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Publisher's Summary

This singular history of a prison, and the queer women and trans people held there, is a window into the policing of queerness and radical politics in the twentieth century.

The Women’s House of Detention, a landmark that ushered in the modern era of women’s imprisonment, is now largely forgotten. But when it stood in New York City’s Greenwich Village, from 1929 to 1974, it was a nexus for the tens of thousands of women, transgender men, and gender-nonconforming people who inhabited its crowded cells. Some of these inmates—Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Afeni Shakur—were famous, but the vast majority were incarcerated for the crimes of being poor and improperly feminine. Today, approximately 40 percent of the people in women’s prisons identify as queer; in earlier decades, that percentage was almost certainly higher.

Historian Hugh Ryan explores the roots of this crisis and reconstructs the little-known lives of incarcerated New Yorkers, making a uniquely queer case for prison abolition—and demonstrating that by queering the Village, the House of D helped defined queerness for the rest of America. From the lesbian communities forged through the Women’s House of Detention to the turbulent prison riots that presaged Stonewall, this is the story of one building and much more: the people it caged, the neighborhood it changed, and the resistance it inspired.

©2022 Hugh Ryan (P)2022 Bold Type Books
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“In this essential, abolitionist work, historian and author of When Brooklyn Was Queer Hugh Ryan uncovers the stories of this bewildering place and of the people who populated it.” (Electric Literature)

“By using queer history as a framework, Ryan makes the case for prison abolition stronger than ever. Part history text, part call to activism, this book is compelling from start to finish.” (BuzzFeed)

What listeners say about The Women's House of Detention

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absolutely stunning

this book, was enthralling. I found it entirely engaging and it left me wanting more history on the women and trans mascs of Greenwich village.

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excellent excellent book

The information presented was thorough and captivating. I will recommend to others queer and straight alike

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As promised, a stunner of a book.

Rave reviews by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, smart magazines, and scholars all agreed. The book is one of those rare cross-genre works of impeccable research that reads like a page-turning best-seller you just can’t put down. Metzger’s reading is on key, her intonations in tune with the outrageous history of this notorious jail, balancing sympathetic notes in providing the stories of women whose lives were marred not only within its walls but by aftereffects for years.

Who knew there was a time in New York when police cracked down hard on women for the crime of wearing pants? Hugh Ryan has brought to light in stunning detail a slew of societal crimes committed through generations by a homophobic and misogynistic culture. Everyone who cares about human rights and government-sponsored cruelty and bigotry should read this book, as well as those concerned about flaws in the justice system in America.

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very interesting

a good lesson in queer history before the Stonewall riots. I am glad I picked up this book after the NPR interview.