Lesbians in cabarets before World War 2
During the 1920s, lesbians were gathering in cabarets and trying to gain recognition for themselves despite society’s expectations.
But this was in the burgeoning shadow of World War 1, and they had only enough time before the world-shaking events of World War 2.
As such, they gathered in cabarets, singing and dancing in the night in a safe place where they could be themselves.
The cabarets of Germany
Following in the footsteps of Western Europe, the Weimar Republic in Germany allowed cabarets to flourish under a more relaxed social attitude after the harshness of previous authoritarian regimes.
Though cabarets were first invented by the French, Germans enjoyed them as well: restaurants or clubs where they could sit at tables and be entertained by a procession of singers, dangers, and comedians on a small stage.
Some of these cabarets were patronized by gays, lesbians, and transvestites—with a number of lesbian cabarets becoming prominent, like the Damenklub Violetta, Toppkeller Club, and The Silhoette.
In these places, one could listen to the openly lesbian cabaret star Claire Waldoff.
The cabarets in the United States
In the US, the blues and jazz was slowly gaining popularity with female singers like Nina Simone and Eartha Kitt.
However, there were also cabaret singers like Gladys Bentley—in her short-cropped hair and tuxedo, and her reputation as a “bulldyker”—who performed at Harlem’s Clam House and flirted with the ladies.
Thanks to Bentley, the Clam House became a place where gays and lesbians would go hang out.
There were also others, like Bessie Smith, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Ethel Waters, and Josephine Baker.
Some of them were like Bentley, blatant in public, while others had personas that complied with society’s expectation despite having lovers.
But this period didn’t last forever. In Germany, the Weimar Republic fell to the Nazi party and soon, those who were perceived different were persecuted.
The German cabarets—which had once provided an outlet for political criticism and views (and therefore a breeding ground of discontent)—was suppressed.
Once Germany was under Nazi rule, the clouds of war soon began to form—and with it, the start of World War 2, which would eventually draw in the US.