1891-06-27

EVE ADAMS, (nee Chawa Zloczower) born on this date, was variously called a “novelty girl,” “a bit of an anarchist,” “the queen of the third sex,” “a self-professed ‘man-hater,’” the author of an indecent book and, finally, Passenger 847 on Transport 63 to Auschwitz.

Adams was also an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant America in the 1920s and ’30s, one who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian.

Her Lesbian Love, a collection of short stories and illustrations, was published in February 1925. Written under the pseudonym Evelyn Addams, it explores the sexual awakenings and gender-defying nature of several dozen women of varying social pedigrees whom Adams had met in Greenwich Village and in her travels around the country as a roving saleswoman of revolutionary multilingual periodicals. She changed the names of her characters to protect their identities.

Ms. Adams gave copies to friends in the Village, where she ran Eve’s Hangout, a lesbian-friendly tearoom where she hosted salons and poetry readings. (Earlier, while living briefly in Chicago she had run The Grey Cottage, another literary haunt that doubled as a refuge for gay people.)

But Adams was also an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant America in the 1920s and ’30s, one who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian. At the time, books like Adams’s were considered indecent and often burned. Her 150 printed copies of “Lesbian Love” disappeared. Over time her work faded from memory.

Filled with wanderlust as a young woman, she boarded the S.S. Vaderland in Antwerp, Belgium, and, at age 20, arrived alone on Ellis Island in New York in June  1912. 

Preferring men’s clothes and women’s company, Adams lived her life boldly at a time when the world considered 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 taboos-shattering author Henry Miller.

The United States government considered Adams an “agitator,” records show. Headed by the closeted J. Edgar Hoover, the “Radical Division” of the agency that would become the F.B.I. had been charged with spying on her since at least 1919.

She was arrested in 1927 by an undercover police officer, Margaret M. Leonard, who had walked into Eve’s Hangout and obtained a copy of Lesbian Love. The book was deemed indecent, and Adams was held on several charges, including disorderly conduct. She was convicted and spent 18 months in jail before being deported to Poland in Dec.ember 1927.

In 1933, Adams met Hella Olstein Soldner, a cabaret singer from Germany. Adams later described their meeting as “fate.” In a letter to a friend, she called Soldner a “most beloved girl.” They lived together from then on — even after Soldner had married a man — though their relationship was never openly described as romantic.

By June 1940, as German troops were approaching Paris, the women fled to the south of France. There are suggestions in the research about them that they may have aided the Resistance. The women were arrested while living in Nice and hauled to the Drancy internment camp in Paris in December 1943.

Later that month they were crammed, with about 850 Jews, onto cattle cars headed for Auschwitz, according to Nazi police records. The journey took three days. Just 31 of the group lived to see liberation, in 1945, and though there is no record of their deaths at the camp, Adams and Soldner were not among them.
 
A street in Paris’s 18th Arrondissement, on the right bank near Porte de La Chapelle, now bears her name, celebrating her contribution to the city as a “pioneer activist for women’s rights.” A school and nursery there are also named for her, and a dedication ceremony involving the Polish and American embassies is scheduled for fall 2021.