Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 5, 1933

On April 5, 1933, the New York Amsterdam News ran a review and photo from “Surprises of 1933,” featuring Harlem male doctors and dentists in drag. The amatuer revue was a fundraiser for Harlem's Edgecombe Sanitarium. The Amsterdam News’ review (“Pu-leeze, Doctor! You’re Surprising”) noted that one doctors “snakehips were nothing to throw Earl Tucker into a panic of fright; his Charleston wouldn’t necessarily arouse the envy of Josephine Baker, but his willingness and enthusiasm were all that could be desired.” The newspaper also featured a picture of several of the performers under the heading “Not Quite Ladies”:  “‘Oh you must come over,’ this charming quintet of ladies (?) seem to be saying. No, it is not the Hamilton Lodge Ball. It is only Drs. Albert Armstrong, Ralph Young, Conrad Edwards, James Granady, and Solomon Peterson at ‘Surprises of 1933,’ Friday and Sunday evening at Y.W.C.A. Surprised?” (Click to view article PDF.)

The reference to Hamilton Lodge Ball would have been immediately recognizable to Amsterdam News readers. Held at Rockland Palace (W. 155 St. & 8th Avenue), the Hamilton Lodge Ball was the largest of Harlem’s drag balls. The Amsterdam News noted that the 1932 affair drew over 7,000 people: “To use the exact words of one of the muscular-shouldered, beautifully-gowned creatures present, ‘a gorgeous, thrilling spectacle—a veritable glimpse of fairyland. Whoops!’” (Click to view article PDF.) The Amsterdam News review continued:

The frolic, which was respectfully called a “masquerade and civic ball,” is the annual occasion upon which members of one sex who wish to impersonate members of the other group may throw off their inhibitions and assume the roles of their desire. It is also the occasion for Harlem’s social elite, Broadway’s thrill seekers, and all the pseudo-scientists of the metropolitan area to gather and watch the spectacle. And, depression or no depression, Friday night’s affair was no exception...Compared to affair of other years, Friday’s “drag” maintained an almost respectable air until the pageant was finished. After that, though, the lid blew off and the impersonators started making promiscuous “passes” at the spectators.  Open, and often encouraged, flirtations were carried on: telephone numbers were passed; and broad shouldered bodies which would grace any football player or truck driver were rubbed suggestively against any man who happened to be standing near. In the same way, scores of masculine-looking women sought to touch the few unattached feminine spectators. 

The review was accompanied by a beautiful drawing of the beautiful people who won the pageant awards.

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