More Clues to My Mother’s Lesbian Affair
Eddie’s Last Name and More
I gave up finding out more about my mother’s admirer, Edna L., whom I suspected had been her lover. Then one day while looking through a box of family photos and letters my brother Don had taken with him to Vancouver, I found another scrapbook made by my mother, Florence Wick. This was mostly high school-era, 1920s-1930 (Flo had graduated in the class of 1929½). But she had tucked mementos from other decades into it. Among the high school graduation notices, I was delighted to find another note from Eddie (as she sometimes signed her name) in her now familiar diminutive handwriting. It was an invitation to a party during the 1938 Columbus YWCA Biz Pro conference. It said:
In the Wick and Lauterbach den
On Wednesday night at half past ten
We hope you’ll join us for a spree
To give us one more Council memory
Then there is one of Eddie’s cute stick figure drawings — two skirted figures with F and E written underneath. It was written on Neil House stationery and dated April 27, 1938. At the bottom it says, “Just to be sure that my roommate will be here to act as co-hostess with me.” While they were roommates Eddie couldn’t keep Flo at home it seems. She stayed at meetings lasting long into the night.
I had found Eddie’s last name — Lauterbach — the one thing I’d been searching for in the scrapbooks, the one thing I needed in order to find out more about the woman who wanted to seduce my mother! I was so happy I danced around the house singing her name.
Googling her name got me to the Edna A. Lauterbach scholarship fund for the education of nurses. She was a nurse who championed home care. Then I started making up stories. I imagined Edna was an important historical figure, an organizer. Perhaps she had been a speaker at the conference. I imagined she traveled around the country on speaking tours seducing women in every town. I wondered whether Eddie had had lots of lovers, or no lovers at all. Was she the archetype of the lonely lesbian who never found her mate? Was it hard to seduce women in the 1930s?
I wrote to the scholarship fund to see if they could provide more biographical information. The marketing director got right back to me saying it was a different person, as the age didn’t match up. This Edna Lauterbach was not even born until after the meeting in Columbus took place. Scratch her and all my associated fantasies.
Then my brother Don and I got on the computer and looked at census records. We found an Edna R. Lauterbach, born in 1900 and died in August 1979 who lived her entire life in Brooklyn, NY, and after 1930 in a 43-unit apartment house on 88th Street. I found pictures of the building, built in 1926. The apartments now sell in the million-dollar range, so I’m guessing the neighborhood was gentrified long ago. But when the Lauterbach family moved in, this would have been a working class neighborhood.
Edna had two sisters, one named Gertrude. This was a deciding clue, as her sister Gertrude had been mentioned in one of the other notes found in Flo’s scrapbooks. Don found records for Edna in the 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940 censuses. In all, she was single and living in the family home. By 1940 their father (a truck maker whose parents had emigrated from Germany) had died, but the three sisters were all still unmarried, in their thirties and living at home with their mother. A household of old maids! Perhaps all the sisters were lesbians.
According to the census, Edna worked in advertising. She was a workingwoman, a stenographer who managed to keep a job through the Great Depression. In 1939 she worked in advertising 44 hours per week and 52 weeks in the year. Her income was $2040 that year.
She was there for the Mad Men era, although she would have been 60 years old in 1960. I imagine her as the staid older secretary who runs interference for her philandering boss while correcting his spelling and grammar and making him look good. She may have worked in the industry until she retired, possibly at the same job.
Her parents were ethnically German and my guess is they were not Jewish. But they could have been. Although the YWCA is a Christian women’s organization, it did work with Jewish groups against anti-Semitism and to prod the government to increase numbers of Jewish refugees allowed into the U.S. during the Nazi era. Jewish women did join the YW, usually as members of the Biz-Pro groups or associated Jewish organizations.
There is no evidence the two women ever saw each other again after 1941 when Flo traveled to New York to visit Eddie. My mother returned to her hometown of Yakima, Washington where (after a two-year stint in Europe with the Red Cross during WWII) she married, raised four kids and lived the rest of her life. It seems Edna L. lived out her life in her family home on 88th Street in Brooklyn.
It turns out Edna R. Lauterbach wasn’t anybody famous. I couldn’t even find a funeral notice for her, although we did learn that she is buried in the famous Brooklyn Greenwood cemetery with some 560,000 others.
Edna Lauterbach and my mother were two of the thousands of workingwomen who benefited from their membership in the Business and Professional Women’s organizations under the umbrella of the YWCA. One benefit was being able to make friends with other workingwomen from around the country. And, for lesbians, to connect with women who might become lovers.
Eddie surely had a giant crush on Flo and my heart aches as I read her letters. My mother never revealed that she’d had a sexual relationship with another woman, but when I came out to her in the 1970s she confessed that she had known lesbians. And the name Edna Lauterbach is vaguely familiar to me. Did Flo tell me about her? I can’t remember. But it seems as if they kept up the friendship for some years at least. What was the nature of their relationship? They were certainly close friends, and possibly lovers, although I have found no conclusive proof — yet.
To be continued…