The amazing lives that these 17 women lived paved the way for many future generations of LGBT women, and we should all know about them. So, lets take a closer look at just a handful of some of the most courageous and incredible LBGT women in history.
Tallulah Bankhead was an American bisexual actor who was romantically linked to Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, and Marlene Dietrich, also actor Patsy Kelly confirmed that she had a sexual relationship with Bankhead as well. In 1933, Bankhead nearly died following a radical hysterectomy to cure an STI. Afterwards she said to her doctor, Dont think this has taught me a lesson. Amazing.
This British landowner kept extensive coded diaries detailing her personal life. Her first relationship was with a school-friend called Eliza Raine, and was followed by an affair with fellow pupil Mariana Belcombe. She then got married (although it wasnt recognized legally) to a wealthy heiress called Ann Walker, which caused uproar in polite society, but they were both rich and could do what they wanted so they DGAF.
Gladys Bentley was a blues singer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s. She would appear onstage as an openly lesbian drag king, and was later backed by a chorus line of drag queens. Her act involved making up her own (much raunchier) lyrics to popular songs and singing them to women in the audience in a sexy, gravelly voice. *Fans self*
After being abandoned by her husband, Snell disguised herself as a man and served in the British Navy from 1745 to 1750. While in Carlisle for manoeuvres, she was asked to find a prostitute for her commanding officer, but turned the tables and became intimate with the lady in question herself. She also reportedly slept with a bunch of women in Lisbon when her ship pulled into port there.
Joe Carstairs was the British daughter of a rich American heiress. Born in Mayfair in 1903, she used her money to build a career as a world-class powerboat racer. She was openly lesbian, dressed in mens clothing, and had a relationship with Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wildes niece, who she lived with for a time in Paris. She also had affairs with Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and our good friend Tallulah Bankhead.
Alla Nazimova was a wild, beautiful silent movie star and stage actor who openly conducted relationships with other women. She held lavish, sexy parties at her Sunset Boulevard mansion, and coined the phrase sewing circle to describe closeted lesbian and bisexual women in Hollywood, with whom she had multiple affairs. She lived with fellow actor Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death.
Ruth Ellis was the oldest-known open lesbian when she died at the ripe old age of 100. She came out when she was just 16, graduated high school in spite of considerable adversity, and set up a successful printing business. She met her partner of 30 years, Ceciline, in the 1920s, and their Detroit home became a welcome refuge for African-American gays and lesbians. Legendary.
Barney was an American playwright who lived in Paris, opposed monogamy, and devoted a lot of her time to getting it on with some of the most famous women of the era, including writer lisabeth de Gramont, aka the duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre, and, once again, Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wildes niece (proving the lesbian world was quite small in those day).
Although possibly best remembered for her affair with Virginia Woolf, English poet Vita Sackville-West had an even more passionate relationship with her friend Violet Trefusis, documented in a series of heated letters between the pair. They eloped several times, once to Paris, and created quite a bit of scandal. They also forbade each other from sleeping with their own husbands.
This Parisian female clown and entertainer regularly performed at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s. She was a favourite subject of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted a variety of intimate scenes showing Cha-U-Kao with her female lovers. He was reportedly fascinated by her confidence, the fact she was so open about her homosexuality, and her decision to choose a male profession (clowning).
Roberta Cowell was a British World War II fighter pilot and Grand Prix racing driver who was born male and became (in 1951) one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. After her surgery she was no longer allowed to compete in Grand Prix racing, but she continued to be active in motor racing and won the 1957 Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb. *Slow clap*
A distinguished English feminist, author, and essayist Virginia Woolf is regarded to be one of the significant figures of twentieth century modern literature. Woolf is the author of well known books including Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando but her most famous work is the book-length essay A Room of Ones Own (1929). The extensive essay is an evidence of Virginias feminist nature. The various lectures Woolf delivered in womens colleges of Cambridge University formed the basis for this essay.
Virginia Woolf along with James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound is known to be a founder of the Modernist movement. Today, Woolfs work is still widely read and used frequently for purposes of scholarly studies.
Audre Lorde was an African-American writer, civil rights activist, and thoroughly badass lesbian who worked to confront issues of racism in the fledgling feminist movement. She was outspoken in her approach and wasnt afraid to engage in open disagreements with notable white feminists, which led to some people labelling her an outsider, but Audre refused to be silenced and never gave up.
Mary Benson was a well-known hostess and society darling who was married to the archbishop of Canterbury. She also had multiple affairs with women, including a four-year relationship with a young, pretty composer named Ethel Smyth, who was also dating Bensons daughter Nellie. But Benson magnanimously stepped aside in favour of her daughter. What a nice mum.
Jane Addams was a seismically huge and influential figure in the American womens suffrage movement. She was also romantically involved with several women over her lifetime, most significantly with Mary Rozet Smith, who she shared a house with. The women wrote to each other constantly when apart, and the letters show they saw themselves as a loving married couple.
Una Troubridge was the equally talented artist partner of the better-known lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall. Hall was dating Troubridges aunt Mabel Batton when they first met, but after Batton died they hooked up, lived together very openly, and remained a couple until Halls death in 1943, despite some serious drama in 1934 when Hall had an affair with a Russian nurse called Evgenia Souline. Damn.
Mercedes de Acosta was a Spanish/Cuban-American poet and novelist who is possibly best-known for her deeply tempestuous, passionate, and long-term affair with Greta Garbo. De Acosta also proudly shagged her way around Hollywood during the silent movie era, was involved with Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina, and is reputed to have said, I can get any woman away from any man. <3