Introduction by Jonathan Ned Katz
In a major example of creative, historical detective work, Casal's birth name, Ruth White Fuller, and her last name from an early marriage, Field, were discovered in 2003 by Sherry Ann Darling, during research for Master's and Ph.D theses written at Tufts University, supervised by Laurence Selenick.
Born in 1864 and growing up in rural New England (Deerfield, Massachusetts), Casal's book presents a rarely heard early lesbian voice detailing her own history -- from just after the Civil War through the first part of the twentieth century. Her portrayal of the sexual life of her time and place has nothing in common with the asexualized, idealized image of women passed down to us by traditional writers and historians.
Casal's family was poor; her father had become a farmer after his earlier professional career as a singer ended with the failure of his tenor voice. Her father and a sister are presented as affectionate, her mother as loving -- underneath a frighteningly stern, strict, puritanical exterior.
The last of nine children, Casal was painfully aware as a young girl of the tears her mother still shed for three offspring dead before Casal's birth. Her early "protective" feeling for her mother seems to have later been generalized into "sympathy," especially for other women.
As young as age three or four (1867-68), Casal liked playing with boys, liked boys' work, sports, and comfortable clothes, wanted a boy's knife, and a boy's "large handkerchief." She hated dolls and housework, early developing what she calls "masculine tastes."
The discovery that she was not built sexually like her male playmates distressed her. Although she says she early wanted to be a boy, the desire she describes is to participate in what was then customarily and rigidly defined as the "male role."
At age eight or nine (1872-73), Casal recalls rebuffing the sexual advances of a "hired man." She details the later repeated and successful attempts of an older male family "friend" to have sexual intercourse with her. She reports numerous other sexual advances by males, young and old, relatives, neighbors, family friends, and acquaintances.
She describes her fear and confusion as a young girl about how to deal with these repeated molestations. Her argument for greater freedom of sexual discussion among parents, educators, and children is based on her own negative childhood experiences.
Casal's history includes a series of emotional involvements with other females, accompanied by varied forms of active sexual expression.
Her first feeling of "love" for another girl, although unrequited, included physical attraction; it began in grammar school and lasted for many years.
Her next love for a "girl friend" began when she was about twelve (1876), and continued during two summer vacations, accompanied by kisses, nights spent together "in loving embrace," many verbal declarations of affection, and letters written during winter separations.
Her third love was for a female high school teacher whose embraces and kisses, Casal says. she enjoyed "hugely."
Finishing high school at age fifteen (1879), Casal went on to graduate from a midwestern coeducational university where a brother-in-law was a professor. There she fell in love with the university president's daughter, who "seemed quite happy" to receive her kisses.
Casal was also attracted to another musically talented college "girl friend," but unsuccessfully competed with her amorous brother-in-law for this young woman's affection.
The sexual advances of another young woman were met by Casal with disinterest, as she says she liked to woo, not be wooed.
During her second year in college Casal felt a great attraction to Flo, a professor's wife, who physically responded to the extent of "little kisses and big- kisses" given when Casal stayed overnight at her friend's home. Although the relationship with Flo apparently did not develop further sexually, it was for Casal a deep and happy love.
After finishing college, Casal taught briefly in a "little New England school" near her family's home.
Disturbed by her sexual attraction to women, and wanting to have children, as well as to prove herself "normal," at age twenty (1884) Casal says she married an old family friend whom she did not love. This marriage, a disaster, finally ended in divorce. (Two genealogical sources say that Ruth Fuller married Frank A. Field in 1887.)
During the period of her marriage, Casal twice became pregnant, once by her friend Flo's husband, to whose advances she submitted specifically with the aim of having a child. Both babies died at birth, and her desire for motherhood was not realized.
Casal describes moving from one occupation to another at about five-or-six-year intervals, successful at each undertaking, but feeling a strong need for change.
She invents a toy, patents it, markets it herself, and becomes a successful businesswoman.
At this time, her earlier emotional involvements with women culminate in her New York City meeting and taking up life with her great love, a woman she calls "Juno."
Next Casal runs a small, successful private school in the large studio apartment she shares with Juno on Washington Square.
Later she is the secretary in an art gallery where she daily enjoys the view of four of Corot's most famous paintings.
She is successful as a commercial artist-a designer of "Christmas cards, favors, place cards, and the like."
Living in the country for a time with Juno, Casal farms and gardens, enjoying the activity and contact with the earth.
Both Casal and Juno work for some years as assistants to a rich, female philanthropist (Helen Gould, the daughter of Jay Gould). While traveling in Europe, Casal sells an article for "several hundred dollars" to a New York magazine, and in Paris she works for a religious organization.
Late in her career, Casal heads a large "fresh air and convalescent home" for youngsters about forty miles from New York City, said to be run "for the people connected with the East Side mission" belonging to "one of the richest churches" in the city. There Casal tries out her own ideas of sex education.
Retiring from public life after her love affair with Juno has ended, Casal moved from the eastern United States to the opposite side of the continent and writes her intimate life story, published when she was sixty-six.
As the last member of her large family still alive, Casal explains that she can detail her early life without embarrassment to any relations. She does not reveal her own identity, however, probably to protect those of her acquaintances still living.
Casal's book is, in part, an early and rare American example of a political-literary genre, the homosexual (in this case, lesbian) defense. Casal pointedly upholds her "higher type" of sexual emotional relation as "normal" for her -- and as "normal" as its equivalent heterosexual counterpart.
A moving section of her book describes how she and Juno think they are the only emotionally and sexually involved women in the world until they meet a fascinating and worldly older woman (whom she calls "Phil" -- short for Philosopher), from whom they learn they are not alone.
Many of the childhood experiences Casal describes and protests appear today as the tribulations of a young girl in a male-dominated society, for example sexual advances by males which she felt had to be endured, even submitted to.
Casal is quite traditional in her concept of "masculinity" and "femininity," speaking of what she experiences as her "dual" "masculine" and "feminine" nature. Her "feminine" self desires to bear and raise children, and feels "protective," motherly affection for others, particularly women. What she calls her "masculine" side is sexually attracted to females, dislikes traditionally "feminine" occupations, activities, and chatter, and desires to intervene assertively in the world.
In college, Casal says, she did not join the sororities that sought her membership, and the national organizations for women never appealed to her. She has, however, "affiliated with men's organizations, when women were eligible:' and has "enjoyed working with men in business."
Although Casal is no feminist, her primary personal and emotional concern is for women. Her desire to give pleasure and affection to other women so predominates that not until her relation with Juno does she allow herself to receive reciprocal pleasure in sex. That even this strong, independent woman was a victim of the traditional male-oriented ideology of womanhood is a poignant reminder of its power.
Casal's autobiography is also written with the explicit aim of breaking that prudish conspiracy of silence about sex which she found so damaging as a young girl. She strongly opposes the corporal punishment that often followed adults' discovery of children's sexual investigations. She is for "reasoning" with children about sex, for encouraging them to speak and ask questions. She emphasizes the "tortures of unsatisfied sexual desire:' especially for women, citing the example of a sister of a relative who went mad from sexual repression; she speaks of other women suffering the same fate.
While Casal argues for freer sexual expression, it is a terrifying comment on the sexual mystification of her day that she herself believes in and propagates a whole series of oppressive sexual shibboleths. Casal's plea for free sexual expression is contradicted by her argument for greater control and sublimation of sexual impulses. She thinks that masturbation leads to physical disease and constitutes a "peril" -- an idea she takes pains to pass along to the youngsters under her care. She seems to feel that the death of her first child was connected with her "indulgence" in physical lovemaking with a woman the night before its birth. She seems to believe in, and be worried about, the possibility of inherited homosexuality, passed from mother to child. And she is totally traditional in her condemnation of male homosexuals as promiscuous child molesters.
Casal argues for the separation of love and sex, taking the philosophical stance that sex is necessarily selfish, while love is altruistic. In a way she never anticipated, the import of her own argument for sexual enlightenment is emphasized by the awful irony of her own puritanism.
In the selection quoted here, Casal describes her meeting and great early love affair with Juno. Although this section describes a period of great happiness, she later details a period of intense sorrow when this love affair disintegrates. Casal is not defensive about her suffering, however, accepting both her joy and pain as part of a life rich in experience and deeply felt.
As this section of her autobiography begins, the possibility of selling thousands of the toys she has invented brings Casal to New York City, where she seeks a room in a hotel for "women only", run by a religious organization.
This introduction and the selection from Casal are adapted from Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976), pages 548-556.
- Casal, pages 10, 17.
- Casal, pages 22-23, 27-28, 29.
- Casal, pages 47, 50, 68.
- Casal, pages 72, 77,82, 86
- See Fuller and Sheldon in bibliography here.
- Casal, pages 47, 91,94, 100, 110-11.
- The article by Ruth Fuller Field is listed on the bibliography, as is a New York Times story about her work in Paris with the WMCA. See bibliography.
- Casal, pages 139. 146. 167, 185, 190, 203, 218.
- Casal, pages 73-74, 178-82.
- Casal, page 91.
- Casal, pages 68-69 132.
- Casal, pages 101-02, 115-16, 131, 184, 206, 215.
- Casal pages 143-57.