overview

Documentation of gay men and lesbians living and socializing in New York City dates back well over 150 years.

In the 1860s, the renowned poet Walt Whitman became known for his famously homoerotic “Calamus” poems while he was a regular at a bar called Pfaff’s; later in the century, pioneering female photographer Alice Austen captured early images of women embracing and dressed in male drag at her home on Staten Island.

In this curated collection, cultural institutions, residences, and bars reveal a gay community that thrived in pre-20th century New York.

Header Photo caption

“Violet Ward and Friend”, c. 1895. Photo by Alice Austen on the porch of Clear Comfort. Courtesy of the Alice Austen House.

On the Map

 

Featured Historic Sites (10)

A
St. Nicholas Park
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton lived in this house – which was built for him and his family in 1802 – until his death in 1804, though the house has since been relocated... Learn More
B
99 Ryerson Street
Walt Whitman lived in this house when the first edition of his epochal first collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, was published in July 1855. The house is one of... Learn More
C
647 Broadway
Pfaff’s was a Rathskeller-like beer and wine cellar restaurant in the Coleman House Hotel that was a favorite haunt of the Bohemians of the 1850s, including poet Walt Whitman. Operating... Learn More
D
Central Park
The Angel of the Waters statue atop the Bethesda Fountain is the 1860s masterpiece of lesbian sculptor Emma Stebbins and was the earliest public artwork by a woman in New York City.... Learn More
E
2 Hylan Boulevard
Pioneering female photographer Alice Austen grew up in her family's home where she later lived with schoolteacher Gertrude Tate, her partner of 53 years. Austen's work includes early images of... Learn More
F
1232-1238 Broadway
The Irish poet and dandy Oscar Wilde stayed for a few days at the Grand Hotel while on his expenses-paid tour of America in 1882. This tour earned him fame,... Learn More
G
881 Seventh Avenue
One of the premiere centers of American musical life and history, Carnegie Hall has continually featured the work and performances of countless LGBT artists since its opening in 1891. For... Learn More
H
157 Bleecker Street
In the early 1890s, The Slide on Bleecker Street was known as New York’s “worst dive” for its “fairies,” young men who solicited other men. It was closed by the... Learn More
I
263-267 Henry Street
In 1893, public health nurse and progressive reformer Lillian Wald co-founded the Henry Street Settlement to provide no-cost medical services to poor immigrants living in cramped tenements on the Lower... Learn More
J
457 Sixth Avenue
This rowhouse near the Jefferson Market police court (now the Jefferson Market Library) was the last residence and office of Tammany politico Murray H. Hall at the turn of the... Learn More