Sassy Women in 1970s New York Purgatory: A Look at Meryl Meisler’s Revelatory Photography

Meryl Meisler’s photography offers a vibrant, sometimes cheeky window into the world of women in 1970s New York City.  Her work, a blend of documentary and personal expression, captures a city often seen as a gritty “purgatory” – yet bursts with the sassy, defiant spirit of the women who called it home.

While her images showcase the era’s bold styles – platform shoes, shimmering disco wear, and punk-rock rebellion – they also speak to the deeper shifts happening in women’s lives. These women are embracing newfound freedoms, experimenting with self-expression, and challenging traditional gender roles.

The “purgatory” often associated with 1970s New York stemmed from the city’s economic struggles and heightened social tensions. Yet, Meisler’s work reveals that even within this landscape, women carved out spaces of joy, liberation, and community. Her photos show women dancing with abandon in underground clubs, confidently navigating city streets, and finding support and sisterhood in both work and play.

Meisler’s work is infused with her own personal journey. Having grown up in the suburbs of Long Island, her move to New York City marked a turning point. Intrigued by the concept of “purgatory” from a childhood incident where she was told she’d never reach heaven; she saw the city as a space between worlds – a place of both challenge and possibility.

#1 Dancing hand to Crotch Hurrah Wild Wild West Party, 1978

#2 Cousin Jennifer Cash Wiener on the Throne, Rosh Hashanah, North Massapequa, 1975

#3 Mom( Sylvia “”Sunny”” Schulman Meisler) Reading A Scholarly View of the Jewish Mother,Thanksgiving, North Massapequa, 1978

#5 Mom Getting her hair Teased at Besame Beauty Salon, North Massapequa, 1979

#6 Self-Portrait, The Girl Scout Oath, North Massapequa, 1975

#9 Ronda Winking With a Cigarette, The Mystery Club, Seaford, 1975

#10 Self-Portrait, A Falling Star North Massapequa, 1975

Written by Wendy Robert

Brand journalist, Ghostwriter and Proud New Yorker. New York is not a city – it’s a world.

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