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Alice Austen House Designated as National LGBT Historic Site

By Nicholas Rizzi | June 16, 2017 9:52am | Updated on June 19, 2017 7:13am
 The historic designation of the Alice Austen House, one of the earliest female photographers, was expanded to include the photographer's significance in LGBT history.
The historic designation of the Alice Austen House, one of the earliest female photographers, was expanded to include the photographer's significance in LGBT history.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

ROSEBANK — The Hylan Boulevard home of one of the first female street photographers, Alice Austen, was designated a national LGBT historic site Thursday.

The National Register of Historic Places' designation for Austen's 2 Hylan Blvd. home, which she shared for nearly 30 years with her long-time partner Gertrude Tate, was updated to include the photographer's significance in LGBT history, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

"This new historic designation of for the Alice Austen House is a recognition of the full scope of this trailblazer’s life and is a further recognition of this state’s place in the struggle for LBGT rights," Cuomo said in a statement.

The 17th century home, dubbed "Clear Comfort" where Austen spent most her life, was originally added to the national registry in 1970 and expanded to include her 53-year relationship with Tate, who lived in the house with Austen between 1917 and 1945, Cuomo said.

Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate in 1944, photographed by Richard O'Cannon (Courtesy of Alice Austen House)

The museum will host a public announcement about the designation on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to noon with a keynote speech given by Joan E. Biren, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker known for chronicling the lives of LGBT individuals. 

The site was also recently included on the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project interactive map.

Austen was born in 1866 and grew up in the waterfront Rosebank home originally owned by her grandparents, according to the museum's website. She was introduced to photography by her uncle, Oswald Müller, and began taking photographs of herself, family and her home.

She later started to travel around Staten Island to photograph life in the borough and documented the city's changing working class on the streets of Manhattan during the 1890s.

A photograph of a postman in 1896, part of Alice Austen's street photography portfolio. (Courtesy Alice Austen House)

For those shots, Austen would bike from her Rosebank home to Manhattan carrying nearly 50 pounds of equipment, according to the museum.

She also photographed herself and women dressed as men and explored gender and societal norms in her photographs, Cuomo said.

Alice Austen, Trude and I, masked, short skirts 1891, glass plate negative. (Collection of Historic Richmond Town.)

In 1899, she met Tate, a kindergarten teacher and dance instructor, at a Catskills hotel and the pair started a relationship. Tate later moved into Austen's house in 1917.

Austen lost her grandfather's inheritance in the 1929 stock market crash and later lost her home in 1945, according to her biography.

The couple then moved into a small apartment but quickly moved out when they couldn't afford the rent. Tate's family offered to pay for her housing — but without Austen — so Austen got admitted to the Staten Island Farm Colony in 1950.

She died two years later in 1952 and left behind a body of work of nearly 8,000 images.

Tate later died in 1962 and the couple wanted to be buried together, but their families denied their wish, according to the museum.

Her house currently houses a photography museum dedicated to her life and work as well as exhibits showcasing modern photographers.