Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928 | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928

By Martha Vicinus (NHC Fellow, 2000–01)

Women's History; Homosexuality; Lesbians

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004

From the publisher’s description:

Intimate Friends offers a fascinating look at the erotic friendships of educated English and American women over a 150-year period, culminating in the 1928 publication of The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall’s scandalous novel of lesbian love. Martha Vicinus explores all-female communities, husband-wife couples, liaisons between younger and older women, female rakes, and mother-daughter affection. Women, she reveals, drew upon a rich religious vocabulary to describe elusive and complex erotic feelings.

Vicinus also considers the nineteenth-century roots of such contemporary issues as homosexual self-hatred, female masculinity, and sadomasochistic desire. Drawing upon diaries, letters, and other archival sources, she brings to life a variety of well known and historically less recognized women, ranging from the predatory Ann Lister, who documented her sexual activities in code; to Mary Benson, the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury; to the coterie of wealthy Anglo-American lesbians living in Paris.

In vivid and colorful prose, Intimate Friends offers a remarkable picture of women navigating the uncharted territory of same-sex desire.

Gender and Sexuality / History / Women's History / Homosexuality / Lesbians /

Vicinus, Martha (NHC Fellow, 2000–01). Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.