Eve Kotchever/Złoczower/Eve Adams was born on 15th June 1891 in Mława and died in Auschwitz, probably on 20th October 1943. She was American activist, writer and founder of the first lesbian club in New York in the 1920s.
“You will know her by her hair ...,”
wrote one of the US federal agents, who was tracking Eve Adams in 1919, due to her subversive activities. Interestingly, Eva advertised herself, with the same text, as a travelling distributor of radical, left-wing periodicals. It was because of this activity that she was under surveillance by investigators. In her announcement, she added, “She is now in the east. When she appears in your city, subscribe to ‘Good Morning’ - she will tell you how to do it. Absolutely painless.” In turn, the agent in his report added, “... and of a dirty Jewish appearance. Dressed like a man. Unattractive.”
Eva Adams, or Eva Kotchever / Zlotchover, a Jewish-Polish immigrant with lush, curly, red (or, as some claimed, chestnut) hair, was not only a left-wing activist, a friend of Emma Goldman (a well-known anarchist, also of Jewish-Polish origin), Margaret Sanger, Alexander Berkman and Ben Reitman, but also, in the 1920s, the owner of the first lesbian club in New York, where artists, writers, activists and intellectuals would meet.
Contrary to the legend which, according to Kotchever's biographers, resulted from a one-time joke and was then blown up by conservative journalists, guardians of morality, that at the entrance to the premises was a sign that allegedly read, “Men are admitted, but are not welcome”. In Eve’s Tearoom, men were also constantly present and enjoyed being there. Although, for women, this place was undoubtedly particularly attractive. Not only for lesbians and bisexuals, but also for those who wanted to come alone or with friends without a man accompanying them, which was a requirement in most public venues in New York at the time.
Mława. The family
Eva Kotchever was born, as Chawa Złoczewer, in Mława on 15th June 1891. In American documents, she gave a different date – 31st March 1891. She then returned to the one on the birth certificate. She was the eldest daughter of Miriam Ruchla née Migdał and Mordka Josif (Mordechaj Józef) Złoczewer, born five years after their marriage. The couple also had three more daughters Fejga Rachel (1894), Tauba (1905), Szejna (1908) and a son, Jerachmiel (1910), who emigrated to Palestine and changed his name to Zahavy. He was the only sibling to survive the Holocaust and his grandchildren live in Israel to this day. We know nothing about Miriam and Mordka's two other children - Zysa and Eliezer - neither when they were born nor when they died.
Chawa's father was a merchant. The family was not wealthy, but neither was it poor. Judging by their attitudes - acceptance of their eldest daughter dressing like a boy (because these clothes, as she claimed, are more comfortable for running and climbing trees), constant contact with her when she was abroad (thus knowing about her activism and undertakings) and supporting her after she returned to Poland - it was quite a liberal family.
The Złoczewer family paid great attention to their children’s education. When she emigrated to the United States in 1912 (at the age of 21), Chawa knew several languages - certainly English, Russian, Polish and Yiddish and possibly also French. Probably, before leaving, she was an activist. (As it transpires from autobiographical threads in her later stories, while still in Poland, she had her first romantic relationship with a woman, an artist in her thirties).
Emigration. In United States
She came to the United States on a ship sailing from Antwerp. On the immigration card, she entered her profession as “seamstress” and, as her closest family in America, her uncle Isidor Meegdall (Migdał), who lived in Westchester, New York and who, later, stood up for her several times when she found herself in trouble. Upon arrival, she began working in a clothing factory, where she became a member of the Ladies Waist-Makers Union, and also joined the Radical Jewish Women Garment Workers Union.
Although the young immigrant wrote “no” on the card under “anarchist,” she very quickly found herself in the anarchist milieu, where she met and befriended Emma Goldman and Ben Reitman. For several years, between 1913 and 1918, she shared an apartment in New York with a group of friends. She changed her name to Eve Adams.
In 1918, she began working with the satirical weekly “Der Grojser Kundes” (meaning “The Great Pin” or “The Great Prank”), published in Yiddish, whose editor-in-chief was Jacob Marinoff. His sister Fania Marinoff, an actress, staged Karen, a bold play about free love. Eve, enchanted, wrote her a passionate, admiring letter. They became friends.
It was probably through Jacob that Eve became involved in the door-to-door distribution of radical magazines. She travelled with them all over the United States. In 1919, for the first time she was noticed by the General Intelligence Division of the Department of Justice, led by anarchist and Bolshevik tracker John Edgar Hoover, later head of the FBI. Adams’ biographer, Jonathan Ned Katz, found nearly thirty official memos and reports about her submitted by agents from New Haven, Washington, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver. In notes from 1919–1920, investigators described her appearance as dirty, Jewish, masculine, immigrant, fishy, unattractive. They wrote down “red hair and glasses”. They noted the hotels she stayed in (second-class) and the names of people with whom she met.
In 1921, Eve became involved with a Swedish painter Ruth Olson Norlander and settled in Chicago, where she initially continued selling leftist magazines, as well as giving Russian lessons. In 1922, together with her partner, they founded, and for eight months ran, the popular bohemian teahouse called "Gray Cottage", at 10 East Chestnut Street. In 1922, Norlander exhibited paintings at the "No-Jury Exhibition”, including one called “Nude”, for which Eve, according to her letters, probably posed.
In 1923, this relationship ended and Eve Adams returned to New York. In the same year, she applied for American citizenship. In 1924, near Washington Square in the bohemian Greenwich Village, at 129 MacDougal Street, she opened her famous "Eve's Tearoom / Eve's Hangout", which, unlike other places of this type operating during Prohibition, was not bootlegging, but actually served tea and, above all, was a place for literary meetings and political discussions. There were also closed meetings, where women talked about their identity, sexual and social experiences. Apart from Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger, the place also hosted female and male writers, actresses and actors, people associated with dance, theatre, trade unions and political activists.
Among the guests were June and Henry Miller, whom Eve Kotchever later also met in Paris. Eve gladly promoted Miller's books and recommended them to publishers, which however did not protect them from being banned. At that time, she was already writing texts for the press and, in February 1925, she wrote and published, at her own expense, a collection of short stories entitled Lesbian Love. The book, published in 1925 in a small edition of 150 copies, was distributed among friends and habitués of ‘Eve's Hangout”. In 1925, she must have earned more than before since she could afford a sea voyage to Poland to visit her family. A charming family photo dates from that time. It depicts Eve in a male outfit (probably sewn by herself) together with her siblings - sister Tauba and younger brother Jerachmiel.
After this visit, Eve had no problems returning to the United States, but then that trip became one of the arguments for expelling her from the country. Black clouds began to gather over Adams and her hangout, when the police (who were constantly trying to dig up dirt on venues in the Greenwich Village) got their hands on Adams's book during one of the raids. The work was called obscene and iconoclastic.
“I wrote a book based on real stories and events of present times. I wanted to show things as they are, as they happen to me. All the characters in this book are based on real people. This book is by no means immoral, obscene, or vulgar. There is not a single vulgar word in it. I do not understand why I was cursed for a book that simply shows life, sometimes from a funny and sometimes from a tragic side”,
Eve said later at the court trial launched against her. Earlier she was arrested and her tearoom was closed, as a result of a trap that the police set on her in an extremely unethical manner.
An attractive woman, Margaret Leonard began to visit the teahouse. Eve, enchanted, invited her to a theatre, and later to her home. They spent the evening together. The next day, Margaret, who turned out to be an undercover police agent, filed an official complaint in the city headquarters about Kotchever's behaviour. Eve was supposed to “hold her too close” in a dance, and then “made overt sexual advances” in her apartment. Conservative journalists wrote, with great pleasure, about the closure of the place where “ladies choose the company of ladies, which is not healthy for adolescent girls nor comfortable for real men”.
Eve Adams was charged with indecent behaviour and sentenced to a total of eighteen months at the Jefferson Market Prison. This sentence was abetted, inter alia, by reports from her neighbour, who wrote that he “personally knows many decent girls who have been demoralised by this woman.” Many artists and writers stood up for Adams, and her uncle Meegdall wanted to pay the required bail in the amount of USD 1,000, but New York City administration refused to accept it.
In prison, Kotchever met Mae West, who was sentenced under the same article of the law. Thanks to her acquaintances, however, the star was jailed for only ten days. Eve's fate, on the other hand, was probably sealed by an accord between state and deportation authorities. Despite the passionate speeches, in her own defence, delivered at hearings, she was expelled from the United States. At a court hearing in 1927, she said, inter alia, “I love this country with all my heart and soul (...). Deportation will destroy my life.” And this is exactly what happened.
Expulsion from America. In Poland
In 1929, Chawa Złoczewer found herself back in Poland. For some time, she lived in the Free City of Gdańsk, then moved to Warsaw, because the harsh seaside conditions negatively affected her health. In the capital, she began working as a babysitter. She wrote to her friends that she loves children, earns money, but it is practically 24-hour and low-paid work, so she cannot afford to attend theatres, concerts or dances. And, even if she had the means and time, she still had no one to be there with. “I have no friends here,” she complained to Ben Reitman.
"I feel completely alien in my own country. (…) There are two separate races in Poland that do not intermingle - Christian and Jewish. All over the world - a visitor, and in the country where I was born - a Jewess”.
Ben raised money for her from American friends. He sent them to her parents' address in Mława. Thanks to these funds, she managed to pay for a ticket to escape to Paris. There, she made a life among American “expats” and the artistic bohemia of that time. She ran a stand with books by Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Anaïs Nin and James Joyce, which were banned in the United States and published in Paris. These authors often visited her. In 1934, she met a singer from Łódź, Hela Olstein, who was a dozen or so years younger. (In France, she performed under the alias Nora Warren). After several years of relationship, she legally adopted her, thanks to which they constituted a family before the law.
Due to escalating conflicts in Europe, antisemitism and the ever-clearer spectre of war, many of Eve and Hella's American friends began to return to America. In letters to her old friends, Eve wrote that, at nights, she dreams of returning to the States. However, despite the intercession of famous personalities, and also of the family - her uncle offered his apartment, the American authorities were unyielding.
In France. Deportation to Auschwitz
When Germany invaded France in 1940, Eve and Hela's letters became more frequent and desperate. They moved south to Nice, where it was safer and they could keep going on false documents. From there, they wrote not only to the States, but also to Switzerland, to Olstein’s brother and to Eve’s brother.
Jerachmiel was trying to persuade his sister and her partner to leave and start a new life in Palestine. Unfortunately, they could not afford it, although their friends tried to raise the necessary funds. According to family stories, the partners were involved in the resistance movement. It could be so, especially since before the war they were friends with left-wing activists, who were later in the underground. In 1943, first Eve and then Hella were arrested and then imprisoned in the Drancy internment camp outside Paris. From there, on 17th December 1943, in Transport 63, they were taken to the German Nazi Auschwitz extermination camp, where they were murdered.
- Eve’s Hangout [online] https://www.nyclgbtsites.org/site/eve-addams-tearoom/ [access 4 September 2022]
- Eve Adams Chronology [online] https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/evechron/evechrono [access 04 September 2022]
- Katz J.N., The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams, Chicago 2021
- Merwin T. Imprisoned for who she was, New York Jewish Week, 24/12, 2013
- Scelfo J., The Woman Who Made New York, Berkeley 2016, pp. 123-127
- Site of Eve Adams' Tearoom (1925-1926) https://theclio.com/entry/117313 [access 4 September 2022]
All quotes, courtesy of Jonathan Ned Katz, are from documents collected in his open archive: https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/evechron/evechrono