Alexis Coe is a columnist at The Awl, SF Weekly, and The Toast. She has contributed to The Atlantic, Slate, The Millions, The Hairpin, LA Weekly, The Bay Citizen, The Paris Review Daily, and other publications. Before moving to San Francisco, she worked as a research curator at the New York Public Library, where she co-curated the most popular exhibition in the library's 101 years.
On a cold winter's day in 1892, nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell slashed the throat of her seventeen-year-old ex-fiancée, Freda Ward. The two young women had, until recently, been madly in love, but after being found out and forced to separate, Alice's behavior became erratic. If Alice could not have Freda, no one could.
The passion and intrigue of this affair, and of course, its aftermath, turned the trial of these lovers in Memphis, Tennessee, into a national sensation. It was covered rabidly by local, national, and international newspapers, and widely referenced in medical and scientific publications of the time (not to mention books and plays). Their story had such an impact, in fact, that it has colored the scientific and media response to gay women in America ever since. It is now time for a reckoning with this strange (and strangely decisive) moment in American history.
This story is, first and foremost, a love story, replete with ardent letters (which will be reproduced here) and a secret engagement. But Alice and Freda Forever will combine a narrative history with artwork, manuscripts, news clippings, artifacts, and other ephemera, in order to give a full and many-hued picture of these two young women, their relationship, and the world that surrounded them. And in the end, it is a world that is strangely recognizable.