Dating all the way back to the 600s BC, violets have been used as a symbol of lesbian love. The Greek poet Sappho, best known for her lyric poems about love and women, described herself and a lover wearing garlands of violets;
If you forget me, think
of our gifts to Aphrodite
and all the loveliness that we shared
all the violet tiaras
braided rosebuds, dill and
crocus twined around your young neck
In honour of Sappho, lesbian women in the mid-20th century would give violets to women they were wooing, indicating their ‘Sapphic desire’. These were time when it wasn’t easy or accepted to say so in a more overt manner. And, though the historic origins of the violet as a symbol of women liking women may have faded, the colour purple is still often associated with homosexuality, particularly in the naming of the Lavender Menace and in the use of the term “lavender lads” to describe gay men during the “Lavender Scare” in the 1950s in the U.S.