overview

Webster Hall is one of New York’s most significant large 19th-century assembly halls, and it became famous for its Bohemian masquerade balls in the 1910s and 1920s.

It was significant as a gathering place for the city’s early 20th-century lesbian and gay community, who felt welcome and then sponsored their own events by the 1920s.

Header Photo

Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

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History

One of New York’s most historically and culturally significant large 19th-century assembly halls, Webster Hall was the venue for countless events including conventions and political and union rallies, particularly for the working-class and immigrant populations of the Lower East Side. In the 1910s and ’20s, it became famous for its Bohemian masquerade balls.

It was significant as a gathering place for the city’s early 20th-century lesbian and gay community, who felt welcome to attend the balls in drag, and then sponsored their own events by the 1920s. Among the many LGBT notables who attended events here at this time were artist Charles Demuth and writer Djuna Barnes.

“The organizers of the balls…welcomed the presence of flamboyant gay men – sometimes making them a part of the pageants they staged – precisely because they knew they enhanced the reputation and appeal of such events.”
George Chauncey, Gay New York (1994)

Chauncey also noted, “By the early 1920s, the presence of gay men and lesbians in the Village was firmly established. No longer were they simply visitors to the Liberal Club’s masquerade balls. They organized their own balls at Webster Hall and appropriated as their own many of the other social spaces created by the bohemians of the 1910s.”

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