Рубрика: Feminism, Sexuality, and Politics

Gay Marriage: Precedents, Alternatives, and Politics

In his dissent from the Lawrence decision, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia predicted that overturning Bowers left “shaky grounds” for state opposi­tion to same-sex marriage. At the time, I doubted that Scalia’s fears about gay marriage would soon materialize. Thus, the speed with which same-sex marriage gathered momentum in the United States surprised me. Marriage in […]

I When Historical Interpretation Meets Legal Advocacy Abortion, Sodomy, and Same-Sex Marriage

On several occasions, I have been asked to speak at historical meetings about contem­porary legal cases related to my scholarship on sexuality. At the American Historical Association meeting in 1989, I participated on a panel on reproductive rights entitled “Women’s History in the Policy Arena”; in 2004, while the Massachusetts state legis­lature was deliberating gay […]


Why, then, the burning of letters? Even if Van Waters did not consider her­self a lesbian, the world around her was not as thoroughly convinced. Al­though her close associates insisted to me that the relationship was much too spiritual to have been homosexual, Van Waters’s partnership with Thomp­son made her increasingly vulnerable to the insinuations […]

Evidence of Subjectivity

When Superintendent Van Waters evaded the labeling of homosexuality during her dismissal hearings, she also sidestepped implicit questions about her own sexual identity. Just as she had refused to label her long-term ro­mantic partnership with New Jersey philanthropist Geraldine Thompson, Van Waters avoided applying the term “lesbian” to other women. She re­served the homosexual label […]


In the early twentieth century, highly educated women such as Miriam Van Waters might have been exposed to published literature that clearly named both male and female homosexuality. Only a generation earlier, even roman­tic female friends and women who passed as men perceived their experiences within frameworks largely devoid of sexual references. The “female world […]

I The Burning of Letters Continues Elusive Identities and the Historical Construction of Sexuality

The story behind Miriam Van Waters’s burning of her personal correspondence illus­trates the problem of interpreting sexual identities historically. Like the working-class lesbians in prison, the administrators and staff of women’s reformatories were vulner­able to charges of sexual deviance. Long before I became her biographer, I had heard rumors about Van Waters’s personal life, so […]

I The Prison Lesbian Race, Class, and the Construction of the Aggressive Female Homosexual, 1915 -1965

I first encountered references to lesbianism in women’s prisons during my dissertation research in the 1970s, but when I later uncovered rich accounts of sexual relations between prisoners in the papers of Miriam Van Waters, I decided to look more closely at this phenomenon. The prison lesbian, like the male psychopath, seemed to supplant the […]

I Uncontrolled Desires The Response to the Sexual Psychopath, 1920 -1960

As I began to compare the response to male and female deviance in twentieth-century America, I kept encountering medical, legal, and popular references to the sexual psy­chopath. In this essay, I interpret the psychopath scare of the 1930s through the 1950s not simply as an expression of psychiatric authority but as a popular, discursive con­struction […]