16 Gorgeous Photographs Of Defiant Lesbians In The 19th And 20th Centuries

Over the past decade, society’s attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have changed irrevocably and for the better. Now the majority of progressive countries have legalized gay marriage, adoption, and made it easier for transgender people to live as their authentic selves.

While heteronormative standards have largely been consigned to the past, even when the LGBTQ+ community was entirely persecuted, a number of brave people defied these conventions in years gone by – showing that throughout history, love has always triumphed.

1. These women were epitome of 1940s fashion

Even if their openness about their sexuality was taboo for the time.

2. This picture was taken when homosexuality was illegal

The fact that this photograph dating back to the 1910s exists is a miracle. Many family members destroyed pictures of their homosexual relatives out of fear of persecution. In some countries, homosexuality was even subject to capital punishment.

3. A passionate and beautiful embrace

Dating back to the 1890s, this photograph is of two women who are widely believed to be lesbians.

4. A confirmed lesbian couple who were together for 10 years

American actress Charlotte Cushman, left and British writer Matilda Hays, right, in 1858.

Check out this video below to learn more about lesbian history:

Throughout history, recorded cases of lesbianism are rare, with sodomy being subject to the greatest amount of condemnation, although the earliest laws against lesbianism date back to the seventh century.

The Paenitentiale, a book written by Theodore of Tarsus, who became archbishop of Canterbury in England, states, “If a woman practices vice with a woman she shall do penance for three years.”

5. We can only assume they met at college

Kitty Ely class of 1887, left, and Helen Emory class of 1889, who were students at Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts.

6. These women were particularly unconventional

Not only were they thought to be lesbians, but they had no qualms about dressing in men’s clothing either. This photograph was taken in 1900.

7. Lesbian love flourished during World War Two

Dorothy Putnam and Lois Mercer in the 1930s. This was the decade when their 50-year-long relationship began.

8. Two Victorian lesbians about to share a kiss

This photograph dates back to 1880. Only a handful of images like this survive.

A little-known fact about lesbianism is that many lesbian couples were able to marry under the guise of “Boston marriages” in New England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were shared between two women who shared a “Romantic friendship” and chose to live together without any financial dependence on men.

9. Two women kissing in the 1920s

Once again, it’s not known if they were lovers or not, but photographs like this remain an important part of LGBTQ+ history.

10. One of the earliest photographs of a rumored lesbian from 1874

Mary Edmonia Lewis was an American sculptor who spent most of her life in Europe and she was thought to be a lesbian.

11. Taken in the 1950s, shortly before homosexuality was decriminalized

Homosexuality became legal in 1962 in the US and 1967 in the UK. The location of this photograph is unknown.

12. Their names aren’t known

But their kiss in the 1920s has sealed them a place in LGBTQ+ history.

While LGBTQ+ people have largely been silenced throughout history, the earliest known pornographic material, dating back a staggering 3,000 years actually features same-sex couples.

13. Annabell and Gladys were thought to be lesbians

The butch-femme dichotomy goes back a lot further than you might think. This picture was taken in 1900.

14. A romantic lesbian kiss in the 1950s

If you’ve ever wondered where the word lesbian comes from, it’s derived from the Greek island of Lesbos. This is where a poet by the name of Sappho was born, who frequently wrote about lesbian relationships between c. 630 – c. 570 BC.

15. “Aunty Mary and her ‘friend’ Ruth, 1910.”

Found in an attic, this photograph’s description is telling of how lesbian couples referred to each other in the past. The quotation marks around the word friend suggest that Ruth was, in reality, a lot more than that – as does the picture itself.

16. This couple was torn apart by World War Two

Felice Rahel Schragenheim and Lilly Wust, circa 1942. If you’d like to learn more about their relationship, their story is told in the book Aimée & Jaguar.

Now that people are beginning to accept that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, the importance of these photographs cannot be overstated. They are proof of how far society has come since then and a poignant reminder that even in the face of LGBTQ+ persecution, which has not yet been completely eradicated, people have always been willing to fly in the face of heteronormative standards.

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