The Dirty Old Lady: Chicago Drag History and the Mystery of Miss Tillie

Unboxing Queer History by Gerber/Hart Library and Archives

Episode notes

In 2014, Gerber/Hart received a collection of photo albums that belonged to a performer named Miss Tillie “The Dirty Old Lady of Chicago.” The collection is incredibly rich, with over a thousand images of Miss Tillie performing throughout the 1940s-1990s as well as a VHS tape with a short documentary created by Daniel Lee that aired in 2002 at the Reeling Film Festival.

Much of Miss Tillie’s life is shrouded in mystery. We know that she moved to Chicago in 1961 from Dayton, Ohio. Tillie’s first show was at The Front Page, where she “screamed above a Sophie Tucker record.” Performer Roby Landers added “The Dirty Old Lady” to Tillie’s name, and from then on, she became known as Tillie “The Dirty Old Lady of Chicago.” Tillie performed all over Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. She was one of the early performers at The Chesterfield and was arres ... 

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