Rural, Queer, Settler: Astrid Arnoldsen’s Montana, c. the 1920s

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:50 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1A (Colorado Convention Center)
Emily E. Skidmore, Texas Tech University
This paper will explore the life of Astrid Arnoldsen, a lesbian woman who lived in Missoula, Montana in the early twentieth century. Arnoldsen was born in Sweden, immigrated to the United States as a young girl, and moved to Missoula, Montana with her family. Intellectually gifted, she studied at Stanford and Berkeley. Upon graduation, however, she chose to leave the Bay Area and return to Montana. Back in Missoula, she pursued various lesbian relationships, and frequently went on camping trips with other women—often while dressed in men’s clothing. Indeed, it was in the mountains around Missoula and in Yellowstone and Glacier National parks that Arnoldsen felt free enough to explore her male alter ego “Bob.” Through an examination of Arnoldsen’s diaries and scrapbooks, this paper will ruminate on Arnoldsen’s choices, and explore what they reveal to us about queer history and settler colonialism. In a period wherein queer subcultures proliferated in U.S. urban centers, Arnoldsen chose to leave California’s Bay Area, and sought refuge in the mountains of Montana. In traveling from an urban area to a rural one, she challenges the presumption that cities provided liberation in ways rural areas could not. However, Arnoldsen’s ability to feel free to explore her gender and sexuality in the mountains of Montana came at a steep price for the region’s indigenous population. As such, this paper will examine how liberation for white queers often comes at the expense of other populations, rendered vulnerable and/or forcibly removed by state violence.