Before 1950

The photographs in this section are from the mid-late 19th century and early 20th century. The individuals presented here, or referenced to here, were either known homosexuals of the time (otherwise known during the period as "deviant" or "preverted") or depict an understanding of how gay and lesbian life might have been lived during an earlier time. 

People & Artifacts

This page tells a little bit about a 20th century Michigan author, an out African American Lesbian from Detroit, and U-M artifacts related to convicted killer Richard Loeb.

Sarah Emma Edmonds.jpg

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Nurse and Spy.jpg

Nurse and Spy in the Union Army

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Ruth Ellis

Diploma Fee Card Richard Loeb.jpg

Richard Loeb: Diploma Fee Card

Alumni card Richard Loeb.jpg

Richard Loeb: UM Alumni Card

Lesbian Images

Although it's unknown if the women shown in these images were in fact lesbians, it does provide a glimpse into what life looked like for lesbians during the 20th century.

Two Women.jpg

Two Women

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Images of Gay Men

These images provide a little glimpse into the lives of gay men in the early 20th century.

Forman Brown.jpg

Forman Brown

Jack Pierson & Robert Purcell.jpg

Jack B. Pierson and Robert Purcell

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Ralph Stallings

Event Timeline: Before 1950

1846: Sodomy, or crime against nature, formally outlawed in Michigan.

1865: Sarah Emma Edmonds publishes Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (Hartford, Ct.: W. S. Williams and Company, 1865).

1882: Oscar Wilde lectures at the Detroit Music Hall.

1893: Dr. Henry Hulst of Michigan advocates hypnosis as an alternative to castration for treating homosexuals.

1903: Michigan outlaws gross indecency between males.

1918: Swedish female impersonator Lind performs at the Majestic Theatre in Kalamazoo.

1924: Sex perversion makes headlines in murder trial of former University of Michigan students Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold.

1927: Visiting a buffet flat in Detroit, blues singer Bessie Smith watches two men perform same-sex lovemaking.

1928: Unpublished novel left at death of University of Michigan grad Avery Hopwood leaves hints of playwright's homosexuality.

1929: A Detroit physician calls Radclyffe Hall's lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness "completely faithful."

1934: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas visit Ann Arbor.

1937: Police chief orders ban on female impersonator acts at Detroit nite clubs.

1937: Ruth Ellis moves to Detroit and begins hosting lesbian and gay house parties.

1939: Michigan enacts criminal sexual psychopath law.

1939: Michigan outlaws gross indecency between females.

1939: Sweetheart Bar, Detroit's earliest known lesbian bar, opens on Third Avenue.

1940: Arrested for an alleged homosexual offense, Bert Chapman begins 31 years in state mental hospitals.

1942: Club Frontenac in Detroit postpones female impersonator show due to arrest of stars on morals charges.

1942: Sam "Bookie" Stewart opens the Silver Dollar on Farmer Street in Detroit.

1945: Billie Hill is disowned by her mother after coming out as lesbian at age 20.

1946: Director of Kent County veteran's center urges Navy to liberalize its strict stance on homosexuality.

1946: Man leaps to his death from Detroit Police headquarters after being arrested during raid at the Ten Eleven Bar.

1947: Gay comedic entertainer Bramwell "ChiChi" Franklin begins career at Uncle Tom's Plantation in Detroit.

1947: Ninth-grader Barbara Grier takes streetcar to Detroit Public Library to seek information on homosexuality.

1948: New state regulation prohibits bars from becoming rendezvous or hang-outs for homosexuals.

1949: Longtime lesbian bar the Palais opens on Beaubien in Detroit.

1949: The Flame Bar opens on Washington in Ann Arbor.