Overlooked No More: Eve Adams, writer who gave voice to lesbians
This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries of notable people whose deaths, from 1851, were not reported in The Times.
During her lifetime and for many years after, Eve Adams was variously called a “fantasy girl”, “a bit of an anarchist”, “the queen of the third sex”, “a self-proclaimed” author of an indecent book and, finally , Passenger 847 on Transport 63 to Auschwitz.
But Adams was also an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant America in the 1920s and 1930s, who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian.
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Her âLesbian Love,â a collection of short stories and illustrations, was published in February 1925. Written under the pseudonym Evelyn Addams, it explores the sexual arousals and gender-defying nature of dozens of women of different backgrounds. social workers Adams had encountered in Greenwich Village and in her travels across the country as a traveling saleswoman of revolutionary multilingual periodicals. She changed the names of her characters to protect their identities.
âI just intended to describe these characters in order to help them,â she said later. âTo show them the truth of their life. “
Ms Adams gave copies to friends in the village, where she ran Eve’s Hangout, a lesbian-friendly tearoom where she held salons and poetry readings. (Previously, while living briefly in Chicago, she ran The Gray Cottage, another literary haunt that also served as a haven for gay people.)
At the time, books like Adams’ were considered indecent and often burned. His 150 printed copies of âLesbian Loveâ have disappeared. Over time, his work faded from memory.
His younger brother, Yerachmiel Zahavy, lost his track during World War II. He sent letters to the Red Cross asking where she was, but they went unanswered. He then searched for her and other family members in Israel and the United States, but to no avail.
On his deathbed in 1983, Yerachmiel asked his then 18-year-old grandson Eran Zahavy to continue the search. âYou have to look for Chawa,â he said, using Adams’s birth name.
What he did not know was that his sister had been arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Young Zahavy heeded his grandfather’s request and began to research. He bonded with a playwright who had written plays on Adams, as well as a historian working on his biography, both of whom had come to his story separately. Eventually, people in Israel, Switzerland, France, and the United States – none of whom knew Adams during his lifetime – began to jointly resurrect his life story.
Chawa Zloczower is said to be born on June 27, 1891 in Mlawa, Poland, the eldest of seven children of Mordechai and Miriam Zloczower. Her father was a grocer, her mother a housewife. (Some records indicate that his date of birth is March 31, 1891.)
A young woman with a desire to travel, she boarded the SS Vaderland in Antwerp, Belgium, and, at age 20, arrived alone at Ellis Island in New York on June 4, 1912.
She spoke seven languages, including Hebrew, and wrote in a letter to a friend that she nowhere felt at home. âAll over the world, a foreigner,â she wrote, âand in the country where I was born, a Jew. “
Soon she took the English translation of her first name, Eve. And leaning on what her biographer, Jonathan Ned Katz, described as “her androgenic character,” she combined “a little Eve, a little Adam” for a name that suits her better.
Preferring men’s clothing and the company of women, Adams lived her life boldly at a time when the world considered that the only decent way to live it was to keep it behind closed doors. She counted among her friends the anarchists and revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman as well as the author who breaks taboos Henry Miller.
The US government viewed Adams as an “agitator,” the records show. Led by J. Edgar Hoover, the “Radical Division” of the agency that would become the FBI had been accused of spying on him since at least 1919.
She was arrested in 1927 by an undercover police officer, Margaret M. Leonard, who had entered Eve’s Hangout and obtained a copy of “Lesbian Love”. The book was ruled indecent and Adams was held on multiple counts, including disorderly conduct. She was sentenced and spent 18 months in prison before being deported to Poland on December 7, 1927.
By 1930 Adams was living in Paris and writing stories about his time in prison, submitting them to magazine editors with little apparent success. In cafes, she peddled banned books, including Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” (1934), which had been banned from several countries as being sexually explicit.
In 1933, Adams met Hella Olstein Soldner, a German cabaret singer. Adams later described their meeting as a “fate”. In a letter to a friend, she called Soldner “the most beloved girl”. They lived together from that point on – even after Soldner married a man – although their relationship was never openly described as romantic.
In June 1940, as German troops approached Paris, the women fled to the south of France. There are suggestions in the research about them that they may have helped the Resistance. The women were arrested while living in Nice and transported to the Drancy internment camp in Paris in December 1943.
Later that month, they were crammed, along with around 850 Jews, into cattle cars heading for Auschwitz, according to Nazi police records. The trip lasted three days. Only 31 members of the group lived until liberation in 1945 and although there is no record of their deaths in the camp, Adams and Soldner were not among them.
On a recent Sunday, Adams’ distant relatives – some meeting for the first time – gathered in the basement of what was once Eve’s Hangout at 129 Macdougal Street. (It’s now an Italian cafe.) Among their guests were biographer Katz, author of “The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams” (2021), and Barbara Kahn, a New York playwright who wrote or co- writes the Off Off Broadway plays “The Spring and Fall of Eve Adams”, “Unreachable Eden” and “Island Girls”, in which Adams is a main character. The group commemorated Adams with readings of letters and extracts from the biography.
“We have been separated for 100 years,” said her parent Eran Zahavy. âOur strength is in our union. I think Eve would be very happy if we were here.
A street in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, on the right bank near the Porte de La Chapelle, now bears her name, celebrating her contribution to the city as a âpioneering activist for women’s rightsâ. A school and nursery are also named after him, and a groundbreaking ceremony involving the Polish and American embassies is scheduled for this fall.
In 1999, Nina Alvarez, a student in Albany, NY, found a green cloth bound book in the lobby of her building. When she picked it up, she became the owner of what is now considered the only existing copy of “Lesbian Love”. Katz reprinted the book at the end of her biography.
âI can feel Eve with me,â said Alvarez, who went on to set up his own little publishing press, in an interview. “I feel like she was a fierce person who knew what she wanted.”
And what she wanted, surely, was to meet the world. Responding to a friend asking her for a book chapter, she wrote:
âWhy, my dear man, if I wanted to write down my experiences of my wanderings, my people and my adventures which still continue with each blessed day, it would take me years to write and I could fill volumes, not chapters. “
Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.