My Grandmother was a gay pioneer…..

Imagine you are gay in the early part of the 20th century. How difficult that must have been, but my maternal grandmother was and it doesn’t seem that she was afraid to show it. What knowledge I have is gleaned from what little my mother told me and also from pictures of my Grandmother and her partner in an album that is almost a century old and one of my most treasured possessions. At one point my mother told me that my grandma had a diary and that diary was destroyed by my mother’s uncles’s wife after grandma died in 1933. I would give a kings ransom to have that diary and know how my grandmother really felt at that time.

Elma Etta Fairman 1922

My grandmother was Elma Etta Fairman, born December 23, 1892 in Providence, Rhode Island and died October 8, 1933 in Los Angeles, California. She was raised in Rhode Island with 2 sisters (one an adopted 1st cousin) and 3 brothers until somewhere around 1910 the entire family picked up and moved to Los Angeles, California. Grandma would have been about 18 years old and done with school. I have found that she started working in the bookbinding business and stayed with that trade until her death. In 1913 she married Leonard Ledger (1892-1918) who she met through work and in 1916 they had my mother Louise, (1916-2004) (her actual first name was Etta but if you called her by that name you would get such a look!) When my mother was only 2, in 1918, my grandfather Leonard died of tuberculosis. From what I can piece together, at first I believe grandma Elma moved in with her mother Helen into the small family home on Morton street in Los Angeles. My great grandfather Charles Fairman (1869-1956) was in the Army at the time and from what I can tell he and great grandmother Helen Harris Fairman (1870-1921) were separated and he was trying to get a divorce. But great grandmother Helen died in 1921 and my grandmother Elma and my mother Louise had to make other arrangements to live and take care of my mother.

Etta Louise Ledger 1921

In about 1921, at the age of 5, my mother was put into an orphanage in Pasadena where my grandmother paid for her keep.

At around this time I think my grandmother decided to go ahead and live the life she wanted with her girlfriend Amy Irene Hoag. Amy was born in 1893 and lived until 1979. I believe Amy and Elma met through work in the bookbinding business. Amy and Elma were together from at least 1921 until Elma’s death in 1933. When I asked my mother once what happened to Amy after Elma died she said that she only saw her once and she wasn’t kind. My mother had had my brother in 1934 when she was only 18, took him to see Amy and it seems Amy didn’t approve. Times sure have changed, and for the better if you ask me!

Elma and Amy in the early 1920’s – I can just feel the love they had.
Elma, Amy and my mother Louise in about 1921

My mother lived in the orphanage from about the age of 5 to 12. She would come home some weekends and take trips with her mom Elma and Amy, they went to Catalina, the beach, Exposition park and to visit Amy’s family.
There are many pictures in my beloved photo album of my grandmother Elma with Amy and Louise but none with Elma’s family so I don’t believe they approved.

On her deathbed, in 2004, my mother said to me “Judy, you know my mother was……..” and I said “yes, mom, I know she was gay and that is ok, she was a brave woman.” and mom smiled and nodded her head.

My mother Louise, my grandmother Elma and her partner Amy taken 1932.
This would be their last picture taken together before Elma died in 1933.


10 thoughts on “My Grandmother was a gay pioneer…..

  1. Wow that must have been so hard back then but what a strong woman to live the life she wanted. She looks so happy in the pictures. Great story!


  2. Even in our present-day, more open, society, I believe it still takes courage to be yourself. In the times in which she lived, she really was a true pioneer. I do agree that she seems to be quite happy in the photos!


  3. They both had to be strong to live the life they led openly, I’m sure it wasn’t easy. And to basically give up her daughter, probably so she wouldn’t get branded by association. Too bad you don’t have her diaries, what a story they’d tell!


    • Dianne, so right about the strong women they must have been. My mom was so loved by her mother and you may be right about the branding. I do know that my mom adored her mother, even though she lived in the orphanage she never was upset or angry about it and was happy to live with her when she turned 12. It was such a different time, one can only imagine what they all went through. Thank you for your thoughts.


  4. What a brave woman! I’m glad she had the courage to find happiness with her partner Amy. It would have been wonderful to have her diaries and to hear her story in her own words, too! Thank you for sharing her story!


  5. What a touching story, Judy. The photos really help cement it and make her struggle and joy real. Thanks for sharing and being open with the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

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