Gladys Bentley was a non-conforming icon of the 1920s. Born in Philadelphia in 1907, she moved to New York at age sixteen after being harassed in her community for dressing in boys’ clothes and having feelings for her female teacher. Bentley heard that Harry Hansberry’s Clam House in Manhattan was looking for a male pianist – so she dressed in a tuxedo, auditioned, and got the gig. She was a multi-talented musician who also regularly performed as a blues singer and was known to belt songs about male exploitation and domestic abuse. A black lesbian who often cross-dressed, Bentley famously pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality while creating spaces of inclusivity. Today, she is recognized as one of America’s most successful black entertainers of the 1920s.
Popular historians are overwhelmingly male, so it is no surprise that women are overshadowed in history. You can counteract this by reading books written by female historians, doing your own research on prominent women leaders, and vocally speaking out against the mansplaining of history.