Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Ladies' Window at the Post Office

The Ladies Window, New York City Post Office (1875)
The Ladies' Window at the Post Office

Locations: New York, New York; San Francisco, California, Boston, Massachusetts and very likely other major cities in the United States

Founded and closed: Second half of the nineteenth century

It is startling to stumble upon something that was commonplace and unremarkable in another era--and yet totally erased from contemporary memory.

A separate window for ladies at the post office definitely falls in that category.

According to the National Post Museum, letter writing became an increasingly popular activity for women in the nineteenth century. With the increasing popularity of letter writing, women began appearing at the post office to retrieve their mail, just like the men. The mixing of male and female customers within a public place generated a great deal of social anxiety and fear. As a result, "architectural attempts" that segregated men and women and kept "the movements of women from the general view" came into being. In short, the ladies' window.

One of the earliest first-hand accounts of the ladies' window--apparently by an anonymous woman--appears in a March 1855 letter to the New York Times:

Being a stranger in the City, and, having occasion to call at the "Ladies' Window" at the New-York Post-Office, a short time since, I was so much interested in what passed before it came my turn to be served, that I drew into the corner, and, for half an hour, eyes and ears did me as good service as any place of amusement that I have visited in the City.

It was Friday--"Advertising day"--about four o'clock P.M. The snow, which was quite deep, had softened to a most delightful "splosh." Of course, all the mud that formed would not stay out of doors, and the floor of the little room in front of the "Ladies' Window" was covered to an uncertain depth while the "pearly drops" trickled through the roof, upon ladies' bonnets and cloaks, in a most provoking manner.

According to our visitor, most of the customers trudging through the slush and snow so as to retrieve their mail were Irish wives and servant girls. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the male clerk treated them in a high-handed and patronizing fashion--or at least our correspondent recorded the exchanges in a way that reflected that bias:

"Is there niver a letther for Judy O'Brien," calls out a middle-aged, drizzly-looking Irish woman.

"What street?" asks the middle-aged, pleasant-looking gentleman at the window.

"Twenty-Third."

"Did you ever live in Twenty-Seventh-Street?"

"No, Sir."

"Then this letter is not for you;" and obedient to a wave of his hand, she steps aside, and another woman of the same grade takes her place.

"A letter for Thomas O'Flynn, yer honor?"

"Advertised?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"To-day."

The letter is found, and contains money--and the clerk inquires, "Is Thomas O'Flynn any relation to you?"

"Only my husband, Sir." The irresistable drollery, and air of half-offended dignity with which this is said, calls forth a burst of laughter from behind the scenes, and the letter is immediately handed over.

An 1858 issue of Hutchings' California Magazine specifically mentions a ladies' window at the San Francisco post office. In those days, there was a great hubbub when the "mail steamer" finally pulled into the wharf with newspapers and mail bags full of letters from the "Eastern States." In haste, the public would descend upon the post office for the latest news from home:

At the various windows—alphabetically arranged, with about as many letters to each window as, in all probability will make the number of applicants at each about equal—men are congregating in single file, forming long and crooked lines, and patiently awaiting the time when the little window will be opened, from which the treasured letter from some dear and absent one is expected. Who can tell the hope and fear, the joy and sorrow, the love and (perhaps) hate, the good and evil, that occupy the minds of those who thus stand watching and waiting for the little missives.

Further on, too, at the end of the building, and apart from the rest, is the ladies' window; and here stand a row of ladies and gentlemen, waiting as patiently as at the others. The gentlemen, who form part of the line, do so to obtain letters for their wife, or sister, or perhaps sweetheart, or other lady friend; and, if they are there first, they invariably give precedence to the ladies, no matter how many may come, or how long they may be thus detained.

The notion of a ladies' window certainly incited the ire of the Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope. Apparently such a thing did not exist in England, as it captured his attention in his mid-century journey through America. In fact, this former post office clerk thoroughly disliked the fact that American women of the time had managed to carve out so much "space" for themselves. As he complained in North America (1862),

I confess that in the States I have sometimes been driven to think that chivalry has been carried too far;--that there is an attempt to make women think more of the rights of their womanhood than is needful. There are ladies' doors at hotels, and ladies' drawing-rooms, ladies' sides on the ferry-boats, ladies' windows at the post office for the delivery of letters;--which, by-the-by, is an atrocious institution, as anybody may learn who will look at the advertisements called personal in some of the New York papers. Why should young ladies have their letters sent to their houses, instead of getting one at a private window? The post-office clerks can tell some stories about those ladies' windows.

The anti-feminist Trollope was clearly fearful that young women were using the ladies' windows to usurp the authority of their fathers and secure the privacy of their private correspondence--so that their letters (perhaps from suitors) were beyond the prying gaze of the family patriarch. No wonder Trollope feared that all these "separate provisions for ladies" would cause women to look down upon their their fathers and treat their brothers with disdain. As for women's rights in general, Trollope clearly harbored no sympathies: "The best right a woman has," he humphed, "is the right to a husband, and that is the right to to which I would recommend every young woman here and in the States turn her attention."

Yet if the ladies' windows afforded young women some modicum of privacy, it did not offer them employment. Women were not hired as clerks to staff the ladies' windows--at least in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1852, just after her husband's death, Mrs. Lucy Newhall Colman applied for a position as a ladies' window clerk (apparently at the Boston Post Office) and was rejected precisely because she was a woman. I imagine that the rejection for this young widow merely strengthened her feminist and abolitionist sympathies. It appears that women were not employed by the Post Office until the Civil War, and even then, at a tremendous wage disparity which persisted well into the next century.

An 1871 article on the New York Post Office in Harper's Magazine assumed a far less alarmist view of the ladies window:

The windows of the post-office for the distribution of letters and the selling of stamps, "in sums less than one dollar," are interesting places to study the cosmopolitan character of our busy population. It is not uncommon to witness people of every nationality "in line," waiting for their turn to inquire for correspendence. The ladies' window is especially a centre of observation; and the appearance of the sex dressed in gay colors and wreathed in smiles lightens up the otherwise care-worn, pell-mell, rushing, and sombre-looking crowd. Here the "young lady of the period" contrasts with the old crone whose undutiful son is "off at sea." The widow in her weeds throws sly glances at the dashing clerk; her hopefulness of the future contrasting strongly with the face of the suffering wife, who, sad and discontented, turns abruptly away because her absent spouse "has failed to write."

So when was the ladies' window abolished? All I can say for certain is that in the 1892 World Almanac, there is a listing for the New York Post Office on Broadway. And at that office on the "entrance floor," one could still find the ladies' window--at section 9 on the "Park Row side" to be exact.

Illustration: The Ladies' Window at the New York Post-Office." Illustrated London News, 1875, artist: Henry Linton. From the Clara Goldberg Schiffer Papers. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Eve's Hangout

The former Eve's Hangout
Eve's Hangout

Location: 129 McDougal, New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1925

Closed: June 17, 1926

This account about Eve's Hangout was written by Kreg Wallace:

Eve Adams (or Addams) was the gender-blending pseudonym of Eva Kotchever, a Polish Jew who had immigrated to New York where she opened a lesbian speakeasy and tea room in 1925 called Eve’s Hangout—at 129 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. At the Hangout, Eve organized weekly poetry readings, musical performances and salons where sexual topics were freely discussed. A sign on the door announced, “Men are admitted, but not welcome.” Eve was a well known figure in the Village at this time. The famous anarchist Emma Goldman was one of her personal friends and a number of radical activists could be counted among her tea room clients. Eve was hailed by her admirers as “the queen of the third sex” and vilified by detractors as a “man-hater.” One Village newspaper reported that her establishment was “not very healthy for she-adolescents, nor comfortable for he-men.”

The popularity of Eve’s Hangout soon drew the attention of police, who in the mid-1920’s launched a crackdown on gay and lesbian clubs in the Village. On June 17, 1926 an undercover female police officer entered the tea room where Eve showed her a collection of short stories she was writing called Lesbian Love. Eve was promptly arrested on the charge of “disorderly conduct”—for allegedly making homosexual advances toward the officer—and her manuscript along with twelve other “objectionable” books in her possession were seized as obscene material. Eve was sentenced to a year in the workhouse and was deported in December 1926.

Photo: Site of Eve Adams' tea room

Sisters Bar

The former Sisters Bar
Sisters Bar

Location: 45 Danforth Street, Portland, Maine, USA

Founded: 1995

Closed: February 2005

From photos and descriptions, it's easy to grasp that Sisters was your basic New England working-class lesbian bar.

The throwaway description at clubplanet certainly conveys that blue-collar feel:

Sisters - Sometimes you just don’t want to pay $12 for a drink. On those nights, head out to Sisters, located at 45 Danforth St. And while they may be cheaper, they’re definitely not weaker.

But Sisters was more than inexpensive drinks with a kick. It was truly a labor of love for its owners who were, in fact, two sisters. As reported in Curve a few years back,

Tired of fighting for space in gay clubs helped spur 50-something Sue Pierce and her sister to open Sisters Dance Bar in Portland, Maine, nine years ago. Just two hours from Boston, Sisters is less high-energy and lip gloss — just a friendly, comfy place where pool reigns supreme, lesbians still read poetry, and champagne is served free on New Year’s Eve. On Sundays, the bar opens its kitchen, serving burgers, hot dogs, and pizza. It is, in short, the kind of lesbian bar you rarely find these days. “The stand-alone lesbian bar seems to be becoming extinct,” admits Pierce. “The fact that we are small and the only girl bar in the state brings women from all over to celebrate with us. This certainly helps support us and helps pay the bills, but needless to say, a lesbian bar is not a for-profit endeavor.”

Sisters also inspired incredible customer loyalty. I suspect that Sisters was one of the very few lesbian bars that ever inspired a masters thesis (in 2010) devoted solely to its existence. Claire Forstie's recollection of her first visit is especially warm and vivid:

When it first opened in 1995, the entryway was painted purple—somewhere between lavender and midnight—and a glaring neon light blazed through a first-floor window visible from the street. Did it say, simply, “Sisters?” Was the neon threaded in rainbow colors? It’s hard to remember now. You stood in a short line at the door, then handed your ID and three-dollar cover charge to a threatening-looking woman you read as “butch” before entering the bar proper. Immediately in front of you was the dance floor, already crowded with women dancing in couples and small groups, as well as a smattering of men. You could see the deejay against the far wall, and you headed right to the bar, which took up the Danforth Street wall and which was crowned by a small television tuned to a silent baseball game. Beer was available in bottles only, and the bartender worked exclusively for tips, so you tipped as generously as you could. Perhaps you headed toward the pool table (or were there two?) in the back corner, or straight through to the door leading to the tiny patio at the far left. Perhaps you squeezed into the u-shaped table just in front of the bathrooms, along with your friends. You drank at least one beer—that’s certain, given that you were nervous, a newly-out young college lesbian, ready to feel at home at last.

That particular space no longer exists; or, it exists in memory.

Forstie's nostalgia was echoed by the former patrons she spoke with:

One interviewee stated that “It definitely will always be one of those places that goes down in my memory as being this little slice of home.” Another interviewee remarked that “it felt like a family away from a family.” Patrons used words like “home” and “family” to describe the space of Sisters and the friendships and community created there.

There is so much good material here that simply cannot be summarized. It's not often I recommend a masters thesis as a good read, but Forstie's thesis offers an interesting theoretical analysis while still being well-written, lively, and engaging.

Here's how Tony Giampetruzzi announced the death of Sisters in the Portland Phoenix back in April 2005:

Almost two months ago, Sisters, the only lesbian bar north of Providence, closed its doors for good. It was a sad day for many women because the watering hole was, supposedly, their only outlet for social interaction. Audrey Luce, a bartender at the 10-year-old establishment, told the Phoenix that numbers had fallen off, that women no longer sought lesbian bars.

"It’s really just because times have changed," she says. "I think that after 10 years, the women who would come into the bar are buying houses and having kids. And the younger crowd that’s going out can really go anywhere and feel accepted. [But] it’s not just the club, and I can understand that women want to have children and be home, but they need to get involved, too. I really see our community changing, and in some ways, not for the better."

For some, the fall of Sisters was just the last gasp for a scene that has been slowly expiring.

Photo: The neighborhood bar last known as Sisters. (photo/Chris Busby)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Toast Lounge


Toast Lounge
Toast            

Location: 70 Union Square, Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

Opened: 2003 if not earlier

Closed: By May 2008, the space had been taken over by Precinct, which catered to "Somerville's metrosexual, sports-loving crowd."

So when did this joint open? I really can't say for sure. But I do find a reference to the Toast Lounge launching a weekly Thursday night Ladies Night in October 2003. It quickly became very popular, though the creation of Ladies Night seemed more accidental than intentional. ("Ladies' Night became an immediate hit, even as the club's attempt to attract gay men to similar nights failed to take off.") Needless to say, it became quite clear that Ladies Night was "tapping into a largely neglected market." As a result, the Toast was soon crowned as "one of only two reliable gathering places for Boston Lesbians." (The other venue referred to here was Club Hollywood in Boston's Chinatown, which hosted a Saturday lesbian night until January 2005.)

After October 2003, the next earliest reference I can find to the Toast Lounge is a "campaign meeting" held at the Toast Lounge on December 3, 2003 for House of Representatives candidate Dane Baird, Jr. (a Republican!). Total reported cost: $24.50. I assume we weren't picking up the bar tab.

Then in January 2004, Armenian folk singer Gor Mkhitarian appeared at the Toast Lounge.

In fact, 2004 was chocked full of various singer/songwriters and poets--and at least one band. Here's a sampling:

June 13, 2004: Poets Linda Haviland Conte and Mary Buchinger-Bodwell
July 2, 2004: Poets Deborah M. Priestly and Doug Holder
September, 10, 2004: Opening for photographers Nicole Tammaro and Christopher Banda
September 22, 2004: Poet Robert K. Johnson
October 1, 2004: The "legendary garage band," the Lyres
December 17, 2004: Poets Gary Duehr and Jaacqueline Pope

Amidst all this high culture, was this a lesbian bar yet? Apparently just on Thursdays.

All I know is that by the spring of 2005, Dyke Night has moved in. This seemed to have occurred shortly after Toast owner Ken Kelly developed some sort of conflict with Thursday Ladies Night promoter Wendy Kelly (no relation), who was ultimately let go:

Improper Bostonian's Boston's Best Lesbian Night Oct 2005: Dyke Night Retro at Toast!
"Local lesbians are rejoicing over the return of Kristen Porter’s Dyke Night, after a year’s hiatus. Sisters of Sappho flocked to her events at the Midway Café for almost six years before the weekly bacchanal came to a sad end in April 2004. Porter vowed to be back, and earlier this spring returned to the Toast Lounge. There’s a slightly retro feel to the proceedings, with DJ Susan Esthera spinning 70s, 80s and 90s dance hits. Admission is a paltry $5.”

One year later, Dyke Night was practically an institution at the Toast:

Boston’s Best 2006: Improper Bostonian Lesbian Night:
Dyke Night Goes RETRO at Toast Lounge

Dyke Night goes retro was created to cater to a close-knit, activist community of sisters of Sappho who enjoy and ultra relaxed atmosphere. Previously held at JPs Midway Café, the evening now takes place at Toast Lounge, where there’s a lightly retro feel as DJ Susan Esthera spins 70s, 80s, and 90s dance hits. Social events like the Gay Film Festival’s after party, speed-dating nights and sand up comedy by pants-wettingly funny Sandra Valls help to support a network of lesbian activist groups and causes. It should come as no surprise that Dyke Night founder Kristen Porter feels strongly about linking entertainment with philanthropy; as the executive director of Pathways to Wellness, a nonprofit holistic wellness center in Back Bay, she donates more than 25 percent of profits from events. In other words, there’s more to Dyke Night than girl meets girl.


BOSTON PHOENIX BEST OF 2006
DYKE NIGHT WINS BEST LESBIAN BAR/NIGHT

Thanks again for your votes!
"The longest running lesbian night in Boston, " Dyke Night" rules this category once again. It's made Friday night at Toast the centerpiece around which the city's lesbians revolve."

And so it went through 2007, when it was hoped--somewhat unrealistically as it turns out--that Dyke Night at Toast Lounge was "destined to reign forever."

Boston's Best 2007: Improper Bostonian
...In 1998 Kristen Porter began Dyke Night Productions because few events in Boston catered to lesbians, and because she wanted to raise money for local causes. Nine years and heaps of praise later, Dyke Night-now held every Friday in Somerville at Toast Lounge-is still running. It earns bonus points for having that mysterious Fuzzy Fairy drink and for sending 25% of proceeds to nonprofits in the GLBT community. Is Dyke Night destined to reign forever. We hope so.

2007 Boston Phoenix: "BEST DIY Promoter"
She's definitely good at her job, because the city is flooded with publicity from KRISTEN PORTER, a local activist, acupuncturist, and founder of DYKE NIGHT AT TOAST LOUNGE. Starting in 1998, Friday nights at Toast have been a cornerstone for the local lesbian community, mostly thanks to Kristen and her dream to combine entertainment with philanthropic action. Dyke Night has been lauded by the queer community and by Boston publications again and again. And again and again. And, now, thanks to you readers, again.

2007 Boston Phoenix: "BEST GAY BAR"
Kristen Porter (See Best DYI Promoter) is really good at her job; DYKE NIGHT AT TOAST LOUNGE is your favorite place for girl-on-girl action. An unassuming bar that's underground in both the literal and abstract sense, Toast squats somewhat lurkingly in Union Square. Inside on a Friday night, however, is a totally different story; the hottest female DJs in New England spin a soundtrack to Sapphic paradise, as the local lesbian and queer community gather to mingle and tingle.


We eventually see descriptions like this:

Located in Union Square, Somerville, Toast Lounge features events seven days a week with some of Boston's best LIVE MUSIC. Friday nights feature Kristen Porter's DYKE NIGHT, voted Boston's best Lesbian night by the Phoenix and the Improper Bostonian. Situated in the former jail cells of the Somerville Police station, Toast is Somerville's premier club open seven days a week and late (until 2AM) on weekend.

We know that Dyke Night's professed commitment to social causes was genuine from news items like this:

On Sunday April 30, 2006 Toast Lounge in Somerville and DykeNight Productions will host the Same Love, Same Rights Benefit After Party. Ticket proceeds will benefit two local non-profit organizations recognized in the GLBT community: the Freedom To Marry Coalition (FTMC) and Pathways to Wellness. Produced in conjunction with Rainbow Wedding Network's (RWN) Third Annual Same Love, Same Rights GLBT Wedding and Family Expo this event will feature live music, DJ performances throughout the day, and a newly released short film documentary on the struggle for marriage equality in Massachusetts.

And again, on November 11, 2007, there was a benefit for the Malayka House Orphanage in Uganda.

Generally during this time period, we see a lot of poets and singers who are continuing to appear at the Toast Lounge as well.

Singer Audrey Ryan's performance on November 28, 2007 is preserved on Youtube, so you can catch some of the Toast Lounge's non-Dyke Night ambience here.

And then Dyke Night at the Toast came to a close with the demise of the Toast Lounge:

2008 Boston Phoenix: "BEST Lesbian Night"
Somerville’s Union Square is about to become a little less lesbo-licious. Sadly, DYKE NIGHT AT TOAST, our readers’ gathering of choice, is in its final throes. The party will relocate come May, when Toast switches over to a permanent resto-lounge. But during its heyday, Friday nights belonged to the ladies, as Toast hosted the sultriest Sapphic dance party in town. Founder Kristen Porter promises to take her posse elsewhere; in the meantime, watch for her dance parties to spring up at locations around town.


So while the Toast was alive, how did the patrons feel about the place? Here's a few voices:

6/1/2006: Friday nights at Toast are a blast.  Dykenight takes over and the bartenders are amazing...cute, friendly...all the good stuff. The crowd can be young but the music is made for dancing.  By midnight, it's hard to move around and get there before 9:30 if you don't want to wait in line.

11/14/2006: For queer girls, Toast is fabulous on Friday nights.  At first I thought Somerville + Lesbians = Mullet Heaven.  I expected to be transported back to my old haunts in St. Louis or, better yet, rural Texas.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it's nice to have a place for lesbians and like-minded folk to party in style!  Hooray for Union Square!
The venue has an interesting layout, somewhat labyrinthine, but well suited to groups who don't want to shout to be heard as well as a good sized dance floor.  I've never had a bad experience with the bar tenders, and they seem to have a decent, but not huge, selection of draught beers including Stella.  Big star for that one.
The couches are comfy, and not too far removed from the dance scene, but the bathrooms are tiny!  C'mon. Two stalls for two hundred of inebriated dykes?

12/2/2006:  love this place. I used to head there every friday night with my girls and loved every minute of it.
The bartenders, Ange and Pamela (there's more, but those are the two I can vouch for) are fantastic.  Friendly, smart, and cute.
A great time on lesbian night at the very least. =)

8/27/2007: Yo, this place was HOPPING in circa 2004-2005.  It used to be packed to the brim with young hip dykes'n'queers dancing drunk to pop music- what fun!! Just went back for the first time in a couple years this Friday night, kinda early because we wanted a table (10:30?) and over 40 night was ending.  (Awkward.)  Anyway, we figured it would pick up over the next while, but it really didn't and we left at midnight.
Drinks were strong ($5 each for mixed drinks).  It seemed less pretentious than other times I've been there, but maybe that's because it was also less cool and less fun.  Oh, well.

1/15/2008: similarly to how i feel about club cafe, i'm not crazy about toast, but i have to give it props for being a dependable lezzie place to hang out.
i actually used to love going here a few years ago when it was on thursday nights (which later moved to tribe at felt- is that still going on?).  now it is dyke night on friday.  sad to say, there aren't many options for queer women to hang out and the nights we do have are always coming and going.  so for that, toast is reliable.  there are usually a good number of women dancing, there is also a loungey area to sit and drink, an outside area for smoking, lots of familiar faces.

An interior photograph of the old Toast Lounge may be found here.

Photo: Exterior of the Toast Lounge

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lick Club

Lotus Hotel
Lick Club

Location: 455 Abbot Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Opened: June 2003

Closed: March 26, 2011

When Lick Club closed, she was was widely mourned as Vancouver's "lone lesbian bar." But in her facebook page, she preferred to downplay her female identity and identify herself as an "all inclusive queer night club/lounge."

An all inclusive queer night club/lounge located at 455 Abbott Street (at Pender) in downtown Vancouver. Since its opening over pride in 2003, Lick has provided the community with space, staff, suds, songs and smiles for fundraisers and awareness programs benefiting organizations such as Youth Co. AIDS Society, The Vancouver Dyke March, Vancouver Independent Writers Festival, Vancouver SPCA, Friends For Life Society, The Queer Film Festival, Hummingbird Kids Society, as well as many top surgery fundraisers and other community needs benefits. We are proud to have showcased some of Vancouver's finest talent in including DJs De Lux, Betti Forde, Revoked & T and entertainers DAXX, Buttah, Rayne & Woody...to name but a few. Lick is housed in the historic, turn-of-the century Lotus Hotel, where you'll also find Vancouver's favorite underground house club downstairs in the Lotus, and the vintage, luxe charm of Honey Lounge.

Though the Lick's management may have preferred the more politically trendy--if awkward--moniker of "all inclusive queer night club/lounge," you seldom saw the standard night life Internet sites referring to Lick's in that terminology. Here's how about.com described her:

Lick Nightclub is a hot venue for lesbians. They have guest DJ's, great tunes, cheap drinks and a great staff of friendly people. This is the hottest ladies night around! Vancouver has a thriving gay and lesbian community and this is the place to be if you want to hang out with your gal pals.

About.com also described her this way:

It's in a somewhat down-at-the-heels location on the edge of both Chinatown and Gastown, just a few blocks northeast of downtown, but the Lotus Hotel (455 Abbott St., 604-685-7777) is worth checking out for some of the best dancing in the city as well as Vancouver's only true lesbian bar, Lick (open Thursdays through Sundays). Lick is one of three venues here, including the street-level Honey Lounge (with live music some nights) and basement-level Lotus Sounds Lounge. The variety of venues makes this very fun, whatever your taste. Although Lick draws a predominantly lesbian crowd, it's very welcoming toward all, and in the other venues you'll always discern a something of a queer vibe, both male and female - the whole place is much more about dancing and listening to great music (from rock to soul to electronic) than attitude, cruising, or carousing.

And then there's this review from blackbook:

Run by women for women, Lick (also known as The Mix) tastes spicy and sweet, like a queer-friendly, safe space should. Underground sounds from uberhip DJs keep the sweat dripping down whirling dyke dervishes on the dance floor, and cheapie drinks mean nights here are prime pick-up ground for a scene that embraces all things butch and femme. Add a few bi-curious coeds and pink power activists, and it's no surprise "The L Word" is a Vancouver creation.

So it appears that others did not shy away from identifying Lick as a lesbian place, even if the management was squeamish about it.

But then in March 2006, the owners of the Lotus Hotel sold the building, and the Lick Club--in addition to the other clubs housed at that location--was forced to close its doors.

Interestingly enough, an angry patron of the Lick Club organized a protest party for the night before the scheduled closing (March 25). And the protest wasn't over the loss of an "all inclusive queer night club/lounge." No indeed, there were plenty of "queer spaces" in Vancouver. What had ceased to exist--and what incited the most passion--was the loss of a specifically LESBIAN space:

Facebookers have been registering their shock and disappointment at Lick's impending closure, and the news has prompted UBC student Emily Plommer to organize "a Party of Protest" at Lick tonight (March 25).

"Lick is closing FOREVER this Saturday the 26th and that's NOT ok!" Plommer writes.

"There will be NO more lesbian bars in Vancouver and only having ONE lesbian bar in Vancouver was enough to get a lot of us ranting. But this deal's done and we've got to move on. We've got to create our own... space if our spaces are going to be taken away from us!

"Regardless, we ALL have a place, a memory, a story from Lick, whether it's sexy, funny or just plain ridiculous," her post reads in part.

Plommer says she heard about Lick's fate on March 24 through a Facebook message from the club and was surprised at how its closure was communicated.

"I just felt it wasn't what Lick-goers or past Lick-goers needed to remember their experiences at Lick," she says.

"I talked to a few friends about it - kind of ranted - and we all decided that a lot of our frustration came out of the fact that it's a really symbolic representation that is closing," Plommer elaborates.

"A lot of us had been discussing at various times how it's really frustrating that this is the only lesbian bar, but we recognize that for some people the space is really important, and it's also iconically important," Plommer adds.

There are plenty of gay clubs in Vancouver that cater mostly to gay male clients, she adds, and while they're "not exclusionary towards women, women need their own space," Plommer asserts.

She says the party of protest is an attempt to get people together and "see how many other people this matters to."

It's hard to find where the lesbian community is if it's not at the Dyke March day, Plommer continues.

So far, 66 people and counting have indicated they'll be attending the March 25 party of protest.

It was a fine gesture, this "symbolic and metaphorical" protest devoted to "DRINKING, DANCING, MOBILIZING, and having a BLAST." But ultimately, the Lick Club closed the very next night, right on schedule.

Photo: Lotus Hotel, by Andrew Collins

Friday, May 20, 2011

Plush Pony

The former Plush Pony (2010)
Plush Pony

Location: 5261 Alhambra Aveue, Los  Angeles, California, USA

Opened: 1960s

Closed: Sometime between 2008-2010

The Plush Pony was an east LA "gay girl" bar, popular with "Chicana dykes" and "lesbian Latinas."

When did it exist? It looks like another guessing game is in order. It was apparently open as of 2006, because as of that time, we see it listed this way:

The Plush Pony, 5261 Alhambra Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 224-9488. Open daily 4 p.m. - 2 a.m. Rarely a cover. Beer and wine bar.

And it was apparently open as late as June 2008, according to this Internet commentator:

Don't forget about the mostly lesbian Plush Pony. It's not the fanciest place around, even in El Sereno, but the beer is cold and it's a funky relic of an old-school lesbian/gay bar. Going there will also be an excuse to rat your hair up really high!

But the Plush Pony was certainly gone by September 2010, by the time the photo of the former exterior was taken. (As the photographer admits, "I never got to go there but I heard it was a rough place where men weren’t received well.")

In Gay LA: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians (2006), Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons mention that the Plush Pony was one of the many working-class gay girl "beer-and-pool-table" bars that proliferated in Los Angeles during the 1960s. In the old days, when lesbian bars were largely limited to more-or-less discrete, upscale night clubs like the Laurel Club (which is featured here at Lost Womyn's Space), police harrassment was minimal. But with the increasing visibility of lesbians and lesbian bars through the 1950s and 60s, the harrassment increased exponentially:

Eileen Leaffer, a sociologist who studied L.A. lesbian bar society in 1967, observed that Los Angeles Vice Squad officers hung around gay girls' bars so often that bar regulars could distinguish them from tourists or "fish queens" (men whose preferred sex act was cunnilingus, and who hoped to meet lesbians in the bars who would be amenable). The regulars in the bars made sure to warn new patrons as soon as they befriended them about the plain-clothes officers in their midst ("He's not kosher. You know...Vice").

LAPD harassment of lesbians outside the bars increased as well. A woman's homosexual appearance alone seems to have been sufficient justification to flash the badge. Masculine looking lesbians, or those congregating around a lesbian bar, or a butch-femme couple simply walking down the street together, were slapped with charges that were often as false as those devised in bar raids.

In fact, acccording to one informant, it wasn't even safe for "gay girl" couples to walk the streets of Los Angeles back then:

"A cop car would drive up and the cops would say, 'Where are you going?' We'd say, 'We're going to da-dada, around the corner.' And they'd say, 'Let's see your ID.' We'd have to show ID. And if they somehow got the impression that we're queer, they'd book us. They'd book us on god knows what, but they'd book us."

Driving was no safer: Many patrons of gay-girls bars now recall that they did not dare even to park their car in the vicinity of a bar because "the police might see it and wait for you to come out. Then they'd follow you and arrest you for anything." Police officers seemed all to share the conviction that a woman's mere status as a lesbian was tantamount to her criminality.

Laura Aguillar, a Chicana lesbian artist who works in photography and video, has done extensive photographic work documenting the Los Angeles Latina lesbian community. One of her works, the "Plush Pony" series (1992), explicitly centers around the Plush Pony bar. The "Plush Pony" series is described this way in her biography:

Aguilar set up a makeshift studio in the back of Plush Pony and offered to photograph women alone, in couples, or in groups. The resulting series of photographs is an amazing document of working-class Chicana lesbian culture, a group whose existence is relegated to the margins of both Chicana and lesbian social formations. The “Plush Pony” series records the highly stylized bodies of the women—in particular, their Chicana configuration of butch/femme tattoos and hairstyles and their poses.

One of the photos from the "Plush Pony" series--especially stunning in my opinion--can be seen here.

Photo: From Beto's Bar Blog LA, September 24, 2010

The Boy Mechanic Project/LA

The Boy Mechanic Project/LA












You absolutely must check out this website. Artist Kaucyliya Brooks has created this amazing interactive project on lesbian bars in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Here is part of the project description:

The Boy Mechanic is an ongoing project that will document the history of lesbian bars in cities and towns across the United States and Europe. Loss of architecture and the frailties of public memories have often been the motivation for photographic documentation of changing urban spaces; focusing on the lesbian bar reveals how sexuality and sexual identity inform larger narratives about public identity and social space. It is my hope that the photographs, video, and maps of The Boy Mechanic will document and give authority to narrations of lesbian bar life, so often anonymous or mute, and now waning. I began the research in 1996 in San Diego and completed "The Boy Mechanic/San Diego" in 2004, "The Boy Mechanic/Cologne" (Germany) in 2006 and I began working on Los Angeles in 2005. Each city's character influences both the direction and methodology of the research and the type of art objects that I produce and how they are exhibited and distributed. The Boy Mechanic/Los Angeles website is a means for disseminating the material gathered quickly and to a wider audience than the time and space boundaries of an exhibition context and it will also function as a research tool for networking with those who can contribute their knowledge to the writing of this anecdotal history.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Barber-Scotia College

Scotia Seminary, Class of 1891
Barber-Scotia College

Location: 145 Cabarrus Avenue, West Concord, North Carolina, USA

Founded: In 1867 as Scotia Seminary. Became Scotia Women's College in 1916. In 1930, merged with another women's college, Barber Memorial College, and became Barber-Scotia Junior College for women. Became Barber-Scotia College in 1932. Granted its first bachelor's degree in 1945, and became a four-year women's college in 1946.

Closed: Became co-ed in 1954. Lost accreditation in 2004, and has been struggling since then to regain its former status.

Barber-Scotia began as a female seminary in 1867. Scotia Seminary was founded by the Reverend Luke Dorland and chartered in 1870. This was a project by the Presbyterian Church to prepare young African American southern women (the daughters of former slaves) for careers as social workers and teachers. It was the coordinate women's school for Biddle University (now Johnson C. Smith University).

It was the first historically black female institution of higher education established after the American Civil War. The Charlotte Observer, in an interview with Janet Magaldi, president of Piedmont Preservation Foundation, stated, "Scotia Seminary was one of the first black institutions built after the Civil War. For the first time, it gave black women an alternative to becoming domestic servants or field hands."


As the current Barber-Scotia College website further explains, "The original purpose of the College was to prepare teachers and social workers to improve the '101 of the freedman and to provide a pool of leaders.' Accordingly, subjects classified as normal, academic, and homemaking were offered in a pattern which anticipated state certification, but which always pointed to the collegiate level."

Scotia Seminary was modeled after Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) and was referred to as The Mount Holyoke of the South. The seminary offered grammar, science, and domestic arts. In 1908 it had 19 teachers and 291 students. From its founding in 1867 to 1908 it had enrolled 2,900 students, with 604 having graduated from the grammar department and 109 from the normal department.

It has been suggested that Mount Holyoke's influence extended beyond the formalities of curriculum. As Glenda Gilmore has argued, Scotia Seminary was "calculated to give students the knowledge, social consciousness, and sensibilities of New England ladies, with a strong dose of Boston egalitarianism thrown in." At any rate, "peer relationships" at Scotia Seminary strongly resembled those at the "elite female seminaries in the Northeast." Which is to say that "smashes" (deeply emotional and erotic attachments) were a common occurrence between the students.

Jane H. Hunter, in How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood (2003) offers the following illustration:


Roberta Fitgerald went to Scotia in the early twentieth century and kept a composition book, likely in 1902, which was filled with the talismans of schoolgirl crushes. A note inside addressed to "Dear Roberta" asked, "Will you please exchange rings with me to-day and you may ware mine again," and  Roberta herself wrote a sad poem to a friend "Lu" who had thrown her over.

And so you see as I am deemed
Most silently to wait
I cannot but be womanlike
And meekly await my fate.

Ah! Sweet it is to love a girl
But truly oh! how bitter
To love a girl with all your heart
And then to hear "cant get her."

And Lulu dear as I must here
Relinquish with a moan
May your joys be as deep as the ocean
And your sorrow as light as its foam.

On the back of the notebook, which also contained class assignments, was a confidence exchanged with a seatmate. "I was teasing Bess Hoover about you and she told me she loved you dearly."

One of Scotia Seminary's most famous alumna was Mary McCleod Bethune (1963-1955), who entered the school in 1887 on a scholarship, and graduated in 1894. It's difficult to do justice to Bethune's life and career in just a few sentences. But in a pattern often seen in graduates of women's schools, Bethune developed a passionate commitment to the advancement of women, education, civil rights, and social justice. As the National Women's Hall of Fame has said of Bethune,

In Daytona, Florida, in 1904 she scraped together $1.50 to begin a school with just five pupils. She called it the Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. A gifted teacher and leader, Mrs. Bethune ran her school with a combination of unshakable faith and remarkable organizational skills. She was a brilliant speaker and an astute fund raiser. She expanded the school to a high school, then a junior college, and finally it became Bethune-Cookman College. Continuing to direct the school, she turned her attention to the national scene, where she became a forceful and inspiring representative of her people. First through the National Council of Negro Women, then within Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the National Youth Administration, she worked to attack discrimination and increase opportunities for Blacks. Behind the scenes as a member of the "Black cabinet," and in hundreds of public appearances, she strove to improve the status of her people.

Read more:

http://openbuildings.com/buildings/barber-scotia-college-profile-20952

Photo: Scotia Seminary, Class of 1891

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Foxy's Bar

Ad for Foxy's Bar (1979)
Foxy's Bar

Location: 249 West Seventh Street, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Founded: 1968

Closed: 1984

Sometimes I have no choice but to piece together the history of a womyn's space from the tiny fragments left behind. Other times, somebody else has done all the work for me. In those cases, I'm more than happy to share their work and (hopefully!) introduce it to a wider audience. This history of Foxy's comes from outhistory.org:

Foxy’s Bar was a popular neighborhood bar and night spot for queer women who settled in the West Seventh Neighborhood of St. Paul. Women likely chose West Seventh--formerly a neighborhood of Eastern European immigrants--because it was the safest neighborhood for its price with easy access to downtown St. Paul’s jobs.

Society prevented women from accessing the same jobs as men for much of the 20th century. Thus, specific sites of employment were dominated by women: namely hospitals, print shops, factories, office buildings, and government service centers. These occupations were concentrated in downtown, and the concentration spurned a nearby settlement of female households in the city's apartment district.

Once a socially acceptable location for women to live together, the large district stretched from the old seven corners area (roughly the site of the Xcel Energy Center), north to the Cathedral, towards the Minnesota State Capitol and Central Park, and east to Broadway Street. Sadly, postwar ideas regarding marriage and child rearing removed the social support for female households.

At the same time, plans for the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds, Interstate 94, and Interstate 35E demolished much of the old apartment district where female couples used to live. Without other affordable options close to their workplaces, determined women (or women with the luxury of choice) settled along West Seventh Street and established a separatist lesbian community.

Foxy’s opened in 1968, and by all accounts, it did not discriminate against men. The lesbian nightclub accepted women and men from all backgrounds. However, and perhaps as a result of nearby industrial work sites that employed butch women, some prospective patrons were turned away by their own beliefs in negative rumors. These rumors identified Foxy’s as a place for “Bad Dykes,” or aggressive butch women.

Foxy's closed at its Seventh Street location in 1984, and the Over the Rainbow Bar replaced it. The bar's owners next opened the Castle Royal on The West Side Flats before Honey Harold reopened Foxy's in the former site of The Grand Finale in downtown St. Paul.

Leaflet: Foxy's ad from 1979 Twin Cities Gay Pride Guide, courtesy of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection.

Ipswitch Female Seminary

Ipswitch Female Seminary
Ipswitch Female Seminary

Location: Ipswitch, Massachusetts, USA

Founded: 1825 as co-ed Ipswitch Academy; reconstituted in 1828 as a school for women

Closed: 1876

The most thorough discussion I have seen on the Ipswitch Female Seminary is the following 2005 article by Sarah Vickery. As I collect more and more stories about the development of women's colleges and schools, I'm forever being reminded of the power of being educated within a womyn's space, and how the experiences and friendships gained within that space inspire students to create additional womyn's spaces.

No history of women's collegiate education is complete without at least a glance at the Ipswich Female Seminary, which for nearly 50 years sat just above the Choate Bridge where the Christian Science Center is today. 

Founded as the co-ed Ipswich Academy in 1825, it was reconstituted in 1828 as a school for women, with renowned educator Zilpah Polly Grant at its helm. Grant brought along her colleague and lifelong friend, Mary Lyon, whose eventual fame as the founder of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (one of the first fully recognized women's colleges in the United States) would prove more lasting than Grant's own. 

Today, when it is mentioned at all, the Ipswich Female Seminary is usually depicted as little more than a false start in the history of women's education. But historians have undervalued both the seminary and Grant's role in it. 

Grant and Lyon worked closely together, and it was Grant's philosophy above all else that shaped their joint vision. 

"I think of the two of them as yin and yang. Neither could have accomplished what she did without the other," says Beverly Perna, an Ipswich resident who completed a doctoral dissertation on Grant.

While Grant was intense, theoretically minded and immaculate, Perna says, Lyon was practical and energetic, if at times slovenly. What both women had in common was a firm commitment to educating women. 

At a time when most girls' higher education consisted of superficial instruction in French, music and drawing, the seminary's rigorous curriculum included botany, astronomy and chemistry. Several of the instruments the students used in experiments can be found on display in the Heard House Museum. 

But the strength of the seminary was in training young women themselves to be educators. Here, Grant's influence is especially clear. Education leaders nationwide recognized her as an expert teacher. Her advanced ideas about teaching the mind how to learn drew experienced educators as well as novices to the seminary, where students were encouraged to think deeply, beyond traditional rote methods of learning, and to pursue only two or three subjects at a time, emphasizing depth of knowledge rather than breadth. Seminary graduates took these philosophies far. Highly in demand, they taught in schools worldwide and in nearly all the states then in the Union. 

Of course, neither the school nor its founders were perfect. Grant's strong religious convictions in particular caused friction. And although one of the seminary's most famous alumnae, writer Mary Abigail Dodge, praised Grant as a proto-feminist hero who fought valiantly in the struggle between "those who are prying open college doors to women and those who are striving to turn the feet of girls away from them," most women today would be outraged by the strictures she imposed on student life. 

Students were expected to spend most of their free time either taking supervised nature walks with their teachers or in their own rooms at the seminary's boardinghouse. If a girl boarded in a private family's home, she was firmly instructed to limit the time she spent with them. Students were forbidden from stopping in the street or even showing themselves in the front windows of their lodgings.

But even as Grant stressed "the delicacy of the female constitution, and the greater delicacy of her reputation" required  "suitable architecture" for women to live in - an argument she made loudly when raising funds for building women's schools because male supporters could safely get behind it - her dream for the Ipswich Female Seminary's facilities was much more ambitious.  Both she and Lyon tried to convince the seminary's trustees to endow a larger school with laboratory facilities and a boardinghouse, the same facilities available to men in colleges. When they did not succeed, and when Grant's health failed, Lyon left (with Grant's blessing) to build a new school that would be all they had dreamed of. 

The Ipswich school closed in 1876, but the first $1,000 for Mount Holyoke Female Seminary came from the women of Ipswich, and its philosophies originated largely from Grant herself. Other schools whose philosophies are directly traceable to Grant and the Ipswich Female Seminary include Wheaton, Oberlin and Tuscaloosa, which in turn influenced other schools like Wellesley and Vassar, which in turn influenced others around the world. 

Photo: Ipswitch Female Seminary, about 1850

The Sacred Places of the Women of Uluru


Sacred Uluru Women's Space
The Sacred Places of the Women of Uluru

Location: Mutijulu, Northern Territory, Australia

Some years ago, Jani Roberts set out for Australia's Northern Territory in order to meet local Aboriginal (Anangu) leaders. Her specific destination was what white Australians have called "Ayers Rock." But the Anangu people call it Uluru.

A storekeeper introduced her to the the senior Anangu men, including the chairman. But finally the chairman told her, "The women want you," and pointed to a group of women sitting under a tree some forty feet away. Roberts approached the women.

They made space and warmly welcomed me as if I were expected. We talked, eyes sparkling. Then one said. "We have something to show you." They invited me to climb with them into the back of a truck parked nearby. We drove together towards the long brooding red-grey cliffed monolith that dominated the horizon.

They took me first to a small fenced off area at the base of the rock. Standing well clear of it they explained that this was an area sacred to Aboriginal men. They then took me away from the male area along the side of the great rock to some nearby caves. These they told me gladly were sacred to women and for women alone. No Aboriginal male would dream to come near for the whole area was reserved to women under the strictest of Aboriginal laws. But I saw the women's sanctury was protected by no fence, no warning like to those that had protected the male sites. Tourists could freely enter and were doing so. I saw white men camera in hand ignorantly exploring the most sacred female places. The women explained to me that as men are allowed to tell men about the location of their sacred places, Aboriginal men had been able to tell white male government officers and to persuade them to grant protection. But the women had not had this opportunity. They had not been able to tell a female government officer because our society had not thought to send them a woman officer. So they wanted me to tell the world that the women of Uluru wanted equal protection.

The experience of sacred place that the Anangu women shared with Roberts was certainly a departure from the standard tourist narrative:

 The Aboriginal women escorting me chanted greetings to the spirits of the caves and waterholes as we wound along a footpath at the foot of the high smooth cliffs of Uluru in Australia's heartlands. "See that cave", one woman grinned. "Doesn't it remind you of the vulva?"

Clearly, this experience of women's sacred space was deeply moving for Roberts:

The rest of that day I spent with the women in their sacred places. I saw deep permanent waterholes shaded by trees beneath the cliffs, a precious resource in the desert. I felt as if I were with the ancient tribe of Israel learning of their Garden of Eden sacred story as the Aboriginal Elders told me their equally age old account of divine creation.

The most privileged moment came when I was taken into the birthing cave and was shown how the women sat to give birth. I was instructed how to sit as the woman laughed with the pleasure of the telling.

It was a day of magic.

It seems that the Anagu women eventually won their battle--at least in part--and most of the women's area around the base of the rock was sealed off. But as Roberts conceded back in 1996, "Tourists still climb the rock totally unaware of the sacred lands that lie below and despite Aboriginal protests at this desecration."

So has anything changed since 1996? Sadly, no. White people still hike over and violate the sacred areas with no appreciation or respect for the wishes of the Anangu people. In fact, some even choose to "pay tribute" in amazingly patronizing and colonialist ways. In fact, the following outrage took place just last summer (June 2010):

A tourist on holiday in Australia has angered Aborigines by stripping off on the top of Uluru, a sacred Aboriginal site.

The French woman was holidaying in Australia when she visited Uluru, formerly Ayres Rock, a popular tourist attraction. Climbing the rock is permitted although discouraged by Aboriginal people. Once at the top the woman performed a striptease routine, finishing in a white bikini and white high-heeled boots topped off with a bushman hat.

The woman was filmed performing the stunt and the film then appeared on the Sunday Territorian newspaper website.

Uluru is regarded as a sacred site by Aboriginal people who believe that it is a home for their ancestral spirits. It is also a hugely popular tourist attraction and whilst climbing the rock is frowned upon, it is not yet banned although there have been proposals put forward to that extent. Just recently a huge walkway was erected around the site to encourage visitors to appreciate the World Heritage site from a distance.

Photo: Sacred place reserved for Aborginal women

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gateways Club

Former Gateways Club
Gateways Club

Location: 239 Kings Road on the corner of Bramerton Street, Chelsea, London, England

Opened: 1930, became "members only" club in 1936. Some have suggested it wasn't actually a "lesbian club" till around 1945.

Closed: September 21, 1985, after some years of only being open a few hours each weekend

The Gateways club was arguably the longest-surviving lesbian nightclub of the twentieth century.

It was started by a retired colonel, who ran it as something of a "middle class Bohemian club" for a "gentle and sedate" clientele of artists, actors, and writers. Then in 1943, the Gateways Club was acquired by Ted Ware, who presumably won it in a card game. (Actually, this has been disputed. His daughter later claimed that he actually won it in a boxing match.)

The years of the Second World War had an enormous impact on London's bar culture, and women's place within that culture. Many women were away from home for the first time, either working in the women’s armed services or in other wartime employment. As Rebecca Jennings in A Lesbian History of Britain (2007) has said, "Distanced from their families and local communities, and with a new disposable income gained from their war work, these women experienced a new freedom and independence." Jennings goes on to observe the following:

In London, and other towns and cities around the UK, women took part in a vibrant emerging bar scene alongside male homosexuals and visiting servicemen and women. Pat James remembers the wartime years as a period of great excitement at the Gateways club in Chelsea: ‘When I went to the Gateways [in 1944], the atmosphere was fantastic. For a start we had women from overseas coming in, because they were stationed here, so you had all sorts of different people. Very interesting, very crowded, very packed. You got sightseers, of course, coming to look at all these people. People danced, especially during that war period when they were extra-enjoying themselves’. 

Some have said that the Gateways Club included gay men as well as lesbians during the war years. Others have claimed it was almost entirely women:

It became more or less exclusively lesbian during the war when the anonymity and proximity provided by the khaki or blue uniformed women who came to work in London, suddenly meant that a far greater number of women, of a certain persuasion, needed somewhere to go they could call their own.

It has also been claimed that the Gateways was frequented by black Caribbean people and members of other minority groups that were discriminated against elsewhere, which would have been unusual for the time. Indeed, as Jill Gardiner has observed of the years right after the war, "In a conformist era, the Gateways was a haven for those marginalised by society. Frequented in the afternoons by a mixed, arty Chelsea crowd, its evening clientele was mainly lesbian, at a time when these women felt that the Gateways was the only place they were welcome."

At any rate, "The Gates" somehow became one of the few places in the U.K. where lesbians could meet openly during the 1940s--and later into the 1950s and 60s.

In 1967, Ted Ware's wife (and former actress) Gina Cerrato, who had been managing the club since the late 1950s, made the club "officially" women-only. "Smithy," who first arrived at the Gateways in 1959, also worked as a co-manager with Gina. Smithy was a butch lesbian who was originally from California. She originally came to the U.K. as a member of the U.S. Air Force and was posted at the base in Ruislip, London. She decided that she wanted to stay in London with Gina and Ted. So she underwent an arranged marriage in 1962, which enabled her to stay in the United Kingdom till the end of her life. (It was never known whether Gina and Smithy were a couple--Ted eventually died in 1979--but many suspected they were. By contrast, Gina's daughter thought they were not a couple "in the romantic sense," but simply very close friends. Gina died in 2001.)

An anonymous blogger has offered the following observations about the Club itself during the 1960s:

The membership fee during the sixties was just ten shillings (50p) and no guests were admitted after ten o’clock to discourage people who had spent their money elsewhere. Maureen Duffy explained that ‘rowdies or troublemakers’ were often banned immediately. To be excluded, at the time, was more than just embarrassing, it was unbelievably inconvenient -- the nearest alternative lesbian club would have been in Brighton, travelling to which would have made a social life far too expensive to afford.

Dining out with a girlfriend, even in the sixties, would have also cost too much for most women (who would have usually been earning far less than men for even comparable jobs in those days). It’s difficult to believe now but women wearing trousers were often still banned from most restaurants at the time, while pubs were still risky places for women to visit unaccompanied by men. For a lot of women, the Gateways Club was the only relaxing and affordable place they had to go.

After entering an unmarked green door on Bramerton Street, there was a steep set of steps leading down to the cloakroom (which was usually presided over by Gina) and the entrance to the club. The smokey windowless cellar-like room was just 35 ft. long (and 18 ft. wide) and featured a bar at one end which was usually managed by Smithy. Entertainment was a fruit-machine by a pillar in the centre and a jukebox opposite the bar. Toilets and a cloakroom were at the other end of the room. Local artists had painted the walls, so they were filled with murals which depicted the Gateway's members and other scenes from the club.

Ted Ware's portrait was also hung on the wall. There's a story about a woman who tried to turn it to the wall, on the grounds that she didn't want a man looking at her. It seems she got a rather fiery reaction from Gina, who always acknowledged how much Ted had taught her about the licensed trade.

In the heyday of the swinging 60s, the Gateways was very popular with artists and celebrities such as the actresses Joan Collins and  Diana Dors, and singer Dusty Springfield.

Maggi Hambling has described the club as being "All sweat and sway of so many people dancing in a small space, that was part of the excitement. It was the electric atmosphere created by a lot of lusty women that made the club so special, not the surroundings."

The Gateways Club appeared in the 1968 film The Killing of Sister George starring Beryl Reid, Susannah York, and Coral Browne, which was one of the earliest mainstream movies to feature lesbians. Filming in the club took place over seven days from the June 9 -16, 1968. Much has been written about this film, which I won't elaborate on here. But the filming not only included the club itself, but Gina, Smithy, and many of the club's members as extras. See this clip here.

During the mid 1960s, many lesbians in the club stopped emulating male and female roles. However, the club was still a haven for butch/femme lesbian couples during the lesbian feminist era of the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. The bar owners were determined to keep lesbian politics out of the bar and Gina asked them to take their debates elsewhere.

During the 1970s, as many gay and lesbian people became more politically motivated, members of the Gay Liberation Front staged a protest at the bar. This action did not make Gina happy:  

Though supportive of social acceptance for lesbians, and keen to create a lively venue where they could enjoy themselves, Ware was never involved in political campaigning. When her club was the target of direct action by the Gay Liberation Front in 1971, who pulled the plug on the juke-box and urged the horrified Gateways women to come out of the closet, Ware called the police, and had the demonstrators thrown out.

Many of the GLF members were arrested and charged with obstruction. Not surprisingly, the Gateways wasn't popular with many radical feminists either, because they believed it wasn't political enough. Political activists were tolerated at the Gateways, though, "as long as their politics were left at the door on the way in."

During the 1980s, many new gay and lesbian venues began opening up in central London and the fashion was for large gay discos. The Gateways became very quiet during weekday evenings and was only busy on Fridays and Saturdays. The neighbourhood around Chelsea went very upmarket and, in 1985, the club lost its late licence due to complaints of loud music.

"Not long afterwards the famous green door was subsequently closed for ever."

Photo: Gateways Club in 2007, with the famous green door now painted blue