The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison

Bold Type. May 2022. 368p. ISBN 9781645036661. $30. SOC SCI
While this book is ostensibly about the New York City Women’s House of Detention, Greenwich Village’s forgotten queer landmark, it is also about so much more. Historian Ryan (When Brooklyn Was Queer) contextualizes the notorious prison, which stood from 1929 to 1974, in the realms of criminology, queer theory, women’s history, geography, and many other disciplines. Ryan’s book relies on extensive archival research, especially with the Women’s Prison Association, and engagement with other primary sources; the oral histories, historical and contemporary, that he cites particularly stand out. Ryan describes the Women’s House of Detention as a grueling place—overcrowded and neglected—whose residents (cisgender women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people) were denigrated by nearly all elements of society; the fact that many were held or convicted on sexual offenses only led to further opprobrium. Many of these people were queer; some were famous. Organized chronologically, Ryan’s book integrates interesting academic studies and provokes readers to view the prison in its larger sociocultural context. His lucid writing takes the book out of the academic realm of prison history and opens it to a wider readership that will find many insights relevant to contemporary incarceration.
VERDICT This blend of queer history and social history is highly recommended for all interested in learning about an often-overlooked landmark.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing