Женская поэзия

Гидлоу Эльза (Elsa Gidlow)

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Elsa Gidlow

by Susan Stryker, Director, GLBT Historical Society

Lesbian pioneer Elsa Gidlow has been in the news recently, in spite of the fact that she died in 1986.

A few weeks ago the State of California released records of hearings conducted throughout the state in the 1950s and '60s by the federal government's very own witch-hunting organization, better known as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). HUAC investigated Hollywood writers suspected of scripting subversive movie plots, hounded University of California professors who refused to sign loyalty oaths, harassed labor leaders, and generally made life miserable for anybody who'd had a thought that strayed somewhere to the left of reactionary Senator Joseph McCarthy and FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover.

Gidlow was called in for questioning by HUAC mostly because she was a white woman living in Marin County in an openly lesbian relationship with a woman of color from the Carribean. She had nothing but nasty things to say to the Feds about communists, the recently released records revealed, since her own political sympathies lay with the anarchists who considered Marxism just another ideology of state-sponsored oppression.

Gidlow, pictured here with her lover Isabelle Quallo on a trip through the American Southwest in the 1950s, had been born in England in 1898. She moved with her family to Canada in 1904 and spent her young adult years in Montreal. A freelance journalist who wrote the first volume of explicitly lesbian love poetry published in North America, Gidlow moved to San Francisco in 1926 after spending a few years in New York.

Gidlow was part of Northern California's bohemian intellectual and artistic scene for over 50 years. She was friends with Ansel Adams and Kenneth Rexroth, among many others. Along with Alan and Jano Watts, she co-founded the Society of Comparative Philosophy and helped popularize Budhism among non-Asian Americans. She was involved with the early lesbian social and advocacy organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, during the 1950s, and was part of the psychedelic counterculture of the '60s. In the '70s she was recognized as a foremother of the lesbian feminist community, and her "Druid Heights" estate in rural Marin County became something of a women's retreat, as well as a secluded sanctuary for artists and cultural activists of all sorts.

Gidlow once said, "We consider the artist to be a special sort of person. It is more likely that each of us is a special sort of artist."


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