When PrideFest moved downtown three years ago, it was celebrated as a historic event. However, downtown has always played an important role in St. Louis’ LGBT history.


In the late 19th century, St. Louis was America’s fourth largest city with a bustling downtown offering robust commerce and risqué entertainment. It providedan urban oasis for women and men who lived in the “shadows” to blend in. One of these “shadow” people we know only by his pseudonym of Claude Hartland. In 1899, this thirty-year old gay man arrived in St. Louis from a small farming community. In his 1901 book, The Story of a Life (the first known autobiography by a self-described homosexual in America), Hartland describes his adventures in downtown St. Louis:stl 1


“I was not fitted for manual labor of any sort, and while walking about the streets wondering what to do, a sign, "Ladies Tailoring," on a window, caught my attention. I knew that I had not forgotten how to sew, so I boldly entered and asked for work. It was during the busy season, and help being scarce, I was taken on one half-days trial, at the end of which time I was employed.


Soon after this, I met a young man one evening on the corner of Sixth and Olive Streets, who was affected as I am and we knew each other at sight. I spent that night at his house and we had a most delightful time. He was gentle, refined and very interesting, and we soon became fast friends...
I soon met several men in a social way, but so far had fallen in love with none...


One Sunday evening, while seated in the Columbia Theatre watching the show, a man came in and took the seat beside me. He was very handsome and had a sweet, fascinating face, yet I could see that he had been drinking heavily.

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He soon began a conversation with me, and I found his voice as sweet and interesting as his face. We continued in conversation, and when the show was over, we were not far from being in love with each other."


In addition to Hartland’s first-hand account, the St. Louis LGBT History Project has documented several LGBT historic sites in the downtown area. While enjoying PrideFest, take a moment to envision the important role downtown played in the lives of St. Louis’ LGBT foremothers and fathers.


• 4th and Lucas (former Belcher Bath House, noted for gay male cruising, 1950s-1970s)


• 4thand Market (former McLean Building, site of gay sex scandal, 1895)


• 4th and Walnut (former Southern Hotel, site of gay murder, 1885)

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• 6th and Pine St. (former Entre Nous gay bar, 1940s)


• 7th and Clark (former St. Louis Medical College, attended by lesbian sculptor Harriet Hosmer, 1840s)


• 111 N. 7th (Wainright Building, designed by Louis Sullivan – scholarly debate as possibly being gay)


• 16 N. 9th St. (former Uncle John's gay bar, 1940s)


• 510 Locust (former Mercantile Library Hall, site of Oscar Wilde lecture, 1882)


• Locust and Broadway (former Hurst's Hotel, site of gay suicide, 1882)


• 1820 Market (Union Station, noted for gay male cruising, 1940s)


• 1200 Market (City Hall - LGBT supportive legislation, same sex unions conducted)


• Riverfront (former "Little Bohemia" area known as a hangout for artistic/creative types, 1940s)


Please stop by the St. Louis LGBT History Project’s annual exhibit to experience this year’s special display celebrating the important legacy of St. Louis’ lesbian community. Learn more about the Project at www.stlouislgbthistory.com

  

Steven L. Brawley is the founder of the St. Louis LGBT History Project. 

 

 

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