Esther Newton

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Esther Newton
New York, New York
NationalityUnited States
Alma mater
OccupationAuthor, anthropologist, professor
Known forAnthropological studies of drag queens and ethnographies of the LGBT community

Esther Newton (born 1940, New York City) is an American cultural anthropologist best known for her pioneering work on the ethnography of lesbian and gay communities in the United States.


Newton studied history at the University of Michigan and received her BA with distinction in 1962 before starting graduate work in anthropology at the University of Chicago under David M. Schneider.[1]

Her PhD dissertation, "The drag queens; a study in urban anthropology" (1968), examined the experiences, social interactions, and culture of drag queens, or (mostly gay-identified) men who dressed and performed as women in various kinds of theatrical settings or as an expression/performance of their sexual identity. Later published in several articles and as Mother camp: female impersonators in America (1972), Newton's work represented the first major anthropological study of a homosexual community in the United States, and laid some of the groundwork for theorists such as Judith Butler, who would later explore the performative dimensions of sex and gender roles.[1]

Her second book, Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty years in America’s first gay and lesbian town (1993), used oral history and ethnographic methods to document the changing dynamics of Cherry Grove, a beach resort on Fire Island, New York and one of the oldest and most visible predominantly lesbian and gay communities in the United States.

Newton is currently Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Kempner Distinguished Research Professor at Purchase College, State University of New York. She is also a Lecturer in Women's Studies and American Culture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Personal life[edit]

Newton identifies as lesbian.[2][3] She is in a long-term partnership with controversial lesbian-feminist performance artist Holly Hughes.

Newton is the daughter of Saul Newton.



  • — (1968). The "Drag Queens": A Study in Urban Anthropology (Thesis). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago. T-17078.
  • — (1979). Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226577609.
  • — (1984). "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman". Signs. 9 (4): 557–575. doi:10.1086/494087.
  • — (1993). "My Best Informant's Dress: The Erotic Equation in Fieldwork". Cultural Anthropology. 8 (1): 3–23. doi:10.1525/can.1993.8.1.02a00010.
  • — (2000). Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas. Series Q. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822326045.
  • — (2001). "A Hard Left Fist". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 7 (1): 111–130. doi:10.1215/10642684-7-1-111.


  1. ^ a b Rubin, Gayle (2002) "Studying Sexual Subcultures: excavating the ethnography of gay communities in urban North America." In Ellen Lewin & William Leap (Eds.), Out in Theory: the emergence of lesbian and gay anthropology. Pp: 17-68. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
  2. ^ Newton, Esther (2000) Margaret Mead made me gay: personal essays, public ideas. Durham: Duke University Press.
  3. ^ Newton, Esther (forthcoming) My Butch Career: A Queer Life in Anthropology. New York: St. Martin's Press.

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