1/25/16 O&A NYC WITH TOD ROULETTE: Auction Of Lesbian Heiress Marion B. ‘Joe’ Carstairs Will Be Held at Doyle

By Tod Roulette

NPG x139735; Marion Barbara ('Joe') Carstairs by International News Photos

An auction of property from the celebrated lesbian heiress Marion B. ‘Joe’ Carstairs will be held on January 27th, 2016 at Doyle New York, 175 East 87th Street, New York. The collection consigned by the Estate of Jacqueline F. Rae will be open to the public on Monday, January 25, 10am-6pm and Tuesday, January 26, 10am-2pm.  The objects reveal a courageous life live in the open at the turn of the twentieth century. 

I believe LGBT grandchildren have an uncommon closeness with their grandparents. I am sure many an anecdote swirl about these intercessory parents of parents who bridge in an often-breached understanding between LGBT grandchildren and their parents. Grandma’s and grandpas, papas and nana’s seem to ‘get it’ when they see their next generation suffering because of their sexual identity. Grandparents pride and love for the offspring is sustaining in so many ways and so it was for Barbara Carstairs, mostly known as ‘Joe’.

Carstairs negligent father, a Colonel happened to be the son of one of the founders of Standard Oil Company. Her careless, often drugged up and carefree mother told her in 1918 that she knew of her daughter’s lesbianism. Her mother warned her to buckle down and get married or she would be disinherited. In that same year, her grandmother had set up a trust for her boyish granddaughter and nothing for Joe’s her daughter in law. Her grandmother died in 1921 and her estate was valued at $30 million dollars (an income of $145,000 a year in 1918). Carstairs’ protective grandmother trust afforded a security, privacy and protection that rebelling and closeted gays, lesbians and drag queens could never imagine.


Joe didn’t have to change pronouns at work when co-workers asked about what she did over the weekend or whom she might be courting at the time. Hell, Joe didn’t have to go to work. She had her own private island, which today has less than 15 buildings on it and is offered today for over $50 million U.S. Dollars. You can buy a biography of her life online for less than $1 (The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale, 1997) to find out more about this speed racer, cross dresser and World War 1 Red Cross ambulance driver in Europe. She also had a stormy affair with actress and singer Marlene Dietrich. “…She was not a literary, intellectual type; but she nevertheless gave the impression of being a fictional creature, a product of her own imagination, a being who ‘Just was” writes Summerscale.


In keeping with her own eccentric character, Carstairs had a doll she named Lord Tod Wadley that wore tailor made clothes. It is here in this sale, along with a companion dolls and photographs in lot 248 with an estimate beginning at 500-800. Photographs of black residents from Whale Quay, Bahamas and nearby islands by Life Magazine photographer Wendy Hilty are estimated a mere $200-300, circa 1950’s. There are a lot of contact sheets depicting Duke and Duchess of Windsor visiting the island, seven lots featuring Marlene Dietrich memorabilia.

If you love history, LGBT archival information or simply digging through other people’s crap you should take the time to visit the sales room at Doyle to see the passage of time gone by and the effects of a bold accomplished woman who died in Florida after selling her beloved Whale Quay in 1975. She was cremated with Lord Tod Wadley.

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