Lauren J. Gutterman (whose project is entitled Stranger on Lesbos: Valerie Taylor and the Lesbian Wife in Cold War America),
wrote us the following note describing her visit to Cornell:
I visited The Human Sexuality Collection July 6th through the 10th. I spent most of my time there looking through the Valerie Taylor Papers and Valerie Taylor Collection. I was able to skim Taylor's first published novel, Hired Girl, which I have not been able to find anywhere else. I examined photographs from her early years which give a sense of her challenging rural upbringing. I was also able to find published and unpublished poems written during her married years, which address themes of love, loss, longing, and death. Although I do not read the poems as entirely autobiographical, I take them as evidence of her dark mood during her challenging marriage.
I also read through book reviews in lesbian and feminist newspapers and magazines following the 1982 re-release of her Erika Frohman pulp novel series from the 1960s and the release of her later novels, Prism, Ripening and Rice and Beans. I was surprised to learn how disapproving many reviewers were of Taylor's early pulp novels and how unappreciative they seemed of the feminist arguments and implications in her novels. In particular, they objected to her use of the term "girl" rather than "woman," her graphic sex scenes and her unsophisticated writing style, which several reviewers compared condescendingly to young adult fiction or Harlequin romance novels.
I am now planning on writing an article comparing Taylor and Betty Friedan's life and politics. Both women had ties to the political left and were critical in the early 1960s of the housewife ideal. Both women used writing to draw attention to women's oppression before the second wave feminist movement emerged. Friedan's higher class-status and elite education allowed her to convey her politics through a more respectable type of journalistic, non-fiction writing, whereas Taylor was only able to publish dime-store pulp novels. Taylor's politics were, in fact, more radical than Friedan's as she connected women's oppression and homosexual oppression but her work was not canonized by feminists in the same way because of its less respectable form.
One of the most exciting discoveries for me on this recent research trip was the oral history interviews in the Rochella Thorpe Collection. I surveyed the transcribed interviews in this collection and began listening to the oral history interviews on audio cassettes and I was happy to find several interviews with women who had engaged in lesbian relationships while married or women who had dated such "lesbian wives." I plan to make a follow-up research trip to the HSC this fall or winter to finish listening to these oral history tapes. This collection has changed the shape of my dissertation. While I was initially planning to focus on only three lesbian wives, I am now convinced that a broader social history of lesbian wives living in the US after WWII, is possible.