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social sciences

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Emerson's disciple Henry David Thoreau also felt emotional attraction for other men and expressed his feelings in poems like "Friendship" and "Lately, Alas I Knew a Gentle Boy."

Another member of the Transcendentalist circle, Margaret Fuller, stated in her 1845 feminist study Woman in the Nineteenth Century that she believed that all people had both masculine and feminine qualities. On the subject of love she was unequivocal: "It is true that a woman may be in love with a woman, a man with a man."

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Boston-born actress Charlotte Cushman, who was famous for playing male roles, established a household of artistic women in Rome. Three of them--British writer Matilda Hays and sculptors Harriet Hosmer and Emma Stebbins--were Cushman's romantic partners. When Cushman became terminally ill with cancer, she and Stebbins returned to the United States and lived together in Boston until Cushman's death.

Boston Marriages, Bohemianism, and Censorship

Boston gave its name to the unions of women who lived together in long-term committed relationships--"Boston marriages." Among the better-known of such couples who lived in or near Boston were writer Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields; poet and educator Katharine Lee Bates and Katharine Coman; sculptor Anne Whitney and painter Abby Adeline Manning; poet Amy Lowell and actress Ada Dwyer Russell; and Alice James, the sister of psychologist William James and novelist Henry James, and Katharine Peabody Loring, who became models for characters in Henry James's novel The Bostonians (1886).

"Bohemianism" took root in Boston in the late nineteenth century. In the 1880s a group influenced by the work of Oscar Wilde formed a society called the Visionists. Among the members was artistic photographer F. Holland Day, well known for his work depicting the male nude. Day and his friend Herbert Copeland also established the publishing company that produced the first American edition of Wilde's Salomé, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley, in 1894. Due to the furor it created, the Boston Public Library quickly removed it from circulation.

Twentieth Century

The official primarily responsible for deciding what literary and theatrical works would be "banned in Boston" was the chief of the Licensing Division of the Mayor's Office, a post established in 1904. This censor came under close scrutiny from "morality groups," including the New England Watch and Ward Society and the Catholic-affiliated League of Decency.

The Watch and Ward Society also took a lively interest in the decisions of the Licensing Bureau, which controlled liquor licenses. Society members conducted surveillance of the city's gay bars and relayed their findings to both the Licensing Board and the vice squad.

Boston's gay and lesbian subculture flourished during the years of World War II. Gay men found opportunities for romantic encounters with sailors from the several naval bases in the area; and lesbians from small towns or rural areas who came to Boston to do war work were able to discover a community of women-loving women.

By contrast, the years following the war brought a new round of police attention. Both bars and private parties were frequently raided and those present arrested. If cases came to trial, the names and addresses of the people charged could be printed in the newspaper. Even if they were not convicted, they could suffer devastating consequences, including the loss of their jobs.

A patron of the Punch Bowl, a popular bar in the 1950s and 1960s, recalled the scene: "About once a night they would flash the emergency light, which meant that the vice were coming and you had to stop dancing with your boyfriend, since it was illegal back then. You could dance with a lesbian, or you could sit down."

Despite the harassment, a fair number of bars and few theaters, mainly clustered just south of Boston Common, catered to a gay clientele. Playland, in business since 1938, is the oldest gay bar in the city. Sporter's, a Beacon Hill venue, was made famous in Andrew Tobias's The Best Little Boy in the World (1973). Sporter's closed in 1995.

In the 1960s Boston undertook urban renewal projects that led to the razing of numerous older buildings, many of historic significance. Among the areas of the city that saw considerable demolition were gay and lesbian centers--Scollay Square, Bay Village, South Cove, and Park Square.

Although the origins of the urban renewal projects were not , at least one politician, city councilman Frederick C. Langone, expressed his approval of the destruction of gay bars, saying, "We will be better off without these incubators of homosexuality and indecency and a Bohemian way of life."

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