Mabel Hampton (1902 - 1989)
Mabel Hampton was an inspiration to younger
gays and lesbians. She was an entertainer and activist.
Hampton became one of the catalysts for the Lesbian Herstory
Archives when she donated her extensive collection of 1950s
paperbacks. At the 1984 NYC Gay Pride Rally, Hampton said, “I
have been a lesbian all my life, for eighty-two years, and I am
proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be
free in this world, my gay people and my black people.” She died
in 1989 at age 87.
In 1920, as a young lesbian arriving in Harlem
from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was arrested on trumped-up
prostitution charges and spent two years in Bedford Hills
Mabel Hampton was a proud African American
lesbian. She died on October 26, 1989.
Mabel Hampton was born in Winston Salem, North Carolina on May
2, 1902 and moved to New York's Greenwich Village when she was 8
years old. During the next 8 decades New York was her home.
Mabel Hampton appeared as a member in a group of dancers at
"Coney Island". When not onstage, Hampton worked as a
house maid. In the 30's and 40's, she danced in the Lafayette
Theatre in New York.
After the Stonewall Riots in 1969, Mabel participated each year
in the Gay Pride parade in June. She participated in the
first national Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. With
Joan Nestle, Judith black and Deborah noble, in 1979, Hampton
helped found the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Originally
started in Brooklyn, the Archives now resides in Manhattan. The
Archives are the largest lesbian archives and educational center
of the world.
black lesbians, whose social options were more limited than
those of their male counterparts, the support offered by the
black entertainment world for nontraditional lifestyles was
especially important. After leaving her family home in North
Carolina, Mabel Hampton worked with her lover as a dancer in a
Coney Island show before landing a position at Harlem's famed
Lafayette Theatre. By entering the show business life, Hampton
was able to earn a good income, limit her social contact with
men and move within a predominantly female social world. Many
bisexual and lesbian black women, including Bessie Smith, Gladys
Bently, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Alberta Hunter, Gertrude "Ma"
Rainey, Josephine Baker and Ethel Waters found similar
advantages in the show business life.
Mabel Hampton was a self-educated, dancer in
Harlem, African American woman, and lesbian. Lillian Foster was
her partner of 40 years!
Mabel Hampton, an
African-American lesbian in her eighties, recently said to me, “Joan, there are
some women I can’t touch because the desire burns my hand like a blue flame,
those women, those women!” We both laughed, but I was also humbled by the depth
of Mabel’s erotic feeling in the ninth decade of her life.
Joan Nestle and