Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hongba ("The Red Bar")

Hongba ("The Red Bar")

Location: People's Square, Shanghai, China

Opened: 2004

Closed: 2005

Happened to stumble upon what looks like a really interesting book on lalas (lesbians) in Shanghai. From what I have read so far, many cultural trends are consistent with what we see in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe. For example: the nomadic party scene that passes for lesbian socializing these days, and the increasingly rare and always endangered life of lesbian bars. 
People's Square

One of the few examples of a "dedicated" lesbian bar (or cafe) was Hongba ("The Red Bar"). We're told that it occupied a prime location  in People's Square, just opposite "Eddy's 1924" (a gay male bar). Hongba's owner is said to have been a lala herself, which is comparatively rare anywhere. 

Hongba is described as "small" and "cosy" with a "cultural atmosphere." According to Lucetia Yip Lo Kam:

It was at one time popular among lalas who preferred a quieter gathering space without deafening music and a huge dancing crowd. However, Hongba did not survive into its second year. Some informants told me it closed down because of financial difficulties. Unlike gay bars that usually have a steady flow of customers, lesbian bars are only busy on Saturdays. Many informants agreed that lalas are not as economically well-off, or at least not as willing as gay men to spend money in bars. This makes it extremely difficult for an exclusive lesbian bar to survive in Shanghai, one of the most expensive cities in China.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lutheran Ladies Seminary

Lutheran Ladies Seminary
Lutheran Ladies Seminary

Location: Red Wing, Minnesota, USA

Opened: Built in 1894

Closed: Building burned in 1920; property went into recievership in 1935

The information provided below on the Lutheran Ladies Seminary is extracted from a longer piece on Education for Young Norwegian-American Lutheran Women.

The education offered to young women at institution like the Lutheran Ladies Seminary reveals something of the community’s expectations about how women would fill their places as daughters and sisters, as wives and mothers. The message given at the schools was not, however, unambiguous. On the one hand, attending a Norwegian-American Lutheran school bound the student to her ethnic, religious community; on the other, it prepared her to move beyond it. Even as female students were trained to be enlightened wives and mothers, they had examples in female teachers and older graduates of women devoted to careers such as teaching or missionary work. The young women’s world was expanded by their studies and they were equipped with skills that could take them beyond the realm of wife and mother into careers in education, music, or the church. And yet the presence of faculty wives and explicit statements in favor of more traditional roles moderated unconventional influences, as did the possibility of forming romantic attachments. These schools could reinforce conventional expectations about female behavior and they could expand those expectations.

The Lutheran Ladies Seminary opened in 1894 with forty young women students. The founders, the (male) president, and the staff of the Ladies’ Seminary were anxious to provide a top-quality education which was both liberal and practical, which would educate mind and body, and which would contribute to their Christian growth. The stated objective was to provide a "thorough and liberal education [and] also to furnish a practical course . . . and above all to imbue the student with a true Christian spirit." The school had much in common with others for women, such as Rockford Seminary, well known for its famous graduate, Jane Addams. 

The curriculum seems designed to prepare young women for conventional domestic roles. The final catalogue made this clear: "The founder of this institution . . . realized, as we do, that the welfare of our homes depends in the highest degree upon what type of woman is making them. Thrifty, neat, and well-trained home-makers create thrifty and well-ordered households. Intelligent, educated and cultured mothers and wives understand how to make the homes centers of noble interests and elevating influences. Pious, spiritually enlightened and devout Christian women are the most zealous guardians of earnest faith, pure morals and unselfish activities." However, the possibility that some students would become teachers or business women was suggested by course offerings and by the normal and business, in fact secretarial, departments as well as the conservatory of music. So here too students received mixed messages about the ends of their education.

Lutheran Ladies Seminary
Home Economics Class (c. 1907)
Every part of the day presented opportunities for learning of some sort. When a student arrived, the contents of her luggage indicated the sorts of activities she would take part in. She had a dictionary and a Bible for required religion and literature courses, a suit for drills in physical culture, a large apron to protect her cotton dresses during domestic science labs, and napkins and a ring for proper dining. Faculty and students dined together from hand-painted china at tables covered with white linen; breaches in etiquette were corrected by notes under the offender’s dinner plate. Students in the four-year seminary and classical departments took courses such as Bible (in Norwegian or English), Augsburg Confession, physical geography, arithmetic, history, drawing, and optionally, Latin, German, or Greek. The 1894 catalogue listed housekeeping and needlework as "obligatory throughout the whole course." Students were also required to attend chapel exercises and Sunday worship. Music and domestic science, both important aspects of students’ studies, equipped them with skills especially useful in the domestic arena. Every student participated in the chorus and sang in its two annual concerts. After the (male) director of the Conservatory of Music was appointed in 1907, the program’s reputation and recruitment efforts were strengthened. The seminary octet went on tour, providing entertainment to the school’s friends and soliciting support. Some students continued their studies with private teachers or abroad and used their talents as church musicians or in concert halls. In domestic science classes students mastered the art of setting a table, serving, and preparation of dishes such as hollandaise sauce, layer cake, and stuffed eggs, skills that would be useful regardless of their occupation. 

The seminary students’ lives were shaped by "such rules as are necessary for the well-being of the students and for the best interest of the school as a Christian school-home." A daily schedule of activities with mandatory free time was enforced. Proper female behavior was encouraged and social interaction regulated; leaning out of windows and reading dime novels were prohibited and visits from "gentlemen" allowed only with written permission from the student’s parents. Students used their free time in extracurricular groups and less structured activities. Besides their Sunday trip to church, the young women were permitted to go downtown once a week.

Alumnae were encouraged to subscribe and keep up with their alma mater via the "articles contributed by the pupils, reports of lectures delivered, concerts given, and an account of everything else worthy of note that happens at the school." Each class organized upon arrival and planned activities for itself and the others: picnics, boat trips on the Mississippi, teas, and the like were recorded in photographs and memory books. Throughout that year there were traditions to be carried on; each class chose colors and a motto ("To be rather than to seem," 1911) to be placed on their class pin. 

Careful reading of enrollment rosters yields a notable number of students connected by birth or marriage to families prominent in Norwegian Lutheranism. Despite the absence of male students at the Seminary, students’ families became entwined by marriage to each others’ brothers or cousins. However, the student body was more geographically and ethnically diverse than highlighting a few students from notable families might suggest. Writing to her aunt in about 1905 student Alma Engelbert described her living situation. "I have three room-mates, one a German, Alma Bleckman, from Iowa, one a Swede, Frances Tornell, from South Dakota, and one a Norwegian, Cornelia Solberg, from North Dakota, so I have all the nationalities in my room, but they are all three very nice." Enrollment data indicates that as much as 25 percent of the student body came from outside Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Iowa. 

By the 1910s, enrollment was declining because of the strains of war, changes in leadership, and organizational shifts brought about by the formation of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America in 1917.  Then in 1919—1920 two fires ended the Seminary’s operation. The first was contained and repairs made during Christmas vacation. The second broke out the night before graduation; both the main building and the music hall were declared total losses. When local business people and the (male) president were unsuccessful in their attempts to raise the funds needed to begin anew, the Board of Trustees put the question of rebuilding to the church. The decision was made not to rebuild the Lutheran Ladies’ Seminary, the property went into receivership, and in 1935 it was sold.

The Alumnae Association (organized in 1910) continued to meet into the late 1960s when the Alumni Association of Luther College, by then coeducational, assumed the membership list. Although there were approximately 500 graduates of the school’s various programs, the total enrollment list for its years of operation was far larger, since many students attended without receiving a degree.

There is also a discussion in the "Education" piece on the heterosexual romances that began between seminary students and local men at Red Wing's drugstore and other places. 

However, what is not discussed are the romances between women. For evidence of this we turn to a blog called It's a Dog's Life. Though to be perfectly honest, the author of Dog's Life fails to understand or appreciate the evidence presented. 

The author had several female relative who attended the school, and pages from one of the relative's scrapbook are shared. Do check it out, as it's utterly charming. 

In a couple of instances, the pages show female couples that are identified as "crushes." Here's one:
"Crushes" at Lutheran Ladies Seminary (1910)

Apparently, the Blog author knows very little about women's history: "I'm not sure what the whole "crush" thing was about. Anyone?" 

It's actually quite simple. "Crushes" were "smashes." They were infatuations mixed with love, erotic attraction, and romance. One of the pioneering explorations on this topic is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's 1975 essay on the "Female World of Love and Ritual." Read it here. "Crushes" and "smashes" were very common in women's schools and colleges. And the Lutheran Ladies Seminary was obviously no exception. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grandmother's House

Grandmother's House
Bedroom at Grandmother's House

Location: 188 Euston, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Opened: 2004

Closed: Spring 2012

It's so ridiculous when men's rights activists (MRAs) complain that women's spaces are privileged over men's spaces. Get down and look at the real track record. It's not true. In fact, it's a total misrepresentation of the truth.

Grandmother's House was THE ONLY homeless shelter for aboriginal and non-aboriginal women on Prince Edward Island. And yet it closed last year for lack of money. This despite the fact that they were providing nearly 1,500 bednights a year.

We're told the Native Council "couldn't find" $80,000 to keep it open. The province claims they never received a funding request, which I find dubious. In fact, even the Native Council claims they're basically lying.

Meanwhile, the province had no problem finding (and coughing up) $50,000 to keep the men's shelter open. The Salvation Army (a notoriously homophobic/anti-woman organization) runs the men's shelter. Their representative makes noise here about opening something for women "some day" (never?). Meanwhile, the Native Council hopes to offer assistance to women like directing them to a food bank. Oh super. Handing out cans of beans should work out just great when the temperatures drop into the freezing range.

P.E.I.'s only women's shelter won't reopen

Grandmother's House in Charlottetown needs $80K to run
CBC News

Posted: Nov 30, 2012 8:10 AM AT
Last Updated: Nov 30, 2012 4:48 PM AT

Grandmother's House
P.E.I.'s only women's homeless shelter closed in the spring and won't reopen, because of a lack of money.

For eight years, Grandmother's House in Charlottetown was the province's only shelter for women .

Most nights it was full.

But in April, the Native Council of P.E.I. closed the facility because it couldn't find the $80,000 it needed to run the eight-bed facility, with one staff member. The Native Council of P.E.I., couldn't find the money it needed to run the shelter, says Jamie Locke. (CBC)

"We looked everywhere. If there was a proposal to be written, we wrote one. And unfortunately, you know, there's a lot of people that compete for money for different projects and we couldn't find that steady source of income," said Jamie Thomas, council chief.

The province didn't receive any requests for money to keep the shelter open, Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty said.

Council to offer other support

"I would like to see any interested group out there, non-profit organization, whatever interested party might be, if they feel there is a need for this, to come to us and partner with us just as we do with the Bedford MacDonald House," Docherty said.

However, in a statement sent to CBC News Friday, the Native Council of P.E.I. said it did meet with Docherty in January, but was told the province was unable to provide funds.

"Any discussion on submitting a proposald was ended," said Thomas. Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty says the province didn't receive requests to keep Grandmother's House open. (CBC)

She added the council would now like to accept the minister's offer to partner on the project.

Meanwhile, The province provided Bedford MacDonald House — Charlottetown's only men's homeless shelter — with close to $50,000.

The Salvation Army plans to reopen the seven-bed facility in two weeks.

Capt. Jamie Locke hopes, with enough money, they can help make a women's shelter a reality some day.

"We know that great things can happen in a short period of time. So we remain open to that conversation and the possibilities of how we might be able to assist in those areas of a shelter," said Locke.

Although the Native Council can't provide shelter, they said they will offer homeless women other support, such as helping them find the food bank or getting a job.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Robinson Female Seminary

Domestic Science Class at
Robinson Female Seminary (circa 1904)
Robinson Female Seminary

Located: Exeter, New Hampshire, USA

Opened: 1867

Closed: 1954

Robinson Female Seminary was one of those educational experiments for women that started with the best of intentions. At first it provided a great alternative for middle-class girls whose families could not afford the elite Exeter Female Academy, but were "deterred" by the "crowded classrooms" and "coed environment" (i.e. male domination) of the town high school. It emphasized academic rigor in safe, stimulating, female-only environent.

It was not to last. Within a short 25 years, academic rigor was sacrificed to a curriculum emphasizing the "domestic sciences"--i.e. skills that directly supported the care and feeding of men.

From Seacoastonline:
When Exeter's Robinson Female Seminary was created in 1867, it was intended to be an academic school similar to Phillips Exeter Academy. William Robinson's will, which funded the teachers, stated; "In my poor opinion there is altogether too much partaking of the fancy in the education that females obtain, and I would most respectfully suggest such a course of instruction as will tend to make female scholars equal to all the practical duties of life; such a course of education as will enable them to compete, and successfully too, with their brothers throughout the world, when they have to take their part in the actual of life."
Robinson Female Seminary
Schools for young women tended to focus on needlework and deportment. In Exeter, the girls were welcome to attend the town high school, but most did not stay long — the crowded classrooms and coed environment seemed to deter them. Wealthier families sent their daughters to the Exeter Female Academy, where they could obtain an education that included many of the same subjects the boys at Phillips Exeter studied, but not well enough to prepare them for college. And, of course, it had a needlework department.
For the first 25 years of the Robinson Seminary's existence, the directors were careful to avoid the finishing school model of "soft arts" for the students. Girls were taught academic subjects only, including arithmetic, mathematics, history, English grammar, botany, physiology, algebra, rhetoric, geometry, chemistry, philosophy and astronomy. Those working to prepare for college would add Greek and Latin to their studies.
Robinson Female Seminary Basketball Team (1923)

But by the late 1880s, it had become evident that the majority of girls attending school did not go on to college and that perhaps the school should also offer more of what Robinson referred to as "the practical duties of life." The curriculum was re-evaluate in 1890 and cooking and sewing — rechristened as "domestic science" — would be offered.
The new department was created at just the time when there was a revolution in the way homemaking was viewed by society. As more scientists began to endorse the germ theory, sanitary cooking and kitchen management was seen as a frontline defense against disease. The domestic science department at the Robinson Female Seminary was designed to teach girls this new method of clean, scientific cooking. It wasn't your mother's cooking with its inexact measurements and unsanitary food handling.
Principal George Cross wrote in his 1891 school report that domestic science would "help our young ladies in preparing for their future responsibility of home making, teaching them to apply the principles of chemistry, physics and physiology to the affairs of the household and giving them some manual practice in the household arts."
Teachers were hired from the prestigious Boston Cooking School, including the nationally renowned Anna Barrows. Born in Fryeburg, Maine, Barrows reached national audiences through her demonstration teaching methods and writing. She was the author, along with Mary J. Lincoln, of the "Home Science Cook Book" and editor of the American Kitchen Magazine. But before she began writing in earnest, she split her time teaching between Exeter's Robinson Female Seminary and Auburndale's Lasell Seminary.
In her classes, girls were taught to cook with gas burners, not on wood or coal stoves. Burrows enthusiasm for gas cooking was reflected in a pamphlet she drafted about the new technology: "You can arrange your cooking with mathematical precision if you use gas. The old way was certainly not conducive to comfort. Splitting kindling and carrying coal upstairs is wearying work for a woman, and a coal or wood fire often has a way of its own of refusing to burn." Food was treated with great care and the use of new cooking equipment — such as the double boiler, to avoid scorching and uneven heat — was used.
Classes stressed cleanliness and safety. The course was broken into 15 segments, beginning with a lesson on fire and progressing through water, canning fruit, milk, vegetables, cereals, fish, meats, bread, quick doughs, cake and pastry, invalid cookery, breakfast, luncheon and dinner. The final session was a reception for the trustees of the school, a sample menu for which might include cream of green peas, scalloped salmon, potato marbles and harlequin cream.
Barrows taught at the school through 1906, but the program she devised continued to be utilized with only a few changes until the school closed in 1954. Barrows spent her later years writing and teaching in New York and developing the Cooperative Extension domestic arts program. Her papers are now located in the Maine Women's Writers Collection at the University of New England in Portland, Maine. Her influence on the cooking techniques of Exeter's women still resonates in town.
Barbara Rimkunas is curator of the Exeter Historical Society.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Exhale Bar & Grill

Exhale Bar & Grill (photographer: Andrew Collins)
Exhale Bar & Grill

Location: 6132 4th Street, Northwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Opened: 2004

Closed: 2012

This listing for Exhale is pretty straightforward, though there isn't a lot of descriptive detail:

Exhale, Albuquerque's Only woman-owned lesbian Bar
6132 4th Street Northwest, South of Osuna on the east side of the street  342-0049.
Exhale is closed on Monday's. It is open Tuesday and Wednesday 4PM to midnight, Thursday through Saturday 4PM to 1:30AM and Sunday 4PM to midnight with food service 4PM to 10PM. This is the original Renea's location on 4th Street across from Smith's.

According to the Advocate

Exhale (formerly Renea’s) is the only lesbian bar between Dallas and Phoenix.

Andrew Collins at tells us more:

Exhale interior
Gay bars in Albuquerque have come and gone in recent years, but Exhale (6132 4th St. NW, 505-342-0049) - an attractive, two-level bar and dance club north of downtown in the city's Los Ranchos neighborhood - has remained steadily popular since it opened in 2004, in a space previously occupied by a gay bar. Although it's Albuquerque's top hangout among lesbians, Exhale welcomes everybody and frequently draws a mixed crowd. The club also has a light food menu (burgers, Frito pies, burritos, etc.), and has popular karaoke nights a couple of times per week.

Acccording to, Exhale was an award-winning place back in her day:

Best of Burque 2009 (Best Lesbian Bar): Exhale has live entertainment, a smokin' dance floor, naughty drinks and jalapeƱo poppers. Outside of a planet with pink clouds and rivers of chocolate, populated solely by lovely lesbian ladies, what more could a girl ask for?

Lots of customer feedback at GayCities--23 reviews in all. Far too many to quote in full. So here are a few excerpts:

From some of the loyal fans:


Exhale is pleasant enough because it doesn't try to be all things to everyone-- it's a lesbian bar with friends welcome. The decor may be a tad closer to cheesy than glamorous but Goddess bless them for trying. The crowd is lesbians of all varieties, their blue-balled straight male coworkers, and insipid Twinkie boys. The managers make a genuine effort to include entertainment, nightly themes, and welcoming staff.

Then there were the usual snobs:

'Albuquerque's Stylish lesbian dance club' is far from Stylish. Setting stylish and classy standards is something you won't find there. The Dance floor is small, the drinks are average. Once you can get a cocktail servers to wait on you, or you choose to stand in a long line at the bar pushing your way to the counter because the bartender is randomly taking orders from any one who catches their attention first; having little regard for customer service, time or satisfaction.

Describing this club as glamorous is ridiculous. Exhale has no real interior design, needs a new back

deck, the bar is too small and is certainly not stylish or sophisticated in any sense of that word, and the whole place smells like mold. The food is horrible, like a high school cafeteria menu, and the DJs seem to enjoy crappy, outdated music. I hope someone is planning to open a REAL upscale, not necessarily pricey, lesbian club, that caters to women who enjoy good food, good conversation and attractive, tasteful design.

Waste of $
If you like out of shape women in dirty wife beaters

Of course we always have the Embittered Boys contingent, who just didn't feel their egos were being coddled in a sufficient fashion: 

The men there were friendly and Ladies not so much but hey its a lesbian bar. I also like the fact knowing that my bartender is 100% gay and 98% of the people in the bar are 100% gay. If you want to see a cute straight bartender behind the bar then go to a straight bar and please take your fag hags with you.

NOt for guys
this is a lesbian bar and guys are not really made to feel welcome. It's just that simple!
Which is ironic given the complaints (starting in 2009) that the men were taking over the the place, and that Exhale wasn't even going through the motions of being a lesbian bar anymore:
I think this could be a good place........
I just don't think it is a Lesbian bar. The two times I have been there, it was young guys. The only Lesbians in the club were the staff, and I wouldn't call them friendly, even to me. I guess I might try it again.

Hoodrat ville
It used to be a nice place to go, but since ABQ lost all the other gay club except sidewinders, it really has become a haven for trouble makers and gay men, the music is horrible, the dancers are sub par and kinda scary, I know they can do better. For the more sophisticated lesbian, try the FireWomyn party's instead.

And then she was gone:

No longer a lesbian bar, now a multi-use rental venue
Some time during the summer of 2012 Exhale mutated into Evolution, a multi-use venue for anyone who could pay the rental fee, gay or otherwise. The space has potential which the owners never exploited when it was a gay bar. Evolution is as poorly promoted as Exhale was so many events I would have attended came and went unnoticed. At least it's easy to get to and has a reasonable amount of parking available so it's worth a visit to see what the venue has grown up to be.
According to a writer at Autostraddle, Exhale was gone even earlier than summer 2012, as it was reportedly closed when the column was published in March of that year. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wilkes-Barre Old Ladies Home

Old Ladies Home - Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Old Ladies Home

Location: 450 Carey Avenue, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 1892

Closed: 1972

According to a book on Wilkes-Barre history, the Old Ladies Home was a charitable institution caring for aged and homeless women in the community. It had room to house up to 40 women either temporarily or permanently as needed.

The "home" was apparently torn down after the flood of 1972.

Judging by this 1910 news clipping, these "old ladies" weren't exactly laying about waiting for death. In fact, they were not afraid to express their opinions in direct, "non-lady-like",  and confrontational ways:

Members of Home Resent Billboard Pictures of Women Scantily Dressed

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. — Opposite the Old Ladies' home in this city is a dead wall, which is used to advertise attractions at some of the local theaters. A bill poster put up a number of posters of ballet dancers clad in gaudy and scant attire. The inmates of the house, who saw them from their windows, were indignant.

They held a consultation and then resolved on action. They procured a number of newspapers, and with paste and pot made their way to the opposite side of the street and covered the lower limbs of the dancers, and were much pleased with their work. One of them remarked: "There now! I guess decency will not be outraged."

Of course the newspaper mocks these women as busybodies and prudes, but what else is new....

Yet another random find. Here is an interesting obituary for a woman physician (Dr. Sarah J. Coe) who volunteered at the Old Ladies Home until her death in 1905. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Palms Bar

The Palms Bar
The Palms Bar 

Location: 8572 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California, USA

Opened: Around 1968

Closed: 2013

The latest fatality in the great Lesbian Bar Die-Off: 

From Out in the 562:

West Hollywood lesbian bar The Palms to close
Posted on  by Phillip Zonkel

The venerable lesbian bar – which has seen Melissa Etheridge, Ellen DeGeneres and even Jim Morrison walk through the front door – will be ending its more than 46 years on Santa Monica Boulevard, according to a Sunday post on its Facebook page. It’s last call for West Hollywood watering hole The Palms Bar.

“Dear Patrons, The Palms Bar located at 8572 Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood will be closing it’s doors within the next couple of months. For no other reason than the new property owners have decided to redevelop the property. We are currently in the process of looking for a new location to re-open and will keep you all informed of when and where that will be.”

The Palms is one of the few WeHo locales catering to lesbians, though several bars in recent years have started lesbian nights.

“We thank all those who have remained with us throughout the years. We are grateful to those who have become our friends, our family, lovers, confidants and even our ex’s. We think of the happiness through 46 plus years that the Palms has brought to people, the laughter and love. We will remember those we have lost,” the post said.

“Even though we are saddened by this closure we bear in mind that buildings are made from stone and wood and the true happiness and joy come from the lives of the people inside,” the post said.

The Palms will have an official closing party and share the details on its Facebook page.