In 1923, after the death of both her parents, prominent Salt Lake lesbian, Edith Mary Chapman opened her home just across the street from Liberty Park (615 South 900 East) as a boarding house for other lesbians, most of whom were Latter Day Saints or had a Mormon background.
Chapman herself had been raised Episcopalian, although her mother, Sarah Ann Briggs Champman, had been a member of the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company of Mormon immigrants. Sarah Ann Briggs Chapman lost her father and many of her siblings during the handcart trek, and her mother had died soon after their arrival in Utah from a scorpion bite. The young, orphaned Sarah Ann was married off in a polygamous marriage at the age of 14 to the 42 year old George Handley.
Surprisingly, Sarah Ann was pregnant within a week of her marriage and at the age of 23 found herself the widowed mother of four small children. Embittered by her experiences in Mormonism (especially church-sanctioned pedogamy – adults marrying children), she left the church and joined the Anglican Communion, belying the common Mormon belief that all Martin Company survivors remained faithful to the Mormon religion.
Consequently, Sarah Ann’s children were taken from her by the Handley relatives to be raised Mormon under orders from leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sarah Briggs Handley then married the pioneer dentist Arvis Chapman, and their first child was Edith Mary Chapman. Arvis Chapman’s sister, Ann E. Chapman was also a lesbian, and Utah’s first public librarian. The Chapman Branch of the Salt Lake Public Library system is named for the pioneering Lesbian librarian.
Edith Chapman studied at the Oquirrh School and then the University of Utah, where she became a Critic Teacher and an instructor in Elementary Education. Edith opened her home to other professional, lesbian boarders beginning in 1923. Grace Nickerson, an instructor at the LDS School of Music (in the McCune Mansion) was the first boarder in Edith’s lesbian boarding house. A year later, Chapman met Mildred “Barry” Berryman, another Episcopalian lesbian from Salt Lake (who had converted to Mormonism briefly in her youth, at least long enough to receive a Patriarchal Blessing). Mildred’s first female lover had been Mae Anderson, a prominent violin teacher in Salt Lake (who would join the LDS School of Music faculty in 1924, where other prominent Mormon homo/bisexuals taught. The relationship of Berryman and Anderson lasted until approximately 1922.
Edith had been in one previous relationship of several years duration with another female school teacher “who was masculine, dominating and aggressive”, but the relationship was finally broken by the other woman, who was “tired of [Edith’s] persistent attention and ceaseless demands upon her time.” For several years after this break-up, Edith had “made no further amatory attachments and devoted her time and attention to study and teaching”, but when Edith met Mildred Berryman in 1924, she “fell desperately in love” and Barry Berryman moved into Edith’s home.
While their romantic relationship only lasted a short time, Barry continued living in the Lesbian boarding house until 1929. Berryman went on to complete her study of the homosexual community of Salt Lake. After Grace Nickerson moved out of the house, Dorothy Graham replaced her. Dorothy was a lesbian and the manager of the Coon Chicken Inn in Salt Lake (a well-known restaurant owned by her family, which featured male drag performers, such as Julian Eltinge, during the 1920s and 30s).
Shortly after, Carline Monson joined the women, as a live-in cook at the boarding house. Carline Monson is the aunt of Thomas S. Monson, former apostle turned prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Carline never married, although she referred to herself as “Mrs. Monson” on occasion. In the mid-1930s, Edith Chapman closed the boarding house, leaving the home to Carline Monson, and Edith permanently relocated to Berkeley, California. Edith died in Oakland, California in 1967. Her obituary referred to herself as “the loving friend of Miss Dorothy J. Wobbs.” Edith is buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake, next to her parents and brother.
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