cover image The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison

The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison

Hugh Ryan. Bold Type, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64503-666-1

Historian Ryan (When Brooklyn Was Queer) delivers an immersive study of a New York City women’s prison that operated between 1929 and 1971. Contending that the House of D, as it was known, “helped make Greenwich Village queer, and the Village, in return, helped define queerness for America,” Ryan recovers the story of Charlotte B. (most last names are withheld), who fell in love with a fellow inmate while awaiting her arraignment for “waywardism” in 1934, and other queer and “transmasculine” prisoners. Though the inmates’ harsh treatment, including “dehumanizing” medical exams, provoked riots beginning in the 1950s, queer women remained segregated and were still required to wear a “D” (for degenerate) on their clothes. Contending that these experiences pushed queer women to resist labels and take pride in their sexuality, Ryan notes that by the 1960s, the House of D was publicly linked to queer behavior in Broadway musical lyrics and magazine articles, and explains how Black Panther member Afeni Shakur, incarcerated in 1969, connected Black Power with gay liberation. Expertly mining prison records and other source materials, Ryan brings these marginalized women to vivid life. This informative, empathetic narrative is a vital contribution to LGBTQ history. Agent: Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic. (May)