In 1958, Fannie Hurst (more on this St. Louis lady later…) began hosting a talk show out of New York, which featured several of the earliest discussions of sexuality during its time. While the show mostly featured gay men speaking, members of the queer community were, for the first time, speaking for themselves, opposed to being spoken about by a panel of “experts.” The 1950s was a time in which the queer community began to make major gains toward visibility.
A little break for some good old fashioned urban history: For women across the nation, the postwar economic boom, which created jobs, money, and opportunities for spending and leisure activities, allowed single women freedoms within public spheres they had never before enjoyed.
Because of these opportunities, queer women began to gain a new visibility in public life and to construct new models of womanhood. (That’s fancy talk for challenging those stale gender roles, y’all!)
Recreational activities, dating, and lesbian-centered commercial venues emerge and thrive during this time. While consistently surrounded by threats of persecution, these spaces allowed queer women to develop a shared sense of community and identity.
Buildin’ up that collective consciousness, yo.
Despite bouts of positive visibility, however, the queer community faced considerable backlash and discrimination. Due to city efforts to create accessibility and prosperity, highways and other city attractions were built, disrupting some parts of the city.
Take for example Madame Touhey’s, a popular 1950s lesbian bar. A site crucial for community, the bar was demolished for construction of Bush Stadium, devastating a social aspect of the lesbian scene.
(BOOO “Urban Renewal” BOOO HISSSS)
St. Louis native and literary scholar, Nan Sweet published a brief history of lesbian heritage. Check it out:
Often seen as a “problem,” many lesbians struggled to maintain their sense of self while attempting to fit in with the greater community at large. One of those women was Frankie Hucklenbroich, a young, self-prescribed butch lesbian who struggled to navigate a place for herself in postwar St. Louis.
Here is a picture of Hucklenbroich:
Hucklenbroich’s 1997 autobiography, A Crystal Diary, tells the story of her “wild and predominantly illegal life as a street butch for twenty years.”
Peruse an excerpt from A Crystal Diary:
The prologue takes place in 1957 St. Louis just before Hucklenbroich left Missouri for California.
For queer women, the 1950s was a time of truly living, loving, and socializing, but one also characterized by seeking respite from violence, persecution, and discrimination. Even today, the queer community wages battles in favor of sexual liberation and self-discovery, continuing on the brave path set by women like Hucklenbroich.
Wanna Know More?
Obviously go read A Crystal Diary. In addition to the prologue, chapter two features a look back to Hucklenbroich’s younger years in St. Louis as she began to come to terms with her sexuality.
The Saint Louis LGBT History Project works to preserve local LGBT history. While some of their information is archived on this website, the rest of their archival materials are located with The State Historical Society at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the Missouri Historical Society. The online portion of their archives features an LGBT historical timeline, history by topic, and overview of what their archived collection contains. Read more about the project here: http://www.stlouislgbthistory.co