Historic Importance of Lesbian Places and Lesbian Bars


At the same time, published writings began to claim that women were negatively affected by intellectual life (D’Emilio and Freedman, 1988). Yet, by the end of the 19th century more middle-class women were following in their footsteps. Public pressure increased. There was a definite counter-development in public discourse aimed specifically at the middle-classes. It denigrated the concept of “separate spheres” for men and women which had supported the existence of all-female environments and organizations and pushed, instead, for a heterosexual family definition of life. D’Emilio and Freedman quote G. Stanley Hall, the psychologist, as writing in 1904, that “higher education threatened to produce women who were functionally castrated … deplore the necessity of childbearing … and abhor the limitations of married life” (190).

And, indeed, the number of never-married women in the late 1800s was the highest it has ever been in the U.S. (until the last few years) and the number of children per married household was decreasing despite the passage of anti-abortion laws and laws which prevented the dissemination of contraceptive devices. After 1900, some writers made a direct connection between politically active middle-class women and Lesbianism (D’Emilio and Freedman, i988). Despite these attacks, research conducted by Kathryn Davis (a well-known Progressive Era researcher and Lesbian) and published in 1929, found that sexual relationship between unmanied college women were not uncommon. She found that, of the 1200 unmarried women college graduates she interviewed, twenty-eight percent of the women who attended all-women’s colleges and 20 percent of those from coeducational institutions reported intimate relationships with other women which were of a sexual nature; 50 percent reported having erotic feelings for other women (Davis, 1929).

 Secular laws against women dressing like men, which dated back to early modem Europe, had their counterparts in the U.S. They formed one of the bases for police raids on bars. In the 1950s and 1960s, when bars were raided, women who did not have on at least three pieces of women’s clothing were arrested for impersonating a man. One Lesbian from New Orleans describes her response: “I wore lace on my socks so the cops wouldn’t have any problems seeing they were women’s socks …”( Impact, 1980).

y. Until the late 60s, when organized Lesbian and Gay groups brought and won law suits, it was illegal for Lesbians and Gay men to gather in a public place where liquor was served (D’Emilio, 1983). Today, sodomy laws still exist in 24 states and the District of Columbia. These laws often do not distinguish between heterosexual and homosexual sodomy, but they are applied selectively to Gay people. In Georgia, in the mid-1980s, a Gay man was arrested under this law by a police officer who came to deliver a summons on some other matter and found him having sex in his own home. 

These types of laws, the mentality behind them and their selective application, have meant that Lesbian bars as “public” meeting places for “deviant” women, have been subject historically to police raids, closings, arsons, and their users to humiliation, arrests, rapes, beating and other forms of violence by the police as well as by heterosexual men who are not the police (San Francisco Bay Guardian and other articles, various dates). Bar raids occur unpredictably. They are frequently a governmental response to criticism about laxity of law enforcement, relying on the bigoted attitudes of heterosexual citizens and their lack of sympathy towards Lesbians and Gay men for their political currency. And, Lesbian bars are the places where, most often, Lesbians “come out” (that is, make a statement to themselves and to others that they are Lesbians):  

Women who remained in the bar environments in the 50s and 60s had a conscious sense that they were risking a great deal to be there and decided it was worth it. In that sense, Lesbian bars served a function neither their owners nor the government wanted. They became sites of resistance because they clearly demonstrated the social validity of Lesbian sexual desire and existence, as well as the operation of male domination, homophobia and the political rather than individual nature and effects of oppression. Joan Nestle (1987) describes this experience. To use the bathroom in these bars Lesbians had to wait in a line, a line that wove throughout the entire bar. To reinforce the view that the Lesbians were “sexual deviants”, the owners had someone watching them enter at the bathroom door and only one woman at a time was allowed inside. This created the line. Each woman was given a specific amount of toilet paper as they entered:

In the 1940s, “women braved ridicule and verbal abuse, but rarely physical conflict … In the fifties, … the street dyke emerged …” (427-428). These Lesbians dressed as they wanted outside of the bar, took jobs which allowed that, and fought back when harassed. The street dyke was a “full-time ‘queer’ … ready at any time to fight for her space and her dignity” (428)

Visibly “butch”, or in “butch-femme couples”, using the streets and public transportation to get to the bars even on weekday nights, “participants in bar life were engaged in constant, often violent struggle for public space” (429).


Finance is dominated by Cisgender white men and those in it consciously gatekeep and confuse the information so that it is difficult to enter the world of finance. Women struggle in comparison to men with finances, so when it comes to queer women there is obviously more issues. The dying of lesbian bars in America is a shame, the lesbian bar project has been supporting them through the pandemic; one called Slammers is actually in Columbus. While these queer places existed, they were not safe and often subjected to violent raids. Attending lesbian bars started becoming a way of resistance that men couldn’t override. It proved that their desire and existence was real. These bars are also where the term “come out” began; lesbians would come out to the bars and reveal their queerness to each other.

So, in a world where queer people are excluded from accessing financial knowledge, and in a world where these historically essential spaces are dying, wouldn’t another form of resistance/ empowerment be to utilize education within these spaces?