The Utah State Archives and Records Service is the repository for government records. Historically, these records have not provided a voice for underrepresented groups in Utah. As we work to amplify all voices in Utah, we are shining the spotlight on the LGBTQIA+ community.
Although homosexuality was not always widely accepted, there were still communities in which those of the LGBTQIA+ community could gather and socialize. In Salt Lake City, that was the Bohemian Club. The club started in the 1880’s and only admitted male members who were not Mormon. In 1891 the club opened to women as well, and eventually included those of the Mormon faith too.
Before 1973, homosexuality was diagnosed as a mental illness and it is listed in the annual reports of the State Board of Insanity. 1916 is the first year when someone was explicitly admitted for their sexuality.
In 1954 the wording changed to ‘sexual deviation.’ This blanket phrase encompasses things such as homosexuality, masturbation, and pedophilia.
In 1926 it was made legal to sexually sterilize anyone deemed insane. The annual reports of the State Board of Insanity show that there were people being committed and diagnosed with insanity as a result of homosexuality.
Finally, in 1992, we began to see changes in how government agencies view sexual orientation when Utah passed the Hate Crime Law. It included sexual orientation as one of the potential hate crimes that would deserve a harsher sentencing because of the crime’s motivation.
We are proud to share the stories of women in Utah that were in relationships with other women.
Maude Adams: Actress and Inventor
Maude Adams was a prominent actress in early Utah. She was born in 1872 in Salt Lake City and appeared on stage for the first time at two months old. She performed in a travelling troupe, and later vacillated between San Francisco and Salt Lake City, performing in both cities. At the age of sixteen Adams moved to New York to continue her acting career. In the early 1890’s she met Lillie Florence, her first long term relationship. Florence passed away in 1901.
In 1905 she starred in Peter Pan on Broadway which was her most famous role. She was the first person to play the role of Peter Pan, and it catapulted her to fame. She also worked with General Electric developing color photography and stage lights that became the industry standard for motion pictures in Hollywood.
In 1905 she met Louise Boynton, a newspaper editor and publisher, and they became lifelong partners. Adams retired from acting in 1918 after a severe case of influenza. She taught in the dramatic arts in Missouri for a time before settling in New York with Louise. They are buried next to each other in New York and share the same tombstone.
Mildred Berryman: Researcher and Entrepreneur
Mildred Berryman was born in Salt Lake City in 1901. While studying at Westminster she told a professor she was a lesbian and she wanted to do a study on homosexuality, but she was denied. Several families pulled their daughters out of school following Berryman’s coming out. She eventually left school and had a short marriage to a man. After divorcing him she continued her study on homosexuality on her own, hoping to gain a PhD from her work. In her research she lists herself as one of the subjects and writes, “Ran away and married at the age of sixteen to try to escape her homosexuality. The experience proved disastrous and [she] has since had a horror of coitus… [She] married a second time, but never had relations with husband and left him right after the ceremony, trying to explain to him somehow that they could not be happy together and it was better this way.”
Berryman lived in a lesbian boarding house for several years which helped her find her subjects of 24 women and 9 men, most of whom were also members of the Bohemian Club. She finished her thesis in 1939 but was it was never published, either because she was afraid of exposing the identities of her subjects or because she could not find anyone willing to print it. After her death in 1972 her findings were published by her partner’s niece and nephew in the journal ‘Signs,’ which focuses on women and gender studies.
Berryman had a few short marriages to men, had her own photography business, and served as the secretary-treasurer for the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineral Societies. During World War II she worked in a small arms factory where she met and fell in love with her life long partner Ruth Uckerman. Berryman and Uckerman together founded a manufacturing business after learning how to operate machinery during the war.
After the war, Berryman Novelty Manufacturing in Woods Cross started creating polished plastic that had flowers or insects inside of them. They eventually expanded into other trinkets that could be sold in shops around Salt Lake City.
Berryman died on November 7, 1972.
Jackie Biskupski: Representative and Mayor
Jackie Biskupski is the only openly gay woman to be elected to the Utah State Legislature. She was born in Minnesota but moved to Utah after a ski trip and decided to stay. Before she got involved in politics she was a private investigator. In 1995, the Salt Lake City School Board and the Utah Legislature tried to eliminate the Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Salt Lake City’s East High School. Biskupski cites this incident as her catalyst for getting involved in politics
Biskupski served in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2011, when she resigned after moving outside of her district boundaries. She was then elected as Salt Lake City’s mayor in 2015, the second woman to be the mayor of Utah’s capitol. Biskupski fought for equal rights for minorities, especially for the LGBTQIA community and women’s rights. She also worked to combat climate change.
Free, Cathy. “Salt Lake City Voters Elect the City’s First Openly Gay Mayor Jackie Biskupski.” People. November 5, 2015. https://people.com/politics/salt-lake-city-voters-elect-the-citys-first-openly-gay-mayor/
Kozuch, Elliott. “#FlashbackFriday-Today in 1973, the APA Removed Homosexuality From List of Mental Illnesses.” Human Rights Campaign. https://www.hrc.org/blog/flashbackfriday-today-in-1973-the-apa-removed-homosexuality-from-list-of-me
“Maude Adams.”Queer Utah Ancestors. Utah Pride Center. Accessed July 17, 2020. https://utahpridecenter.org/resources/queer-utah-ancestors/#adams
McDonald, Joel. “Maude Adams: Mormon, Lesbian and the Broadway’s First Peter Pan.” Affirmation LGBTQ Mormons Family and Friends. https://affirmation.org/maude-adams-mormon-lesbian-and-the-broadways-first-peter-pan/
“Mildred ‘Barrie’ Berryman.” Queer Utah Ancestors. Utah Pride Center. Accessed July 17, 2020. https://utahpridecenter.org/resources/queer-utah-ancestors/#barryman
“Notes from the Biographical Archive: Mildred J. ‘Barrie’ Berryman.” The Mineralogical Record. Vol 43, May-June 2012. https://www.docdroid.net/rCCfi7q/mildred-j-barrie-berryman-1901-to-1972-odonovan-and-wilson-in-mineralogical-record-v-43-may-and-june-issue-2012-pdf#page=3
Quinn, D Michael. Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century American: A Mormon Example. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
“Women parlay war craft into thriving occupation” Salt Lake Tribune. February 9, 1959. https://web.archive.org/web/20171110005825/https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/12064040/