Today on the blog, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with a series of short essays by activists, writers, and scholars whose lives and work have been shaped by the events of June 1969 and their aftermath. This year, the scale of celebration and commemoration in New York is larger than ever — more than 4 million people are expected to attend this weekend’s festivities, and an estimated 115,000 people will be marching at Pride. In the city, more than two dozen different exhibitions that engage with LGBTQ art, history, and activism are on view, and two recently published anthologies, The Stonewall Reader and The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, invite 2019 readers to interpret the events at Stonewall by revisiting sources from the time.
Alongside this wealth of celebration and commemoration, there is also tension and unrest. Social and legal gains for LGBTQ people have been numerous since 1969; the declassification of homosexuality and gender variance as mental illnesses, the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, and the growth in employment and housing protections for LGBTQ people are all the fruits of decades of activism. At the same time, these benefits have reached members of the community unevenly and have deepened existing rifts and fueled increasingly urgent debates about how to set priorities, how to allocate resources, and how to shape the discourse around LGBTQ rights.
The Stonewall Uprising and the way it is remembered is intrinsic to this tension. We variously mark the anniversary with celebration of how far we’ve come and with urgent reminders of how far we’ve yet to go. At the Gotham blog, we’ve chosen to embrace the debate and offer a cross-section of it here, rather than attempting to assert a single, settled interpretation of what Stonewall means in 2019. There are eight million stories in the naked city; today we offer nine of them. — Katie Uva, ed.
By Perry Brass
Reviewed by Elvis Bakaitis
By Nina E. Harkrader
Upper and middle-class New Yorkers quickly grew alarmed by the number of young, single women living in cities apart from their families — alone, unprotected, and unsupervised. The practical question of finding decent accommodation for single working women thus also became a moral one of preserving the purity, dignity, and femininity of future wives and mothers. These tensions between the increasing numbers of working women and societal expectations would continue for decades. As a result, during the period from about 1860 to 1930, urban housing for single working women — its location, design, and even its furnishings — became central to the struggle for women to be accepted as independent citizens.
Reviewed by Emily Brooks
The Girl on the Velvet Swing is an engaging and fast-paced presentation of this story that will prove compelling to popular and academic audiences interested in New York City history or histories of the gilded age. Despite these strengths, Baatz’s analysis is weakened by a problematic interpretation of Nesbit’s narrative of her own assault, included in the book’s afterword, which may unsettle readers.
Reviewed by Benjamin Serby
Tre Donne: Kitty Genovese, Diane di Prima, Virginia Apuzzo and the Roots of Italian-American Feminism in 1960s New York
By Marcia M. Gallo
Kitty Genovese, Diane di Prima, and Virginia Apuzzo are iconic Italian American New Yorkers who came of age in the 1950s and challenged familial and social expectations. All three present novel perspectives on women’s oppression and liberation in the 1960s and beyond. Yet rarely are they considered together as examples of ethnic “gender rebels.”
Kitty Genovese was a smart, passionate lesbian who became a national symbol of urban apathy after her 1964 murder in Queens at age 28. Diane di Prima helped launch the Beat literary movement in New York and has been a prolific feminist poet, playwright, memoirist, and activist throughout her life. Virginia Apuzzo is a former nun and pioneer gay rights, feminist, and AIDS organizer and leader who was appointed to high-level positions in the administrations of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and President Bill Clinton. All three of them are part of my current research that reexamines mid-twentieth century feminism by centering women of color, ethnic women, working class and poor women — artists, public intellectuals, activists — who have been subsumed or ignored in traditional accounts of American women’s liberation movements.
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