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Esther Newton

Professor Emerita of Anthropology

Esther Newton is a cultural anthropologist best known for her pioneering work on the ethnography of lesbian and gay communities in the United States. Newton studied history at the University of Michigan and received her BA with distinction in 1962 before starting her graduate work in anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Newton is the author of numerous articles and three groundbreaking books: Mother camp: female impersonators in America (1972); Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty years in America’s first gay and lesbian town (1993); and Margaret Mead made me gay: personal essays, public ideas (2000). The latter two won the Ruth Benedict Award of the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists of the American Anthropological Association. Her memoir, My Butch Career: A Queer Life in Anthropology, is from St. Martin‘s Press.

Among other distinctions, Newton was the scholarly advisor for the award-winning documentary film Paris Is Burning and the documentary series A Question of Equality, a founding member of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center (now the Center for LGBTQ Studies), and a member of the advisory group for the Stonewall History Project.

Esther Newton was a founding member of Purchase College, joining the faculty in 1971. During her distinguished 35-year career at the college, Newton helped establish the anthropology program and was a founding member of the lesbian and gay studies and the women’s studies programs (the two antecedents of the current program in gender studies). In 1998, she was named Doris and Carl Kempner Distinguished Professor for 1998–2000, an honor that accompanies a competitive two-year senior faculty research award. She was also honored by the Purchase College Student Union and nominated twice for the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Newton is now also retired from her subsequent position as term professor of American culture and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


  • Newton, Esther (1968): “The drag queens; a study in urban anthropology.” PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, Dept. of Anthropology.
  • Newton, Esther (1979): Mother camp: Female impersonators in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Originally published 1972 by Prentice-Hall]
  • Newton, Esther (1993): Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty years in America’s first gay and lesbian town. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Newton, Esther (2000): Margaret Mead made me gay: personal essays, public ideas. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Newton, Esther: My Butch Career: A Memoir. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.