A Woman to Know: Susanna Valenti

They formed a secret society just to be ... ordinary. — Murray Moss

They formed a secret society just to be ... ordinary. — Murray Moss

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

In the mid-1950s, Susanna and her wife bought 150 acres in the Catskills. Susanna was looking for a place to live out and proud as a transgender woman, and her wife Mary ran the town wig shop. They decided to turn their mountain hideaway into a secret resort for transgender women and other queer guests (at the time, many visitors identified as cross-dressers, which was still considered a crime in New York state).

“Casa Susanna” became a legendary haven for transgender travelers. Photos from the time show guests playing board games, sipping cocktails on the porch and laughing with other visitors.

As Susanna wrote in her column for Transvestia magazine:

Scene: The porch in the main house at our resort in the Catskill Mountains. The time: About 4 o’clock in the morning as Labor Day is ready to awaken in the distant darkness. The cast: Four girls just making small talk. ... It’s dark in the porch; just a row of lights illuminate part of the property at intervals — perhaps a bit chilly at 2,400 feet. ... An occasional flame lighting a cigarette throws a glow on feminine faces — just a weekend at the resort, hours in which we know ourselves a little better by seeing our image reflected in new colors and a new perspective through the lives of friends.

Some time in the 1960s, Casa Susanna closed to visitors. Susanna and her wife disappeared into their private lives in Hunter, New York, and the resort fell into disrepair.

In 2004, a man named Robert Swope bought a box of old photographs at a Manhattan flea market. He found a treasure trove of Casa Susanna photographs, which led to Susanna’s life’s work later being honored with a glossy book of photographs and a Broadway play.

Add to your library list: 

Read more:

Send your own recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition.