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

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  3,463 ratings  ·  110 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 Using journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and numerous interviews, she relates an often surprising narrative of lesbian life.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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really liked it 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,463 ratings  ·  110 reviews

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Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, 2018
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

A dated but engaging work of American history, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers charts the rise of lesbian subcultures across the nation over the course of the twentieth century. Lillian Faderman begins by considering the forms women’s romantic bonds took before the formation of lesbian identity at the turn of the twentieth century, but she soon shifts to tracking how robust lesbian communities were established in the
Mar 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, wlw, lgbt
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
Aug 10, 2007 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...
Sara Jaye
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Lots of really interesting facts, but troublingly glides over less enfranchised lesbian communities.
Christopher Saunders
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Lilian Faderman's Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers examines the development of lesbian culture in 20th Century America. From the early 20th Century, where intimate friendships between women were seen as acceptable, often even encouraged, through the Puritanical backlash that developed later and forced lesbians underground; the codification of homosexuality as mental illness that led to stigma, shame and heartache; media and pop culture treating lesbians as deviants doomed to self-destruction and de ...more
Apr 06, 2008 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.
Dec 14, 2013 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
Mar 15, 2010 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
The only constant truth about The Lesbian in America has been that she prefers women.

I truly wanted to like this book. The first part was invaluably informative, especially when it came to giving me context about historical figures and works that I had already thought myself passingly familiar with. I also acquired a great deal of evidence that heterosexuality was formally invented in the late 19th c./early 20th c., which will be very useful in the arguments that are inevitably to come. H
May 28, 2011 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
Aug 25, 2007 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?
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: smith-haha
this was really really interesting to read..... very comprehensive history in my opinion - a little annoying that the author sometimes makes some "faux pas" about trans issues but also like... i recognize that it was the 90s
it would be interesting to read a more up to date history though - the last chapter went well with the nat geo issue on gender i was reading because it gives more distance to how we view sexuality today (in contrast to society's Evolving Views in this book)
also big shout out
Sep 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Lillian Faderman's book clearly & elegantly draws together the history of women loving women in the United States. I acquired a new reading list from perusing her endnotes and bibliography! Other readers have pointed out the problematic parts of Faderman's work--her focus on white women's experiences at the expense of marginalized communities-- but overall this book is a valuable academic & personal resource. It is lovely to be able to refer people to such a scholarly yet accessible work ...more
Aug 22, 2012 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
May 18, 2009 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
Joey D
Oct 05, 2007 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.
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Couldn't really get in to this book.
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtq
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!
Mar 26, 2010 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.
Leah Rachel von Essen
ODD GIRLS AND TWILIGHT LOVERS: A HISTORY OF LESBIAN LIFE IN 20TH CENTURY AMERICA by Lillian Faderman is a useful but very, very outdated portrayal of the growth and transformation of lesbian subcultures and community from 1900 to 1990. Perhaps one of the reasons it is so outdated reading it now is that it was published in 1991, and that Faderman herself was part of the 1970s movements, which she herself admits in an antidote near the end of the book keeps her from fully realizing the ways the wo ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked this more than "Surpassing the Love of Men", I think because it covered more broadly many different eras of lesbian life in America. I do wish it had dealt more with the experiences of women of color and it did feel dismissive when discussing transmasculine folks--I wonder what an updated edition would look like (my library copy was the 2012 paperback edition, but I don't believe it had been revised for content from the early '90s when it was written). A decent primer on lesbian history, ...more
Oct 16, 2010 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.
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 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 19, 2008 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.
Stephany Joy
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
Sorta like that one scene in "If These Walls Could Talk 2" except longer.
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 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.
Tony Canas
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Read it for a woman's studies class. Very interesting historical look at lesbianism in the US.
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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
“Some women who married and also had lesbian relationships were genuinely bisexual. Many others married because they could see no other viable choice in the day.” 2 likes
“Of course many of us were loaded with self-hate and wanted to change. How could it have been otherwise? All we heard and read about homosexuality was that crap about how we were inverts, perverts, queers — a menace to children, poison to everybody else, doomed never to be happy.” 2 likes
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