Partner Anna Petronella van Heerden

Queer Places:
Petronella Van Heerden St Wilgepark, Harrismith, 9880, South Africa

Gladys Evelyn Steyn (December 12, 1890 – September 25, 1989) was the first female lawyer in the Appeals Court, Bloemfontein and a Member of the Provincial Council Free State.

She was the daughter of President Marthinus Theunis Steyn and Rachel Isabella 'Tibbie' Fraser. She was educated at Grey University College, Bloemfontein. She married Walter Bosman.

In her autobiography Petronella van Heerden mentions (her lovers) Gladys and Freddie, but does not explicitly expound on the intimacies. Gladys Steyn, as suggested in Van Heerden's memoirs, was the first woman to permanently live with her, and was followed by Irene Heseltine (called Freddie).

Gladys accompanied her when she was summoned to an accouchement and would even help administering the anaesthetics. When Van Heerden planned to return to London, to become a clinical assistant from where she would move to the Netherlands to complete her gynaecology dissertation, she explains that: 'Gladys felt like studying to be a lawyer and we decided to go'.

In her discussion of the nature of the relationship between Gladys and Van Heerden, Viljoen refers to the correspondence between Tibbie Steyn (published in her biography) and Emily Hobhouse. Tibbie Steyn was Gladys's mother and the wife of M.T. Steyn, president of the Republic of the Orange Free State during the South African War. Gladys was also a principal of a girls' school in Bloemfontein before she left her post and became Van Heerden's housekeeper. In the letter to Hobhouse, Steyn laments the fact that her daughter is 'in a way lost' and that she wonders why God allowed 'Nell to cross Gladdies path'. She explains that she has reconciled herself with Gladys, who was 'a sweet girl', living with Van Heerden because she 'seems happy'. Hobhouse replied: "I understand now, also from what you say, that you feel regretful over Gladys' attachment to Nell v. Heerden. It always appeared to me very strange & somewhat unusual in S. African life. But you know in Europe it is an everyday matter this coupling up of young women who have struck out for themselves & do not marry. They find thus the companionship they need & one usually I notice, takes the more masculine, the other the more feminine role. Thus they secure nearly (not quite) the best of both types of life - having complete independence coupled with companionship which prevents the sinking into the old time 'Old-maidenism'. Nell is to all intents & purposes a man, or what is called a 'bachelor-woman'."

In England, Van Heerden befriended Freddie, whose given name was Irene Heseltine. She mentions that she would have met up with Gladys in Innsbruck but later refers to the fact that she and Freddie accidentally bumped into Gladys 'and her friend' in Cortina. What is suggested is that Gladys took a new lover, and Van Heerden and Freddie became lovers. Later, on her return to South Africa, Freddie accompanied Van Heerden while Gladys remained in Europe.


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