overview

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. In addition, there are memorials that honor LGBT individuals. The Gertrude Stein Monument, in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, honors an LGBT individual.

In 1993, as one of its L-U-V actions for Valentine’s Day, direct-action group the Lesbian Avengers hosted readings and a waltz when they installed a temporary statue of Stein’s long-term partner next to the Stein Monument.

Header Photo
Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2021.

History

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of public parks and playgrounds named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, several of which intentionally honor an LGBT individual. In addition, there are memorials that honor LGBT individuals. This list includes the Gertrude Stein Monument, in Manhattan.

This monument, dedicated in 1992, in Bryant Park honors the pioneering expatriate American author and art collector Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), one of the world’s most famous lesbians. It was the first statue of an American woman placed in a public park in New York City. Born in Pittsburgh, Stein moved to Paris in 1903 and lived in France for the rest of her life. She met Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967) in 1907, and they lived together as partners after 1910. They famously hosted a salon in Paris that was attended by the leading modernist figures of art and literature. Stein amassed a significant contemporary art collection. Stein’s literary canon included poems, novels, plays, librettos, lectures, essays, biographies, and film scripts. In 1933, she published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a memoir of her Paris years written in her partner’s voice. It became a bestseller, and elevated her into mainstream fame. She also wrote the libretto for the opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1934), with music by Virgil Thomson. Early unconventional Stein works that included lesbian relationships were Q.E.D. (1903), Fernhurst (1904), and Tender Buttons (1914).

Stein posed for sculptor Jo Davidson at his Paris studio, and he completed the model depicting a Buddha-like Stein in 1922. Stein was delighted by the portrayal. This particular bronze casting of the statue, located near the New York Public Library, is the eighth in a series of ten. It was the gift of Dr. Maury Leibowitz, vice-chairman/president of Knoedler-Modarco Galleries.

Lesbian Avengers L-U-V Action
On Valentine’s Day 1993, the year following its dedication, the Lesbian Avengers hosted an action at the monument, in which they “reunited” Stein with Toklas by installing a temporary plaster sculpture of Toklas — handcrafted by the Avengers. Writers Eileen Myles, Jacqueline Woodson, Joan Nestle, María Irene Fornés, Maxine Wolfe, Sarah Schulman, Yvonne Rainer, and others read excerpts of Toklas’ love letters and Stein’s poetry to a crowd of over 200 lesbians, who then danced in a “Lesbian Waltz.” The action, according to the flyer, was intended to “celebrate and venerate the glorious herstory of conventional romantic love, politically incorrect domestic bliss, butch genius, forgotten femmes, queer biddies at large, lesbian odd couples/singles, and especially the union of Gertrude and Alice.”

Entry by Jay Shockley, project director, with additional content by Ethan Brown, project consultant (September 2021; last revised January 2024).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Sources

  1. “Alice B. Toklas statue joins Gertrude Stein for Valentine’s fest,” United Press International, February 14, 1993, bit.ly/3GbN4Bu.

  2. “Gertrude Stein Monument,” NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, on.nyc.gov/3o0oADs.

  3. Lesbian Avengers research file, Lesbian Herstory Archives.

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