MP-1975.67.10 | Two young unidentified women, Perth, ON, about 1890

Two young unidentified women, Perth, ON, about 1890
W. H. McIntyre
About 1890, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process
6 x 6 cm
Gift of Mr. M. S. Reford
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  female (19035) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

In a world where women were not supposed to be sexually passionate, lesbianism was inconceivable. Since women supposedly submitted to sex as their duty to their husbands and only in order to propagate the species, physical intimacy between women defied logic. When medical experts did start talking about sex between women, they sometimes referred to it as "the love that has no name."

But lesbians did exist, and in Canada, too. Mazo de la Roche, a writer born in 1885, lived with a female companion for most of her adult life. Montreal-born poet Elsa Gidlow also actively pursued relationships with other women.

Because close friendships between women were completely acceptable and even encouraged, women could live together as friends and never attract attention or disapproval, so long as they kept the nature of their relationship a secret.

Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    This photograph is flecked with mould, indicating that it was probably stored in a damp room before it came to the archives.

  • Where

    It was taken in Perth, Ontario.

  • When

    The women posed for this photograph in 1890.

  • Who

    We do not know who these women were or what their relationship was to each other. They may have been cousins and best friends, or they may have been lovers. Intimate friendships that included hand-holding and cuddling were very common among young women and did not necessarily indicate a sexual relationship.