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Queer Art & Archives

Women, devoted by Alison Dobslaw

“I simply ache for you every time I look at the sea.”  

"My dear lamb," 

“With my liove, O patient one” 

"Dear lamb"  

"Lilly will certainly think you have a lover if I continue to write to you" 

"Good night beloved,"

"My dear Bud" 

"Won’t it be swell to have a chance to get sick and tired of you?" 

"My best beloved," 

"My love to you darling,"  

The letters Frieda Fraser and Edith (Bud) Bickerton Williams exchanged during a period of separation inspired this project. Their records were donated to the University of Toronto Archives following Frieda’s death in 1994, acquired due to her career as a professor of microbiology at U of T. Written daily between 1925 and 1927, the correspondence documents their relationship as “devoted women,” and the development of their “love, sensuality, and sexuality.” This extensive collection of letters exists because Bud was sent to live in England, as her family believed she was too close to Fraser and hoped she would find a husband. Despite this separation, they remained lifelong partners and eventually shared a home on the Niagara escarpment where they enjoyed gardening, which shaped this project.  

Inspired by critical fabulation, I speculated about what might have been, imagining Frieda eagerly waiting to reunite with Edith after such a prolonged absence, holding flowers wrapped haphazardly in her haste. The bouquet I created to represent this experience consisted of flowers I made of paper, on which I wrote phrases pulled from their letters, fresh greenery, and dried roses. Grappling with the limits of the archives, I cannot know how they felt upon reuniting in 1927. The correspondence, through which they expressed their desires, identities, and daily experiences to each other, had ended. Subsequently, no account of their reunion exists.

I sought to demonstrate devotion and happiness, expressions often purposefully absent from queer records in the archives. Frieda’s love of gardening remains well-documented in her diaries and notebooks. I decided to incorporate potted violets into my series of photographs. Associated with queer women since Sappho, I hope to plant these violets to create something lasting, reflecting the longevity of Frieda and Edith's relationship.

The flowers I created and utilized reflect the Victorian “language of flowers,” a decision influenced by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's writing on female relationships duirng this era. The following are the meanings commonly associated with floriography:

Red roses: Love, passion

Pink roses: Perfect happiness, femininity 

White roses: New beginnings, innocence, young love

Lavender roses: Love at first sight, enchantment

Pink carnations: A woman's love, I'll never forget you, 

Green carnations: Queer coded symbol to indicate interest in men, worn by Oscar Wilde in 1892 on his lapel. 

Baby's breath: Everlasting love

Lavender: Devotion; Associated with lesbian feminist activists, the "Lavendar Menace."

Violet: Loyalty, devotion, faithfulness; Sappho often referenced violets in her poetry; The Captive, a 1926 play, was censored due to themes of lesbianism, as an unseen malevolent woman sends bunches of violets to her young love interest, Irène, who is tortured by her same-sex desire. Frieda and Edith discussed this play.


Fraser/Williams Correspondence, Fraser Family Personal Records, Accession: B95-0044/036/01. University of Toronto Archives.  

Hartman, Sadiya. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. W.W. Norton & Co., 2020. 

Prager, Sarah. “Four Flowering Plants That Have Been Decidedly Queered.” Jstor Daily: Politics & History, 2020. 

Perdue, Katherine Anne. Writing Desire: The Love Letters of Frieda Fraser and Edith Williams. 2014. York University, PhD dissertation.  

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 1975, pp. 1-29. 

Women, devoted by Alison Dobslaw