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The women's house of detention : a queer history of a forgotten prison

by Ryan, Hugh, 1978-

Format: Print Book 2022
Availability: Unavailable 0 of 3 copies
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Location Collection Status
CLP - Lawrenceville Non-Fiction Collection CHECKED OUT
Location  CLP - Lawrenceville
Collection  Non-Fiction Collection
CLP - Main Library First Floor - LGBTQ ON HOLDSHELF
Location  CLP - Main Library
Collection  First Floor - LGBTQ
Wilkinsburg Public Library New Non-Fiction CHECKED OUT
Location  Wilkinsburg Public Library
Collection  New Non-Fiction

This singular history of a prison, and the queer women and trans people held there, is a window into the policing of queerness and radical politics in the twentieth century.

The Women's House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women's imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City's Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it was a nexus for the tens of thousands of women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people who inhabited its crowded cells. Some of these inmates--Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur--were famous, but the vast majority were incarcerated for the crimes of being poor and improperly feminine. Today, approximately 40 percent of the people in women's prisons identify as queer; in earlier decades, that percentage was almost certainly higher.

Historian Hugh Ryan explores the roots of this crisis and reconstructs the little-known lives of incarcerated New Yorkers, making a uniquely queer case for prison abolition--and demonstrating that by queering the Village, the House of D helped defined queerness for the rest of America. From the lesbian communities forged through the Women's House of Detention to the turbulent prison riots that presaged Stonewall, this is the story of one building and much more: the people it caged, the neighborhood it changed, and the resistance it inspired.

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "The Women's House of Detention (the House of D) stood at the center of New York's Greenwich Village for four decades (1932--71) through generations of prisoners, many of them queer, gender nonconforming, and transmasculine. Its history, in many ways, is also the Village's history. Historian Hugh Ryan (When Brooklyn Was Queer, 2019) explores how the prison, the neighborhood, and larger society reflected each other through the personal stories of some of the thousands upon thousands of women who passed through this forgotten institution. He profiles such famous inmates as Angela Davis, Afeni Shakur, and Andrea Dworkin but mostly focuses on the unknown, such as Big Cliff and Elaine B. Their stories are told through the intersections of sexuality, poverty, race, and criminality. Through his primarily pioneering research, Ryan provides valuable context for them in and out of the House of D. Throughout, he bears witness to the indignities and persistent inhumane failures in the prison, from overcrowding and feces-laden food to barbaric physical exams. Ryan has created a valuable new lens for queer and carceral history."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "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)"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Women's House of Detention.
Reformatories for women -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
Women prisoners -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
Transgender prisoners -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
Poor women -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
Prison abolition movements -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)
Publisher New York :2022
Edition First edition.
Language English
Description ix, 357 pages ; 25 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 317-357).
ISBN 9781645036661
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