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Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  2,955 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today's diverse lifestyles. Using journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and numerous interviews, she relates an often surprising narrative of lesbian life. "A key work...the point of reference from which all subsequent stud ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1991)
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Susannah Perkins
Nov 06, 2011 Susannah Perkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, feminist
"The only constant truth about The Lesbian in America has been that she prefers women" (pg.308).

This book took me nearly a month to read simply because there was so much information to consume. I would never have dreamed that the history of American lesbians was so complex and ever-changing. Faderman paints a marvelously detailed picture of a subculture in constant flux as it adapts to the changing society around it. She maps the transformation of "The Lesbian in America" from 1) isolated and su
Aug 10, 2007 Mo rated it really liked it
Shelves: lesbo-a-go-go
I read this when I was in my early 20's, way before Ellen and Rosie and Margaret Cho and The L Word and Will and Grace were out and about. I was glued to's amazing to me that now there's an entire gay TV channel. That was unimaginable just 15 years ago. We still have a long way to go, but wow...
Apr 19, 2008 Dana rated it liked it
I found Faderman to be stuck in middle-class gender biases, which may work for explaining some histories, but left others drenched in rehashed stereotypes.
Sara Jaye
Feb 21, 2008 Sara Jaye rated it really liked it
Lots of really interesting facts, but troublingly glides over less enfranchised lesbian communities.
May 28, 2011 Vasha7 rated it liked it
A history of the emergence of identities and subcultures. Lillian Faderman's political argument is omnipresent, interpreting her source material: to take a random example from early on, she writes about social reformers, "Some of those women were cultural feminists, fueled by their belief that male values created the tragedies connected with industrialization, war, and mindless urbanization and that it was the responsibility of women, with their superior sensibilities, to straighten the world ou ...more
Jan 17, 2008 Xander rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history and lesbians
This book was awesome--lots of primary sources, very interesting take on the cultural/historical background surrounding 'lesbians.' However, it was stolen along with the rest of the contents in my backpack when I was mugged, and I haven't found another copy--not that I've been looking, admittedly. Want to loan me yours?
Sep 27, 2015 Abby rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbt, nonfiction, wlw
for all intents and purposes, this is a good, extensively researched book on the history of lesbianism as it stands in the united states (although she does occasionally bring in a bit of history from britain, france and germany). so why three stars? well, there are a few reasons, firstly and mostly to do with personal taste, and secondly to do with tone/inclusivity. but before i delve into all of that, let’s talk about the book itself a little first. i love lillian faderman’s conclusion that “th ...more
Mar 04, 2014 Wendy rated it liked it
VERY briefly at the moment, I will say this: Faderman's research is interesting, and the history of lesbianism in the 20th Century US is a good reminder of where we came from (and how far we still have to go).

But I take exception to Faderman's suggestion that romantic friends (what women who likely lived as lesbians before the term came into popular usage) were sweet and romantic with each other, but asexual. Despite female socialization, I find it difficult to believe that women who lived toge
Apr 11, 2010 Becca rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: LGBTQ women & allies
Recommended to Becca by: Anya
A relatively succinct, yet comprehensive history of lesbian women in America, which also touches on feminism, civil rights and relations between the gay and lesbian communities. As far as I am aware this is the most comprehensive work on lesbian history available. Faderman did extensive research and the book is rife with footnotes and comprised predominately of interviews conducted for this book.

Faderman is upfront about her biases, although her disbelief in "congenitalism" may make modern read
May 18, 2009 Bridget rated it it was amazing
This is a FANTASTIC book for any lover of history, especially the history of lesbians in America. The Notes section alone is worth this book's weight in gold.

The book chronicles the history of lesbians from the late nineteenth century into the early 90s. Some of the topics include homosexuality in the military and how it was condoned, butch-femme dynamic and how it ruled the working-class lesbian community, lesbian-sexual-radicals of the 70s, and much, much more.

Very informative. Very interestin
Aug 22, 2012 Maggy rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, lgbt
I can't really recommend this book unless you need it for an academic reason. Faderman's research is excellent, but the writing is sometimes dull and repetitive, so it's not an easy book to read cover-to-cover. More troublesome, her rhetoric is both obvious and extremely dated. The book was originally published in 1991, which should have put her into second-wave feminism, but her reasoning and politics come off as even older than that, and therefore anachronistic and occasionally irritating. In ...more
Joey D
Oct 05, 2007 Joey D rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer, non-fiction
this book, though incredibly cerebral is super interesting. having been a natural sciences student in school, i missed all the women's studies and gender theory classes. i think this book does a good job on tracing the history of american lesbianism from the 1900s until now.
Sep 25, 2009 Ladywilde rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-lesbian
Fantastic book and really insightful. I couldn't put it down. One of the best, if not the best book I have ever read on Lesbian history in the US. A wonderful book!
Couldn't really get in to this book.
Oct 16, 2010 Tris rated it liked it
Shelves: queer
A decade-by-decade history of lesbian history and culture in the 20th century. I found it really refreshing (especially at the time -- about 15 years ago) that this history doesn't tell lesbians' stories in the context of the gay men that lived at the time. The oral histories offer insights that are, as far as I know, unique to this book. Only moderately dry in a few spots; generally very interesting and well paced. Great photos.
A stellar, engrossing read. 70s lesbian-feminism and 50s bar culture are here sometimes simplified to the point of cartoonishness (and perhaps also 19th century "romantic friendships"?), though I'm not sure that was entirely avoidable in so sweeping an overview. Overall, though, Faderman has done an excellent job of enlivening the history of lesbian life in America, providing an essential backbone for pursuing more specialized areas of study.
Apr 01, 2008 Sharon rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was pretty interesting, especially the oral history interviews with women who lived as lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s. The chapter on bisexuality/lesbianism in Harlem during the 1920s was also fascinating. Except for that chapter and the chapter on the 1970s, the author focused primarily on white women, which seemed like a missed opportunity.
Dec 22, 2011 Julie rated it it was amazing
Lillian Faderman presents an accessible, thorough look at the development of lesbian consciousness and life during the 21st century (in the U.S.). She further informs the text with a review of romantic friendship and the cultural constraints on women during the 20th century. I couldn't put it down and recommend it to anyone with an interest in women's history.
May 06, 2009 Michele rated it really liked it
Even though there was alot left to be desired...especially in the realm of history relating to more marginalized communities...this was a good and informative read. I realize that one book cant cover everything, and that sometimes I shouldnt judge based on if my own reality is

Read it if you can
Mar 26, 2010 Beth rated it liked it
Shelves: for-school
Examination of the emergence of lesbian lifestyles during the twentieth century. Interesting and incredibly helpful look at the history of American sexuality.
Jan 31, 2012 Yadiell rated it it was amazing
Fantastic review of lesbian culture in the twentieth century. Extremely informative and helped to teach me how so much of lesbian culture has infiltrated into popular culture. Good read for sure!
Nov 29, 2015 Nikki rated it really liked it
Shelves: lesbian
Faderman is a great historian. Her writing can be clunky at times and her biases can be grating, but it was very informative.
Dec 12, 2011 Alison rated it really liked it
A fascinating lens into American cultural history. I especially liked the insights into how women's colleges shaped the women's settlement movement.
history of lesbian
Tony Canas
Aug 04, 2011 Tony Canas rated it really liked it
Read it for a woman's studies class. Very interesting historical look at lesbianism in the US.
Dylan Benito
Jan 14, 2017 Dylan Benito rated it it was ok
Interesting premise and some good history, but the text is so dated and clinical that it made for a boring read.
Jun 18, 2016 Lauren rated it liked it
More accurately 3.5 stars.

I'd been meaning to read this book for a long time. Being a lesbian is a weird thing because it doesn't come from your family, and it's not something you hear much about in general society/education. There's all this history to this part of you that you have to search out, read from books like this. I have a lot of trouble with deciding how I feel about this history, which both is and is not my history. (It is because I am a lesbian and this history has shaped the socie
Apr 17, 2016 Julia rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a pretty comprehensive history of lesbian cultures, subcultures, and reactions of the American public to "women who love women" from the turning of the century to the early 90's. It makes a valiant effort to include all types of wwlw, however, there are some areas where it falls short. I sort of expected that, but it's already a very dense book, and at times it could feel like a 60 page chapter was the same 10 pages 6 times, when some of that energy could have been spent on smaller ...more
Jun 05, 2015 Simone rated it really liked it
Review initially published on my blog, Writing by Numbers, here.

This sweeping nonfiction work examines the evolving sociocultural construction of American lesbianism. Faderman contextualizes lesbianism’s changes within other shifts in gender, political, and, to a lesser extent, racial identities. In Faderman’s analysis, lesbianism has historically reflected and responded to our wider collective understanding of men and women’s roles in society and the norms governing sexual and romantic relatio
Apr 29, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing
This book, this incredibly dense book of lesbian history in the U.S., took me a almost a week to read. I wanted to know everything in it, and at the same time, I wanted to be done with the process of reading it. As I finished, I could only regret that it ends in the late 80s, early 90s, and wonder how many sections I will have to go back and re-read in the next few weeks. I'm a smarter person now.

I was especially interested in the role of Harlem as a place of acceptance in NYC in those early da
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Lillian Faderman is an internationally known scholar of lesbian history and literature, as well as ethnic history and literature. Among her many honors are six Lambda Literary Awards, two American Library Association Awards, and several lifetime achievement awards for scholarship. She is the author of The Gay Revolution and the New York Times Notable Books, Surpassing the Love of Men and Odd Girls ...more
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