Rich Wilson: Aspects of Queer Existence in 19th-Century America

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Nineteenth century LGBT artifacts from the collection of Rich Wilson


Items in this on-line exhibit are more than just old prints, photographs, and books. They are artifacts telling us about our past. The individuals highlighted here offer us a glimpse into history that has been buried, ignored, “heterosexualized,” or destroyed. While encountering them, we must, as historian Jonathan Ned Katz indicates, try to comprehend that “their world's structuring of eros and love, their ideas, and their language” differ from our own concepts about gender, sex, and desire.[1]

The exhibit's theme is the 19th-century queer experience in the United States. It was an age of “romantic friendships” and “Boston marriages.” It was also an age when “alienists” called us “inverts.” Back then, a Viennese enthusiast for Hungarian literature coined words essential to the binary system of “homosexual” and “heterosexual” that still shapes our thinking. Additionally, in that bygone era, important seeds were planted that eventually flowered into “gay liberation.”

Much of the material in this online exhibit first appeared in a group show organized by the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History and held at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York City. Both organizations have their own websites and Facebook entries.

Exhibit contents

Wilson Collection: Abraham Lincoln

Wilson Collection: Annie Hindle and Ella Wesner

Wilson Collection: Charlotte Cushman

Wilson Collection: Edward Carpenter

Wilson Collection: Emily Blackwell and Elizabeth Cushier

Wilson Collection: “Inverts” and “Alienists”

Wilson Collection: James Buchanan and William Rufus King

Wilson Collection: James Mills Peirce: “Professor X”

Wilson Collection: John Addington Symonds

Wilson Collection: Joseph and His Friend, the Book

Wilson Collection: Karl Kertbeny and Karl Ulrichs

Wilson Collection: Nineteenth Century Gender Transgressions

Wilson Collection: Oscar Wilde

Wilson Collection: Romantic Friendships/Joseph Dennie and Roger Vose

Wilson Collection: Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Whipple

Wilson Collection: Same-Sex Desire and the American Slave Narrative

Wilson Collection: Same-Sex Desire in the Civil War

Wilson Collection: Same-Sex Desire in the Old West

Wilson Collection: Sarah E. Edmonds

Wilson Collection: Susan B. Anthony

Wilson Collection: The Berdache

Wilson Collection: The Calamus Poems


  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001), 9.