June 28, 2015

Secret Lesbians: 16 Romantic Photographs of Queer Women Couples From the Victorian Era

The Victorian era saw the death penalty for buggery abolished in 1861 – but it wasn’t exactly plain sailing for LGBT people after that.

The Victorian period has been described as pivotal in its contribution to modern language around sexuality for Western based cultures. For many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, it meant a radical and destructive restructuring of age old traditions around gender and sexuality through continued colonization.


As attitudes and expectations around marital and intimate relationships became more strict in Victorian England, this put pressure on LGBT people living in Western cultures, as well as Native American populations. Heterosexuality was naturalized and normalized while any sexual behaviors and gender presentations outside of these parameters became labeled as deviant.

One 19th century definition of queer names it as that which differs from the life-script of “opposite-sex” marriage and reproduction. Queer theory thus provides a framework which challenges the assumed opposition of homosexuality and heterosexuality. By removing the prescribed naturalism of these cultural terms one is able to examine the complexity of desire.

Dr. Holly Furneaux of the University of London has argued that the homo social nature of Victorian society accommodated a wide range of queer desires as well as non-marital and non-reproductive impulses. Her research has revealed many instances in which such behaviors were viewed as acceptable and often welcomed.

Check out these loving and joyful images of queer women from the Victorian Era.

"The Darned Club", October 29, 1891. Alice Austen (left) and her three friends, Trudy Eccleston, Julia Marsh, and Sue Ripley at the Austen House gardens at Clear Comfort on Staten Island.

Charlotte Cushman and Matilda Hays, a couple pictured from the 1850s.

A couple from the 1890s.

Two African American women facing each other, ca. 1899.

Fellows. Cabinet Card ca. 1890.

A young couple seated in garden, ca. 1900s.

ca. 1900s

Anna Moor and Elsie Dale pose for a photograph in 1900.

Lily Elise and Adrienne Augarde, 1907.

It's nice to see that taboos did not restrain real lovers to kiss and keep mementos, even if they kept those hidden...


Lesbians have always been around. Men used to like their perspective wives to be with one for a bit to get comfy with their bodies.

Isabella Grace and Florence Elizabeth on the Balcony of 5 Princes Gardens, London , ca. 1862.

Mount Holyoke students, circa 1887 A studio shot of Kitty Ely class of 1887 (left) and Helen Emory class of 1889.


Mary and her “friend” Ruth, 1910.





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