Which is the capital of Bohemian America, Greenwich Village in Manhattan or San Francisco's North Beach? Any casual survey of 20th century pop culture will inevitably lead you through one of these metro hamlets. Both have long-served as sanctuaries of the alternative-inclined.
Bohemian communities attract those compeled to alternative approaches to life. They are often thought of simply as artists communities, a view that is true but limited. In general, bohemians reject, or at least are not dominated by the materialistic drives of the larger society. Their political views are liberal, and sometimes radical. Their approach to sex tends to be unlimited by monogamy. Like most other communities, they seek out others who share their lifestyle.
Bohemia are cultural incubators in which alternative ideas are street-tested, mutate, often die and sometimes escape into the greater culture-sphere.
A few months ago I came across an article in Slate about Jessi Tarbox Beals, one of the first women newspaper photograpers in the US and a resident of Greenwich Village in the early decades of the 20th century. The pictures in the article were all taken between 1910 and 1920, the period in which Greenwich Village first became self-aware of its bohemianism.
The early history of the village, its notable residents and places, and its contributions to American pop culture will be the topics of future KultureKat posts.
Until then, here are a few pictures of the original Greenwich Village Bohemians from the Slate article and a few other sources. Look at the faces in these black and white photos and consider that some may be our cultural grandparents.
"Group portrait of people gathered at the Garrett Coffee House." (14 Photos Of Greenwich Village From Before You Were Born)
"In 1916, a small monthly magazine called The Ink Pot began publishing stories from its headquarters on Sheridan Square. With one Peter Newton acting as the editor, The Ink Pot was one of a number of short-lived publications in the neighborhood that covered the colorful lives of various Village bohemians. It also provided advertisements for shops, restaurants, and galleries in the area." (The Ink Pot' on Sheridan Square, Then & Now)
"Dancing in Charley Reed's Purple Pup, 186 West Fourth Street, Greenwich Village, circa 1910-1920." (Photos of Bohemian Partiers in New York’s Greenwich Village, 1910-1920)
"The corner house, now demolished, was at one time the grave digger's residence at the potter's field. In the early 1900s, it was occupied by a popular ice cream and soda shop on the ground floor and, for a while, by Bruno's Garret on the second floor. By the time this photograph was taken, Bruno was gone, and Grace Godwin, visible in the second-story window, had taken over the upstairs. Godwin added window boxes and served breakfast, afternoon tea, and after-dinner coffee." (This 1920s Washington Square Garret...)
And finally, meet Jessie Tarbox Beals. Born in 1870, like many educated women of her time, Jessie Tarbox trained as a teacher. She received her first assignment as newspaper photographer in 1899. She and her husband, Alfred Beals, opened a studio in Greenwhich Village in 1905, where she continued to photograph many of its residents for the next 20 years.
For the original Slate article which inspired this post see Photos of Bohemian Partiers in New York’s Greenwich Village, 1910-1920.
For a summary of the life and career of Jessie Tarbox Beals, Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942) at the Library of Congress website. ANother good summary is this New York Times article A Pioneer in a Man's World, She Was Tough Enough.
For the entire collection of Teal's Greenwhich Village photos, visit the New York Historical Society's Pinterest board. For a smaller selection of my favorites, go to the KultureKat Pinterest board.
Follow KultureKat's board Greenwich Village, 1910-20 on Pinterest.