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The Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison

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This singular history of a prison, and the queer women and trans people held there, is a window into the policing of queerness and radical politics in the twentieth century. The Women’s House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women’s imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City’s Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it This singular history of a prison, and the queer women and trans people held there, is a window into the policing of queerness and radical politics in the twentieth century. The Women’s House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women’s imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City’s Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it was a nexus for the tens of thousands of women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people who inhabited its crowded cells. Some of these inmates—Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur—were famous, but the vast majority were incarcerated for the crimes of being poor and improperly feminine. Today, approximately 40 percent of the people in women’s prisons identify as queer; in earlier decades, that percentage was almost certainly higher. Historian Hugh Ryan explores the roots of this crisis of queer and trans incarceration, connecting misogyny, racism, state-sanctioned sexual violence, colonialism, sex work, and the failures of prison reform. And he reconstructs the little-known lives of hundreds of incarcerated New Yorkers, making a uniquely queer case for prison abolition in the process. From the lesbian communities forged through the House of D to the turbulent prison riots that presaged Stonewall, this is the story of one building and so much more—the people it caged, the neighborhood it changed, and the resistance it inspired.  


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This singular history of a prison, and the queer women and trans people held there, is a window into the policing of queerness and radical politics in the twentieth century. The Women’s House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women’s imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City’s Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it This singular history of a prison, and the queer women and trans people held there, is a window into the policing of queerness and radical politics in the twentieth century. The Women’s House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women’s imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City’s Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it was a nexus for the tens of thousands of women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people who inhabited its crowded cells. Some of these inmates—Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur—were famous, but the vast majority were incarcerated for the crimes of being poor and improperly feminine. Today, approximately 40 percent of the people in women’s prisons identify as queer; in earlier decades, that percentage was almost certainly higher. Historian Hugh Ryan explores the roots of this crisis of queer and trans incarceration, connecting misogyny, racism, state-sanctioned sexual violence, colonialism, sex work, and the failures of prison reform. And he reconstructs the little-known lives of hundreds of incarcerated New Yorkers, making a uniquely queer case for prison abolition in the process. From the lesbian communities forged through the House of D to the turbulent prison riots that presaged Stonewall, this is the story of one building and so much more—the people it caged, the neighborhood it changed, and the resistance it inspired.  

33 review for The Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Schulman

    A truly radical, moral and exciting history that will blow your mind. Ryan argues that it was the creation of a women's prison in the West Village, that helped center lesbian life in that area. Since lesbians are poorer (no men's incomes), de facto marginalized, and more often deprived of family support, lesbians and queer women and trans men have always been over-represented in prisons. Using records documenting poor, white, Black, and Latina women incarcerated for criminalized lives, Ryan show A truly radical, moral and exciting history that will blow your mind. Ryan argues that it was the creation of a women's prison in the West Village, that helped center lesbian life in that area. Since lesbians are poorer (no men's incomes), de facto marginalized, and more often deprived of family support, lesbians and queer women and trans men have always been over-represented in prisons. Using records documenting poor, white, Black, and Latina women incarcerated for criminalized lives, Ryan shows us the profound injustice of prisons themselves, and how lesbians have been demeaned and yet tried to survive. The book ends with queer takes on Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur, and Angela Davis, all of whom were incarcerated at #10 Greenwich. A game changer from a community-based historian.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I received this as a eGalley from NetGalley. Will automatically read anything Hugh Ryan writes because a) he does his fucking research and b) I always learn so much.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jayden

  4. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

  5. 4 out of 5

    mys

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sasha Jones

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Lewis

  8. 4 out of 5

    Teagan Ferraresi

  9. 4 out of 5

    Annie

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  11. 5 out of 5

    Merricat Zimmerle

  12. 5 out of 5

    Finalgirl

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jules

  14. 4 out of 5

    E. V. Gross

  15. 5 out of 5

    CapesandCovers

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

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    Joanna

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    Kari

  19. 5 out of 5

    Quin Rich

  20. 5 out of 5

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  21. 4 out of 5

    Chidi

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bird

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zahria

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christiana McClain

  27. 4 out of 5

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  28. 5 out of 5

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  29. 5 out of 5

    K

  30. 5 out of 5

    Josefine

  31. 4 out of 5

    Broadsnark

  32. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  33. 4 out of 5

    Thebeagee

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