A 100-year-old lesbian rebel

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This column is written under duress. Just kidding. It’s actually written with great respect to honor the work of one of our community’s most esteemed historians, Jonathan Ned Katz, and his latest work which brings to light an incredible story of an almost unheard of lesbian rebel from the 1920’s. 

The book, “The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams,” is a triumph of research. The few fragments and rumors of her life have long been out there, but Katz did the legwork to bring proof of her existence, and the story is more outrageous than the whispers ever could have imagined. 

Eve Adams was a radical jewish immigrant from Poland who opened a lesbian and gay friendly tearoom in Chicago and New York. Her politics were progressive, and some might have considered her, “a bit of an anarchist.”

In 1925, Adams wrote the book “Lesbian Love.” That book and her politics led her to be investigated and surveilled by New York police and the F.B.I. which eventually resulted in her arrest and later deportation. And that is not the end of the story. 

Katz then follows her in exile, first to Poland doing menial work to survive in the depression, then to France where she reestablishes herself among the Paris bohemian arts community of Montmartre, and finally on her run from the Nazis and eventual capture and death in a concentration camp. 

Katz brings to life a woman long lost to history, and does so with style and deep research we’ve learned to expect from him. This book is not simply about Eve Adams, but clearly points out the oppression LGBT people endured before we began to fight for visibility. It was oppression so deep that, for people like Adams, it led to a Nazi concentration camp. That was the price you paid for not conforming to society’s norms.

As Katz writes in the book, “It’s daunting to follow atrocity with words. No language is adequate to Eve’s cruel murder, and the executions of millions. Silence seems more fitting; it gives us time to catch our breath. But after silence words are called for — emotions are not enough. Intellect is needed to contemplate what Eve’s life might mean to each of us.”

Now that Eve’s story is out in the open, hopefully more people will be able to learn about her and consider what her life means to them.