She focused on the beauty of women and proclaimed her love for girls. In Algernon Charles Swinburne 's poem Sapphics the term "lesbian" appears twice but capitalized both times after twice mentioning the island of Lesbos, and so could be construed to mean 'from the island of Lesbos'.
The terms lesbian, invert and homosexual were interchangeable with sapphist and sapphism around the turn of the 20th century. In the middle of the 19th century, medical writers attempted to establish ways to identify male homosexuality, which was considered a significant social problem in most Western societies.
In categorizing behavior that indicated what was referred to as " inversion " by German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld , researchers categorized what was normal sexual behavior for men and women, and therefore to what extent men and women varied from the "perfect male sexual type" and the "perfect female sexual type".
In some cases, it was not acknowledged to exist. However, sexologists Richard von Krafft-Ebing from Germany, and Britain's Havelock Ellis wrote some of the earliest and more enduring categorizations of female same-sex attraction , approaching it as a form of insanity.
Ellis believed that many women who professed love for other women changed their feelings about such relationships after they had experienced marriage and a "practical life". These were members of the " third sex " who rejected the roles of women to be subservient, feminine, and domestic.
In the absence of any other material to describe their emotions, homosexuals accepted the designation of different or perverted, and used their outlaw status to form social circles in Paris and Berlin. Lesbian began to describe elements of a subculture.
As women have generally been political minorities in Western cultures, the added medical designation of homosexuality has been cause for the development of a subcultural identity. History of lesbianism The varied meanings of lesbian since the early 20th century have prompted some historians to revisit historic relationships between women before the wide usage of the word was defined by erotic proclivities. Discussion from historians caused further questioning of what qualifies as a lesbian relationship.
As lesbian-feminists asserted, a sexual component was unnecessary in declaring oneself a lesbian if the primary and closest relationships were with women. When considering past relationships within appropriate historic context, there were times when love and sex were separate and unrelated notions.
Because of society's reluctance to admit that lesbians exist, a high degree of certainty is expected before historians or biographers are allowed to use the label.
Evidence that would suffice in any other situation is inadequate here A woman who never married, who lived with another woman, whose friends were mostly women, or who moved in known lesbian or mixed gay circles, may well have been a lesbian. But this sort of evidence is not 'proof'. What our critics want is incontrovertible evidence of sexual activity between women. This is almost impossible to find. Until very recently, much of what has been documented about women's sexuality has been written by men, in the context of male understanding, and relevant to women's associations to men—as their wives, daughters, or mothers, for example.
Ancient Greece and Rome Further information: Homosexuality in ancient Greece and Homosexuality in ancient Rome History is often analyzed with contemporary ideologies; Ancient Greece as a subject enjoyed popularity by the ruling class in Britain during the 19th century. Based on their social priorities, British scholars interpreted ancient Greece as a westernized, white, and masculine society, and essentially removed women from historical importance.
In this homosocial environment, erotic and sexual relationships between males were common and recorded in literature, art, and philosophy. Hardly anything is recorded about homosexual activity between women. There is some speculation that similar relationships existed between women and girls.
The poet Alcman used the term aitis, as the feminine form of aites—which was the official term for the younger participant in a pederastic relationship. Although men participated in pederastic relationships outside marriage, there is no clear evidence that women were allowed or encouraged to have same-sex relationships before or during marriage as long as their marital obligations were met.
Women who appear on Greek pottery are depicted with affection, and in instances where women appear only with other women, their images are eroticized: Whether this eroticism is for the viewer or an accurate representation of life is unknown.
Modern scholarship indicates that men viewed female homosexuality with hostility. They considered women who engaged in sexual relations with other women to be biological oddities that would attempt to penetrate women—and sometimes men—with "monstrously enlarged" clitorises. No historical documentation exists of women who had other women as sex partners. Female homosexuality has not received the same negative response from religious or criminal authorities as male homosexuality or adultery has throughout history.
Whereas sodomy between men, men and women, and men and animals was punishable by death in Britain, acknowledgment of sexual contact between women was nonexistent in medical and legal texts. The earliest law against female homosexuality appeared in France in Forty days' penance was demanded of nuns who "rode" each other or were discovered to have touched each other's breasts.
An Italian nun named Sister Benedetta Carlini was documented to have seduced many of her sisters when possessed by a Divine spirit named "Splenditello"; to end her relationships with other women, she was placed in solitary confinement for the last 40 years of her life.
The vagina was considered an inward version of the penis; where nature's perfection created a man, often nature was thought to be trying to right itself by prolapsing the vagina to form a penis in some women. Medical consideration of hermaphroditism depended upon measurements of the clitoris ; a longer, engorged clitoris was thought to be used by women to penetrate other women.
Penetration was the focus of concern in all sexual acts, and a woman who was thought to have uncontrollable desires because of her engorged clitoris was called a "tribade" literally, one who rubs. For a while, masturbation and lesbian sex carried the same meaning. Tribades were simultaneously considered members of the lower class trying to ruin virtuous women, and representatives of an aristocracy corrupt with debauchery. Satirical writers began to suggest that political rivals or more often, their wives engaged in tribadism in order to harm their reputations.
Queen Anne was rumored to have a passionate relationship with Sarah Churchill , Duchess of Marlborough, her closest adviser and confidante. When Churchill was ousted as the queen's favorite, she purportedly spread allegations of the queen having affairs with her bedchamberwomen. Hermaphroditism appeared in medical literature enough to be considered common knowledge, although cases were rare. Homoerotic elements in literature were pervasive, specifically the masquerade of one gender for another to fool an unsuspecting woman into being seduced.
Henry Fielding wrote a pamphlet titled The Female Husband in , based on the life of Mary Hamilton , who was arrested after marrying a woman while masquerading as a man, and was sentenced to public whipping and six months in jail.
Similar examples were procured of Catharine Linck in Prussia in , executed in ; Swiss Anne Grandjean married and relocated with her wife to Lyons, but was exposed by a woman with whom she had had a previous affair and sentenced to time in the stocks and prison. She was brought up as a male and there was speculation at the time that she was a hermaphrodite. Even after Christina abdicated the throne in to avoid marriage, she was known to pursue romantic relationships with women.
Lillian Faderman argues that Western society was threatened by women who rejected their feminine roles. Catharine Linck and other women who were accused of using dildos, such as two nuns in 16th century Spain executed for using "material instruments", were punished more severely than those who did not.
Outside Europe, women were able to dress as men and go undetected. Deborah Sampson fought in the American Revolution under the name Robert Shurtlieff, and pursued relationships with women. During the 17th through 19th centuries, a woman expressing passionate love for another woman was fashionable, accepted, and encouraged. Documentation of these relationships is possible by a large volume of letters written between women. Whether the relationship included any genital component was not a matter for public discourse, but women could form strong and exclusive bonds with each other and still be considered virtuous, innocent, and chaste; a similar relationship with a man would have destroyed a woman's reputation.
In fact, these relationships were promoted as alternatives to and practice for a woman's marriage to a man. I put in your lovers, for I don't allow it possible for a man to be so sincere as I am.
When Sneyd married despite Seward's protest, Seward's poems became angry. However, Seward continued to write about Sneyd long after her death, extolling Sneyd's beauty and their affection and friendship.
Writing to another woman by whom she had recently felt betrayed, Wollstonecraft declared, "The roses will bloom when there's peace in the breast, and the prospect of living with my Fanny gladdens my heart: A Fiction , in part, addressed her relationship with Fanny Blood. Perhaps the most famous of these romantic friendships was between Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, nicknamed the Ladies of Llangollen. Butler and Ponsonby eloped in , to the relief of Ponsonby's family concerned about their reputation had she run away with a man  to live together in Wales for 51 years and be thought of as eccentrics.
Some of it was written in code, detailing her sexual relationships with Marianna Belcombe and Maria Barlow. Enigmatic poet Emily Dickinson wrote over letters and poems to Susan Gilbert, who later became her sister-in-law, and engaged in another romantic correspondence with Kate Scott Anthon. Anthon broke off their relationship the same month Dickinson entered self-imposed lifelong seclusion. In all-female surroundings, a culture of romantic pursuit was fostered in women's colleges.
Older students mentored younger ones, called on them socially, took them to all-women dances, and sent them flowers, cards, and poems that declared their undying love for each other. Nicholas , and a collection called Smith College Stories, without negative views. For some women, the realization that they participated in behavior or relationships that could be categorized as lesbian caused them to deny or conceal it, such as professor Jeannette Augustus Marks at Mount Holyoke College , who lived with the college president, Mary Woolley , for 36 years.
Marks discouraged young women from "abnormal" friendships and insisted happiness could only be attained with a man. Combining Greek influences with contemporary French eroticism, she attempted to create an updated and idealized version of Lesbos in her salon. Berlin had a vibrant homosexual culture in the s: Clubs varied between large establishments so popular that they were tourist attractions to small neighborhood cafes where only local women went to find other women.
Homosexuality was illegal in Germany, though sometimes tolerated, as some functions were allowed by the police who took the opportunity to register the names of homosexuals for future reference. The novel's plot centers around Stephen Gordon, a woman who identifies herself as an invert after reading Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis , and lives within the homosexual subculture of Paris.
The novel included a foreword by Havelock Ellis and was intended to be a call for tolerance for inverts by publicizing their disadvantages and accidents of being born inverted.
The publicity Hall received was due to unintended consequences; the novel was tried for obscenity in London, a spectacularly scandalous event described as "the crystallizing moment in the construction of a visible modern English lesbian subculture" by professor Laura Doan.
When British women participated in World War I, they became familiar with masculine clothing, and were considered patriotic for wearing uniforms and pants. However, postwar masculinization of women's clothing became associated with lesbians. This was heavily influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud , who theorized that sexual desire would be sated unconsciously, despite an individual's wish to ignore it.
Freud's theories were much more pervasive in the U. With the well-publicized notion that sexual acts were a part of lesbianism and their relationships, sexual experimentation was widespread. Large cities that provided a nightlife were immensely popular, and women began to seek out sexual adventure. Bisexuality became chic, particularly in America's first gay neighborhoods. White "slummers" enjoyed jazz , nightclubs, and anything else they wished.
Some women staged lavish wedding ceremonies, even filing licenses using masculine names with New York City. Bohemians —intellectuals who rejected Victorian ideals—gathered in the Village. Homosexuals were predominantly male, although figures such as poet Edna St.
Vincent Millay and social host Mabel Dodge were known for their affairs with women and promotion of tolerance of homosexuality. The existence of a public space for women to socialize in bars that were known to cater to lesbians "became the single most important public manifestation of the subculture for many decades", according to historian Lillian Faderman.
Most women in the U.