Vinegar Virgins

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Readers of The Renegade Queen are shocked by the unconventional romantic triangle of Benjamin Butler and Susan B. Anthony who both love the younger Anna Dickinson. Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian and we know this from her letters. While the term “lesbian” was not used in the 1870s, the terms “unsexed” and “manly” and “varietist” were used. One of her lovers, Anna Dickinson, was often referred to in the newspapers as the “vinegar virgin” while Susan was referred to as the “spinster virgin.” Anna Dickinson, twenty-two years younger than Susan, was pursued by both men and women. The staunch abolitionist activist, Anna flirted with anyone who could provide her moral or financial support. Benjamin Butler provided her financial support, he did not, however, have her heart. Anna’s flirtation, or affair, with Susan lasted nearly ten years. In 1862, Anna writes to Anthony of her needs:

I want to see you very much indeed, to hold your hand in mine, to hear your voice, in a word, I want you—I can’t have you? Well, I will at least put down a little fragment of my foolish self and send it to look up at you.

In 1866, Susan wrote Anna:

Well, Anna Darling—I do wish I could take you in these strong arms of mine this very minute.

In 1868, Susan begged in a letter for Anna not to marry a man and wrote, my bed is big enough and good enough to take you in.

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