A significant site of LGBTQ history, this Victorian Gothic cottage was the home of one of America’s earliest and most prolific female photographers.
Famed photographer Alice Austen used the second-floor closet of this home on the shoreline of the New York Narrows Harbor as her darkroom. In this home studio, she produced over 7,000 photographs of a rapidly changing New York City, making significant contributions to photographic history and documenting New York’s immigrant populations, Victorian women’s social activities, and the natural and architectural world of her travels.
One of America’s first female photographers to work outside of the studio, Austen often transported up to 50 pounds of photographic equipment on her bicycle to capture her world. Her photographs represent both street life and her private realm through the lens of a lesbian woman whose life spanned from 1866 to 1952. Austen was a rebel who broke away from the constraints of her Victorian environment and forged an independent life that rejected acceptable female behavior and social rules.
Alice Austen’s life and relationships with other women are crucial to an understanding of her work. Until very recently many interpretations of Austen’s work overlooked her intimate relationships. What is especially significant about Austen’s photographs is that they provide rare documentation of intimate relationships between Victorian women. Her depiction of her non-traditional lifestyle and that of her friends, although intended for private viewing, is the subject of some of her most critically acclaimed photographs. Austen would spend 53 years in a devoted loving relationship with Gertrude Tate, 30 years of which were spent living together in her home which is now the site of the Alice Austen House Museum and a nationally designated site of LGBTQ history.
Austen’s wealth was lost in the stock market crash of 1929 and she and Tate were finally evicted from their beloved home in 1945. Tate and Austen were separated by the loss of their home and a family that rejected their relationship. Austen was moved to the Staten Island Farm Colony where Tate would visit her weekly. In 1951 Austen’s photographs were rediscovered by historian Oliver Jensen and money was raised by their publication to place Austen in private nursing home care. On June 9, 1952 Austen passed away. The final wishes of Austen and Tate to be buried together were denied by their families.
Alice Austen House is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Friends of Alice Austen House Inc., and is a member of the Historic House Trust.