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Same-Sex Relationships

Female same-sex relationships—referred to as lesbianism since the twentieth century—were common among the first generation of social activists, from abolitionists to suffragists. It’s hard to differentiate whether these “romantic friendships” and “Boston marriages” of the time would have been considered lesbian relationships today, but we do know now that they would not have been deemed heteronormative and thus, would have been designated as queer at the very least.

Regardless of whether such relationships were sexual, they were usually characterized as "romantic friendships" and fairly accepted amongst those of a particular class and status—mostly middle class to wealthy white women.


Sarony & Co., Campbell, Alfred S, photographers.
Gift of Stephen Z. Nonack, 2006.


Susan B. Anthony (left) & Elizabeth Cady Stanton (right), rumored to be an intimate power couple, were a formidable force in the women’s suffrage movement, masterminding its history, most likely using this image of them seated at a small ornate table for promotional purposes.

Susan B. Anthony & E. Cady Stanton

Frances Elizabeth Willard and an unidentified woman
Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

Frances Elizabeth Willard (standing on the left) preferred to be called Frank and was known as a ‘beau’ in inner circles, indicative of her male role or persona in rumored romances with women. The unidentified woman standing on the right with her arm around Ms. Willard's waist may very well be Anna Addams Gordon, Willard’s partner in activism and in life with whom she spent a serious and intimate amount of time.