Big fat disclaimer: anyone caught trying to take this seriously should be shot. This is childhood sex folklore, seen through the eyes of adult parody, written by a lady whose own sex life has been, at times, more than ordinarily complex...
It is unfortunate that we know so little about Elizabeth Bean, the bad example spread throughout schoolyards and locker rooms across America. What overly frisky young girl has not been called an Elizabeth Bean, or has called a classmate (as it is sometimes pronounced) a "Liz Bean", in the spirit of merry play that characterizes the carefree days before courtship and marriage become the girl's first order of business? Who is this unfortunate Elizabeth Bean, and why is she so important?
Biographical information is scant about Miss Bean, but she seems to have been a madam of a brothel in Old New York, in Underhill Passage in the Black Triangle near the Five Points. As with many legendary figures, her origin and even her name is unclear: many people state her name was spelt Eliz. Bean on her shingle, which was right down the lane from the famously profligate (and cheap) Rosie Palm and her five daughters, others that the famous shingle was spelt A. Liz B.Ann in reference to the two apartments in the building. Similarly, varying stories are told of her sexual appetites: some say that she was the queen of the debauchees, irresistable, insatiable, but cold, commanding the highest prices, others, that she was impossibly ugly, and would do anything with anyone for nothing. A third claim is that she was an ugly man-hater who would have nothing whatsoever to do with men, but commanded sexual favors from her protegees -- and indeed, many madams have been found to be bisexual or entirely homosexual in orientation. Finally, she has been spoken of in a surprisingly approving manner as a pioneering feminist. From these scraps we can piece together a life.
Born about 1860, she would have entered the lists of love early, perhaps around twelve or thirteen. Her name suggests that her family may have been from Maine, but come down in the world. She was most probably a part-time worker, perhaps even a substitute prostitute, early rising to "favorite" status before leaving the house to set up as a free agent, in about 1880. Her taste for her own sex might have shown up early: Liz and Ann may have been lovers, not rivals, though the latter would be more likely the case, since it seems that Ann's name was soon removed in favor of the more genteel "Eliz. Bean". Sensing an opportunity, she apparently set up a house of her own, perhaps after a disfiguring illness, giving her patrons the choice of a younger, inexperienced, girl for a high price, or her aging, though versatile, charms for less, or even nothing (she seems to have serviced such tastes as fellating a man with a mouthful of gypsy moth caterpillars, for instance, and perhaps other sado-masochistic acts as well). Tiring of the work, she semi-retired, but not without seizing a final opportunity -- this time to redeem herself as a suffragette, doing good among the poor, and teaching, as the classical Sappho was said to have done.
At her death in the 1920's, a young Aldous Huxley, inspired by her example, coined the elegant, though historically inaccurate, term, Lesbian.