Pauline Hall

Pauline Hall. Photographer unknown. Oslo museum, city historical collection.
Pauline Hall. Photographer unknown. Oslo museum, city historical collection.
The composer Pauline Hall (1890-1969) was queer in many ways: She was a female composer in a time when it was questioned if women were even capable of creative thought and creation. And she lived with another woman for large parts of her life.

Pauline Hall was the daughter of a pharmacist, born in Hamar in 1980. She trained as a composer in Oslo, Paris and Dresden, and became one of the leading Norwegian music critics and composers in the 20th century. Hall was interested in new developments in contemporary music, but was drawn to popular music such as jazz and spirituals, as well as Kurt Will and Bertolt Brechts innovative cabaret music. 

Caro and Pauline

For many years, Hall lived with the journalist Caroline «Caro» Olden (1887-1981). The two women moved in together in Munkedamsveien 75 at Skillebekk in Oslo in 1942, and remained living together until Pauline died in 1969, only interrupted by Caros imprisonment at Grini from May 1943 to December 1944. It is not known exactly when they met. Astrid Kvalbein, who has written the PhD thesis Musical Modernization (2013) about Pauline Hall as a composer and theater person, believes they could have been aware of each other since the 1920s. Olden came to Oslo in 1923 and started working as a journalist in Arbeiderbladet, and later worked as a freelance writer and editor of the magazine Film. They were both active in Norges Yrkeskvinders landsforbund (The National Association for Working Women in Norway) from the 1930s onward, a vibrant political and social scene. After the war they were both associated with the national newspaper Dagbladet, wher Caro worked as a culture journalist and theatre critic, and Pauline worked as a music critic. 

Astrid Kvalbein shows that the relationship between Hall and Olden, which has only briefly been suggested in earlier writings about the two women, was commonly known and accepted in the Oslo culture scene. However, pressure from their families supposedly led to Hall after a few years moving to her own apartment, sharing a wall with Caro. Still, Caro was considered - and treated as - Pauline's next of kin and closest relative.

The relationship between Pauline and Caro happened at a period before gays and lesbians came out; to live openly in the way that is common today, barely happened. As the anthropologist Hans W. Kristiansen has shown, this period was dominated by "discreet gay life", where one simultaneously knew and did not know, suggested but did not say directly, and where one's surroundings generally neither asked nor demanded answers (Kristiansen 2005).

Old maids and Boston marriages

The cohabitation and relationship between Pauline and Caro can perhaps be encapsulated in what ethnologist Tone Hellesund calls "old maid society". Hellesund has described how women from upper and middle classes from the end of the 19th and into the 20th century were able to live as single women or cohabitating with other women without defining themselves with categories such as "gay" or "straight". She suggests that expressions such as "homosexuality" and "lesbian" were not used by or about women who lived by themselves or with other women; this because sexuality was not at the time defined as a central identity category to which everyone had to adhere and position themselves. Intimacy and love between persons of the same gender could therefore be meaningful without defining oneself as (homo)sexual. There were positivte ideals about living independently and realizing oneself as a woman and person - often in intimate relationships with other women. And this positive ideal was not necessarily an unfinished or hidden lesbian identity, but something other which must be understood in its own right. One embraced a community of women which was thought to bring new and spiritual and cultural values to society, and living independently of men was considered positive, as an opportunity to realize other sides of oneself than those concerning motherhood and family life. 

In the communities of unmarried women around the turn of the century, close and intimate friendships and cohabitating relationships happened and were encouraged. Even though many of these relationships would have been understood as sexual or lesbian today, this was not part of the involved women's understand of themselves. Unmarried women or old maids where perhaps considered a bit strange, odd, or for example as strict and "man hating" women's rights women, but not as sexually "abnormal". 

Kan we therefore understand Caro and Pauline as "old maids"? Was their form of cohabitation a culture for intimacy between women characterized by an idealistic language about romantic friendships and spiritual values? Or did they understand their relationship in terms of the new emerging language about sexual identity where the identity categories "homosexual" and "lesbian" were becoming relevant? 


The lesbian comes to Norway

It is hard to say exactly when "the lesbian" replaced "the old maid" as the dominant interpretation framework for intimacy between women. In England, the novel The Well of Loneliness (1928) by Radclyffe Hall marked a clear shift. The book is about Stephen Gordon, a woman from an upper class background, who from an early age realizes she is different and has a "sexual inversion", i.e. is a homosexual.
Stephen is an example of the typical "inverted" woman; she wears a men's suit and other male symbols, including a male name, and finds love with Mary Llewelly, who expresses a more traditional feminine or female identity. The novel caused a scandal when it was published, and it was considered by many an unpleasant "reveltaion" - signs and symbols which had previously been surrounded by mystique and spoken of in euphemisms, were suddenly and directly pointing towards one single thing: the sexual inversion. Women who acted and ressed like Stephen Gordon (and the author Radclyffe Hall) were now in danger of being recognized, or even "outed", as lesbians. 
All the attention surrounding the publication of The Well of Loneliness was a milestone in the UK, in such a way that one almost could date the birth of the british lesbian to the year of the book's publication, i.e. 1928. In Norway, the process was more gradual. The medical doctors Karl Evang and Torgeir Kasa's article on homosexuality in Populært tidsskrift for seksuell opplysning ("Popular magazine for sexual enlightenment/information"), and Borghild Krane's 1937 novel Følelsers forvirring (The disarray of emotions), are central, but there were tendencies earlier, in the 1920s. "Homosexuality" and "lesbian" were gradually becoming known expressions, at least amongst writers and intellectuals. And for a growing number of them, this included starting to define oneself or others as a homoesexual or lesbian in one way or another. Hans W. Kristiansen is clear in this in his study of "discreet homosexual lives" in norway 1920-1965: Homosexual identies and understandings of self were being shaped, and people were expressing these identites and understandings. If not by "coming out" in the way that became common after 1970s, then at least by making oneself known to other like-minded individuals, letting others "know" without speaking it directly. 
The idea of an identity based on sexuality was, by the 1920s and 1930s, no longer completely obscure. But what of Pauline Hall? What did she know and think of these questions? There are few sources, but Astrid Kvalbeins thesis gives some indications. 

 «lesbisk kjærlighed»

Pauline Hall was born in 1890. It hard to imagine that she - who travelled in social cricles filled with culturual personalities and journalists where psychoanalytics and sexual enlightenment were current popular themes for discussion and dissection - was oblivious to these new ideas on sexual identity. 

There are several interesting statements written by Pauline Hall from the period she worked as Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet's Berlin-correspondent from 1926-1932. There are few private sources, such as letters or diaries, about her years in Berlin, but the articles she wrote for Dagbladet shows that she on several occasions brought up current sexual political themes. Amongst themes she covered was the topic of abortion, and she also wrote on the fight against §218 in the German penal code, which penalized women who terminated pregnancies with up to 5 years in a house of correction. According to Hall, this was a paragraph which "offended the individuals' right to control their own body". She also positivitely reviewed two films which centered around the topic of venereal diseases and the treatment of these. 

Hall's position on these questions must be understood as a general support to a radical sexual political program which in Germany at the time was fronted by people such as Helene Stöcker and Magnus Hirschfeld. The latter, who was a doctor, was known for his broad engagement with sexual politics, but he was perhaps particularly associated with one issue: The fight for a wider acceptance of what he called "sexual intermediate types" - homosexuals, bisexuals and "transvestites". 

in 1897, Hirschfeld had formed the organization The Scientific-Humanitarian Comittee for decriminalization of male homosexuality, and in 1919 he founded the Institute for Sexual Sciences in Berlin. The institute was something of an attraction for visitors to Berlin, and one can perhaps speculate if Hall did not pay the institute a visit. That she was familiar with Hirschfeld and his work is all but certain; it was hardly possible to live in Berlin at this time without knowing about it.

 Astrid Kvalbein also shows that Hall touches on the topic of homosexuality in a few of her correspondent's letters. In her review of Erick Kaltnekers play Die Schwester in Dagbladet, Hall writes in no uncertain terms that the play is a bout "lesbian love". A different play, Christa Winsloes Gestern und Heute, was according to Hall about a "growing tender relationship"  between a teacher and a young girl. Another norwegian reviewer, Gunvor Satz, used the phrase "unnatural inclinations" about the same play, which by comparison shows that Halls approach and wording can be read as distinctly positive. Hall was also of the opinion that the topic was scandalized and demonized to a too great extent:

… as if it were the three-headed calf or something similar. And the Pharisees sit safely in the stalls, enjoying with no danger or risk a few hours' sensation, then go home and beat their breast as they thank God etc. (Pauline Hall in Dagbladet 25.2. 1928, cited from Kvalbein 2013: 166).

These statements must be placed in a queer historic contekst; Firstly, they show that Pauline Hall was familiar with and used the expression "lesbian love"; in and of itself a step away from the "old maid" discourse. Secondly, she could ironize in an almost agitative way the way the topic was treated in society. Her statements on homosexuality match those she made on other sexual political themes, and show that she was aware of sexual idenity as a way of thinking, and stood in opposition to society's prevailing views on the matter. Thus, she aligned herself closely with the sexually radical program of Helen Stöcker and Magnus Hirschfeld. Thus, we have a basis to state that she had a way to think of these things which diverged from the "old maid" discourse, and approached the time's discours on homosexuality as identity. She admittedly did not explicitly draw the line between this understanding and her own idenity and understanding of self in the abovementioned sources, but it is not unlikely that once familiar with concepts, she also defined herself according to them.


Queer Berlin

1920s Berlin represented something unique at the time: It was the center of a lively culture of organisations and party/bar life where new sexual identites were formed. The german homosexual movement's roots went back to the late 19th century, but in the Weimar Republic's Berlin, these milieus were able to blossom. The city was in a unique position on a world wide scale, as a place where one found a more or less open bar and club scene, open political agitation and a diverse flora of magazines/journals for homosexual men and women. On the culture scene there were multiple artistic expressions with more or less open references to homosexuality. The film Anders als die Andern,  where Hirschfeld was one of the contributors, attracted a lot of attention when it was released in 1919. The gay movement even had a sort of hymn, through the very popular song Das Lila Lied from 1921. Several magazines aimed specifically at (and often made by) lesbian women were published, and "Damenclubs" were in abundance, with names such as "Sappho" and "Violetta", where lesbian women could meet (Marhoefer 2015, 52 - 79).

As previously stated, we have no sources indicating whether or not Pauline Hall in any way was part of the blossoming homosexual scene in Berlin when she lived there, and it is disappointingly little we know about who she surrounded herself with and socialized with during her time in the German capital. We do know that several nordic homosexual cultural figures travelled to Berlin during these years, amongst others Karin Boye and Ferdinand Fine. And Halls reports in Dagbladet show that she was not averse to writing home about the topic of homosexuality. 

"pretty talent" or "damned fellow"?

The receiption of Halls music was characterized by a focus on gender. The idea that the genuinely creative and visionary was the domain of men was the underlying assumption in a lot of the reviews: One 1917 review states, amongst other things, that the music indicates a "pretty talet", womanly application, but no "original power of creation" (Kvalbein 2013, 102). Hall herself was of the opinion that she been faced with, and fought, harsh prejudice as a female composer, and in a 1934 interview mentioned that the expecation of women is that they should "produce idyll and teawater, moon shine and romatic infatuations". "One is to be feminine or womanly in the most romantic interpretation of the word" (Kvalbein 2013, 108).

Such statements show an awareness of and a willingness to revolt against established gender roles. Kvalbein highlights several statements from Hall where she comes across as an exceptionally sharp analyst of expectations connected to "the feminine" and "the masculine" in art and music. Kvalbein at the same time shows that Hall achieved become a part of the musical establishment. When her Verlaine Suite was to be performed in 1929, she was interviewed alongside to other composers, Arne Eggen and Ludvig Irgens Jensen. To the question of whether or not there were any similarities between the three, Eggen answered: "Nothing else than we all separately think of ourselves as some damned fellows" (Kvalbein 2013, 106).

Pauline Hall in time experienced being part of the established musical world alongside men. But she remained strongly aware of how music and creativity were judged according to common (mis)conceptions about gender. 



Pauline Hall and Caro Oldens relationship existed in a transition period between romantic friendships between "old maids" and the open sexual identities which were fully established in the 1960s and 70s. Hans W. Kristiansens expression "discreet gay lives" encompasses the life many lived in this period: They did have some awareness of sexual identity, about being homosexual or lesbian. This identity wasn't necessarily hidden, but it was something one could signal and make visible to those who wished to see, through symbols, gestures, and how one dressed and spoke. 

Pauline Halls reports about "lesbian love" from the late 1920s show that discretion was not an absolute, and she was not adverse to describe something which had the potential of backfiring with suspicions aimed at herself. That these reports came from 1920s Berlin is not surprising; if there was anywhere in the world that the new sexual identities were able to appear openly and without rewriting, euphemisms and discretion, it was here. 

Many questions remain: With whom was Pauline in contact during her time in Berlin? Were Pauline and Caro in touch with other lesbians in Oslo/Norway? There is also information about other queer woman who lived in this transition period between old maid society and the lesbian libertion of the 1970s, such as Alfhild Hovdan (1904–1982), head of tourism in Oslo through many years and notable figure in the resistance during the German occupation, and Solvejg Eriksen (1903-1993), journalist, author and film director. To find more information about the lives and experiences of these women is an interesting potential topic for further research in queer history. 


Dobler, Jens. 2003. Von anderen Ufern. Geschichte der Berliner Lesben und Schwulen in Kreuzberg und Friedrichshain. Berlin: Bruno Gmünder Verlag.

Hellesund, Tone. 2003. Kapitler fra singellivets historie. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Kristiansen, Hans W. 2005. Masker og motstand. Diskré homoliv i Norge 1920–1970. Oslo: Unipub.

Kvalbein, Astrid. 2013. Musikalsk modernisering. Pauline Hall (1890-1969) som komponist, teatermenneske og Ny Musikk-leiar. Avhandling for graden Ph. D., Noregs musikkhøgskole.

Marhoefer, Laurie. 2015. Sex and the Weimar Republic. German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.   

Waage, Lars Rune. 2012. Borghild Kranes "Følelsers forvirring" - en queer lesning av Norges første lesbiske roman, Norsk litteraturvitenskapelig tidsskrift, 15 (1), 16-29.