For more than a century before gay marriage became a hot-button political issue, same-sex unions flourished in America. Pairs of men and pairs of women joined together in committed unions, standing by each other “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health” for periods of thirty or forty—sometimes as many as fifty—years. In short, they loved and supported each other every bit as much as any husband and wife.
In Outlaw Marriages, cultural historian Rodger Streitmatter reveals how some of these unions didn’t merely improve the quality of life for the two people involved but also enriched the American culture.
Among the high-profile couples whose lives and loves are illuminated in the following pages are Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, literary icon Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, author James Baldwin and Lucien Happersberger, and artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
Couples featured in Outlaw Marriages:
Walt Whitman & Peter Doyle
America's most influential poet found his muse for in a young conductor on a horse-drawn streetcar.
Martha Carey Thomas & Mamie Gwinn
Thomas created the first graduate program for women in the United States at Bryn Mawr College, but counted on her partner for assistance with many of her academic duties.
John Marshall & Ned Warren
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City both owe a great debt to these intrepid collectors of antiquities.
Jane Addams & Mary Rozet Smith
The first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Addams shared her life and work with her partner of more than four decades, a woman from a wealthy family who helped keep Hull House afloat.
Bessie Marbury & Elsie de Wolfe
Elsie de Wolfe is widely recognized as the founder of the field of interior design. Bessie Marbury was a highly successful theatrical agent, as well as the woman who made a series of suggestions to de Wolfe that led to the interior designer becoming a pioneer in her field.
J. C. Leyendecker & Charles Beach
America's most popular and successful illustrator in the early decades of the twentieth century, Leyendecker drew on his partner of fifty years for inspiration and guidance in his work.
Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas
Gertrude Stein was an avant-garde author as well as a literary mentor for such legendary writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Alice B. Toklas took it upon herself to see that Stein’s works got into print, becoming not only her partner’s editor but also her literary agent and publicist.
Janet Flanner & Solita Solano
For fifty years, Janet Flanner served as the Paris correspondent for the New Yorker. But it was Solita Solano who encouraged her to move to Europe to jump-start her career in journalism.
Greta Garbo & Mercedes de Acosta
Screen legend Greta Garbo was the daughter of poor Swedish laborers, but her partner taught the actress how to dress and speak like Hollywood royalty.
Aaron Copland & Victor Kraft
One of America's most celebrated composers, Aaron Copland was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. His relationship with a free-spirited and troubled violinist took his work in bold directions.
Tennessee Williams & Frank Merlo
Frank Merlo weaned Tennessee Williams off a diet of drugs and casual sex so the playwright was able to create his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
James Baldwin & Lucien Happersberger
An unconventional but long-lasting relationship helped Baldwin find the stability he needed to become one of the most important writers of his generation.
Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg urged Jasper Johns not to ignore a bizarre dream he had but instead to act on it and paint the American flag-as he had done in the dream.
James Ivory & Ismail Merchant
Ismail Merchant and James Ivory were widely recognized, during the final decades of the twentieth century, as setting the gold standard when it came to adapting iconic novels into high-quality motion pictures. Among their best-known works are A Room with a View and Howards End—both films won multiple Academy Awards.
Audre Lorde & Frances Clayton
Frances Clayton gave up tenure at an Ivy League university to help her partner, Audre Lorde, reinvent herself as a pioneering poet who gave voice to women of color around the globe.
About the Author: Rodger Streitmatter, a former newspaper reporter, is a member of the School of Communication faculty at American University. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his husband, Tom Grooms.