Lori Henriksen

author of The Winter Loon


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Barriers

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Barrier ~ obstacle, obstruction, stumbling block, impediment.

Before it was called The Winter Loon my novel was titled Barriers. All I could envision for the main characters, Ruth and Gisela, two young women who fall deeply in love, were barriers of all kinds. Ruth and Gisela lived in the Midwest and met each other in 1932.

In New York in the 1920s, queer culture flourished, but by the early thirties, a Broadway play with a lesbian theme opened and closed to biased reviews. The producer, director and players were hauled off to court and charged with obscenity. Bars and clubs closed down. It was the same in Chicago and elsewhere in U.S. cities.

The Depression era squashed the gay nightlife and excesses of the twenties. The avant-garde crowd became the target for those wanting to punish and blame. What had been tolerated became immoral and illegal by the mid 1930s. The 1934 Motion Picture Production Code banned all reference and depictions of gay or lesbian lifestyle from the movies.

Ruth and Gisela’s story isn’t about coming out of the closet. In the thirties there was no closet to come out of. It’s a story about the healing power of love. It’s a story about Ruth breaking down barriers—her own and those of society. It’s a story about a naive young woman searching for a life lived in authentic truth despite the obstacles.

For a short time a couple of years ago I had a friend in her late 90s. She passed away last year. I met her because she was featured on the front page of our local newspaper with fist raised and the caption, “Gay and proud.” The story was about the Gay Pride celebration for that year. It’s a small town. I looked up her phone number and called her, hoping to get first-hand information for my book.

It turned out we both loved jazz and going out to dinner and had many fun nights. She was open about her long-time relationship with the woman she loved and still mourned her recent death. I thought I would learn more about the barriers the two of them faced, the kind you can’t find in history books. I found out more about love than about obstacles. The two of them met in New York City. They ended up living a quiet life in upstate New York, running a B&B before traveling out West.

Perhaps The Winter Loon will remind a generation now fighting to keep marriage equality about how difficult it was before gay advocacy groups formed after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village. Before Stonewall, there was almost nowhere to turn for information unless a person was lucky enough to meet a kindred spirit.

I’ve added a link to a PBS.org film about the Stonewall Riots which is riveting and enlightening about the struggle people faced leading up to the riots:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/stonewall/player/

You might have to copy and paste to view the film.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 


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Anecdotes

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Anecdotes ~ Can be amusing or historical tales, urban myths or legends. There might be a fable, an allegory, a yarn about a character in my book.

During the 1920’s, the U.S. population let out a sigh of relief with the horror of WWI behind them. The automobile increased mobility.

Ruth on car

Radio and motion pictures started a new set of values. Hemlines rose. Loose and flowing clothing, colorful and free-spirited, ushered in the revolution of freedom in dress and morals. Women powdered their nose, rouged their cheeks and bobbed their hair. The Nineteenth Amendment passed giving women the right to vote. Corsets be damned. The archetypal female was now a flapper, not a suffragist.

The Twenties, full of crime and prohibition, introduced the blues and a casualness toward sexuality reflected in speakeasies and avant-garde society until the nonchalance of The Great Gatsby gave way to The Grapes of Wrath.

Hearts and minds closed as the U.S. in the Thirties turned away from a decade of optimism and entered the Great Depression. Hemlines dropped to mid-calf or just above the ankles. More modest, form-fitting styles with high necklines and wide shoulders were designed to enhance the often-elusive tall and slender look of the “ideal” Thirties woman. Surprisingly, during the hard economic times, cosmetic sales doubled.

The 1930s saw the tenth anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, but not equality. Women remained under represented in positions of political power. With a growing number of college graduates, women with degrees were often overlooked in business and academia.

Ada Comstock was the first Dean of Women at the University of Minnesota in 1907 and later President at Radcliffe until 1943. She reminisced in a 1940 speech about her early days as a Dean when, the efforts of women seeking higher education was still regarded more or less as a humorous thing, and an occasion for jokes.

The controversy over women attending college created a dilemma in an era where the proper role would have been marriage and children. Some folks believed that college-educated women made better wives. Almost always totally dependent on their husbands, an educated woman was thought to better complement a man as he progressed in his profession. Others felt that educated women were less likely to marry and would have difficulty supporting themselves with their education. The majority of women seeking to broaden their horizon turned to traditional professions in education, nursing or home economics.

graduates

Women who wanted to heed the motto of Smith College: Education is the key to the future, needed gumption. She needed moral support. She needed money.

Ruth and Gisela, characters in my novel The Winter Loon, meet at the University of Minnesota in 1932. Ruth pays her tuition with money she earns as a cowgirl on a traveling rodeo circuit.