Thursday, April 28, 2011

Edith Mary Chapman's Boarding House

East 900 South Street today
Edith Mary Chapman's Boarding House

Location: 615 Nine South Street (now East 900 South Street) across the street from Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Opened: 1923

Closed: 1931

Until the Second World War, boarding houses were a very common form of urban housing, especially for young, unmarried women. In fact, keeping a boarding house was one of the few "respectable" ways for middle class women to earn a living in the 19th and early 20th centuries Though many boarding houses were limited to women only, very few have been identified as having an explicitly lesbian presence as such, even though it was certainly not unheard of for lodgers to bed together on an "intimate basis." Edith Mary Chapman's boarding house was one of the exceptions.

We know about Edith Mary Chapman's boarding house because it's mentioned in an article on Mildred J. "Barry" Berryman (1901-1972), a Salt Lake City lesbian who came out publicly while still a student at Westminster College in Salt Lake, sometime before 1919. According to gay historian Connell O'Donovan, Mildred's announcement created "an uproar" and "scandal" at the time. Though Mildred managed to graduate, the trauma led her into a short-lived marriage before she had her first lesbian relationship with Mae Anderson, a violinist and music teacher. That relationship lasted about a year and a half.  Mildred's attempts at finding another "ideal companion" proved unsuccessful, and yet another marriage was attempted. However, Mildred left her husband right after the wedding. 

It was just after Mildred decided to devote her life to "writing and science" that Mildred met Edith Mary Chapman, sometime around 1924. Edith was a recent graduate of the University of Utah and a Critic Teacher and Instructor of Elementary Education at the University. Edith had also had a previous lesbian relationship with a "masculine" school teacher, which had broken off after "several years duration." That relationship, which was apparently quite tumultuous, had a traumatizing effect on Edith as well. Like Mildred, she swore off love, and tried to dedicate herself to "study and teaching" for several years after the break up.

Though Berryman and Chapman had a sixteen year age diffference between them (Chapman was the older one), they "fell desperately in love."

And that brings us to Edith's boarding house. Edith inherited the house upon her father Arvis's death in 1919 and her mother's death in 1923. At some point after her mother's death, Edith turned the place into a "boarding house for other homosexual women." Grace Nickerson, a lesbian teacher at the LDS School of Music, lived there "briefly." Others who lived there "for several years" included Mildred, Dorothy Graham, and Caroline "Carline" Monson. Dorothy Graham was the manager of the Coon Chicken Inn in Salt Lake, a well-known restaurant owned by her family, which featured male drag performers, such as Julian Eltinge, during the 1920s and 30s. And according to D. Michael Quinn, Carline Monson had lived in the house for many years before the death of Edith's mother. In fact, it is surmised that Carline and the widowed Sarah Ann Briggs Chapman had, in fact, been "domestic partners."

Jan McKenzie, a young girl who moved next door to Edith's house in 1925, remembered Edith as " 'very high class', dark-haired, beautiful, with pretty teeth, and 'high ideals,'" a woman "who loved working with children as a school teacher." She described Mildred as a " small, petite woman - very friendly"  who "loved wearing riding boots and 'masculine clothes.'"

It seems the couple ran into problems over Edith's "jealous rages and amourous demands" (according to Mildred), and they broke up after four years, with Mildred moving out around 1929. Mildred was apparently "the first of the long-term residents of the Lesbian boarding house to move out." In addition, we're told that by 1931, all " the other members of the boarding house had moved out, except Carline Monson, who had done all of the cooking at the boarding house." Carline remained in the house until her death in 1941.

After going on some "excursions" to San Francisco, Edith decided to leave Salt Lake and relocate "to Berkeley, California, where she could pursue her teaching career in an environment more conducive to her sexuality." (At that time, there were gay bars for men in Salt Lake, but lesbian socializing was largely limited to "parties at home"--or "excursions" to lesbian bars like Mona's in San Francisco). Dorothy Graham moved to Seattle about that same time as well.

Mildred moved "back home with her family" and began groundbreaking research on Salt Lake's gay and lesbian community, which included cases studies on "24 homosexual women" (Mildred included herself as case #23). By 1936, she had opened her own home-based photography studio and shortly thereafter, entered a relationship with a woman only known as Z (case #24). (Edith was apparently written up as case #9.) The manuscript was never published during Mildred's life time.

It appears that Mildred and Z broke up some time in the early 1940s. Also sometime in the early 1940s, Mildred started working in the defense industry and that was when she met Ruth Uckerman Dempsey. They were to stay together for 33 years.

One of the reasons we know all this history is that Ruth's daughter from her first marriage, Bonnie Louisa Larsen, later married Vern Bullough. As O'Donovan notes:

Because of her mother's lesbianism, Vern and Bonnie "explored the lesbian culture in San Francisco in the late 40's". Vern Bullough at that time was a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, and thus began covering police harassment of homosexuals at bars and cruising spots. Vern Bullough later wrote a seminal history book titled Homosexuality, A History, published in 1978, and he is now a prominent sexologist at SUNY Buffalo.

After Mildred's death at the age of 71, Ruth sent Mildred's unpublished manuscript to Vern and Bonnie, asking that they publish it. The Bulloughs published some of Mildred's findings in the 1978 issue of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Ruth died in 1979.

5/5/2011: From personal correspondence with Connell O'Donovan, I was able to confirm the exact address of the Chapman boarding house. Connell was also kind enough to send along a photo of the house along with the name of yet another boarder at the home, Ethel C. Stewart, who was born in Utah in 1888.  She worked as the bookkeeper at a local brickyard.  When Mildred "Barry" Berryman moved out in 1929, Ethel moved in. Thanks, Connell!

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