Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lesbian bars in the San Francisco East Bay

East Bay Girl Bar
 Barbara Hoke has done an incredible job of researching the lesbian bars in the San Francisco East Bay--owned by Women for Women. I'm not going to even attempt to summarize her findings, so you'll have to check it out for yourself. She reports that dedicated or freestanding lesbian bars no longer exist in the East Bay area, and that lesbian socializing these days is largely limited to "weekly or monthly events produced by women for women utilizing existing venues." But it was quite a ride while it lasted.

Roaring Sixties

The Tumblebugs take on 
City Hall (1967)
Roaring Sixties

Location: 2305 South Sheppard, Houston, Texas, USA

Opened: June 23, 1967

Closed: Still needs to be verified

Jim Sears, the author of Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South, says the following about the Roaring Sixties and its pivotal role in gay and lesbian history:

Known as the homosexual playground of the South, Houston was already home to a dozen gay bars and clubs when the Roaring Sixties opened on June 23, 1967.

With its checkered tablecloths, crimson drapes, and ruby walls, the Roaring Sixties was a place that a lot of folks called home.... In addition to lesbian regulars like Dee Dee, who’d waltz in with slacks, cuffs turned up, hair slicked back, and tanned Mexican shoes, there was a one-armed guy who’d shoot pool with Rita [Roaring Sixties owner Rita Wanstrom] for $20 a ball. Rita used one of her matched pair of San Toeos; he used the end of a broomstick–and "cleared the table."

But it wasn't all pool and good times.

"A lot of club owners back then said women couldn’t come in if they didn’t turn their pants around" or wear dresses, remembers Rita. Two months after her club’s opening, Houston’s vice squad came to visit.... Separating out the more butch-looking patrons, an Irish sergeant barked out commands. "You get over here. You get over there." Twenty-five lesbians were hauled to jail for wearing clothing of the opposite sex. "The enforcement of the ordinance, of course, was directed only at those people perceived to be gay," underscores Rita. Used for police harassment and extortion, it was also a convenient excuse for some bar owners to restrict lesbians. "Everyone got mad," remembers Rita. "But what could you do?" Rita paid all of the $25 fines and hired an all-girl band, led by "little butch" Sandra to "pump our business back up."

A month later there was another raid. As in Stonewall, something snapped. "I don’t think the other bar owners could see what was happening," swears Rita. However, she "saw the need for someone to speak out on behalf of this community." It was an unjust law that "deprived me of my right to do business."

Wanstrom sought out the help of Percy Foreman, whose legal fee matched his status as the preeminent lawyer of the Southwest. Foreman was willing to represent Rita when another raid befell her club. As Rita headed down to the Roaring Sixties that evening to rally folks, "I happened to see a little tumblebug. Now, a tumblebug will just lay there until somebody turns it over and helps it back on its feet." And so, as the summer of 1967 receded into history, the Tumblebugs were born.

Selling sweatshirts, hosting benefits, and sponsoring drag shows, the dozen or so women who made up the Tumblebugs raised Foreman’s $2,500 fee.... In challenging the city ordinance, Rita hoped to get "people to think for themselves about what was happening to us and what we needed to do to take the heat off."

At that time (1967), there was virtually no lesbian or gay political activism in Houston, so the actions of Rita Wanstrom and the Roaring Sixties' lesbian patrons were unprecedented. But the August-September raids were far from the end of the police harassment. In fact, there was a yet another raid in late December:

Two nights before New Year’s Eve, a sergeant and his men of the vice squad rushed into the Sixties and found women "dressed in men’s pants, men’s shirts, and men’s shoes."

Rita reminisces: "They lined people up and started questioning. One woman who was asked her occupation said: ‘I’m a weenie peeler.’ That just broke everyone up. More cops came in and they made her repeat it. It turned out that she worked in a meat factory and when the weenies came through she would peel one to make sure it was stuffed right. So they put all of the butches in the paddy wagon."

This time, though, things were different. Amidst a bevy of "not guilty" pleas, a shocked magistrate stared down at the Tumblebugs as their celebrated attorney asserted: "This will not be a test of the law.... It will be a test of the vice squad’s concept of the law."

Meanwhile, pugnacious activist Ray Hill worked for change behind the scene.... Ray was summoned to "come through the back door of City Hall and walk up three flights of stairs to the mayor’s office." At the appointed hour, Ray remembers climbing the stairs, entering through the fire exit, and meeting with the mayor’s assistant, Larry McKaskle, in a converted maid’s closet. Ray wrenched from McKaskle a promise that City Hall would indeed "check into" the lesbian bar raids.

On the day of the trial, Rita and her "girls"–wearing dresses and makeup–appeared before Judge Raymond Judice. The cases against the 11 were dismissed due to the failure of the vice officers to appear. The sergeant, however, announced that he "definitely intended" to refile charges and to continue to enforce the ordinance. Inexplicably, however, he was transferred to the Narcotics Division. Rita affirms, "They never bothered us again!"

I have not been able to verify when the Roaring Sixties closed, but Rita Wanstrom lived till the ripe old age of 85 before passing away from breast cancer in November 2009.


Last Call at Maud's

Location: 937 Cole, San Francisco, California, USA

Opened: 1966

Closed 1989

Laurie Koh says the following about Maud's:

Maud's was the longest-running lesbian bar in San Francisco history. The closing of this stalwart, where regulars were known to kick you off "their" bar stools, is captured in Paris Poirier's documentary Last Call at Maud's. Such earnest mullets will never be committed to celluloid again.

Maud's was simply your neighborhood lesbian bar, but it existed prior to and throughout the gay rights explosion that followed the McCarthy era – long before women used outlets like the Internet to meet. Last Call is a journey through the last of the decades in which your local was truly your community. Owner Rikki Streicher bartended, fronted, or owned some of the most successful early North Beach lesbian clubs in the 1940s and '50s, helped found the San Francisco Tavern Guild, and even funded a Maud's softball team for several years.
"I think what was so important about the early bars," patron and activist Judy Grahn recalls in the film, "[was that] you might be recognized as gay. You might be seen as a lesbian, so you dressed as gayly as you possibly could. And we studied each other for costumes, and somebody would come in as a butch one week in a tuxedo ... next week she'd come in a low-cut flaming red dress. She was trying out who she might be in the world."

Meow Mix

269 East Houston Street
Meow Mix

Location: 269 East Houston Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1996

Closed: July 2004

After managing the lesbian band Tribe 8 and developing a reputation for throwing "gay friendly parties" in the mid 1990s, Brooke Webster decided to buy her own place in the East Village. The result was the Meow Mix. Despite its "divey" location, it soon became the "hottest place for the city's chic young lesbians to drink and hook up."

Here's an old review from
Ladies often bemoan the limited number of bars dedicated to the woman-loving woman and with the disproportionate number of boy bars, they have every right to complain. Nevertheless, Meow Mix with its never-got-over-riot-grrrl-grunge is hot nearly every night of the week. Lipstick lesbians and butch drag queens swarm the dance floor or rock on as live acts perform.

And here's how Clubplanet once reviewed it:

Well-known downtown lesbian bar. Despite its role in Kevin Smith's "Chasing Amy," Meow Mix has managed to maintain its alterna-girl edge thanks to cheap drinks and cheaper girls. Sashay down anytime to catch some weird act, feminist empowerment speakers or someone intentionally amusing. Still one of the most popular and famous lesbian bars in town.

For those who may not remember it, "Chasing Amy" (1997) was a romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Joey Lauren Adams, and included many scenes filmed inside the Meow Mix.

In 2004, Meow Mix closed, apparently due to "flooding, city harrassment, and a shift in the neighborhood demographics."

Webster went on to open Cattyshack in the summer of 2005, which became a popular lesbian danceclub in its own right. The new club was located at 249 Fourth Street in Brooklyn. But it is gone now as well.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Club Laurel

Miss Beverly Shaw, Sir!
Club Laurel

Location: Corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard, North Hollywood, California, USA

Founded: Early 1950s

Closed: 14 years later

Beverly Shaw was an openly lesbian singer who used to perform at some of the more elegant nightclubs of the late 1940s and 50s.The Chi Chi Club, the Flamingo Club, and Mona's in San Francisco (reputed to be the country's first lesbian bar, and featured here at Lost Womyn's Space) are just some of the venues that featured her.

Famous for her "sultry delivery" of "songs tailored to your taste," "Beverly Shaw, Sir!" (the name under which she promoted herself) moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, where she performed at Club Laurel. After three years, she purchased the club and became "the star attraction, drawing crowds for fourteen years."

Club Laurel was surprisingly upscale for a lesbian nightclub of the time, and was certainly more posh than the random gay bar of the 1950s, which was typically little more than a dive, vulnerable to police raids and general harassment. As one anonymous admirer stated,

"It was a real club--not just full of caracatures. It seemed out of its time and place to me. You saw a lot of movie stars and that made it seem even more unreal. I guess you could call Beverly Shaw a role model of sorts but we didn't have terms like that then. It gave me the first idea that gays could have a place like that.

We couldn't believe the Club Laurel. It was fabulous. Here was this uptown club unlike anything in the way of a gay club that we had ever seen. You knew right away this was different. It was our first time except for Ptown that we had ever been totally at ease and comfortable in a gay place. You didn't need to keep one ear checked for breaking glass in a place like the Laurel. At the time, I remember wondering how she did it or what it cost her."

In a 1997 article on the San Fernando Valley lesbian community, an older woman also conjured up fond memories of the Club Laurel:

The Rev. Flo Fleischman, 67, of North Hollywood still remembers the clubs--Hannan's Joanie Presents and Shaw's Club Laurel--as classy spots where she and her friends could gather. They may have been living under the pressure of a secret life, or gotten teased at work during the week, Fleischman said, "but on Saturday night--that was date night--all that was forgotten."

Shaw was once asked what made her shows so special, and this was her charming reply:

On the slow songs, I would drape the microphone over my shoulder and look right into the audience. I always chose a few women in the audience and sang directly to them. It gave a personal feeling to the show which is so important.

Beverly Shaw recorded an album, "Songs Tailored to Your Taste," sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, which has become something of a collector's item. She died in 1990 at the age of 80.

St. Mary College

St. Mary's College students doing Maypole dance
St. Mary College (or St. Mary's College)

Location: 4100 South Fourth Street, Leavenworth Kansas, USA

Founded: 1859 as St. Mary's Insitute. Moved to current location and renamed St. Mary's Academy in 1870. In 1923, renamed St. Mary College.

Closed: Went fully residentially co-ed in 1988, though it started admitting a "few men" in "certain areas of study" as early as 1932. Name changed to University of St. Mary in 2003.

From the college website:

The Sisters of Charity, the founders of the University of Saint Mary, settled in Leavenworth, Kan. in 1858 longing for a location to serve the “wild frontier." Within days of their arrival in the oldest city in Kansas, the Sisters began teaching boys and girls in the area – a tradition that continues today.

Just a year later, the Sisters opened the first boarding school for girls in downtown Leavenworth. Filled to capacity with women from Kansas, Missouri, and the territories later admitted to the United States as Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, the Sisters opened a new boarding school at the university’s current location in 1870 called St. Mary’s Academy.   

The academy thrived, and in 1923 it became Saint Mary College, a junior college for women. In 1932 the college grew into a four-year institution. While admitting men to most of its programs, the academy did not become residentially co-ed until 1988.

Photo: Date, setting of photo not cited.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oswego College for Young Ladies

Oswego College (1891)

Oswego College for Young Ladies

Location: Oswego, Kansas, USA

Founded: Incorporated December 23, 1883. School opened on January 14, 1886.

Closed: Dates differ, but probably around 1910. Presbysterian records for the school extend until 1924.

There were apparently no more than three women's colleges that ever operated in the state of Kansas. (The College of the Sisters of Bethany is discussed in the post below this one.) St. Mary College is now co-ed. Oswego College for Young Ladies is the third, and like the College of the Sisters of Bethany, is now lost.

Oswego College was organized by Presbyterian clergy (all men) in Neosho County, and was under the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Synod of Kansas. The school opened in a single "large brick residence," with Miss Louise Paull serving as principal. (Of course, a man was appointed as president.) Miss Paull continued in charge until the close of the spring term, in June 1887. Miss Susan H. Johnson was thereupon elected principal, and she served until the spring of 1893.

Just after Miss Paull left in the summer of 1887, a "fine" three-story frame building was built "at a cost of about $12,000, exclusive of furniture." The new building contained "chapel, recitation rooms, library, dormitories, dining room and kitchen."

It was not until 1898-99 that a woman, Miss Delia Proctor, succeeded to the college presidency. She was succeeded by Miss Margaret L. Hill, who served one year.

By the turn of the century, the College had developed into three departments: the preparatory or high school, the seminary ("which has a four-year preparatory course, with a fifth devoted to special subjects"), and the "college department, where courses were planned with special reference to subjects which represent the leading vocations for women, such as home economics, education, business science, art and crafts, music, etc."

However, by this time it was already clear by this time that the school had been mismanaged financially--probably for years. By the close of the school in 1900, the board of trustees "did not see their way open to provide a faculty for the next year," and the school was temporarily closed. Somehow, the school was able to muster some additional funding, but it continued to operate for just another decade or so.

Photo: "Oswego College, 1891."

College of the Sisters of Bethany

College of the Sisters of Bethany students (1916)

College of the Sisters of Bethany

Location: "A plat of ground bounded by Eighth, Tenth and Folk Streets, and Western Avenue," Topeka, Kansas, USA

Founded: Original charter granted for the "Episcopal Seminary of Topeka" on February 2, 1861. First session of the school opened on June 10, 1861. On July 10, 1872, the name of the institution was changed to the College of the Sisters of Bethany. Finally, the school was renamed Vail College (after Kansas Episcopoal diocese bishop Thomas Vail) on July 2, 1924.

Closed: 1928

As far as I can tell, there were never more than three women's colleges in the state of Kansas. Two of those colleges have closed, and one went co-ed (St. Mary's College in Leavenworth, Kansas--now known as the University of St. Mary--started admitting men in 1988) The College of the Sisters of Bethany (a/k/a Bethany College) is one of the lost ones.

The College was not named after an order of sisters, but to honor the sisters of Bethany, Mary and Martha, who represented "the two great classes of Christian womanhood, the contemplative and the active."

The school was organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, and like many women's colleges, the early leadership appeared to be entirely male. I don't see mention of a woman "principal"--not to be confused with the college "president"--until Miss Meliora Hambletin (or Hambleton) was elected by the Board in 1904. There is also reference to Mrs. Alice Howland Warwick servicing as principal in 1918.

Somewhat optimistically, the College was once billed as the "Wellesley of the West."

A 2003 article in the Topeka Capital-Journal provides the following description of the school:

From 10 to 35 students -- historical accounts differ -- enrolled in the college's first session, which began on June 10, 1861, in a building at Topeka Boulevard and Ninth Street. Five years later, enrollment had jumped to 101 students, and by 1885 had risen to 350.

Wolfe Hall, the college's main building at S.W. 9th and Polk, was constructed in 1871-1872. It was heated by stoves and lighted by coal oil lamps.

The institution was renamed the College of the Sisters of Bethany in July 1872 and moved to a 20-acre tract bounded by Polk, Western, 8th and 10th.

The school's motto was: "That our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple." The fully accredited school welcomed both day and boarding pupils and offered classes from kindergarten through the second year of college, according to an Oct. 25, 1953, article in the Topeka Daily Capital.

Board was $5 a week, with laundry service costing an additional dollar.

Parents weren't allowed to send their daughters candles, cakes, pickles and preserves because they were "almost sure to be the precursor of headaches, heartburns, sour tempers and bad lessons till they are gone."
The students were asked to bring an umbrella, a pair of thick-soled shoes or overshoes, table napkins, towels, sheets, pillowcases, a dictionary, an atlas and a Bible, according to the newspaper account.

Subjects taught in the early years included ecclesiastical history, metaphysical science, Greek, Latin, history of Jewish antiquities, evidences of Christianity, moral philosophy, domestic economy and home duties, geometry, geology, chemistry, English, music, physical education, oil painting and elocution.

In the early 20th century, boys in kindergarten through grade three were allowed to attend. Eventually, the school stopped offering college courses and finally closed in 1928 because enrollment dropped after World War and it didn't have the money to stay open.

Almost half of its south grounds was sold to the Topeka Board of Education as the site of Topeka High School. Wolfe Hall was torn down in 1959, and part of its stone was used in a rock wall that stands north of Topeka High School and runs north to S.W. 8th.

Photo: Miss Marguerite Koontz's students rehearsing for the Sisters of Bethany College Alumnae May Fete. The performance took place in Central Park, Saturday, May 20, 1916. Georgia Neese, far left, was one of the older girls participating in the May Fete. The other participants were Elizabeth Hopkins, Margaret Ray, Jessie Burnett, Helen Lucus, Joanna Gleed, Beatrice Shakeshaft and one unidentified girl.

Ace of Spades

Former Ace of Spades (2011)

Ace of Spades

Location: 193-199 Commercial Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA

Founded: Building constructed in 1950

Closed: Turned into the Pied Piper (a/k/a the PiedBar), sometime in the 1980s(?)

Early gay activist Lilli Vincenz recalls finding Provincetown's Ace of Spades when she was first coming out as a young woman:

Then I heard about Provincetown and that there were gay people there. I had met some gay women at a bar I had heard about called The Ace of Spades. It was actually a very nice little bar with a piano and people would sing and it was very convivial.

But Aces of Spades was more than a pleasant beachfront bar. As Karen Christabel Krahulik notes in Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort (2007), the Ace of Spades was Provincetown's first lesbian bar, the first lesbian acquired space "they could call their own:"

The Ace of Spades, which catered to lesbians, but welcomed all residents during the 1950s and 1960s, was one such place [that lesbians could call their own]. Unlike the gay men's clubs, it had no dance floor--which was a moot point, since postwar regulations criminalized dancing between same-sex couples--no professional "female impressionists" or drag performers, who were also "illegal," and no regularly scheduled sing-alongs. Gay women fondly recall the Ace of Spades as a small and dark but cozy bar with wooden barrels standing in as stools, a stench of stale liquor, and a sign-in book by the door. "It was mostly about conversation," Lenore Ross noted [who opened up Provincetown's first openly gay restaurant, Plain and Fancy, in 1959]. "People talked. They talked and drank." Pat Schultz [who first came to Provincetown in 1954 and later founded a local real estate business] remembered it as a place with "very colorful people," such as "Clayton Snow. He would come in with a Great Dane and he would order a daquiri for himself and he would order a daquiri for the Great Dane."

The Ace of Spades encouraged women to congregate and socialize with other women, yet it also regulated women to the same degree that all night clubs and bars did at the same time. During the 1950s and 1960s, local officials insisted that all nightclubs in Provincetown abide by members-only regulations. The "club" method for such establishments was two-sided. On the one hand, lesbian and gay patrons were reluctant to become club members because they did not want their names on any potentially harmful lists. On the other hand, restricting access to members and their guests allowed bar owners to throw out unruly or unwanted patrons. The rules also stipulated that no women could tend bar and that all women had to be seated before they could buy a drink. But still, the Ace of Spades offered women a place to express their desires for other women freely.....Allegedly the longest continuously running lesbian bar in the United States, the Ace of Spades played a critical role in Provincetown's history as the first, and for many years, the only social institution that catered specifically to women.

I have been unable to determine the exact date, but the Ace of Spades appears to have turned into the Pied Piper (a/k/a the PiedBar) sometime in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, at least according to Krahulik, the Pied Piper began to cater to a more mixed gay and lesbian crowd.

While searching for a photo of the establishment, I noticed that the Pied Piper (see photo above) is currently for sale--or was until comparatively recently. Apparently, the building has been heavily remodeled since the days when it housed the more working class Ace of Spades. But if you've got $1,985,000 in your pocket, you too can own your own little piece of lesbian herstory.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Betty's CB

Former Betty's CB
Betty's CB

Location: Corner of California and Shanandoah, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Opened: 1951

Closed: 1970s

In the course of looking for material for Lost Womyn's Space, I discovered the St. Louis Lesbian History blog, which includes lot of photos and oral histories about lesbian bars in St. Louis, Missouri. Sharon has done an amazing job of compiling some very interesting stuff, and I highly recommend you check out her work.

One of Sharon's interviews involves a woman named Betty, who was born in 1936 and entered the St. Louis lesbian bar scene while still a teen. Because of the hostile relationship that existed between the gay community and the police during those years, Betty (a self-identified butch) was arrested for "4-5 times" for "impersonating a man." And because she often dated prostitutes--which was common in the St. Louis butch-femme scene of the time--she also got charged with prostitution and subjected to mandatory penicillin shots. Betty provided Sharon with a tour of where all the old lesbian bars were in St. Louis. I thought this anecdote was particularly interesting:

Betty's CB was the first lesbian bar that she ever went to and on her very first visit, it was raided. Some older lesbians pushed her out the back window and that time, she escaped arrest. That was particularly fortunate, since she was underage.

Sharon goes on to explain that Betty's CB was a "no touch bar" that stayed open until the 1970s. Way back when, there were three lesbian bars at the same intersection of California and Shanandoah: Betty's CB, Pat's Palace, and one other place that nobody seems to recall the name of.

Hardin College and Conservatory of Music

Hardin College (1858-1931)
Hardin College and Conservatory of Music

Location: 1200 College Place, Mexico, Missouri, USA

Founded: 1858 as Audrain County Female Seminary, 1873 as Hardin College

Closed: 1931

Hardin College and Conservatory of Music--often referred to as Hardin College--was a women's college and conservatory in addition to being the first junior college in the state of Missouri. The school was associated with the Missionary Baptist Church of Missouri.

The institution was renamed in 1873 for Charles Henry Hardin, later Governor of Missouri. John W. Million was president in 1900 and previous presidents were A. W. Terrill, Mrs. H. T. Baird, and A. K. Yancy. Oscar B. Smith was president from 1930 until Hardin closed in 1931, a victim of the Great Depression.

Along with seven other women's colleges in Missouri – Stephens, Christian, Lindenwood, Cottey, Howard Payne, William Woods, and Central Female College– Hardin was one of the original members of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges and program. It was designated as Alpha Chapter in 1918, though the chapter was later moved to Stephens when Hardin developed Bachelor's degree programs.

An 1899 ad in the Kansas City Journal boasted that the "Hardin College and Conservatory of Music for Ladies" had a "literary course in the hands of university alumni" and an art department that was "unexcelled." The conservatory, it was noted, was "presided over by SCHARWENKA, OF BERLIN." This last reference was to Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924), the noted German-Polish pianist and composer.

In 1914, Rose Tont described the Hardin conservatory as having seven teachers, with courses in "piano, voice, violin, organ, sight singing, ear training, public school music, harmony and musical history." It also offered post graduate work in "counterpoint, canon, and fugue."

The college's 1200 seat auditorium, Presser Hall, has been restored and is now used for community theater and concerts. The former Richardson Hall houses the Mexico Public Schools administrative offices.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Egyptian Club

Egyptian Club

Egyptian Club

Location: 3701 Southeast Division Street, Portland, Oregon, USA

Founded: 1995

Closed: October 2010, now doing business as the "all-inclusive" Weird Bar

Here's how the Egyptian Club was once advertised:

Three lez bars in one! The Egyptian Club, or E-room, caters to the ladies all day, every day with the Front Lounge, The Room and The Tomb.

You don't see too many bars advertised quite like that! Actually, the Egyptian Club wasn't quite as peculiar as the hype cited above. Another advertisement clarifies the "three lez bars in one" concept in a bit more detail, and it turns out that the Egyptian Club wasn't really as Gothic or scary as all that:

Portland, Oregon has three full-time lesbian bars and they are all right here! The front lounge is great for chit-chat or a game of pool and is the bar that is open seven days a week. The Room is the karaoke bar and is open 7 nights a week (at 9pm). The Tomb is the dance bar, where we also hold special events and poker.

Okay! Gotcha!

It seems that like a lot of lesbian bars in recent years, the Egyptian Club ran into financial troubles during the recent recession. Owner Kim Davis tried to sell the place, but the offers were on the low side. So Davis decided to make a big change: Give the old Egyptian Club a bright tangerine, lime, and purple paint job, re-christen it as the Weird Bar, and declare it "open to everyone." Of course, not all the bar's former lesbian patrons welcomed the change:

But now some regulars feel betrayed even as others give the bar a try for the first time. The change marks the loss of the metro area's only bar targeted exclusively to lesbians -- perhaps surprising in a city known nationwide as a haven for gay women. At the same time, though, many other local businesses cater to the larger gay community.

Katy Cannatelli became a regular at the Egyptian Club after moving to Portland in 2000. "I didn't have to worry about being gay-bashed or discriminated against," she said. The loss "feels like a little bit of a death in my community."

But Adam Cain, part of the transgender population, said he's excited about the change. Before, "there was a certain amount of unfriendliness toward men," he said. "All of that has completely gone away now."

Davis, 46, said that when she opened the Egyptian Club in 1995, people threw eggs at the building and assaulted the women bouncers outside the door. "We went through a lot back then, but it's different now," she said. "I want to accept everybody."

That includes straight men, who were often ostracized before.

"The lesbians really took ownership of it," she said. "If a straight guy walked in here, they would say, 'What are you doing here?' I don't want the negativity."

Still, deciding to change wasn't easy, said Davis, a bubbly blonde with streaks in her hair to match the bar's new color scheme. "I was a little scared to put the money into it," she said. "It's kind of like sink or swim, try something new or go away. So we're trying something new."

She named it Weird Bar for its winding layout -- and for herself: "No one is weirder than me! I'm the definition of it." 

Update 8/2011: It has now been announced that the Weird Bar will be closing as of the end of August 2011. Which suggests that lesbian bars don't necessarily have an improved survival rate by going "queer"....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Martha Washington Hotel

Martha Washington Hotel
Martha Washington Hotel

Location: 29 East 29th Street, New York, New York USA

Founded: March 2, 1903

Closed: October 1, 1998, now operating as a "mixed" hotel called Hotel Thirty Thirty

The Martha Washington Hotel is credited as the first hotel exclusively for women, at least in New York City. Famous residents over the years include the poet Sarah Teasdale and the actress Veronica Lake. Another notable resident was the actress Louise Brooks who, in 1924, after an "humiliating eviction" from the Algonquin Hotel, moved to the Martha Washington, "a respectable woman's hotel on East Twenty-ninth Street" (quoting Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood, 1974). "The atmosphere of the Martha Washington Hotel was institutional. The women wore short hair, suits, and sensible shoes, and worked, I assumed, in offices." Louise was "assigned a cell under the roof," but she did not stay long: "I was asked to leave the Martha Washington, because people in a building overlooking the hotel had been shocked to see me on the roof, exercising in 'flimsy pajamas.'"

Claims of "discrimination" closed the hotel as a woman-only space in 1998, but this appeared to be nothing but a cynical move to gain control of the real estate. According to the Village Voice:

Claiming that it is illegal to bar tenants based on gender, the Hotel Martha Washington on East 30th Street is open to men for the first time in its 95-year history. But tenants at the single-room ­occupancy hotel— including women who are elderly, disabled, and seeking respite from abuse— say the move is simply a real estate ploy designed to frighten them away and enhance profits.

"What they want to do is promote the tourist industry, but by doing that they're denying affordable housing for New York City residents," says Arlene Edwards, who is in her thirties and has lived in the Martha Washington for five years. "They want to do a gut renovation and charge outrageous prices for overnight stays."

In mid September, management sent women residents a memo saying they would be sharing the hotel, where most tenants use common bathrooms, with "suitable males" beginning October 1.

New York Medical College and Hospital for Women

New York Medical College and Hospital for Women (1863-1919)

New York Medical College and Hospital for Women

Location: 724 Broadway, New York, New York USA

Opened: 1863

Closed: 1918

The New York Medical College and Hospital for Women was founded by Dr. Clemence S. Lozier, a woman physician in practice in New York City at the time. A visionary leader, Dr. Lozier gave weekly health talks in her own parlor, and from these beginnings came the idea for a medical college for women. Until then, there was no place in New York City where a woman could study medicine.
According to Sylvain Cazalet's history of the New York Medical College for Women, Dr. Lozier's leadership was crucial to the college's early success:

During the next years, twenty-five in all, when Dr. Lozier was President and Dean, she saw the College and Hospital rise from its small beginning of seven students to a list of two hundred and nineteen graduate medical women, settled in practice from Maine to California. Prejudice had been partly overcome. No longer did men students hiss and jeer as visiting women students came to amphitheaters for clinical instruction.

The school continued to expand under the leadership of other women physicians over the next few decades. However, it was not until 1918 that women were accepted into the city's hospitals and that the women graduate physicians of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women entered Bellevue, Cumberland Street, and Willard Parker Hospitals as interns. With that decision, the Board decided to close the school and transfer the existing students to the New York Homeopathic Medical College.

Unfortunately, like many anxious liberal efforts to eliminate women's institutions in an effort to look "fair," that optimism proved premature. For the most part, women medical students continued to face restrictive quotas and other forms of admission discrimination well into the 1970s.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mona's 440 Club

Mona's 440 Club (1945)

Mona's 440 Club

Location: 440 Broadway, San Francisco, California, USA

Founded: 1933 (at North Beach location); 1939 at Broadway location

Closed: Mid 1950s/early 1960s?

Mona's 440 Club is generally credited as being the first lesbian bar in the United States. (Although Chicago's Roselle Inn and Twelve-Thirty Club were very close in age and may in fact have been older. We're also assuming that various "ladies bars" that even preexisted these 1930s places did not function as lesbian gathering points.)

James R. Smith's San Francisco's Lost Landmarks (2004) says the following about Mona's:

Mona's 440 Club was another [club] that took advantage of the city's tolerance and tourism. Opening in a Columbus Street basement in North Beach in 1936, Mona Sargeant's tavern quickly hit the travelsheets as a place "where girls will be boys." The first openly lesbian club, Mona's female waiters and performers wore tuxedos and patrons dressed their roles. Within a couple of years, Mona's moved to 440 Broadway and took the address as part of the club's new name, Mona's 440 Club. Great entertainment, first local and later national talent, made a night at Mona's an event. Straights loved the opportunity to rub elbows with openly gay patrons, posing for pictures with them when possible. Gladys Bently, the great African-American cross dressing diva, sang the blues to an enthusiastic audience during the World War II years. Known alternatively as "America's Great Sepia Piano Artist" and the "Brown Bombshell of Sophisticated Song, " the 250-pound Bently exuded sexuality. Mona's introduced a generation to the lesbian lifestyle in a proud manner.

After 26 years, Mona's was closed and replaced by Ann's 440 Club at the same location

However, Dick Boyd has a slightly different chronology, with Mona's becoming Ann's in the mid 1950s:

Mona Sargent and then husband Jimmie started the biz right after the repeal of Prohibition at 451 Union Street (1933 to 1935), on the corner of Varennes, between Grant and Kearny (now the Diamond Nail Waxing). In 1936 they moved to 140 Columbus (now the Purple Onion). In 1939 they moved to 440 Broadway. It was actually opened by Charlie Murray as the “440” but he soon brought in Mona as a partner and it became “Mona’s 440.” Often men had to front for lesbians in bars and clubs in order to get the approval of the Board of Equalization for their liquor license. Mona’s flourished during WWII and the Korean War. It was a favorite with lesbians but even with servicemen as it was not “off-limits.” Tourist loved it for its entertainment but also knew they might be able to connect with someone of the same sex which could not happen back home.

It became Ann’s 440 Club in the mid fifties run by Ann Dee.

How to recreate Mona's at home: Why not invite your friends over for some classic cocktails from the 1930s and 40s? For background music, try the incomparable Gladys Bentley.



Location: 531 Hudson Street, New York, New York, USA

Founded: 1993

Closed: 2008

Here's how the New York Post announced the closing of Rubyfruit in 2008:

RUBYFRUIT, the beloved West Village lesbian bar and restaurant, is closing after 15 years - a victim of rising rents and smaller crowds. "It was the first of its kind as a meeting place for local lesbians and those visiting New York from all over the world," owner Debra Fierro told Page Six. "But there have been great strides, and I think lesbians are comfortable anywhere now." The bar, named after Rita Mae Brown's best seller "Rubyfruit Jungle," was written about in Patricia Cornwell's thrillers and hosted Martina Navratilova's retirement party. It once employed as a bartender Tammy Lynn Michaels, who later "wed" Melissa Etheridge. Straights like Liza Minnelli and Ashford and Simpson also dropped in. Fierro is talking with Socialista owner Armin Amiri and others about taking over the space. But her last few weeks at Rubyfruit have her "totally heartbroken. I love this place. When I told some of the women at the bar the other night, they were crying."

Actually, I figure the place was doomed after getting a snarky review like this one from the New York, which manages to elicit every lesbians-are-dowdy-and-uncool stereotype there is. And once a nightspot is proclaimed unfashionable--especially in a hyper image conscious place like New York--you're as good as toast:

Named after Rita Mae Brown's Sapphic classic Rubyfruit Jungle, this West Village stalwart remains hopelessly lost in lesbian chic circa 1985. With Victorian fringed lamps, red-brick walls and antique mirrors, it feels like a retirement home for diesel dykes and high school gym teachers—the only thing missing is a portrait of Gertrude Stein over the fireplace. If you're hungry, the romantic downstairs dining room serves pricey, passable American cuisine. At the very least, Rubyfruit makes sure the Jersey girls don't have to go too far across the river for lady-on-lady action. — Michelle Handelman

When things get happenin', the bartender habitually cranks up the Bee Gees' "Woman to Woman"

Umoja Village

Umoja Village
 Umoja Village

Location: Umoja, Kenya

Founded: Around 1995

Closed: Unable to find evidence it actually closed, but if Umoja Village still exists, it's under constant siege and critically endangered. UPDATE: As of April 2012, it still exists.

I find the story behind Umoja particularly fascinating. Rather than do a write up myself, I am including an excerpt from a 2005 Washington Post article:

A Place Where Women Rule
All-Female Village in Kenya Is a Sign Of Burgeoning Feminism Across Africa

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 9, 2005

UMOJA, Kenya -- Seated cross-legged on tan sisal mats in the shade, Rebecca Lolosoli, matriarch of a village for women only, took the hand of a frightened 13-year-old girl. The child was expected to wed a man nearly three times her age, and Lolosoli told her she didn't have to.

The man was Lolosoli's brother, but that didn't matter. This is a patch of Africa where women rule.

"You are a small girl. He is an old man," said Lolosoli, who gives haven to young girls running from forced marriages. "Women don't have to put up with this nonsense anymore."

Ten years ago, a group of women established the village of Umoja, which means unity in Swahili, on an unwanted field of dry grasslands. The women said they had been raped and, as a result, abandoned by their husbands, who claimed they had shamed their community.

Stung by the treatment, Lolosoli, a charismatic and self-assured woman with a crown of puffy dark hair, decided no men would be allowed to live in their circular village of mud-and-dung huts.

In an act of spite, the men of her tribe started their own village across the way, often monitoring activities in Umoja and spying on their female counterparts.

What started as a group of homeless women looking for a place of their own became a successful and happy village. About three dozen women live here and run a cultural center and camping site for tourists visiting the adjacent Samburu National Reserve. Umoja has flourished, eventually attracting so many women seeking help that they even hired men to haul firewood, traditionally women's work.

The men in the rival village also attempted to build a tourist and cultural center, but were not very successful.

But the women felt empowered with the revenue from the camping site and their cultural center, where they sell crafts. They were able to send their children to school for the first time, eat well and reject male demands for their daughters' circumcision and marriage.

They became so respected that troubled women, some beaten, some trying to get divorced, started showing up in this little village in northern Kenya. Lolosoli was even invited by the United Nations to attend a recent world conference on gender empowerment in New York.

"That's when the very ugly jealous behaviors started," Lolosoli said, adding that her life was threatened by local men right before her trip to New York. "They just said, frankly, that they wanted to kill me," Lolosoli said, laughing because she thought the idea sounded overly dramatic.

But the problems didn't end there.

In August 2009, the Vital Voices Blog reported that Rebecca Lolosoli had been threatened and beaten by her estranged husband earlier that week.

Having learned about Umoja’s income, Rebecca’s estranged husband and another family member traveled to Umoja allegedly armed with a gun and confronted her on August 18. They were demanding access to the village's land and money. Although she was assaulted by her estranged husband, she was able to prevent him from gaining access to the village funds and was ultimately able to escape and flee the region. A majority of Umoja's women residents also fled, waiting for security to improve. Not surprisingly, the local police chief in Archer's Post, Kenya refused to provide police intervention. Nor did the area police chief in the town of Maralal.

The court did finally grant Rebecca an injunction that prohibited her estranged husband from entering Umoja village. Law enforcement supposedly informed Rebecca’s husband, who had not been charged with any crimes, that he could not enter Umoja. It was also stated that officials were "planning" to visit the Umoja village to reassure residents that measures are being taken to protect the community. Not surprisingly, Rebecca remained reluctant to return.

UPDATE: See here for more information on Umoja Village as April 2012.

The Thesmophoria

The Thesmophoria

Location: Ancient Greece. In Athens, the festival took place near the Pnyx hill.

The Thesmophoria was the most popular of the festivals in honour of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Only women took part. Its nucleus was the distinction of the sexes and the formation of a union of women. This served to emphasize women's role in the fertility both of the community and of arable land. At Athens the Thesmophoria lasted three days (from the eleventh of Pyanepsion to the thirteenth) and followed a special ritual.

The sacrifice of a pig was the festival's hallmark. It was explained by the myth of Persephone's abduction. In this myth, the swine of the pigman Eubulis had vanished into the bowels of the earth along with Persephone. Excavations at shrines of the Thesmophoria have brought to light similarly symbolic objects: offerings in the shape of a pig, and clay models showing either a female worshipper, or even Demeter herself, carrying a pig. A shrine of this kind was normally outside a city or on the slope of an acropolis. In Athens in particular, the site of the Thesmophorium has been identified near the Pnyx hill.

During the festival, women would gather at the shrine of Demeter, thus getting the chance to spend a few days well away from the house. They were allowed to bring their children with them, providing the latter were still of suckling age. Their spouses not only were obliged to give their consent that the women should attend the festival, but had to cover their estimated expenses. Virgins were not permitted to take part in the Thesmophoria. Whether hetairae and female slaves were, is a moot point.

The exclusion of men from the festival gave it the atmosphere of a mystery, and was duly noted by Aristophanes in his comedy Thesmophoriazusae.

What happened in the play, is that men crashed the festival. Some things never change...

Mount Hermon Female Seminary

Sara Dickey Hall
Mount Hermon Female Seminary

Location: Clinton, Mississippi, USA

Founded: 1875

Closed: 1924, by the American Missionary Association, which had its own college in Tougaloo, Mississippi

Mount Hermon Female Seminary was a historically black institution of higher education for women. Founded in 1875 by Sarah Ann Dickey, the school was patterned after Dickey's alma mater, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Sarah Ann Dickey was quite a brave and fascinating woman. Her life's story demonstrates how violent the struggle for educational rights and opportunities for women and African-Americans really was, and how leaders in the struggle, such as Charles Caldwell, actually lost their lives. Notice also how freedmen, despite their povery, invested what little they had in creating educational opportunties for their daughters.

The following account is derived from the American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc.:

Dickey, Sarah Ann (25 Apr. 1838-23 Jan. 1904), teacher of freedwomen, was born near Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Isaac Dickey and his wife, whose maiden name was Tryon. Following her mother's death in 1846, Sarah Dickey was placed with farming relatives who neglected their promise to educate her. At age sixteen, having averaged ten to fifteen days of schooling per year, she remained illiterate. It was with understandable shock and some amusement that her family received her announcement that she wanted to become a teacher. Undeterred, Dickey struck a bargain with a neighboring family to work in exchange for board and the long-coveted opportunity to attend school. After three years, to her family's astonishment, she earned a teaching certificate, and over the next seven years she taught in country schools near Dayton.

Driven inward by her early deprivations, Dickey relied on promptings from visions, dreams, and a voice she viewed as God's. In 1858 she joined the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, later the Evangelical United Brethren. She applied for missionary work in Africa but was denied. In 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation prompted the American Missionary Association (AMA) to establish a freedmen's school in Vicksburg, Mississippi. They selected Dickey and two other teachers to open it. Conditions in the wartorn city were shocking; one of Dickey's fellow teachers died of typhoid fever. Following Appomattox, the AMA was forced to abandon the school, calling her north again.

Feeling the need for more education, Dickey set her sights on Mount Holyoke Seminary. Borrowing money from her church, she set out for Massachusetts, arriving in South Hadley with thirty-four cents in her pocket and conspicuously missing her trunk, which she had been forced to leave as collateral for the last leg of her trip. Dickey managed to secure a place and, through Mary Lyon's famous domestic work system, earned her way through the four-year course, graduating in 1869. Deeply affected by her experience, and consulting as always her guiding voice, Dickey felt charged with a divine mission: to establish a Mount Holyoke for freedwomen. Dickey began teaching in a freedman's school in Raymond, Mississippi, in January 1870. A year later she moved on to a newly opened school in nearby Clinton, which a local politician declared an unmitigated outrage against Clinton's white citizens. Harassed daily by whites and threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, Dickey was offered lodging by Senator Charles Caldwell, one of the most powerful black leaders in the state. Warning shots fired over her head during class and open threats in the street prompted her response that she had come south to do God's work and would be removed only by death.

While teaching at the free school, Dickey laid the foundation for her seminary, tirelessly soliciting funds and recruiting a biracial board of trustees headed by Caldwell. She secured a charter in 1873 and the following year procured a suitable building on 160 acres of land. Much of the money came from freedmen, despite their destitution. She was making final preparations when Clinton exploded in race riots on 4 September 1875, forcing a delay. For Dickey, the chaos only underscored the need for her school. On 4 October 1875 the Mount Hermon Female Seminary, a nonsectarian school for young black women, opened its doors. Two months later Caldwell was killed by a white mob.

Dickey modeled Mount Hermon as closely as possible after Mount Holyoke. She instituted a domestic work system, setting exacting standards for cleanliness, punctuality, and industriousness. In addition to the elementary course, Dickey offered a three-year, and later four-year, normal course, featuring yearly English and Bible courses, liberal science offerings, music, and education theory. The catalog promised that students completing the course would have no trouble obtaining teacher's certification, and this proved true. In fact, Mount Hermon students were so well prepared that many obtained certification without completing the course. Dickey's dream for a Mount Holyoke for freedwomen, however, rested on the advanced course, which included Latin, philosophy, further science, English, and religious studies. Only one student graduated the course, yet Dickey continued to offer it until her death, believing that nothing less would do her students justice. Economic and social turmoil and the strong demand for Mount Hermon teachers drew most students away before entering this level.

Though it fell short in that aspect, Mount Hermon exerted tremendous influence in the community. When Clinton closed its free school, Dickey admitted the local children as day students. The Mount Hermon commencement was a source of pride and a big social event, the students acquitting themselves so well that it inspired the grudging respect of many in the white community. Many displaced children found a home at Mount Hermon, and Dickey helped families as she could, offering financial advice and accompanying workers to the cotton markets to ensure fair compensation. In the mid-1890s she bought 120 acres of land and offered tracts on credit to freedmen to build homes. They promptly built the Holy Ghost Baptist Church on the first lot of "Dickeyville," as the neighborhood was called. This was one of the thirty-eight churches burned in Mississippi in 1964. Over the decades the white community began to perceive the value of her work. By 1889 Dickey could write that all of the prejudice against her had been erased.

In 1896 Dickey was ordained a minister of the United Brethren in Christ. However, despite years of tireless solicitation and creative financial endeavors, she was unable to secure permanent funding for her school. Following her death in Clinton at age sixty-five, the school was entrusted to the AMA, whose interests lay in its nearby Tougaloo University. The school fell into neglect and was closed in 1924. Only the brass bell and the gravesite, dedicated and maintained by the Mississippi State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, remain of Mount Hermon. A memorial building at Tougaloo and a laboratory at Mount Holyoke bear Sarah Dickey's name.

As amazing as Sarah Dickey was, I wish I could include something here about what life was like at the school, or how the students felt about the education they received there. But like so much of women's history--especially African-American women's history--those voices have apparently been lost.

Photo: Sara (sic?) Dickey Hall (formerly, Sara Dickey Memorial Hospital), Tougaloo College, Tourgaloo, Mississippi

Lost & Found

From Quearborn & Perversion
Lost & Found

Location: 3058 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Founded: 1965

Closed: Early 2008

Until its closing, Lost & Found was considered Chicago's oldest lesbian bar. (Though this wasn't actually true. Go to the Chicago tab below, and you'll find several lesbian bars that were around before 1965, including two in the 1930s.) The original owners were Shirley Christensen and Ava Allen.

Kathy Berquist recorded the following bit of herstory on Lost and Found in 2007:

It wasn’t long after Shirley Christensen opened Lost & Found on a desolate strip of Irving Park Road in Albany Park that the vice squad began turning up. Cross-dressing was illegal in pre-Stonewall 1965, and the bar, which catered to women who liked women, was required by law to check that the pants of female patrons zippered in the back rather than in the front, the way men’s pants did. Ava Allen, who partnered with Christensen in 1973 and operates the bar today, says butch gals would have to go into the alley to turn their pants around and wear them backward all night in order to comply.

A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago (2008) later described the atmosphere at the Lost & Found in this way:

You have to knock on the door to be buzzed in. Once you're inside, there isn't much that distinguishes Lost & Found from any other blue-collar neighborhood watering hole. The clockface featuring a sexy lady in a wet swim shit would be just as at home at Joe's corner tavern as at a lesbian bar. There is a pretty bar, with what looks like original lead-glass details, a pool table, a few dartboards, a jukebox with all the usual suspects, a lot of smoke, and a lot of paneling.

The Field Guide also characterized the crowd as mostly "older" women (35-plus), a "few younger gals hanging out, playing pool or what have you," and "a smattering of gay male friends."

In 2000, Kathy Edens shared with the Windy City Times her memories of the first gay bar she ever went to:

"It was Lost and Found. I was working at a hospital and I was 23 then. I had no clue, I was totally naive back then. The girls that I worked with said, 'We want to take you out to different kinds of places.' They didn't say it was a gay bar, they didn't say anything. So they brought me into the Lost and Found when it was located on the corner of Irving Park and Sacramento. So we were in there about 5:30 and there were about five of us, drinking Black Russians. Then one person comes in and another person comes in, and I'm looking around and thinking, 'Man, is that a guy or a girl?' I was just very, very latent. So they said, 'It's a woman.' So I said, 'Oh, with her cigarettes wrapped up in the sleeve of her T-shirt like that?' They said, 'Yes.' Still, nothing registered. These other women I was with were all lesbians and I didn't have a clue."

The Lizard's Liquid Lounge is now operating at the same location, and it is said that many of the old Lost & Found regulars "still hang out to talk about days gone by."

Photo: from Quearborn & Perversion, a documentary about Chicago's LGBT community, 1934-1974