The Women’s House of Detention stood in New York City’s Greenwich Village from 1929 to 1974. Throughout its history, it was a nexus for tens of thousands of women, trans men, and gender nonconforming people. Some of these inmates—Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur—were famous, but the vast majority were detained for the crimes of being poor or gender nonconforming. Today, approximately 40 percent of the people in women’s prisons identify as queer; in earlier decades, that percentage was almost certainly higher.
In The Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison (Bold Type Books, 2022), writer, activist, and historian Hugh Ryan explores the history of queerness, transness, and gender nonconformity by reconstructing the little-known lives of incarcerated New Yorkers. He makes a clear case for prison abolition and demonstrates how the House of D, as it was colloquially known, helped define queerness for the rest of the United States. From the lesbian communities forged through the Women’s House of Detention to the turbulent prison riots that presaged Stonewall, this is the story of a jail, the people it caged, the neighborhood it changed, and the resistance it inspired.
Hugh Ryan is a writer, historian, and curator in New York City. His first book When Brooklyn Was Queer won a 2020 NYC Book Award and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice in 2019. Hugh Ryan regularly teaches creative nonfiction at SUNY Stonybrook and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Archives at the LGBT Center in Manhattan and the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fr. Lauderdale.
Leo Valdes is a PhD candidate in the History Department at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.