Lesbianism has had an interesting history, in that it sort of hasn’t had one.
Where homosexuality between men was illegal, actively hunted and punishable by a prison sentence, lesbianism was just sort of… ignored.
It might not have dangerous like being a gay man was, but it also wasn’t really recognised. Women were just written off as being close, as being companions, and left alone to enjoy their ‘friendship’.
While being ignored is better than being hunted, it still meant that real and important romantic relationships were kept in the shadows and not recognized at being equally valid.
Which is why photos, like this collection of photos of women in same-sex relationships from the 19th and 20th century, are so important.
American Actress Charlotte Cushman, left and British writer Matilda Hays, right, pictured here in 1858
The pair had a 10-year relationship, and Charlotte Cushman was particularly famous in her home country, even entertaining President Lincoln.
Mary Edmonia Lewis, an American sculptor who worked for most of her career in Rome, Italy, seen here circa 1874. She is rumoured to have been a lesbian.
Kitty Ely, class of 1887, left, and Helen Emory, class of 1889, Mount Holyoke students, USA
Two women labelled as Annabell and Gladys, circa 1900
This photograph from 1910 of two women in a close embrace was found in an attic and written on the back was ‘Aunty Mary and her ‘friend’ Ruth, 1910′
The quotation marks around friend seem to suggest there is something more to their relationship.
Dorothy Putnam and Lois Mercer in the 1930s when they started dating
The two ladies were partners for over 50 years. During World War II, Dorothy served in the Women’s Ambulance and Transport Corps of California (W.A.T.C.C.), and later the Air Force, rising to the rank of First Lieutenant.
Dorothy Putnam and Lois Mercer celebrating a birthday, undated
Felice and Lilly were lesbian lovers living in Berlin but Felice was deported to a concentration camp because of her Jewish heritage. She later died during a march between concentration camps.
The story of the relationship between Schragenheim and Wust is portrayed in the 1999 film Aimee & Jaguar, and in a book of the same name by Erica Fischer.
Evelyn ‘Jackie’ Bross and Catherine Barscz at the Racine Avenue Police Station in Chicago, 1943. They had been arrested for violating the cross-dressing ordinance.