Published about a decade ago, Lesbian Histories and Cultures: an Encyclopedia (2000) was the final book length project edited by the feminist literary critic Bonnie Zimmerman. Totaling more than 800 pages, this encyclopedia was the first of an ambitious two volume reference guide that aimed to comprehensively survey “the complex histories and wide cultural diversity of lesbian and gay life.”
Thumbing through this volume, I stumbled upon an entry for “Greenwich Village,” prominently listed under the letter “G.” The abstract reads:
“Neighborhood in lower Manhattan in New York City has maintained a continuous lesbian presence throughout the twentieth century. Bounded by the Hudson River, Broadway, Fourteenth, and Houston streets, it was originally settled in the 1820s and 1830s by New York City’s wealthiest families, who moved there to escape a yellow-fever epidemic. At the end of the nineteenth century, it accommodated successive waves of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants.” 
The ensuing entry, two pages in length, was contributed by Christine Balka then a doctoral candidate at Temple University who was (appropriately enough) working on a dissertation concerning lesbians in Greenwich Village in the 1920s and 1930s. Well acquainted with the historical context, Balka’s entry competently and confidently narrates the lesbian history of Greenwich Village from its early twentieth century bohemian past to its continued importance as a site of “lesbian culture and political activity” at the time of the book’s writing.  Balka’s brief overview concludes with a photo of Barbara Grier, signaling the end of Balka’s entry on Greenwich Village and the of start the encyclopedia’s new “G” topic, focusing on the writer and editor Grier.
Sandwiched between the two entries, however, is a “See also” note that caught my attention. Specifically, the encyclopedia suggested that I might “See Also:” Daughters of Bilitis, Radicalesbians, and Lesbian Avengers…
The New York chapters of the Daughters of Bilitis, the Radicalesbians, and the Lesbian Avengers are, indeed, three lesbian organizations that I have become quite familiar with over the course of my research on 20th century lesbian feminist organizations in and around Greenwich Village. Furthermore, in keeping with much of the literature of the field, Lesbian Histories and Cultures: an Encyclopedia takes for granted that there is a definite connection between these three lesbian organizations and a geographical parcel of land beginning on Houston and ending on 14th street.
Building on these scholarly sources, I also initially approached the topic silently presupposing an inextricable link between Greenwich Village and lesbian (and gay) organizing. I was, therefore, alarmed and quite frustrated when my preliminary
survey of primary source material began to draw a very different map.
Let’s begin with the pioneering Daughters of Bilitis. Founded in San Francisco in 1955, the New York chapter of the Daughter of Bilitis formed in 1958 and existed until 1971. As the google map below illustrates, their headquarters bounced around Manhattan wherever affordable office space was available:
As you can see, never in their multi-decade existence was the DOB headquartered in Greenwich Village.
Similarly, the Radicalesbians also never had a Greenwich Village headquarters. Founded along with a myriad of post-Stonewall organizations, the Radicalesbians was an early splinter group of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Contemporaneous underground gay newspapers such as Come Out and Gay suggest that neither GLF nor the Radicalesbians had regular meetings spaces throughout their respective short existences. In 1969-1970 alone, GLF meetings were hosted in a range of places– including the Mattachine Society, the Church of the Holy Apostles, the Washington Square Methodist Church, and the Alternative University. Although GLF finally acquired a West Village loft in 1971, the chapter had more or less disbanded by that time. The Radicalesbians also shifted between hospitable locations, before settling on Daughters of Bilitis’ 141 Prince Street loft as the site of its regular Wednesday meetings. While there is no record of Radicalesbians moving with DOB to its final headquarters in the Lower East Side, neither organization remained active organizations into the 1970s. The 1971 end date of both DOB and GLF’s headquarters seems to be linked to the Gay Activist Alliance’s (another splinter group of the GLF) acquisition of an abandoned firehouse on 99 Wooster Street just down the block from Prince Street, which went on to serve as an unofficial gay and lesbian center until it was destroyed in a fire in 1974.
This brings us to the Lesbian Avengers. The first meeting of this direct action group dedicated to lesbian visibility and survival was held in 1992 as an informal get together at Ana Simo’s Lower East Side apartment. In attendance were longtime lesbian activists Maxine Wolfe, Anne Maguire, Marie Honan, Sarah Schulman, and Anne D’Adesky. “We sat around and had dinner and talked about if whether starting a lesbian group was a possibility. In forty minutes we had a name,” Wolfe recalls.  According to listings in the Center Voice, The Avengers held regularly scheduled weekly meetings at the Gay and Lesbian Services Center on 208 13th Street, beginning in December of 1992 and formally continuing until March of 1998. Finally, a lesbian organization that met in the Village!
The fact that the Lesbian Avengers met in the Village was in no small part due to the creation of the Gay and Lesbian Services Center (now the LGBT Center) in 1983. Founded in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the Center represented the first opportunity for widespread access to meeting space for lesbian organizations in the Village.
The dissonance between the firmly held cultural association between lesbian (and gay) organizing and the Village and the actual geographical locations of significant activist organizations, particularly before 1983, has slowly transformed from a problematic stumbling block in my research to the central intellectual stake of my project. In part, I was inspired by Stephen Robertson’s working essay “Putting Harlem on the Map” in which the writer considers the impact of the tremendous lack of precision that historical scholarship pays to Harlem’s geography. “Events and buildings are not given an address, or given only a partial or incorrect address,” he writes, “and little attention is paid to how that location is related to other places, to what is proximate or distant. It is enough to say that the places mentioned are somewhere in Harlem.”
In my research of the Village’s lesbian history, I’ve noticed a similar imprecision. What’s more, I continue to assemble a stockpile of anecdotal examples in which the geographical boundaries of the Village are magically stretched to encompass any and all gay and lesbian activity from Wall Street to 125th Street.
This blog post is something of an open question, but I’ve become very interested in how Greenwich Village shapes lesbian (and gay) history and visa versa and what sustains this connection in the 21st century. Certainly, tangible and symbolic institutions like the the Center and the pride parade’s annual pilgrimage to Christopher Street continue to mark the Village and and its history as gay. Because of this and more, I can’t imagine writing a lesbian history of NY without Greenwich Village as a referent. Paradoxically, I can’t writing imagine a lesbian history of Greenwich Village that is never allowed to override its own geography. All this makes me wonder if, and to what extent, Greenwich Village’s lesbian history has either remapped Greenwich Village or perhaps cannot be mapped on Greenwich Village.
 Bonnie Zimmerman, Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia (Garland Press, 1999), 344.
 Zimmerman, Lesbian Histories and Cultures, 346.
 Yolanda Retter, Anne-Marie Bouthillette, and Gordon Brent Ingram (editors). Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance (San Francisco, CA: Bay Press, 1997), 436.