Saturday, June 3, 2017

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast, excerpt five)

from Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast by Megan Marshall:

The post at the Library of Congress, which she’d been hesistant to accept, brought worries Elizabeth didn’t mention in letters or perhaps even articulate to herself. Her term in office came at the midpoint of a postwar decade during which the federal government determined to rid itself of the “constant menace” posed by homosexual employees. Six thousand workers were fired between 1945 and 1956 in a crusade for “morality and decency” nearly as visible as the concurrent hunt for Communist Party members and sympathizers. From her office at the library, Elizabeth looked out on the capital’s buildings, “all those piles of granite and marble,” which failed to impress the granddaughter of John W. Bishop, contractor. The solidity of her surroundings masked the insteady foundation of her appointment, and that of any homosexual employed by the federal government at the time. During the spring of her Washington year, in a campaign that became known as the “purge of the perverts,” security officials in the State Department boasted of firing one homosexual per day, twice the rate of firings for political disloyalty. Most of those who lost their jobs were men, but government work was one of few options for professionally ambitious women, who could fall under suspicion simply for dressing unconventionally, sharing an apartment with another woman, or socializing in bars known as meeting places for lesbians. Perhaps the loneliness Elizabeth suffered so acutely in Washington, where she lived for most of the year in a women’s boarding house in Georgetown, was due to the need for more than usual secrecy about her private life, a concealment that amounted to suppression.

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