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Esther Newton

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Esther Newton
Born1940 (age 83–84)
Occupation(s)Author, 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 who performed 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 male 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] She is in a long-term relationship with lesbian-feminist performance artist Holly Hughes.[3] They married in 2015.[4]

Newton is the daughter of psychotherapist Saul B. Newton.[5]


  • 1994: Ruth Benedict Prize for Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America's First Gay and Lesbian Town (1993).
  • 1995: David R. Kessler Award for LGBTQ Studies, CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies[6]
  • 2000: Ruth Benedict Prize for Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas (2000).


  • The "Drag Queens": A Study in Urban Anthropology (Thesis). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago. 1968. T-17078.
  • Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Anthropology of Modern Societies Series. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1972. ISBN 0136028543. LCCN 76037634.
  • Amazon Expedition: a Lesbian Feminist Anthology. Washington, New Jersey: Times Change Press. 1973. ISBN 0878100261. LCCN 73079902. (co-editor)
  • Womenfriends: Our Journal. New York, New York: Friends Press. 1976. (co-authored with Shirley Walton)
  • "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman". Signs. 9 (4): 557–575. 1984. doi:10.1086/494087. ISSN 0097-9740. S2CID 144754535.
  • "My Best Informant's Dress: The Erotic Equation in Fieldwork". Cultural Anthropology. 8 (1): 3–23. 1993. doi:10.1525/can.1993.8.1.02a00010. ISSN 0886-7356.
  • Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America's First Gay and Lesbian Town. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press. 1993. ISBN 080707926X. LCCN 92043092.
  • Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. 2000. ISBN 978-0822326045. LCCN 00029400.
  • "A Hard Left Fist". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 7 (1): 111–130. 2001. doi:10.1215/10642684-7-1-111. ISSN 1064-2684. S2CID 145329133.
  • "Lesbians in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1999". OutHistory. 2008. (Lesbian History project, University of Michigan)
  • My Butch Career: A Memoir. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. 2018. ISBN 978-1478001294. LCCN 2018016914.


  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. Duke University Press.
  3. ^ Levitt, Aimee (May 23, 2013). "Queer histories in the making". Chicago Reader.
  4. ^ Newton, Esther (2018). "Acknowledgements". My Butch Career: A Memoir. Duke University Press. ISBN 9781478001294.
  5. ^ Lambert, Bruce (December 23, 1991). "Saul Newton, 85, Psychotherapist And Leader of Commune, Dies". New York Times.
  6. ^ "Lecture Honors Esther Newton's Butch Career – CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies". Retrieved 2022-05-15.

External links[edit]