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A story of the lesbian crush at Barnard College

Humanities

Barnard College a 1900

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As you write about changes in sexual categories and the erotic and emotional universes that people live in, when they have it to shape their identity and how much they have changed over the past 150 years, you can see this in looks, among other things in Barnard around 1900, where what people called crush was well known.

The typical pattern was for a freshman to fall in love with a junior or a second grader to fall in love with a senior. This was so institutionalized that Barnard had student plays about swarms in the early 20th century. They are mentioned in the school newspaper and become part of everyday life in the school yearbook.

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At the beginning of the 20th century, most of these young women married men. But historically only about half of the women who attended women's colleges in the mid to late 19th century got married. They were educated and trained and wanted to pursue a professional career. Victorian marriage, as it was then interpreted, did not give women the freedom to do this type of work. Many Barnard women in New York City and elsewhere achieved amazing things in social reform. Although many of them married men, this did not prevent them from developing strong emotional relationships with other women, which were widely noticed and discussed.

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Some scholars who have written about such relationships in the more remote New England women's colleges said, 'Oh, that's because there were only women there.' But Barnard is across from Columbia. There were plenty of suitable young men, but those crushes continued even when Barnard was mostly a commuter school, unlike New England colleges where all women lived together.

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