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Women's History from the Helaine Victoria Press Collection

Elsa Gidlow

triptych photo of Gidlow showing her at three different ages

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Elsa Gidlow (1898-1986), "The Poet Warrior," was a poet-philosopher and lesbian-feminist pioneer known through her love poetry, essays and autobiography, the film Word Is Out and Druid Heights, her Zen inspired retreat among the California redwoods. Elsa's writings challenge class privilege, religious and political dogmas, and sexism while celebrating all varieties of love and beauty as diverse flowers in a garden of unity. She insisted that daily life was the canvas of true art: "We consider the artist a special sort of person. It is more likely that each of us is a special sort of artist." Elsa led the precarious life of a freelance journalist, often supporting relatives and friends. Born in Yorkshire, England, Elsa emigrated with her family to French Canada. Raised in privation, she was mainly self-educated. She published On a Grey Thread, the first North American book to celebrate lesbian love (1923), and later expanded it into the poetry classic Sapphic Song's (1982).* Elsa became a leading figure in San Francisco's bohemian, then psychedelic, New Age and feminist circles. The '60s saw her unsuccessful prosecution by McCarthyites. ELSA: I Come with My Song's is the first full-life, explicitly lesbian autobiography published, "the chronicle of an irrepressible free thinker."

© 1986 Helaine Victoria Press, Inc. A nonprofit educational organization.
Caption by Celeste West. Photos 1924 (left) and 1965 in her garden (right), courtesy of Booklegger Publishing; 1983 (middle), courtesy of Marcelina Martin (photographer).

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