johnson

Authors Note: This post was originally published in June 2020.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the New York Police Department arrived at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. The police frequently raided bars patronized by the LGBTQ community, but on this night the patrons decided to resist. This night of resistance was such an important moment in the larger movement for LGBTQ rights that the community still marks the moment each year during June- otherwise known as Pride Month.

You may have noticed that the LGBTQ community has been a bit quiet about Pride Month this year. There is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, postponing Pride events around the country. But the LGBTQ community has also put celebration on hold as many folks get to work supporting the current Black Lives Matter movement. However, if we look at the history of the movement for LGBTQ rights, we can see that Pride isn’t actually on hold- many members of the LGBTQ community are actually celebrating by engaging in the same types of protest that we mark in June each year.


Activists in Columbus, Ohio, circa 1980s.

The original Stonewall Uprising was a protest against police brutality led by LGBTQ people of color. In 1969, the Stonewall Inn was a refuge for all members of the LGBTQ community in New York City. At a time when known homosexual acts were a crime, the bar was a place where LGBTQ people could go and feel safe being themselves.

Like most LGBTQ friendly bars at the time, the Stonewall Inn did not have a liquor license. Many of these bars were operated by Mafia families, taking advantage of the community’s desperate situation to make money. Police made frequent raids of LGBTQ bars, but would often tip off the owners in advance, requiring hush money in exchange for the community’s continued safety.

When the police didn’t feel they had been paid properly, LGBTQ patrons faced violence and arrest. In particular, transgender and gender noncomforming patrons could face arrest under a statute that required citizens to be wearing at least three “gender appropriate” pieces of clothing. (“Appropriate” referring implicitly to an individual’s gender assigned at birth.)

Three of the most important faces at the Stonewall Uprising, and in the early Gay Liberation Movement, were Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera. It is believed that DeLarverie’s arrest, and Johnson and Rivera’s decisions to resist, began the uprising that night.

It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.
— Stormé DeLarverie

The fact that these three women were outspoken at Stonewall was not a surprise- they spent their lives working for the liberation of their community. They are simply three examples of the many people of color who have always been central to the LGBTQ community and the fight for liberation.


Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson Protesting at Rally for LGBT Rights in New York in 1973, Image Courtesy of Legacy Project Chicago.

LGBTQ folks have also always been central to the movement for African American civil rights in the United States. As the midcentury civil rights movement developed and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became a public face, he was followed by one of his closest advisors, Bayard Rustin. Rustin was incredibly influential in organizing many of the protests we now read about in our history books. However, due to the way his sexuality shaped his public image, Rustin was often pushed off center stage. You can read about Rustin and other LGBTQ civil rights leaders here.

How can LGBTQ Ohioans and their allies continue to celebrate the spirit of Pride while also engaging with the Black Lives Matter protests across the state? One important step is taking the time to be informed about the specific accomplishments of black LGBTQ folks. Where can you start? Here are some ideas:

As public historians we examine evidence of the past to guide us and make sense of today. Read about intersectionality, or dive into an Ohio-based story with the film Flag Wars to learn about gentrification.

Listen to what the black LGBTQ community have to say about this moment, and learn how you can support black led LGBTQ organizations in our communities. In Ohio, learn about Columbus’s Black Queer and Intersectional Collective (BQIC) or Cincinnati’s Cincy Black Pride. You can also check out this article with more information about organizations around the nation, or this report about the effect of violence on the lives of black trans women.

The spirit of Pride is very present this year, as the LGBTQ community actively honors where we have been, who we are, and where we are headed. If you have any other suggested resources for this moment, please share in the comments. Happy Pride, blog readers.

2704, 2021

Amazon, Empress, and Friend: The Life of Natalie Clifford Barney

April 27th, 2021|

Amazon, Empress, and Friend: The Life of Natalie Clifford Barney

By Karen Robertson

If you’ve seen the traveling exhibit, Ohio Women Vote: 100 Years of Change, one of the women you may have met is Dayton’s own, Natalie Clifford Barney. This exhibit is based around quotes from Ohio women, so as a writer and a poet, Barney was a great fit.

Barney is very quotable, and after diving through her work Pensées d’une Amazone, (Thoughts of an Amazon)[i] for exhibit research, my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to know more about this woman whose poetic thoughts I had been reading. The following blog post is just a bit of what I learned about this remarkable Ohioan.

Barney was well known for her quick quips, her striking reflections, her loyal friendship, and her outspoken confidence. She was an out lesbian at a time when, as she said, “being other than normal [was] a perilous advantage.” She was known as the Amazon, and “l’impératrice des lesbiennes” (the empress of lesbians). After a childhood spent between Dayton, Cincinnati, Paris, and Washington D.C., Barney settled in Paris for most of her life. It was here that she thrived, in a city that was one of the safest places for LGBTQ+ people in the 1920s and 30s. Barney herself contributed to that culture of safety, hosting regular salons that welcomed creative souls, particularly lesbians in her community.


An image of Barney that appears in the traveling exhibit. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Natalie Clifford Barney was born in 1876 in Dayton, Ohio, to Albert Clifford Barney and Alice Pike Barney. Both sides of Barney’s family were well-off, and the family lived off of their inheritance. In particular Barney’s paternal great grandfather had become incredibly influential in Dayton, founding the Dayton Academy, Cooper Female Seminary, and Dayton Car Works. Natalie Clifford Barney was incredibly accomplished in her own right, but she also had an incredible head start thanks to her ancestors.

As a young child, Barney moved with her parents and younger sister Laura to the Cincinnati area. Here Natalie and Laura enjoyed adventures with their many pets: two dogs, a goat, baby alligators, two parrots, and a Shetland pony named Tricksy. Natalie began learning to ride on Tricksy, a skill she would enjoy for the rest of her life. The Barney girls also enjoyed playing with their neighbors, Violette and Mary. After a day running about, the four girls would settle in for stories from their governess. Often read in French, these stories helped Barney learn the language that would be key to her adult life.


Natalie at seven, painted by her mother. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Barney’s father was cold and distant, but her mother, an accomplished artist, was Natalie’s favored parent. Of her father she wrote, “His affection for me was demonstrated with gifts and bruises: he would pull me back from traffic with such vigor that I would have preferred the accident.” But of her mother, she said, “…when she bent over my bed before she went out to a party, she seemed more beautiful than anything in my dreams; so, instead of going to sleep, I would stay awake, anxiously waiting for her return…”

The Barney family was well accustomed to travel, meaning one of Natalie’s most influential childhood memories happened not in Ohio but in New York, at Long Beach. At the age of 5, running from a group of bullies during a summer vacation, Natalie ran directly past Oscar Wilde. He scooped her up, put her on his knee, and told her a story while the bullies disappeared. This meeting became even more important for Alice Pike Barney. Upon retrieving her daughter, Alice spoke with Oscar who encouraged her to continue exploring her art and helped her make connections to mentors who would change her life.

When Natalie was about ten years old, her family moved to France for the first time. She later wrote that she “missed the little river,” likely a reference to the actually very large Ohio River that runs through Cincinnati. However, she also noted that she and Laura quickly changed into high spirits “at every strange novelty,” including their “first sight of a bidet” which created “fits of laughter.”

The Barneys stayed in France for about 18 months, with the girls attending a well-known boarding school, Les Ruches. The school was founded by Marie Souvestre, a firm believer in strong education for girls, who also taught future first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Barney would later state that she knew she was a lesbian around the age of 12. Looking back on her time in France, she is clear about her developing sexuality. Before the Barneys left for France, Alice Barney had her daughter’s portrait painted. As Natalie later wrote, “Not wanting any passing fashion to date this picture of me at ten, she dressed me as a page. This was, perhaps, imprudent…” Natalie remembered playing at being a page with one particularly pretty girl at school, who began to call Natalie her husband.


Natalie at ten as a page. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

After about a year and a half, the Barneys moved to Washington D.C., into a home that Alice, an architect as well as a painter, had designed. It was here that Natalie would spend her teenage years. The Barney household was very near the home of Vice President Levi P. Morton. Natalie often spent time with one of his daughters, riding their horses, as Barney said, “Drunk on freedom and the balmy air, we would skirt the woods, now full of new buds, which surround the capital.”

Like most teenagers, the two talked about their crushes. Natalie’s friend favored “Lady C.,” a fancy debutante who the two friends sometimes saw in the streets of Washington. Natalie shared stories of Eva Palmer, her first true love. Natalie and Eva met as teenagers at Bar Harbor in Maine, where the Barney family vacationed. Like almost all of Natalie’s future romantic matches, Eva had a penchant for poetry. The two began dating when Natalie was seventeen. According to Natalie, they kept up a correspondence during the colder months, before they could see each other again in Maine.

In her late teenage years and early twenties, Natalie Clifford Barney moved between living in Paris and Washington. Often the women of the Barney family were to be found in Paris, while Mr. Barney spent his time in London.

Upon her first return to Paris, Natalie began courting women in earnest. When her mother left to visit her father in London, she left Natalie behind with a handful of cash and a promise to have her portrait painted. A portrait never surfaced. Natalie would later admit, “I spent all the money on flowers and presents for various ladies- and what ladies they were!”


Even if she failed to sit for a professional portrait, Natalie’s likeness was well documented throughout her life, because her mother was an artist. This drawing, that Alice Pike Barney titled “The Writer” depicts Natalie around the age of 19. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

While she courted the many fine ladies of Paris, Natalie was in turn being courted by the city’s men. It was in fact on a date with a “would-be fiancé” that she first saw Liane de Pougy drive by. Natalie’s date told her “She is nothing but a courtesan,” but Natalie was smitten and began sending flowers, eventually showing up at Pougy’s door in a recently acquired page costume.

The two began a love affair, but unfortunately, when Natalie’s father found her reading a letter from Pougy, he angrily sent Natalie back to Washington for two years, to play her “role as debutante.”

While she remained rather quiet during this time, Natalie later wrote, “Even after I had come out I continued to send flowers, notes and poems to those I admired.” This phrase sounds a bit confusing to modern ears, as now the phrase “coming out” refers to a member of the LGBTQ+ community disclosing their identity. However, at the time, Natalie meant that she was “coming out” into society, as a young woman did when she reached an age that made her eligible for marriage. So although she was forced to “come out” into society in the historic context, Natalie also continued to “come out” in the modern context, courting the women she desired.


Natalie in Fur Cape by Alice Pike Barney, 1897. Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Unfortunately, Natalie and Liane de Pougy broke up, due to their disagreements over Pougy’s career as a sex worker. Natalie wanted to “save” Liane, even offering to marry a man to acquire the funding necessary to keep Liane from needing to work. But Liane did not want to be saved.

Liane chronicled the couple’s journey in her book Idylle Sapphique. Barney wrote a less popular reply volume, which, despite its lack of popularity, ended up including her most famous quote:

“My queerness is not a vice, is not deliberate, and harms no one.”

When Natalie was allowed to return to Paris, she learned that her childhood friends from Cincinnati, Mary and Violette, were also in the city. The two introduced her to Renée Vivien, “who also wrote poetry,” and was also an out lesbian. Renée and Natalie fell in love, but later broke up due to Natalie’s desire for non-monogamy. Natalie was crushed, but never won Renée back.

While dating Renée, Natalie also began her long career as a writer, publishing her first book of poetry, titled Quelques Potraits-Sonnets de Femmes. The book included poetry dedicated to the women that Natalie loved and illustrations drawn by her mother. Historians have speculated as to whether or not Alice Pike Barney understood the themes in her daughter’s writing, but she happily illustrated the book.[ii]

When a Washington gossip columnist got ahold of a copy of Natalie’s new book and published a dramatic headline about Natalie’s confident show of her lesbian identity, Albert Clifford Barney quickly made his way to Paris and bought every single copy of the book, embarrassed to have his wife and daughter’s work circulating with such themes.


Barney in 1900. Image courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

In 1902, Albert passed away, leaving Natalie quite a large inheritance. She was able to use this money to open a long serving “salon” in her backyard on Rue de Jacob in Paris. In Barney’s yard sat a small Grecian temple dedicated to friendship. It is in this temple that the salon would meet, each Friday, well into the mid-twentieth century. These salons would become one of Natalie Clifford Barney’s most important contributions to society.

Many of the great writers of the time gathered at Natalie’s salons, including Gertrude Stein, Colette, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, F Scott Fitzgerald, Isadora Duncan, and later Truman Capote. It was a center of literary creativity and bursting with ideas and even activism. In 1927, when the Academie Francaise refused to add women to its ranks, Barney began her own “Women’s Academy,” to honor those who would otherwise be left behind.

Barney’s salons also provided a safe space for lesbians in Paris in the 1910s- 1930s. At this time, Paris was one of the safest places in the world to be openly LGBTQ+. However even in a fairly safe city, there was a need for secure places for the community to meet. At night, many of Paris’s lesbians congregated at a bar called Le Monocle, in the neighborhood of Montmartre. Here, they signaled to each other their place in a shared community through monocles on their faces and white carnations placed carefully in the button holes of their shirts. And then every Friday many of the artists among them congregated at Natalie’s, discussing their courageous writing and for a moment feeling completely safe.

One of the attendees of Natalie’s salons was Radclyffe Hall, who later based a fictional character, Valerie Seymour, on Natalie Clifford Barney. Hall wrote that “For Valerie, placid and self-assured, created an atmosphere of courage, everyone felt normal and brave when they gathered together at Valerie Seymour’s….a kind of lighthouse in a storm-swept ocean.”


Natalie’s home in Paris. Image courtesy of Legacy Project Chicago.

Elizabeth Eyre, Barney’s neighbor and a sometimes attendee of the salon, later described the experience in beautiful detail. She said that, occasionally, Natalie would forget that it was Friday and her housekeeper, Berthe Cleyrergue, would have to remind her that people were waiting. (Cleyrergue took the position with Barney in 1927 and stayed on at the house until 1977, five years after Barney’s death.) Of the sights and sounds of a typical salon, Eyre later wrote:

“Why do I always remember them as though there’d been a light rain? Natalie’s house looked like an aquarium, with underwater light. There was never any sunlight in the salon because the light was filtered through the big trees in the garden. There were chairs all around the salon, as in a schoolroom, with people sitting all around the walls. I remember the triangular sandwiches and the harlequin colored little cakes from Rumplemayers. The punch came later, in the 30s.”

During World War I, many salons turned into war hospitals, but Natalie Clifford Barney was a pacifist and refused to support the war effort. Her salon continued. During this time she began one of her longest lasting romantic relationships, with artist Romaine Brooks. Brooks accepted Barney’s need for an open relationship, so their romance lasted over fifty years.

During World War II, Natalie and Romaine lived together in Italy. Natalie was openly anti-fascist before the war, but her writing turned pro-fascist and anti-Semitic as the war raged on. Some have since claimed that she believed what she was writing, but it is equally possible that she was just trying to survive. Once the Italian government formalized a military pact with the other Axis Powers in 1940, Natalie was in danger as an open lesbian with Jewish heritage living in Italy. It is believed that Barney was able to use her American citizenship to help save some Jewish neighbors from deportation to German camps. She never published her pro-fascist and anti-Semitic writings.

After the war, Barney came back to Paris and reopened her salon in 1949. Romaine Brooks remained in Italy, straining their relationship, but never ending Natalie’s affections. When writer George Wickes went to visit Barney in 1971, shortly after Brooks passed away, he noted that “Romaine was her oldest friend, and she felt her death most keenly.”


Natalie and Romaine Brooks. Image courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

It was perhaps Romaine who offered the best descriptions of Natalie Clifford Barney over the years. Brooks was honest and unforgiving, but also gentle and adoring, saying Natalie was “Perverse…dissolute, self-centered, unfair, stubborn, sometimes miserly, “ but also “…capable of loving someone just as they are, even a thief…”

Brooks also wrote that “Natalie herself was a miracle…as fresh as a Spring morning….Her rebellion against conventions was not combative as was mine. She simply wanted to follow her own inclinations…”

Natalie Clifford Barney was an important influence on her community. She provided a safe space and a creative space that helped others thrive. Many of the people who passed through her salon are now the great writers featured in our history books. But perhaps what is most intriguing about Barney is the attitude that Brooks described, that comes through viscerally in Barney’s writing. She knew who she was, she knew it was okay to be who she was, and she decided early on that she wouldn’t change for anyone. As she wrote in her Pensee’s d’une Amazone “Yes, you have to ‘comply.’/I never complied and yet I am.”

Natalie Clifford Barney passed away in 1972 in her home in Paris. Her family members are all buried in Ohio, but Barney is buried is the Cimetiere de Passy in the city she loved the most. In 2009, an Ohio Historic Marker honoring Barney was placed in her hometown of Dayton. This was the first historic marker in the state of Ohio to mention an honoree’s sexuality.


A historic marker tells Natalie Clifford Barney’s story in Dayton’s Cooper Park.

Interested in learning more? Here are a few of the resources that were used to write this blog post:
Natalie Clifford Barney Queen of the Paris Lesbians
A Natalie Barney Garland
A Perilous Advantage (available via kindle e-books, and possibly your local library as well)
Between the Wars, Paris Was The City of Lesbian Love
Left Bank Lesbians in 1920s Paris

You can hear directly from Barney, in a video interview she took in 1966.

You can also check out more images of Natalie Clifford Barney at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Natalie and Laura donated much of their mother’s art here, and you can see a few of Laura’s pieces as well.

Some of Natalie Clifford Barney’s work is available for free online, in particular Pensées d’une AmazoneThe book is written in French, but if you follow the link to Project Gutenberg and select “Read this book online:HTML” you should be able to use your internet browser’s translate function to read in whatever language you like.

Happy reading!


[i] Amazon was a term of endearment given to Barney because of her striking appearance riding astride her horse each day in Paris. She did not ride side saddle as women were expected to, but rather rode in the way a man of her time would have.
[ii] This blogger personally chooses to believe that Alice Pike Barney understood what she was illustrating. She was an educated person who would have been able to pick up on the nuance in Natalie’s poetry. She also knew her daughter, and was likely aware that any love poetry from Natalie was directed at women.
2704, 2021

50 Years Since Stonewall: The Origins of Pride

April 27th, 2021|

50 Years Since Stonewall: The Origins of Pride

By Karen Robertson

Authors Note: This post was originally published in June 2019.

Happy Pride month, blog readers! Each year, during the month of June, LGBTQ communities around the country come together on a large scale to honor where they have been, celebrate who they are, and continue to advocate for a better future. This month, Ohio will see at least 12 Pride events, with 3 more following in August. If you wanted, you could attend a Pride event each weekend of June, without even leaving the state of Ohio!

Why exactly are Pride events held in the month of June every year? If you attend a Pride event this summer, you may see signs, t-shirts, or banners reminding you that “the first pride was a riot.” Pride events are meant to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. This year, 2019, is particularly significant as it marks 50 years since the pivotal moment at Stonewall.

In 1969, the Stonewall Inn was a refuge for all members of the LGBTQ community in New York City. At a time when known homosexual acts were a crime, the bar was a place where LGBTQ people could go and feel safe being themselves.

Like most LGBTQ friendly bars at the time, the Stonewall Inn did not have a liquor license. Many of these bars were operated by Mafia families, taking advantage of the community’s desperate situation to make money. Police made frequent raids of LGBTQ bars, but would often tip off the owners in advance, requiring hush money in exchange for the community’s continued safety. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the New York Police Department arrived at the Stonewall Inn- but no one knew they were coming.

The police began roughing up patrons at the Stonewall, arrested the employees for their failure to procure a liquor license, and arrested a few patrons under a statute that required citizens to be wearing at least three “gender appropriate” pieces of clothing.

The patrons at the Stonewall Inn that night were cleared out of the bar and onto the street, but unlike during many previous police raids, they decided to stay. No one can say for sure what set off the events that followed, but it was probably a combination of many brewing frustrations. The patrons of the Stonewall were tired of being roughed up by the police and looked down upon by their society. They were also witnessing the social upheaval and radical activism of the 1960s.


The Stonewall Inn today.

Before the police could get back in their squad cars, a riot began. Many say the resistance began with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, but no record currently confirms that. (Riots are messy and hard to document.) Soon the riot grew to a few hundred people who took to the streets of Greenwich Village for multiple days in the name of LGBTQ rights.

Today, it is widely agreed that the Stonewall Riots began a new era in the gay rights movement, radicalizing activists around the country. The Gay Liberation Front formed immediately after the riots.

On June 28, 1970, the first Pride parade marched through the streets of New York, in honor of what had happened there a year earlier. It was known as the Christopher Street Liberation March, as a recognition of the Stonewall Inn’s location. Activists, afraid of what the city’s reaction might be, nevertheless organized a march from Manhattan to Central Park. They expected a few hundred participants. At least 5,000 showed up.

One of the earliest Pride marches in Ohio happened in Cincinnati in 1973. Even if other LGBTQ Ohioans were not hosting official Pride events yet, many were celebrating and recognizing Stonewall. As early as 1971, the Central Ohio Gay Newsletter listed information for Ohioans interested in carpooling to New York City to join Christopher Street Liberation Day. In 1972, Columbus hosted a statewide Gay Pride Week and All-Ohio Gay Conference during the month of May.  In 1976, Dayton became home to the Greater Dayton LGBT Center. Columbus Pride parades began in the early 1980s and Cleveland Pride began in 1989. And that’s just a handful of Ohio cities and towns.

A lot of this information can be found in early newsletters, magazines, and other LGBTQ publications, many of which have been preserved at the Ohio History Connection. Through the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) we have also been able to preserve photographs from early Ohio Pride events. Check some out below, and have a great Pride month!


Columbus, 1991



Columbus, 1990



Columbus, 1990


Want to learn more about Stonewall? Check out the newly launched virtual monument, Stonewall Forever, created by the LGBT Community Center of New York City. The Stonewall Inn itself is still standing and has been declared a National Monument.

2704, 2021

Stories From the Past- Literally

April 27th, 2021|

Stories From the Past- Literally

By Karen Robertson

Authors Note: This post was originally published in February 2018.

Recently, I finished working on a new collection at the Ohio History Connection Archives & Library. This new collection is small, but filled with stories.

The collection includes the papers of two women who lived for a time in Franklin, Ohio (Warren County). These women are Mary Parker Brown:


And Betty Eicher:


According to Betty’s family, she and Mary Parker were partners, however they lived at a time where this was not openly recorded. Both women were accomplished teachers, and Betty was an accomplished writer as well.  She published stories for children and young adults, like this one in The Catholic Miss of America magazine in 1954


My favorite part of the collection comes from Betty’s time as a college student. Betty earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from the Ohio State Unveristy in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  In the fall of 1937, Betty Eicher was enrolled in a course called English 507. For this course, Betty was doing a lot of creative writing, and she seemed to have saved some of her best work. I must admit, I took a moment to read each story, letting the typewritten words come alive again, just over 80 years after they were first written.

The most interesting part of Betty’s stories is just how readable they still are. If I wasn’t reading her words as part of an archival collection, I might not be able to tell when these stories were written.

So in a break from my normal blog format, I bring you the full text of a short story written by Betty Eicher in 1937 (she earned an A):


She tucked her ridiculous little French heeled slippers under her and bounced on Ellen’s bed.

“Isn’t Porgie a scream? He’s too deliciously funny. Don’t you just love him, darling?”

“Well, mother, after all, I’ve just met him. I can’t..”

“I know, darling, but you will love him. We have the grandest parties. Buckets of champagne–not those stingy glasses of wine that your father used to have at those dull parties of his.”

Ellen thought of the ruby red of the wine glasses and the people gathered before the fire in her father’s library–professional colleagues, white-haired and kindly, and an occasional ardent young reformer, passionately championing his cause.

“We’re going to have lots of parties now that you’re here. Only, Ellen, couldn’t you be more, well, more..well not so stiff. You, you disapprove so.”

“Disapprove, Mother?”

“Yes, dear. You’re so aloof—-so intellectual like. Porgie says it gives him the creeps–your green eyes make him feel so, so insignificant like. And I do think you oughtn’t to make him feel that way–especially when he’s, well, kind of, your father.”

“Mother! Please. Do you forget that I have a father? And Mr. Myers…”

“Well, Ellen, you needn’t be such a spit fire! My goodness! Porgie’d only like to be like a father to you. You needn’t act so. And Ellen, we’d like it if you’d call him Porgie. Now don’t look like that, Ellen. It sounds so stiff, your saying ‘Mr. Myers’. Porgie would be…”

“Mother! I can’t,” flatly. “And please, I don’t think you ought to expect it of me. It’s childish.”

“Oh, Ellen! Childish! You’re always so serious. You’re just like your father!” She plucked savagely at the candle wick spread. “Everything I did was always ‘childish’!”

“That’s not fair, Mother. Dad never said…”

“Oh, he didn’t say it. But I could feel it. I’m not so dumb, Ellen. Always having that excusing manner when he’d introduce me to those impossible people he’d bring here. Like that old fossil Grayson of the history department, and that young doctor Bill Rankin, who couldn’t talk anything but test tubes.”

“Chemist,” corrected Ellen mechanically, and wondered what her mother would say if she knew that the impossible Bill Rankin was probably within ten miles, hurtling along the highway as fast as his old Model T could bring him, and together they would ride out into the night–into freedom. But her mother’s voice was rushing on.

“Not an eligible young man in the lot. Porgie’ll give you plenty of them, darling, plenty. That’s one thing I can give you that your father can’t, Ellen.”

“What? Plenty of what?”

“Men, Ellen, men! Why are you so exasperating? You’re cruel, Ellen, cruel, just like him.”

Ellen sat up in bed. “Cruel? Dad cruel? Mother, how can you say–”

“Oh, I know he didn’t beat me. He didn’t do that. But there are lots of ways to be cruel without beating your wife. I hate him, oh, I, How I hate that man.” Her voice broke off perilously. “And I tried so hard to be like him too,” she murmured, her eyes resting on the head of the bed, eyes dreamy and soft with longing. “Before you were born, I tried so hard. I read books and talked philosophy by the hour. I tried to act like he did–little mannerisms, and the polite ways of doing things. I bought Emily Post and read it secretly up in the garret. And then you came; and I thought that would bring us closer together. But it didn’t. He loved you; he never loved me. Not after the first month or so he didn’t. He’d have little secrets with you, and bring you to his guests instead of me. He made you hate me.”

Ellen stared at her mother. She had never seen this woman before. Suddenly she felt pity where before had been indifference and even defiance. Had she really loved him then? She must have; it was in her eyes. Her heart leaped–her mother loved him yet! She lifted her hand, but her mother misunderstood the gesture.

“Don’t deny it, Ellen; you do hate me. I can tell. But I don’t blame you. I want you to be happy, Ellen, happier than I’ve ever been.”

“Mother, I’m so sorry, so sorry for you; I….”

“Sorry? Ellen, don’t be ridiculous, and don’t sit there looking like a St. Bernard dog. The mournful things.” She shuddered, and her eyes met Ellen’s green ones for a moment. They were no longer dreamy and full of longing, but brittle and hard as ice. Then they glanced away again.

“And so” her mother went on, “I’m giving a party Thursday night. Duck Wallace–Porgie’s partner, and not more than a year older than your father, and he has scads of money–he’ll be there, and Baron Burnley, too. Just think, Ellen, you could be a Duchess! A Baron’s wife is a duchess isn’t she?”

“Baroness”, corrected Ellen mechanically.

“Well, baroness, then; it doesn’t make any difference. And lots of others, I don’t know them, but I’ll get them, don’t you worry. Well, you better go to sleep. Remember, tomorrow we’re riding at six.”

Ellen heard the absurd French heels clack down the hall, and far away a door slammed. She thrust her bare feet out from the cover and wiggled her toes in the thick nap of the rug. Down on her knees she carefully pulled the little weekend case out from under the bed, snapped open the lock and let the lid fall back. On top of her dressing robe was a white square envelope with ‘Mother’ written in her firm hand.

Her mother needed her. She didn’t love that hulking beast of a Mr. Myers. Porgie! The very name was nauseating. She would stay. She’d tell Bill Rankin–what would she tell Bill Rankin? He’d never understand. Well, she wouldn’t tell him anything. She just wouldn’t go. When he came she’d pull down the blind, and he’d see her silhouetted against it, and she wouldn’t go.

No, that wouldn’t be fair to him. She’d slip down and tell him–tell him that she wasn’t sure of herself just yet.

Mechanically she dressed, jabbed the steel prong of the buckle through the belt.

Two lights turned down the street, feeling their way along the curb. They picked out the stone gates and came to rest, frosting the shrubbery along the low stone wall. An auto horn honked unobtrusively.

She stood at the window and stared out, saw a red glow in the black mass behind the lights. He was lighting a cigarette–sure of her. Well, she’d tell him…

Noiselessly she opened her door, and a loud braying laugh came from the master bedroom. Porgie. Her lips tightened as she turned, picked up the suitcase, and laid the letter on the table.

2704, 2021

New Acquisitions: Bowling, Biking, and a March on Washington

April 27th, 2021|

New Acquisitions: Bowling, Biking, and a March on Washington

By Karen Robertson

Author’s Note: This post was originally written in April 2017.

Since 2005, the Ohio History Connection has been working with Outlook Media and other community partners to collect items that tell the history of LGBTQ individuals living in Ohio. This project is called the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI). As a part of this effort, OHC held a collecting day in August 2016. I was lucky enough to sit down for a conversation with one of our donors from that day, before I cataloged and processed his papers.

The donor I got to speak with is named Michael O’Brien.  Michael was involved in many groups in Columbus, especially during the late 1970s and the 1980s. I got to hear many of his stories about the objects he donated.

One of the groups that O’Brien was most involved with was called Not Ready For Prime Time Bowling League (NRFPTBL). This bowling league was organized in the fall of 1978, and it was the first gay bowling league in Ohio. O’Brien was a very active member, serving as president and at one point the secretary. He said that at the time he was one of the only people with a mobile computer, so he had to be the secretary and keep the bowling scores. Some of the league’s events were documented on video, which O’Brien included in this collection.


One day in 1980, as O’Brien was riding his bike to work, he noticed that the alley where the league bowled, Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes, was on fire. O’Brien recalled that other bowling alleys began calling the NRFPTBL that same day to offer their alleys as a place to meet.


O’Brien believes that these alleys understood that the bowling league was greatly social, which translated to a lot of spending by bowlers. Bowling alley owners wanted this spending in their establishments, but along the way they learned to accept the gay community.


In 1979, O’Brien attended the first LGBT March on Washington. He remembered going to Washington on a bus with other people from Columbus.


While at the march, O’Brien led a group of Ohio marchers in a state themed chant. The Cleveland Plain Dealer mentioned this chant, so O’Brien saved a copy of the newspaper, saying he was proud that someone noticed. O’Brien donated many excellent photographs from the march, which he rounded out with photographs from a journey to the National Equality March in 2009.



O’Brien is an avid bicyclist, and in 1982, he was one of three Ohioans to compete in the inaugural Gay Games. As a torchbearer, he rode 100 miles between Columbus and Toledo on his bicycle.


O’Brien was also involved with Columbus’s Stonewall Union. He worked in the control room for a show called the Gay Pride Report.


We love hearing personal stories from Ohioans like Michael O’Brien.  Fortunately, the Gay Ohio History Initiative has allowed us to meet with many new donors. Interested in learning more? Check out our GOHI page right here!


2908, 2018

GOHI Talks with WOSU

August 29th, 2018|

Eric Feingold, History Curator at the Ohio History Connection discusses Columbus’s robust LGBTQ community in WOSU’s Curious Cbus series:

Eric Feingold, curator at the Ohio History Connection, works with the Gay Ohio History Initiative. He says that the city was, in general, far ahead of the rest of the state.

“Columbus has been holding, for instance, the Pride Parade since right around 1981, 1982, and other cities in Ohio have just hosted their first Pride festivals in the last few years,” Feingold says.

He adds that cultural events like Pride and organizations like Stonewall Columbus earned the city a reputation.

“Columbus is seen as kinda the epicenter of LGBTQ life in Ohio, and certainly between the big three cities – Cincy, Cleveland and Columbus,” Feingold says.

Click HERE to read the full article.

107, 2017

Marking Ohio’s LGBT History

July 1st, 2017|

Marking Ohio’s LGBT History

Becki Trivison, Local History Coordinator

Ohio History Connection


During the month of June we are reminded of the importance of LGBT history and culture and we are actively engaged in it all month long. But what happens after June when the Pride celebrations are over? Of course there is LGBT history month every October but how do we sustain this enthusiasm throughout the year and in people’s everyday lives? A seemingly small thing that has a big impact when it comes to preserving history are historical markers and they are excellent ways to celebrate and commemorate the achievements of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in Ohio and promote education about the issues which still affect the LGBT community today.

The Ohio Historical Markers program began in 1957 and is a program that the Ohio History Connection is very proud of. It is a program that allows local communities to identify, honor and commemorate the important people, places and events that have contributed to their past and share them in a visible way that will last for many years. This is especially important for the LGBT community whose history has not always been visible or “out” and is an opportunity to put Ohio’s LGBT history on the map and make it visible for everyone.

To date, there are over 1,600 historical markers up around the state or currently in production, with more added annually, each telling the story of Ohio’s unique history. The LGBT community is very much an active and vital part of this history and commemorating the individuals, places and events that played a significant role in this history not only educate those who see the marker, but instills an understanding of the diverse, complex, and compelling story of a group who has contributed to the history and culture of Ohio and the United States.

In recent years the Ohio Historical Markers program has encouraged marker applications that feature the achievements of women, American Indians, and African Americans or honor events and places significant to these groups. These perspectives have made the story of American history, and more specifically the story of Ohio, more complete and diverse. But an important group we need to add to this fabric is the LGBT community. There are currently only two Ohio Historical Markers that reflect Ohio’s LGBT history and we are excited to add more.

The first LGBT Ohio Historical marker was installed in Montgomery County in 2009 honoring Natalie Clifford Barney, an openly lesbian playwright, poet and novelist. This marker was sponsored by the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, The Living Beatitudes Community/ Dignity Dayton and the Gay Ohio History Initiative. This marker can be found in Cooper Park on East Second Street in Dayton, the city where Barney was born and lived until the age of ten. The second and most recent marker was installed on June 1, 2017 in Cuyahoga County. This marker commemorates the block of West 29th Street that was home to Cleveland’s vibrant LGBT community and central to the development of the modern LGBT civil rights movement and was sponsored by the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, Equality Ohio, and Ohio City, Inc. This marker can be found at 1418 West 29th Street in Cleveland. Because of their visibility in their communities, these markers are seen by countless people and provide opportunities to demonstrate pride and continued engagement with the local community.

Ohio Historical Marker applications are due annually on July 1. Members of a local community decide on a topic that they would like to commemorate with a historical marker and do the necessary research to draft a short piece of text for the marker, secure a location for its placement, raise funds for its manufacture and then submit the completed application to the Ohio History Connection. Ohio History Connection staff will then work with the local sponsor to refine the marker text to get it ready for production. All historical markers are produced at Sewah Studios in Marietta, Ohio and shipped directly to the sponsors.


For information about the Historical Markers program and how to apply for a marker please visit Remarkable Ohio.

106, 2017

Historic Reflections: A Conversation with Lori Gum of Stonewall Columbus

June 1st, 2017|

Historic Reflections: A Conversation with Lori Gum of Stonewall Columbus

Anthony Gibbs

Local History Manager, Ohio History Connection


Rare is the evidence of Columbus, Ohio’s first Pride March. Stories are told of protestors wearing paper bags over their heads as speakers called from a makeshift stage and a P.A. system ran through an old van.

Last year, we celebrated 35 years of Pride as Stonewall Columbus was born that day in 1981 after approximately 130 marchers stepped down High Street and circled the Statehouse protesting discrimination. When Stonewall was gearing up to sponsor their first pride march, Lori Gum was headed out of town. “I ran away from Columbus!” Upon her return some 30 years later, she was impressed. “What the hell happened?!” Columbus had come a long way.

Lori Gum is the Program and Pride Coordinator at Stonewall Columbus, coordinating Columbus’ Pride Festival since 2011. She has also developed life changing programs through Stonewall to help strengthen the Community and advocate for equality. She continues to do community outreach and cultural competency training, as her passions are rooted in productive dialog for change, understanding, and tolerance.

“When I left, there was no community.” Lori remembered finding a few others like her playing on the softball team in Westerville. But, “people like me were being locked in lockers and spit on. Why would I come out?”

She recalled the social scene in the early 80s. “Lesbian bars were dangerous back in the day. There was a fist fight every night. When you put the shame of being in the closet with ex’s and alcohol all in the same room, something was bound to happen. Our “safe spaces” were sometimes the most dangerous places to be…for women…in my opinion.”

Looking back, it’s sometimes easy to gloss over just how far we’ve come. Looking for the root of our current cultural environment, our conversation took us through many historic phases of the community… The Legacy of World War II, The Early Years of Pride, The AIDS Crisis, and the New Generation of LGBTQ, and some new challenges of the community.

Reflections on the Past and Present

Keeping the conversation going and representing a younger generation was Peter Diller. Peter didn’t grow up in the big city, but rather came from rural Ohio, in a place in North West Ohio called Gilboa. “My darkest moment, strangely enough, had to do with technology.” Peter remembered when he was 17 and being sent text messages to lure him to places from a group of boys who’s motives were clearly harmful. “That put me in the closet for another year.” Peter came out overseas in Vienna, Austria; and after living there a few years, he came back to the states and, like Lori, he wondered “what happened!”.

Peter commented that during the second World War “drag” was a cultural phenomenon in USOs. “WWII was a sexual revolution.” The 50s reflected a reaction to this more visible culture, and clash and conflict punctured through the 60s.

“WWII was a catalyst for Stonewall.” Lori reflected on her studies in LGBTQ history. “During the McCarthy era, gays and jews were targeted. And with marriage equality, we were prepared for the backlash!” Reflections of the struggles in Uganda come to mind, as well as the current torrent of violent and powerful rhetoric regarding trans people in bathrooms. “This is where trans people are most vulnerable and this new rhetoric uses “children” and “bathrooms” in the same sentence to create fear.” Lori reminds us that “more politicians do horrible things in bathrooms than trans”.

Community Focused Narratives

In looking back at the historic record, Lori brings to attention the fact that most narratives of LGBTQ issues are “equality narratives”. “We have been telling our stories to convince mainstream America that we deserve equality. We haven’t talked about our intra-community problems. Now we are moving into a “Queer Conversation” about our own community, without caring what the mainstream thinks. In the 90’s I watched the lipstick lesbians kick the butch women out of the bars. If it had not been for “butch” women, people would not have even known about lesbians. We can stand what “the man” does to you, but what hurts the most and leaves a longer lasting mark on your life, is what your own community does to you. The gay community did it to the trans community; the lipstick lesbians did it to butch women; butch women did it to kinky lesbians in the 50s and 60s; feminists did it to the lesbians…and it goes on and on. The attitude has been…”Including you in our fight for equality would be too risky”, so you wait until we get equality and then we’ll decide if you get it or not.”

Decline of Bar Culture

In the past, bars and bookstores were the common community spaces, but there has been a significant decline of bars in the community. Lori observes that the decline of bars has to do with the alcohol recovery movement. “Sobriety being cool again! So many of us that came of age in the bars were 50 and alcoholics. We realized that bars were contributing to the addictions in our communities. We needed to make safe sober spaces, where you could find community and not have to drink.” This is one of the social gaps that Stonewall Columbus creates programming to fill. Also, those who grew up in the bar culture were now getting older and they no longer fit in bars. So where would they go. Older gens have been getting silent and sometimes going back into the closet again. They’ve found themselves going into faith based nursing homes and having home attendants that wouldn’t give them their medicine “until Jesus Christ came into their lives”. So they’ve had to go back into the closet to ensure their safety again. Peter also remembered a story his mom shared about her time working in the cancer wards, when a person had to go back in the closet in order to die in peace.


Those were difficult times. In 1981, the Pride parade in Columbus consisted of around 200 marchers, many with bags on their heads because they didn’t want to be identified. Police were needed to protect the marchers from a potentially violent and abusive crowd of protesters. This June, Pride coordinators around the state are worried about protecting the protestors. The Pride guide warns to not engage protestors. Do not “play into their hands”. Lori comments that whenever “faggot” or another derogatory term is used; there is real concern about the safety of the protestors. “There are many in today’s younger generation who won’t take this shit anymore!”

A Change is Coming

So when and why did things change? With reverence Lori reflected that “it took the AIDS Crisis to make being in the closet an immoral act”. Living in New York at the time, Lori worked on Christopher Street and somberly remembers that not one of her gay male friends survived. “Nothing about the scores of men dying everyday was mentioned on the front page of the New York Times. I remember being a part of ACT UP and talking about throwing bodies over the White House gates, just to get attention to the crisis.” The community grew in strength and started to form in the 90s to bring the language of protest together. “I’d be fascinated to see what the world would be like if the AIDS Crisis had not happened. It motivated our community to come out. We told our stories and we came out. The AIDS Taskforce was created in Columbus and brought resources to fight the crisis in Columbus. The leather community started having benefits at gay bars to raise money for those with AIDS. These stories weren’t covered in local papers. For most of this history, you have to rely on oral record.

“As horrible as it was, there would not be marriage equality without the AIDS Crisis.” Lori mentioned that Marriage Equality didn’t mean much to her. She had no plans for marriage. She didn’t want to get married. Working in the offices of Stonewall Columbus, she remembered preparing for the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality. “The news update popped on my screen “Marriage Wins 5-4”. My hands were shaking. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact. My life flashed before my eyes. Getting beat up, the AIDS Crisis, getting spit on, carrying a baseball bat in the trunk. I instantly remembered everyone I knew who died during the AIDS crisis. The lives that were paid to make this happen. The names sewn into quilts that were made so that the men who died would not be forgotten. I never believed that Marriage equality would make it to the Supreme Court. We were still fighting state bans. Reaching the Supreme Court seemed so final.” After the impact of the Supreme Court decision, Stonewall Columbus carries on the torch of change. “We have to redefine what equal protection means. Civil Rights should not be up for a vote. The public would have you believe that we’ve got everything we’ve asked for.” Lori casually reminds “Yes, we’ve got everything, except for job protection, housing protection,…” Need we all be reminded from the tragedy in Florida; that we still have a ways to go.

Thank you to Lori Gum and Peter Diller for their time and insight. We all hope to see you support Lori’s incredible work organizing Columbus Pride 2017!

105, 2017

The David Zimmer Collection

May 1st, 2017|

The David Zimmer Collection

Eric Feingold, History Curator

Ohio History Connection


At the Ohio History Center, visitors can see everything from American Indian artifacts to a Lustron home. Now, they can also find a display of materials related to an early LGBTQ activist and drag performer from Central Ohio.

In 2016, we received a number of objects, photographs, and other archival materials related to David Zimmer. For over 40 years, David was a beloved personality in the local LGBTQ community, best known for his performances in drag as Dolly Divine and as a co-founder of what would be known as the Berwick Ball. The display, installed in the museum’s “New Acquisitions” case, provides a colorful glimpse into David’s (and Dolly’s) role in shaping Ohio history.

In 1964, David, Orn Huntington, and others organized a Halloween costume ball in Columbus. Access to the invitation-only event was a closely guarded secret: ticketholders only learned of the venue—an American Legion Hall on North High Street served as the first—by calling a telephone number the day of the ball. Why so secretive? At the time, Ohio’s sodomy law was in full effect, as was Columbus’ cross-dressing law. These statutes, passed in 1885 and 1848, respectively, partly led to police raids of establishments with a known gay clientele. As a result, the Halloween ball served as an important safe space for the local LGBTQ community.

The event proved popular with the community and became an annual gathering where attendees dressed in drag or formal attire. Music, dancing, drag competition, and appearances by “Miss Dolly Divine” were staples of the event, which was organized by a committee. The aptly named Central Ohio Couturier League and its successor, the Columbus Metropolitan Halloween Ball Executive Committee, were early sponsors. These groups oversaw the ball’s growth and eventually introduced awards recognizing outstanding achievement in costume design and volunteer contributions to the event. Then, in the 1980s, the Berwick Party House and Restaurant began hosting the ball. First opened in 1955, the banquet hall located off Refugee Road became the event’s regular venue and namesake.  

The display at the Ohio History Center features a small sampling of pieces related to David’s and Dolly’s involvement with the Berwick Ball, including shoes—covered in brilliant silver sequins—worn during the 1991 event.

These shoes, however, are hardly the only eye-catching pieces in the display. Two of David’s performance costumes are also featured. He commissioned Dick Frank, a local costume designer, to make them. With their intricate patterns and pronounced ruffles, the flowing costumes conjure images of Liberace and his iconic wardrobe.

This sartorial nod to Liberace reflects David’s respect for the performer who achieved widespread acclaim from the 1950s through 1980s. “His flair for costumes was as entertaining as his piano playing,” David said in a 1993 interview. David’s shows featured a combination of humor and music, and, just as Liberace’s, ended with the jazz standard, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” One photograph in the display even shows a smiling David playing his piano, candelabra in the background.

David may have performed throughout Ohio and the country, but he made his home in German Village. In 1989, the Harrisburg, Ohio, native moved to the Columbus neighborhood, where he became a constant fixture at community events. David often participated in the annual “Void Vilities” talent show and “Village Valuables” garage sale. He was also a member of the Schumacher Place Association and the German Village Society.

David’s importance to Columbus’ South Side is well-documented in the collection. In 2004, the German Village Meeting Haus hosted a “Diamond Jubilee” for his 75th birthday. The collection includes the event invitation, photographs from the evening, and clothing and accessories he wore during the celebration.

Some of these pieces, however, are not currently on display at the Ohio History Center. With a collection so comprehensive and full of so many great items, it can be difficult to develop a display with space limitations. But, if you are interested in learning more about David’s life and the collection pieces not on display, you can schedule a research visit with staff.

As an organization dedicated to preserving and sharing Ohio’s history, we are honored that David’s family and friends thought of the Ohio History Connection and our Gay Ohio History Initiative (“GOHI”) collection as the final repository for objects and archival materials from his life. We hope you will visit the Ohio History Center to see selections from the David Zimmer Collection and learn about his significant contributions to state history.

The David Zimmer Collection is currently on display at the Ohio History Center until Fall 2017.


Eric Feingold is a History Curator at the Ohio History Connection, where he preserves, researches, and shares historical objects from Ohio history. He works primarily with objects from the Gay Ohio History Initiative, popular culture, and sports collections.

104, 2017

Collecting and Sharing Ohio’s LGBTQ History

April 1st, 2017|

Collecting and Sharing Ohio’s LGBTQ History

Eric Feingold, History Curator

Ohio History Connection


In the February Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) column, you read about GOHI’s roots and the ways in which it can serve local communities. Last month’s column previewed an upcoming discussion at the Ohio History Center with Dr. Karen McClintock, author of My Father’s Closet. This month, we want to introduce Eric Feingold, curator of the GOHI collection, and share some more information about the collection itself.

Eric first became interested in working with objects as an undergraduate anthropology student. After spending his first year pursuing a career in historical archaeology, he shifted his focus to working with objects in American history museums. After working in several museums, he attended graduate school in central New York. He earned a Master’s degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Cooperstown, New York. While there, he worked with collections and exhibits at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Fenimore Art Museum, and the New York State Historical Association.

Then, in 2015, Eric joined the Ohio History Connection as a History Curator. In this role, he preserves Ohio’s historical objects, helps people conduct research with our collections, and shares Ohio’s rich history through exhibits and educational programs.

Our History collection contains everything from automobiles to quilts. With such a vast collection, we have several object curators on staff, each of whom works with specific “collecting areas,” or specialties.

As part of GOHI, LGBTQ history is one of Eric’s collecting areas. The GOHI collection features many archival materials, museum objects, and printed materials. Highlights include organizational records for Stonewall Union (now Stonewall Columbus), materials that document early Columbus Pride parades, and objects collected during celebrations the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

(Did we mention the collection also features back issues of Outlook?)

There is, however, still plenty of room for the GOHI collection to grow.

For instance, many pieces in the collection relate to Columbus. Though this reflects the city’s role as a center of LGBTQ life in the Midwest, the collection should include pieces related to other parts of Ohio. Our collections feature materials from all of Ohio’s 88 counties and, therefore, it is also important the GOHI collection reflects the history of rural LGBTQ Ohioans.

Along with expanding the geographic scope of GOHI, we are seeking items that relate to experiences of LGBTQ people of color, the transgender community, LGBTQ veterans, and pre-1970 LGBTQ history in Ohio. And, in what is one of the biggest gaps, we are very interested in collecting more physical objects. GOHI features a large amount of archival materials, but fewer objects related to Ohio’s LGBTQ history.

If you are not sure if your historical materials are a good fit for the GOHI collection, we encourage you to get in touch with us to discuss your interest in donating.

Though there is plenty of room for the GOHI collection to grow, we use our existing collection in a number of ways. In the last year alone, we installed two displays of LGBTQ materials at the Ohio History Center. One featured a sampling of archival materials and museum objects from the GOHI collection, while the other—on view at the museum until early Fall 2017—showcases pieces related to an early activist and drag performer from the Columbus area. And, even if collections pieces are not exhibited on the museum floor, they can be used for our educational programs or accessed by researchers after scheduling an appointment with a curator.

In the coming months, this column will highlight some GOHI collection pieces and their unique stories with you. From archival materials to museum objects, these items are important resources for helping all of us gain new insights into Ohio history.

If you are interested in learning more about the GOHI collection or donating materials related to LGBTQ history, please contact Eric Feingold at 614.298.2072 or


Eric Feingold is a History Curator at the Ohio History Connection, where he preserves, researches, and shares historical objects from Ohio history. He works primarily with objects from the Gay Ohio History Initiative, popular culture, and sports collections.

103, 2017

An Evening with Dr. Karen McClintock and My Father’s Closet

March 1st, 2017|

An Evening with Dr. Karen McClintock and My Father’s Closet


Ben Anthony, Community Engagement Coordinator

Ohio History Connection


The McClintock family appeared the same as many Midwestern, post-World War II booming suburban families. Dad was a veteran with a job at The Ohio State University. They had a little brick house at the end of a quiet street and Mom worked at the local library and raised the children. It wasn’t until thirty years after her father’s death that Dr. Karen McClintock found herself reading a journal entry from her father describing having sex with another man and she set out to find the gay father she never knew.

The Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) works to preserve and present Ohio’s LGBTQ history. Along with collecting, displaying, and researching historical materials, there are many additional ways we engage the LGBTQ community to tell the story of Ohio’s gay history. That is why we are very excited to host Dr. Karen McClintock to discuss her new book, My Father’s Closet, on April 19th.

Dr. McClintock is an acclaimed psychologist and author whose research focuses on eradicating sexual shame. She began as a minister working with grieving HIV/AIDS patients and medical staff during the AIDS crisis before she was even aware of her father’s own secret life. My Father’s Closet is her chance to discover the story of her own family’s secrets and tell a complicated tale of infidelity, heartbreaking loss and loyalty through love. We were able to read an advance copy of the book and speak with Dr. McClintock.

Located in Columbus, My Father’s Closet is ultimately a story of a family that loves and respects one another. In a genre that all too often suffers from salacious, lowest-common-denominator tales of intrigue and infidelity, Dr. McClintock’s background as a psychologist and minister sets her narrative apart. My Father’s Closet deals honestly and openly about what develops into an incredibly complex family history. Dr. McClintock’s parents keep her father’s interest in men and eventually his long-term relationship with a man named Walther secret for practically their entire lives. As Dr. McClintock reminds us, her parents “were very good at this shell game” of secrecy. Eventually though, those secrets take its toll on both parents. A mother forced to live a celibate life and a father forced to live with the fear of shame and losing the family he loved. As Dr. McClintock described, “His staying in the closet was essential to staying my parent.” This is a story too nuanced to allow for a constant protagonist or antagonist and Dr. McClintock’s years of experience explain that exquisitely.

The story is a wonderful example of the many types of love in the world. As Dr. McClintock explains, her father and mother did share a love, “A kind of love that is full respect and regard for the soul of the other person; and they had that till the end.” However, the love between Walther and Dr. McClintock’s father is just as palpable. We know they met while working at Ohio State together and shared their love of the arts and New York City. When their relationship is abruptly (and heartbreakingly) ended, we see through tragic grief the depth and sincerity of her father and Walther’s love. Finally, we see the love of family. Dr. McClintock shares the story of a charmed childhood and a father that “believed in me and was delighted I was living my life.” Through the eyes of love, we begin to understand Dr. McClintock’s complicated and practically unknown family history. That is probably why when we asked Dr. McClintock what she wants to say to today’s LGBTQ community, she simply responded, “We need you to keep loving and we need you to keep speaking the truth.”

Please join us to hear Dr. Karen McClintock discuss her story and answer your questions April 19th at the Ohio History Center (800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211). Doors open at 6:30pm, event begins at 7pm. Please stay for coffee, cookies and discussion after the program. Complete event information can be found at The Ohio State University’s Trillium Press will release My Father’s Closet April 15th. You can pre-order your copy now at For more information about the book and Dr. McClintock visit

102, 2017

GOHI: A Re-Introduction

February 1st, 2017|

GOHI: A Re-Introduction

Ben Anthony, Community Engagement Coordinator

Ohio History Connection


In 2006, Outlook Media and The Ohio History Connection (formerly The Ohio Historical Society) created the Gay Ohio History Initiative or GOHI. This partnership was one of the first of its kind and was created to collect, preserve, and share the contributions of the LGBTQ community to Ohio’s collective history. GOHI aims to be the central hub for LGBTQ history across Ohio through our collections, outreach and partnerships.

From its inception, GOHI has been designed as a grass root, community-led effort. The LGBTQ community of Ohio should be empowered to tell their narrative throughout history rather than a narrative being imposed on the community. We have had success connecting with the LGBTQ community in Central Ohio, but it is time for GOHI be a home for LGBTQ history for all Ohioans. GOHI is connecting with community organizations, archives, and social networks across the state to learn about and promote important LGBTQ stories.

Growing our community-based and community-lead collection is critical. No one journal, picture or artifact can tell the story of Ohio’s LGBTQ past. It is only through a robust and diverse collection that Ohio’s LGBTQ narrative can be properly preserved. The Ohio History Connection’s curatorial staff and preservation experts ensure that the collection is treated with the utmost care and discretion so it can be preserved for generations to come. The collection currently has a good deal of items from the 80’s and 90’s. We are looking for older items as well as those that tell personal stories. Event memorabilia has its place in the collection, but to convey honest, human stories we are seeking journals, photographs, clothing and anything else that tells the story of Ohio’s LGBTQ individuals through time. People often think that items from their past don’t have “historical value”.  However, It is the story of everyday people that best tell the struggles and triumphs of history. For example, a Civil War cannon may be a visually appealing piece in a museum, but it is the personal journal of the private on the battlefield that gives us the most compelling and personal understanding of the times. We are always looking to grow the GOHI collection so if you think you have something to donate please contact Eric Feingold the curator for the GOHI collection at The Ohio History Connection ( or 614-297-2072). It is Outlook’s voice in the community and GOHI’s continued outreach efforts that will allow a rich, personalized narrative to be created with the GOHI collection.

GOHI will also act as a resource to empower and encourage local history organizations. We want our partners to discover LGBTQ history in their own collections and areas. Great local resources such as the Lesbian Archives in Cincinnati or The Western Reserve Historical Society’s LGBTQ archives in Cleveland can be given a voice through GOHI to spur greater involvement in a community’s local LGBTQ history. GOHI will continue to make partnerships across Ohio and is always looking for ways to encourage local gay history discovery and sharing. We will also partner with the educational community by creating quality professional development for K-12 social studies and history teachers to incorporate Ohio’s LGBTQ history in the classroom.

Beginning this month, the GOHI column in Outlook will be a place to share Ohio’s LGBTQ history and GOHI’s efforts to support it. We look forward to sharing a rich past that many of us still have yet to discover. The column will discuss items in the GOHI collection and the stories they tell.  We will team up with our local history partners to describe the resources available in your area. Most importantly, we will work together to continue discovering and sharing Ohio’s LGBTQ history. As GOHI grows across Ohio we are always looking to connect and partner with new organizations and people. Is there a place or person in Ohio’s LGBTQ history we should look into? Should we come to your organizations next meeting or event? Let us know!

If you would like to donate, get involved or know more about GOHI please contact Ben Anthony at The Ohio History Connection ( or 614-297-2476).