This week on the blog conference keynote speaker E-J Scott shares some of the findings from the heritage lottery funded Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls project. His interest in identity and Victorian fancy dress was developed whilst researching a rare collection of forgotten House of Worth haute couture and fancy dress (c1880) that was found in the basement of Southside House, Wimbledon Green after having been forgotten for nearly 70 years. His queer curatorial work is currently focussed on establishing the Museum of Transology, and curating the Trans Museum of Underwear exhibition, due to open at the Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion in 2017. On day one of the conference at Bishopsgate Institute, E-J will speak on ‘Researching, Reimagining and Restaging Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls 1923– 1938: Duckie’s queer performative heritage engagement project.’
She Sure Did Have Big Balls.
Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Ball (1923 – 1938) was the one night of the year that London’s domestic workers were given time off together to meet, drink, dance and – as was reported by the press – “make whoopee”. Many of London’s domestic servants were poor migrants from Wales, Ireland and small rural counties, and often found themselves isolated in their new jobs and stripped of their personal identity. They not only crossed the borders from their country villages to big city employment, but from public life to the private domestic sphere where they were referred to by their employer’s surname, forced to wear a generic uniform and often shared a bedroom. No wonder then, that Lady Malcolm’s ball grew so popular, so quickly. Indeed, from 1930 – 1938 it was held at the Royal Albert Hall where the 5000 tickets repeatedly sold out.
The workers danced the waltz to Percy Chandler’s Orchestra, drank vermouth, ate ham sandwiches and smoked cigarettes. They were awarded prizes including brooches, bags and scarves for their fancy dress costumes by famous entertainers like Ivor Novella and Gladys Cooper (because even though Lady Malcolm always wore a pearl tiara and haute couture, she recognized that parlourmaidsand footmen were unlikely to have owned an evening gown or dinner suit). Many servants dressed as satirical comments on their working class conditions. One girl went as an alarm clock set at 6am, and one fellow dressed up as the “The Porter’s Nightmare” with muddled up luggage tickets stuck to him from head to toe. Another chap dressed as “Vimmy” (the character Lever & Archer had used to advertise their powder scouring agent since 1904) and one girl, possibly a cook, won a prize for her costume of an Empire Christmas pudding inspired by a recipe in the Daily Mail. In 1930, twenty butlers, footmen and chauffeurs came costumed in period dresses from “Eve upwards”, confirming the ball’s increasingly notorious reputation for attracting perverts and homo-sexualists. The rouged rogues were out in public, outed by the public press and causing public outrage! By 1935, tickets stated that “No man dressed as a woman… will be permitted to remain,” and costumes were examined upon entry by private detectives dubbed the “Board of Scrutineers”.
In memory of the brazenness of the London rouged rogues who performed ‘the rough’ (work that used scrubbing brushes) during the interwar years, following the close of the ALMS conference, DUCKIE is restaging the ball on the Friday 24 and Saturday 25 of June. We invite you to cross your own personal boundaries, to join us in tight hipped pants and coloured blouses, to bring your little mirror and your comb, to paint your lips and rouge your cheeks and dance pervertedly in pairs in honour of the working class queans and dykes, in-betweeners and gender transgressors who were arrested for doing the same at Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls during London’s interwar years.
For tickets and more info:
Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz is an American of Belizean/Guatemalan-Garifuna and Jamaican descent, poly-married-separatist-zinester-dyke-member of intentional collective community spaces. She is an Assistant Professor and Head of Reference at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is a long-time archivist and community member in NYC lesbian/queer organizing communities. She presents across the United States in library and queer networks on archival practice for audiences of researchers from graduate students to community members. She considers questions of agency, access, and participatory behaviors in collective community spaces, and acknowledgement of historical practices of lesbians of color in organized performance, writing, and publishing. During her time as archivist, she’s served as Archive Coordinator for StoryCorps, a national non-profit born-digital oral history project where she initiated the inception of all Black LGBTQ interviews to be ingested and accessible at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research branch of the New York Public Library. She is also a volunteer coordinator (2007-present) at the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA), where she provides tours, research consultations, community programming, and participates in fundraising projects such as the Stew-N-View film and dinner series (2016), the Audre Lorde/Adrienne Rich Marathon Reading (2012), or her Zine (2010), Black Lesbians in the 70’s and Before: An at Home Tour at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, as a finding aid for African Ancestral Lesbians subject files. Through the resources and access points at LHA, Shawn works with the surviving women of Salsa Soul Sisters, the first black lesbian organization founded in NYC, to document their stories and archive their collections. Shawn has been awarded by the City of New York in 2014, “As Warrior in Spirit for Archiving Black Lesbian Communities” and in 2003, “For Co-founding and being Honored by the Women of Sister Outsider.” Shawn is a co-editor of 2017 special issue of Sinister Wisdom, a lesbian literary and art journal on Honoring the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. She is a Board member of Fire and Ink, a national organization for LGBTQ writers of African Descent.
Shawn’s writing is featured in journals and anthologies such as Journal of Lesbian Studies (2016) Informed Agitation: Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond (2014), Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies (2013), Out Behind the Desk: Workplace Issues for LGBTQ Librarians (2011), Films for the Feminist Classroom (2010), and others. At the CUNY Graduate Center, Shawn is the LGBTQ studies liaison where she gets to promote a queer library collection through an endowment provided by CLAGS, the Center for LGBTQ Studies. She is a recent (2016) add to the advisory board for Gale Primary Resources Archives of Human Sexuality and Identity database and a reviewer for the GLBT Studies section of Resources for College Libraries (RCL), a reference work developed by Choice, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries, in partnership with Proquest. Shawn has an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction, and a Masters in Library Studies with a certificate in Archiving and Records Management from Queens College, CUNY. She also holds a BS in Queer Women’s Studies from the City University of New York.
Other concurrent or past community and literary projects have included the initiation of Alternative Realities: Three Staged Readings by Black Lesbian Writers where she debuted her play, Saturnistas. She was co-producer of Rivers of Honey, a performance space for women of color held in the herstoric WOW Cafe Theater for eight years. She co-founded Sister Outsider (2000), an organization for and by self-supporting young women in Brooklyn, NY. She was also a co-founding member of FIERCE! (2001), and the Ya-Ya Network (1999), youth member led organizations in NYC. She was a 2014 Louis Armstrong House and Museum Resident where she created the Zine, Louis Armstrong and His Women. Shawn founded Queer Housing Nacional, an online space for queer women of color and allies to support the housing needs of queer women of color. With her project, Her Saturn Returns: Queer Women of Color Life Transitions, Shawn (still) collects and archives stories of queer women of color turning thirty. Shawn distributes her zines and others with Lambey Press.
Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz’s keynote paper, ‘One Librarian, Many Communities: Access and Practice On Documenting Black Lesbians of New York City’, will be delivered on the second day of the conference, Thursday 23 June, at the University of Westminster.
Dr. Aaron H Devor, PhD, FSSSS, FSTLHE, has been studying and teaching about transgender topics for more than thirty years. He is the world’s first Research Chair in Transgender Studies and the Founder and Academic Director of the world’s largest Transgender Archives. He was one of the authors of versions 6 and 7 of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s (WPATH) Standards of Care, and is guiding their translation into world languages. He is the author of Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality (1989), FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society (1997, 2016), and The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future (2014). He has delivered lectures to audiences around the world, including more than 20 keynote and plenary addresses. He is a national-award-winning teacher, an elected member of the International Academy of Sex Research, an elected Fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. He is an out trans man, a former Dean of Graduate Studies (2002-2012), and a professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
Much of Devor’s work focuses on the narratives of those who are gender nonconforming or trans, which is evident in his first two publications. 1989’s Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality focuses on fifteen women who do not always “pass”, despite being biological women. The book also offers an investigation into biological, psychological, and sociological discourses of gender and Devor considers the ways in which “the political nature of social beliefs and practices become translated into the everyday life experiences of members of society.” In 1997, Devor published FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society which engages with, and details the lives of, a number of men who tell their stories about transitioning. FTM draws on interviews with 45 subjects and, in doing so, importantly investigates a previously critically neglected group. As in Gender Blending, Devor continues to interrogate questions around gender and its social construction.
2014’s The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future, was a Lambda Literary Awards finalist and in the book the reader is introduced to the history of trans activism and research. It also explores the founding of the Transgender Archives. The Archives are a vital resource, collecting materials that relate to the research into, the activism of and the communities of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. Founded in 2007, it collects a wide array of material including publications, personal papers, court documents, movies, erotica, fiction, conference records and ephemera. The Archives holds the biggest collection of material relating to those who are trans and gender nonconforming in the world and has material spanning one hundred years and seventeen countries. The Transgender Archives contains a fabulous introduction to the Archives’ holdings, offering some stunning images, and it can be downloaded here.
Devor has published in journals such as Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, and GLQ, as well as contributing chapters to collections like Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (2002), The Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America (2003), Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community (2010), The Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis (2014), and Handbook of the Sociology of Sexualities (2015). A full list of Devor’s many publications can be found here.
Professor Devor will be speaking on the second day of the conference, Thursday 23 June, at the University of Westminster. Paper title and abstract below.
Trans History in the Raw:
Highlights from the Transgender Archives
Aaron H Devor, PhD
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” – George Orwell
“Study the past if you would define the future.” – Confucius
The Transgender Archives, the world’s largest repository of original records of transgender activism and research, provides a vast collection of raw materials from which scholars can reconstruct trans history. Since 2007, the Transgender Archives, part of the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada has been actively acquiring documents, rare publications, and memorabilia of persons and organizations associated with trans activism and research. Collections chronicle over 50 years of trans activism in 17 countries on five continents, and record research going back more than 100 years.
The collections, which began with the generous donation of the entire Rikki Swin Institute collection, include thousands of books; more than 500 transgender periodicals titles; 27 years of Fantasia Fair conference records; papers and memorabilia of Virginia Prince, one of the founders of transgender activism; key documents from activist Ariadne Kane; papers from the founders of the International Foundation for Gender Education; records of the life of trans philanthropist and activist Reed Erickson and the work of his Erickson Educational Foundation; records of a pivotal Canadian court case, Kimberly Nixon vs Vancouver Rape Relief; the entire University of Ulster Trans-Gender Archive covering 30 years of UK trans organizing and activism; an extensive collection of trans fantasy fiction; audio and video recordings; art; erotica; and ephemera. Were it all the books and boxes to be placed on one long shelf it would stretch the length of a football field! The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria are open to the public and available to the public at no charge.