Mabel Hampton

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Mabel Hampton
Mabel Hampton.jpg
c. 1919
May 2, 1902

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
DiedOctober 26, 1989
New York, New York

Mabel Hampton (May 2, 1902 – October 26, 1989) was an American lesbian activist, a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance, and a philanthropist for both black and lesbian/gay organizations.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on May 2, 1902, Hampton was only two months old when her mother died. She was then raised by her grandmother, who died when Hampton was seven years old.

In 1909, the seven-year-old Hampton was put on a train to New York City, where she went to live with her aunt and uncle. Within a year, Hampton ran away from that home, having been raped by her uncle and treated poorly by the family. From ages eight to 17, Hampton lived with a white family in New Jersey.

In 1919, while attending a women-only party in Harlem, Hampton was falsely imprisoned for sex-work.[2] She viewed her imprisonment as being lesbian encoded. After serving 13 months of a three-year sentence in Bedford Hills, Hampton was released on condition she stayed away from New York.[3]

Later life and career[edit]

In the 1920s, Hampton danced in all-black productions for Harlem Renaissance notables, including Jackie "Moms" Mabley. This artistic, political and cultural milieu provided Hampton access to other dancers, artists, and gays and lesbians.

As dance work declined, Hampton left the chorus lines. As quoted by Erin Sexton-Sayler,[1] Hampton explained, "I like to eat." At this point, Hampton began what was to be her longest career: a cleaning woman for white families in New York City. Joan Nestle, the daughter of one of these families, went on to co-found the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City.

Mabel Hampton enjoyed a romantic and sexual relationship with Lillian B. Foster (November 13, 1894 – August 7, 1978), whom Hampton met in 1932. The two remained a couple until Foster's death in 1978. Along with her lesbian contemporaries, Hampton volunteered for the New York Defense Recreation Committee (1943); as part of this committee, she collected cigarettes and refreshments for American World War II soldiers.

Hampton died on October 26, 1989 from pneumonia at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.[4]


With only her working-class income, Hampton managed to attend performances of the Negro Opera Company, as well as to contribute to the Martin Luther King Memorial Fund and, later, to gay and lesbian organizations.

In addition to her financial contributions to gay and lesbian organizations, Hampton marched in the first National Gay and Lesbian March on Washington, and she appeared in the films Silent Pioneers and Before Stonewall. She was profiled posthumously in the documentary Not Just Passing Through.[5] In 1984, Hampton spoke before thousands of onlookers at New York City Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade in 1984; there, she said, "I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people." She was the grand marshal for Pride march in 1985.[4] Hampton left a legacy of invaluable archival materials to the Lesbian Herstory Archives. In particular, she donated her extensive lesbian pulp fiction collection to the Archives in 1976.[6] As well, throughout her career and adult life in New York, Hampton collected memorabilia, ephemera, letters, and other records documenting her history, providing a window into the lives of black women and lesbians during the Harlem Renaissance, which she also donated to the Archives. In 1992, Joan Nestle delivered the first Kessler Lecture for the CUNY Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, titled "I Lift My Eyes to the Hill": the Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman.[7]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rogerson, Steph Schem (June 2018). "I, Mabel Hampton, Political Power and the Archive". Intellect. 29 (57).


  1. ^ a b "Mabel Hampton: Lesbian Pioneer" ~
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history in America. Stein, Marc. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons/Thomson/Gale. 2004. ISBN 0-684-31261-1. OCLC 52819577.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Queer Ideas : the Kessler Lectures in Lesbian & Gay Studies. Duberman, Martin., Solomon, Alissa., Currah, Paisley. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY. 2003. ISBN 9781558614161. OCLC 957126611.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b "Mabel Hampton, Gay Rights Advocate, 87". Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  5. ^ "Not Just Passing Through". Internet Archive. 1994. Retrieved 7 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "Digital Collections". Lesbian Herstory Archives. Retrieved 4 January 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ "The Annual Kessler Award". CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies. Retrieved 19 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)