Clara aka "Big Ben" c. 1926 United States
gouache on paper, 11 x 7 inches
In the collection of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Clara, better known as “Big Ben” because of her size, masculine mannerisms, preference for male attire, and her “attention to other women,” is described in the account of a murder that took place at a rent party in New York’s Columbus Hill neighborhood. The New York Age published the story of the murder on November 17, 1926.  According to the article, Big Ben was not at the party, but was the cause of a fight between two women, Reba Stobtoff and Louise Wright. Stobtoff was apparently jealous of Wright’s attentions towards Big Ben and attacked her, warning her to stay away from the “man woman.” The fight ended with Stobtoff cutting Wright’s throat, resulting in her death.


Wilson, James F. Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010.

“Women Rivals for Affection of Another Woman with Knives, and One Has Head Almost Severed from Body,” New York Age 17 Nov. 1926: 1.

Woolner, Christina A. ’The Famous Lady Lovers:’ African American Women and Same Sex Desire from Reconstruction to World War II. Diss. University of Michigan, 2014.