ILD: Rediscovering Eve Adams; the Radical Lesbian Activist

Eve Adams (centre)

In 1925, Eve Adams, a Polish-Jewish émigré who had spent the past four years travelling across the United States selling leftist radical literature, opened a tearoom in Greenwich Village. Eve’s Hangout, as it was sometimes known, was situated in the basement of 129 MacDougal Street. The small, sparingly lit cellar quickly became a destination among the city’s bohemian contingents—artists, poets, activists, gay men, and lesbians. According to the Daily News, it was rumored that “men kept to one room, the women in another.” The Quill, a downtown periodical, summed it up, mockingly, as a place “where ladies prefer each other.”

One evening in June, 1926, a woman named Margaret Leonard walked into Eve’s Hangout wearing a tweed suit and carrying a briefcase. Adams took to Leonard, and, the next day, they met at Adams’s apartment and rode a taxi to Times Square to see a play. Later, Leonard would report that, in the car, Adams kissed her “profusely,” slid her hand under Leonard’s coat, and touched Leonard’s breasts. At dinner, they waltzed. That night, Adams told Leonard that she wanted to give her a copy of the book she had published the previous year, called “Lesbian Love,” a collection of biographical snapshots of lesbians Adams had known. They returned to her apartment, where Adams gave Leonard a copy and autographed it.

A few days after their outing, Leonard returned to Eve’s Hangout and revealed herself to be an undercover policewoman. Together with four other officers, she arrested Adams for “disorderly conduct”—a broad charge that referred, in this case, to Adams’s alleged sexual advances—and for having written an “obscene” book. After trials for each charge, Adams was sentenced to a year and a half in jail. When she completed her sentence, immigration authorities began deportation proceedings against her. (Although she had begun applying for naturalization in 1923, Adams was not yet an American citizen.) During the hearings, she pleaded to be allowed to stay, but, in 1927, she was sent back to Poland. Her days there were hard. In a letter to a friend, she described her “everyday worry” being “for a piece of bread.” “I cannot steal and I am a stranger-Jew here,” she wrote. She sustained herself on a Ten Cent Classics edition of Tennyson’s poetry, and she eventually managed to move to Paris. Adams’s passport listed her profession as “writer—woman of letters,” but, to support herself, she sold novels to American tourists on the street. After the Nazis occupied France, she tirelessly worked to find a way out of the country, but in late 1943 she was captured and sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered.

“Lesbian Love,” though long since largely forgotten, might be the first ethnography of lesbians in America. Structured as a series of vignettes, the book—which Adams described as a “scientific literary contribution”—captures scores of women who flirted, courted, or were in love with one another, and some who played with the presentations of their gender. In the opening chapter, “Glimpses,” Adams writes of “a little rendezvous tearoom, late after dinner hour, where six or seven girls had gathered. One lone man sat silent in a corner. Whispers and love sonatas could be heard among the group of girls—occasionally laughter.” The group included women called Ann, Sara (who seemed to be Ann’s lover), and “May, the proprietress, known as Jim.”

Continue reading: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/rediscovering-eve-adams-the-radical-lesbian-activist (source)

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