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Best Post-Feminist History of NYC

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Did you hear the one about the entrepreneurial madam who built her business by serving both gangster Dutch Schultz and the lettered members of the Algonquin Round Table? Or the badass nurse whose grassroots public health initiative consisted of administering vaccines to drunks on the Bowery, at 2 a.m., while they were sleeping one off and couldn’t object? Julie Scelfo’s The Women Who Made New York is filled with long-forgotten stories like these (about Polly Adler and Sarah J. Baker, respectively) that we all should have learned in ninth-grade history, but didn’t because, well, history is supposed to be boring and these protagonists were women. Lest those tales still feel too much like homework, Scelfo also name-checks pop-culture icons like Yoko Ono, as well as Sylvia Robinson, Mother of Hip-Hop and founder of Sugar Hill Records. And the next time you’re walking past 129 MacDougal Street, take a moment to genuflect on the spot where pioneering gender-bender Eve Adams established her lesbian teahouse (“Men Admitted But Not Welcome”) back in 1925. Her subversive speakeasy may have been a century ahead of its time, but Adams’s sad fate — deported to Germany for her sexuality, and ultimately killed at Auschwitz — is all too relevant today. 

Seal Press

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