The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Joan Nestle

b. May 12, 1940

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Joan Nestle until we are able to commission a full entry.

Joan Nestle.

Photograph courtesy of Digby Duncan.

Driven by the concern that “the colonized are condemned to lose their memory,” lesbian writer and activist Joan Nestle created the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Nestle identified early as a lesbian and participated in New York’s lesbian bar culture while studying English at NYU. She travelled to the South for voter registration drives during the Civil Rights movement before the 1969 Stonewall Riots shifted her activism to the gay and lesbian movement. She helped found the Gay Academic Union in 1972, but realized that without a sense of their history, younger lesbians had little context for understanding issues of identity and stereotypes. She began collecting documents and artifacts for what in 1974 became the Lesbian Herstory Archives, which has grown to include tens of thousands of books, photographs, and periodicals. Nestle’s own writing, both in her fiction and her critical essays, has done much to shape images of lesbians in popular culture, and she has been praised as the “midwife” to a new understanding of butch and femme identity. She currently teaches at the University of Melbourne.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Joan Nestle." (Viewed on November 29, 2023) <>.


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