Friday, April 29, 2011

Coconuts Cafe

Coconuts Cafe
Coconuts Cafe

Location: 311 W. Madison Street, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Opened: 1996?

Closed: 2009

To my knowledge, Coconuts Cafe is the only "Hawaian-style" lesbian bar that ever existed--at least outside Hawaii. Here's how it used to be advertised:

Hawaiian-style lesbian bar
During the day, Coconuts is a fun place to hang out, play pool, watch sports, eat off of its reasonably-priced menu, and stick around for Happy Hour. Once Happy Hour is over, the DJ's start spinning and the crowd hits the dance floor. Some nights there is live music, and the 2nd and 4th Sunday there are free swing dancing lessons.

The Coconuts Cafe was very well thought of in its day. It won the "Best Lesbian Bar" award from the Baltimore City Paper in both 1996 and 1999. Here's what they said about it back in 1996:

There’s a certain beauty to the idea of a former cop hangout, Kavanaugh’s, being reincarnated as a lesbian bar. Although some of the women who frequent Coconuts look as though they might have a uniform fetish—not necessarily a bad thing—there is a refreshing diversity to the Coconuts crowd. The drinks are cheap, the bartenders are cute, and the women tend to be fairly sassy. These are women out to par-tay. The kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m. and it serves surprisingly good bar food. The only quibble we may have is the uneven, somewhat lackluster quality of the music being played. We always assumed a DJ meant someone mixing vinyl, not turning on a CD player. And yes, men do pass through Coconuts’ doors and are welcomed.

And here's what they said in 1999:

This tropical-motif bar is usually filled with a preponderance of baby dykes, who can be quite cliquish. But the drinks are fairly cheap and Coconuts offers regular specials on everything from 25-cent chicken wings to free pool. Its kitchen serves tasty bar grub at reasonable prices, so you can fuel up before the heavy cruising starts. And there's a tiny dance floor where women can be found shimmying and checking out the action.

And then the good times came to an abrupt halt in March 2009:

(Baltimore, Maryland) Baltimore police have widened their search for a woman who shot and killed another woman and wounded two others after an altercation in one of the city’s oldest lesbian bars.

Sctario Tia Edwards, 25, and the suspect bumped on the dance floor of Coconuts Cafe early Saturday morning and an argument ensued.

The dispute continued outside the club when Edwards and another woman left. The suspect began beating the two women with a metal pipe and then pulled a gun, shooting Edwards multiple times.

At one point, Edwards attempted to run after being hit by the first shot, police said, but the suspect chased her down and shot her again several times. She died later in hospital.

Edward’s friend was hit in the hand by another shot, and a women on the street heading to the club was struck by stray gunfire. Both were treated in the hospital and released.

The suspect escaped but police said they have a good description.  So far, though, there have been no arrests.

No night club for women can survive for long when it's associated with murder. Coconuts Cafe was no exception. Especially when even before the shooting, the surrounding neigborhood was regarded as a "bit scary." Even though by the end of March, Sharone Latrice Newton--who had a long history of criminal offenses--had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder (along with 17 other things). I'm unable to determine if Newton was ever convicted.

Coconuts closed shortly after the Edwards murder, with the Waterstone Bar and Grille opening at that location by the end of the year.

Christian Female College (Christian College)

Old Main Building, Christian Female College
Christian Female College (Christian College)

Location: Columbia, Missouri, USA

Founded: April 7, 1851

Closed: In 1970, Christian College changed from a two-year all-female college to a four-year coeducational college, and changed its name to Columbia College.

Christian Female College was granted a charter from the General Assembly of the State of Missouri on January 18, 1851. According to the State Historical Society, it was the first women’s college chartered in Missouri, and one of the first (if not the first) chartered west of the Mississippi River. The College officially opened on April 7, 1851, with the buildings and grounds formally dedicated in 1852. At that time, the University of Missouri, which was also located in Columbia, did not admit women.

Christian Female College, Class of 1857
According to Paulina "Polly" Batterson, a typical day for female students in 1851 started at 6 a.m. with a morning walk, followed by worship in the chapel. They attended classes until late afternoon and then wrote a daily composition. After they studied and did chores, the students attended a Bible lecture every evening. They studied arithmetic, ancient history, grammar, ancient geography, philosophy, five books of Moses and composition. By 1856, there were 150 students, including 85 boarders.

In 1893, Franklin St. Clair assumed the presidency of Christian Female College. He died just a few months later, and in a rather unusual move, his widow, Luella St. Clair, was chosen by the College Board to take his position. Luella St. Claire, "a steam engine in petticoats," was Christian’s first female president and one of the first female college presidents in the United States. This dynamo was in so productive that she was forced to leave Christian after just four years and travel abroad in order to restore what was labeled her "failing health."

Emma Frederick Moore, an associate of St. Clair’s, replaced her as president. In a bold and innovative decision, the board elected St. Clair co-president with Moore in 1899 (this must be one of the very few cases where two women served as co-presidents at a women's college). And in an apparently even more unusual move, the Board deeded the college to the two women in exchange for the construction of some badly needed buildings. Through private fundraising campaigns, St. Clair and Moore were able to add four new buildings to the campus.

St. Clair Hall was completed in 1900. Originally meant as a memorial to Franklin St. Clair, the hall ultimately came to be regarded as a tribute to Luella St. Clair. Construction of the Launer Auditorium was finished in 1903; the architect was a local Columbia woman, Mary Hale. (Somehow, it is hard to believe that a woman architect would have been chosen for such a prestigious commission in 1903 without female leadership behind it.) Dorsey Hall was dedicated in 1911, and Missouri Hall was completed in 1920. All of these building are still in use today.

During this flurry of building, St. Clair resigned to accept the presidency of Hamilton College in 1903. She returned to Christian six years later to reassume the presidency after Moore’s early retirement. Soon afterward both women deeded Christian back to its trustees. St. Clair remained with Christian until her own retirement in 1920.

During her tenure, St. Clair also doubled the size of the faculty, held the first Ivy Chain ceremony, launched a college magazine, created a college orchestra, started a women's basketball team and implemented the then-innovative cap-and-gown uniform, which students wore in public. She also changed the college from a four-year school to one of the first accredited junior colleges in the country.

Upon St. Clair's retirement, all of Christian Female College's subsequent presidents were men--clear up until the time it went co-ed in 1969. The name was changed to Christian College in 1929.

On July 1, 1970--in exchange for a $5 million contribution--the Board of Trustees renamed the school Columbia College.

Interestingly enough, the women's basketball team that President Luella St. Clair started back near the turn of the century? At some point the program was discontinued, and women's basketball as a varsity sport wasn't reinstated until 2000.

Read more:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Otherside Lounge

Otherside Lounge (1997)
Otherside Lounge

Location: 1924 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Opened: 1990

Closed: February 21, 1997

The story behind the Otherside Lounge bombing is a poignant reminder of how difficult it can be to maintain and defend womyn's space, and how such spaces can rouse the intense opposition of ultra-right wing (terrorist) men and their supporters. It's important to note that two of the other objects of Eric Rudolph's wrath were women's health clinics (e.g. the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Clinic and the New All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama) which is not a coincidence. In fact, notice that at his sentencing, Rudolph actually apologized to the victims of the Olympic Park bombing, while he pointedly did not mention the bombings targeted at womyn's spaces nor make any apology to the victims.

From the LGBT Hate Crimes Project:

The Otherside Lounge was located on Piedmont Road in Atlanta, GA. It was owned by Beverly McMahon and Dana Ford, life partners for over 20 years. At the time of the bombing, the club had been operating for seven years and was popular among Atlanta's lesbian community and had a significant African American clientele. Ford worked at the club as general manager.

The Bombing

On Friday, February 21, 1997, there were about 150 people in the Otherside Lounge, when an explosion occurred on patio at around 10:00 p.m.. Five people were injured, one seriously. The bomb caused over $700,000 in damages to the establishment.

Memrie Wells-Cresswell

Memrie Wells-Cresswell, of Snellville, GA, was the most seriously injured of the patrons at the Otherside Lounge that night. She underwent surgery to remove a three to four inch nail from her arm, which severed a brachial artery. Cresswell was at the Otherside that evening to celebrate a friend's birthday.

Prior to the bombing, Cresswell had only told a few people that she was a lesbian. However, she was “outed” when Mayor Bill Campbell mentioned to the media that she was at the bar that evening. As result, Cresswell was fired from her job at a real estate as a result. Cresswell claimed the company she worked for gave her “hush money” to leave her job without filing a lawsuit.

The Investigation

A second bomb was found just outside of the building and was detonated by a police robot. The bombing was the fourth such attack to occur in Atlanta within seven months. Officials said the bombing of the Otherside Lounge was similar to the bombings at the Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996, and the bombing of a Sandy Springs women's clinic on January 16, 1997. In both the Olympic Park and Otherside Lounge bombings, the bomb was left in a knapsack. In both the Otherside Lounge and Sandy Springs clinic bombings, a second bomb was planted. Authorities believed the second bombs were intended to harm police and medical workers responding to the first explosions.

On Monday, February 24, the FBI received a letter from an organization called The Army of God, claiming responsibility for the bombing. The letter threatened “total war” against the federal government, and promised more attacks against abortion clinics, as well as gays, lesbians, their organizations and supporters.

Authorities received a total of four letters from the Army of God, claiming responsibility for all three Atlanta bombings.

In March 1997, Federal agents disclosed to the media that they were investigating whether the bombings were were the work of a single bomber.

Community Response

In response to the bombing, the gay community in Atlanta organized meetings and rallies, and tightened security at area bars. Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell donated $2,000 from his campaign to establish a reward fund for information leading to an arrest in the case. The fund later grew to $10,000. More than 1,000 people gathered for a rally at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay political advocacy organization, issued a call to conservative organizations that had condemned the abortion clinic bombings to also condemn the bombing of the Otherside Lounge. Executive Director Elizabeth Birch wrote to Christian Coalition Leader Ralph Reed and Family Research Council leader Gary Bauer, calling on their organizations to condemn the bombing attack directed at the gay community in Atlanta, as they had denounced the clinic bombings in Atlanta and Elsewhere.

Following Birch's letter, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed issued a statement calling the Otherside Lounge bombing as “indefensible terrorism and cowardice.”

The Fugitive

In October 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice charged survivalist and extremist Eric Rudolph with the bombings of at Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service clinic and the Otherside Lounge. In February 1998, Rudolph had been charged with the bombing of the New All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

Rudolph had been a fugitive since the Birmingham clinic bombing in January 1999. He was believed to be hiding in the in the mountains of Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina. Authorities focused their attention around the town of Murphy, where Rudolph had moved with his family as a teenager. The FBI spent $24 million looking for Rudolph, including a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture. The agency sent hundreds of agents to scour the area, and met with area hunters at the start of every hunting season. Rudolph, however, eluded capture for five years.

The Capture

Rudolph was captured at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 31, 2003. He was spotted by a police officer during a routine patrol, behind a Save-a-Lot grocery store. The officer saw Rudolph crouching behind some milk crates, assumed he'd come upon a robbery in progress, and arrested him. Rudolph was last seen in July of 1998 when he tried to buy supplies from a health food store in Murphy, NC.

Following Rudolph's capture, law enforcement officials investigated whether any area residents had helped Rudolph avoid capture. During the time Rudolph was a fugitive, local businesses in Murphy printed and sold t-shirts bearing the slogan “Run, Rudolph, Run.” After his capture, a local diner owner put the message “Pray for Eric Rudolph” on the sign outside her establishment. A local coffee shop sold cups of “Captured Cappuccinos”, and Rudolph autographed copies of his “wanted” poster following his arrest.

Investigators could not find sufficient evidence that any local had helped Rudolph, but when he was captured Rudolph appeared relatively well-groomed and had neatly trimmed hair.

Plea & Sentencing

On August 13, 2005, Rudolph entered guilty pleas to all four bombings, as part of an agreement that allowed him to avoid the death penalty. Rudolph explained his motives in an 11 page statement passed out by his attorneys.

In his statement, Rudolph said the following about the bombing of the Otherside Lounge.
The next attack in February was at The Otherside Lounge. Like the assault at the abortion mill, two devices used. The first device was designed not necessarily to target the patrons of this homosexual bar, but rather to set the stage for the next device, which was again targeted at Washington's agents. The attack itself was meant to send a powerful message in protest of Washington's continued tolerance and support for the homosexual political agenda.

Despite the inherent dangers involved in timed devices, all of these devices used in both of these assaults functioned within the parameters of the plan, and I make no apologies.

… Whether it is gay marriage, homosexual adoption, hate crimes laws including gays, or the attempt to introduce a homosexual normalizing curriculum into our schools, all of these efforts should be ruthlessly opposed.

As part of his plea agreement, Rudolph received a total of three life sentences, and a sentence of life without parole for the death of a police officer and the wounding of a nurse in clinic bombings.

No Apologies

Several of Rudolph's victims and their surviving family members made statements at his sentencing, including victims from the Otherside Lounge bombing. Bar owners Beverly McMahon and Dana Ford stood together as Ford read their statement. Memrie Wells-Cresswell also spoke, and said to Rudolph “I am here to tell you personally today that you didn't kill me.”

In a statement he read after the 14 victims statements, Rudolph apologized to the victims of the Olympic Park bombing. He made no mention of the clinic bombings, the Otherside Lounge bombing, or the victims of either attack in his apology.

Edith Mary Chapman's Boarding House

East 900 South Street today
Edith Mary Chapman's Boarding House

Location: 615 Nine South Street (now East 900 South Street) across the street from Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Opened: 1923

Closed: 1931

Until the Second World War, boarding houses were a very common form of urban housing, especially for young, unmarried women. In fact, keeping a boarding house was one of the few "respectable" ways for middle class women to earn a living in the 19th and early 20th centuries Though many boarding houses were limited to women only, very few have been identified as having an explicitly lesbian presence as such, even though it was certainly not unheard of for lodgers to bed together on an "intimate basis." Edith Mary Chapman's boarding house was one of the exceptions.

We know about Edith Mary Chapman's boarding house because it's mentioned in an article on Mildred J. "Barry" Berryman (1901-1972), a Salt Lake City lesbian who came out publicly while still a student at Westminster College in Salt Lake, sometime before 1919. According to gay historian Connell O'Donovan, Mildred's announcement created "an uproar" and "scandal" at the time. Though Mildred managed to graduate, the trauma led her into a short-lived marriage before she had her first lesbian relationship with Mae Anderson, a violinist and music teacher. That relationship lasted about a year and a half.  Mildred's attempts at finding another "ideal companion" proved unsuccessful, and yet another marriage was attempted. However, Mildred left her husband right after the wedding. 

It was just after Mildred decided to devote her life to "writing and science" that Mildred met Edith Mary Chapman, sometime around 1924. Edith was a recent graduate of the University of Utah and a Critic Teacher and Instructor of Elementary Education at the University. Edith had also had a previous lesbian relationship with a "masculine" school teacher, which had broken off after "several years duration." That relationship, which was apparently quite tumultuous, had a traumatizing effect on Edith as well. Like Mildred, she swore off love, and tried to dedicate herself to "study and teaching" for several years after the break up.

Though Berryman and Chapman had a sixteen year age diffference between them (Chapman was the older one), they "fell desperately in love."

And that brings us to Edith's boarding house. Edith inherited the house upon her father Arvis's death in 1919 and her mother's death in 1923. At some point after her mother's death, Edith turned the place into a "boarding house for other homosexual women." Grace Nickerson, a lesbian teacher at the LDS School of Music, lived there "briefly." Others who lived there "for several years" included Mildred, Dorothy Graham, and Caroline "Carline" Monson. Dorothy Graham was the manager of the Coon Chicken Inn in Salt Lake, a well-known restaurant owned by her family, which featured male drag performers, such as Julian Eltinge, during the 1920s and 30s. And according to D. Michael Quinn, Carline Monson had lived in the house for many years before the death of Edith's mother. In fact, it is surmised that Carline and the widowed Sarah Ann Briggs Chapman had, in fact, been "domestic partners."

Jan McKenzie, a young girl who moved next door to Edith's house in 1925, remembered Edith as " 'very high class', dark-haired, beautiful, with pretty teeth, and 'high ideals,'" a woman "who loved working with children as a school teacher." She described Mildred as a " small, petite woman - very friendly"  who "loved wearing riding boots and 'masculine clothes.'"

It seems the couple ran into problems over Edith's "jealous rages and amourous demands" (according to Mildred), and they broke up after four years, with Mildred moving out around 1929. Mildred was apparently "the first of the long-term residents of the Lesbian boarding house to move out." In addition, we're told that by 1931, all " the other members of the boarding house had moved out, except Carline Monson, who had done all of the cooking at the boarding house." Carline remained in the house until her death in 1941.

After going on some "excursions" to San Francisco, Edith decided to leave Salt Lake and relocate "to Berkeley, California, where she could pursue her teaching career in an environment more conducive to her sexuality." (At that time, there were gay bars for men in Salt Lake, but lesbian socializing was largely limited to "parties at home"--or "excursions" to lesbian bars like Mona's in San Francisco). Dorothy Graham moved to Seattle about that same time as well.

Mildred moved "back home with her family" and began groundbreaking research on Salt Lake's gay and lesbian community, which included cases studies on "24 homosexual women" (Mildred included herself as case #23). By 1936, she had opened her own home-based photography studio and shortly thereafter, entered a relationship with a woman only known as Z (case #24). (Edith was apparently written up as case #9.) The manuscript was never published during Mildred's life time.

It appears that Mildred and Z broke up some time in the early 1940s. Also sometime in the early 1940s, Mildred started working in the defense industry and that was when she met Ruth Uckerman Dempsey. They were to stay together for 33 years.

One of the reasons we know all this history is that Ruth's daughter from her first marriage, Bonnie Louisa Larsen, later married Vern Bullough. As O'Donovan notes:

Because of her mother's lesbianism, Vern and Bonnie "explored the lesbian culture in San Francisco in the late 40's". Vern Bullough at that time was a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, and thus began covering police harassment of homosexuals at bars and cruising spots. Vern Bullough later wrote a seminal history book titled Homosexuality, A History, published in 1978, and he is now a prominent sexologist at SUNY Buffalo.

After Mildred's death at the age of 71, Ruth sent Mildred's unpublished manuscript to Vern and Bonnie, asking that they publish it. The Bulloughs published some of Mildred's findings in the 1978 issue of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Ruth died in 1979.

5/5/2011: From personal correspondence with Connell O'Donovan, I was able to confirm the exact address of the Chapman boarding house. Connell was also kind enough to send along a photo of the house along with the name of yet another boarder at the home, Ethel C. Stewart, who was born in Utah in 1888.  She worked as the bookkeeper at a local brickyard.  When Mildred "Barry" Berryman moved out in 1929, Ethel moved in. Thanks, Connell!


Charlene's (1999)

Location: 940 Elysian Fields, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Opened: 1977

Closed: February 20, 1999

Here's how Toni Pizani described Charlene's and Charlene's owner, Charlene Schneder, in 2000:

Charlene's Bar was located on Elysian Fields for twenty-three years. The adventure she traveled to get there is exciting and interesting. Directly from high school, she took a job that she loved with a civilian company that worked for the Federal Government. Charlene was a crypto operator with top secret clearance. When she was arrested in a Gay bar and her name was printed in the paper for her boss and family to see, she lost her job. She was told by her boss that if she had been a whore, he could have saved her job but there was nothing he could do because she was Gay.
It was while she was working at the Times-Picayune that the opportunity came to make a lump sum for quitting her job. The work that she was doing was being phased out. Since she didn't see eye to eye with her boss anyway, this was a blessing.
Susan Landrum and Doddie Finley were talking to Charlene about opening a bar, a Gay wimmins bar. She was told that it would only take making $26 a day to break even. The idea was appealing. She worked as the social director at the Country Club while she was deciding to take the chance. Charlene started water volley ball there and was a much-liked success.
Charlene's Bar was to become a successful reality. She called in Kitty Blackwell to set up her bar as she had no experience herself. The bar was a key club with an all male staff that thrived with few problems for the first twelve years. Then escalating expenses and the call for changes began to take a toll. Charlene's sister was the first of her female bar staff. "In the early days," Charlene remembers, "women's bars were like boxing rings." She worked toward giving women a better space.
Johnny Jackson visited Charlene's Bar with other activists to assist in drafting the first New Orleans Gay Rights Ordinance which failed to pass. Over the years, many celebrities visited Charlene's and she said that she never knew who she might meet. Charlene says that it was the drag queens that were first to volunteer to help in the fight for rights and start Pride Fest.
She has had quite an active life and I asked when she "came out." "It was 1957 and I was in high school," she said, "her name was Barbara and she was my first love." She told me that she knew she was Gay when she walked into the Tiger Lounge. There were five women there and she loved every one of them. The bar was owned by an ex-nun.

Another great description of Charlene's comes from Charlene Schneider's obituary. Charlene passed away in 2006:

Charlene Schneider, an outspoken gay-rights advocate who ran a bar that was a focal point of New Orleans' lesbian community for 21 years, died Sunday of lung cancer in Bay St. Louis, Miss. She was 66.

Ms. Schneider, a Bay St. Louis native who had lived there since closing Charlene's in 1999, was an early and vocal advocate for gay-related causes in the 1970s, said Jim Kellogg, who had been one of the city's first lawyers to handle gay-rights cases.

"I can't think of a single demonstration or organization that she was not at," he said. "She not only was there but also was a major backer."

The center of her world was Charlene's, the bar she ran at 940 Elysian Fields Ave. from 1977 until early 1999. It became world-famous not only because of Ms. Schneider's effusive personality but also because, in its early years, Charlene's represented something rare: a safe place for lesbians when attitudes toward them were less tolerant, said Jody Gates, a pediatrician and longtime friend.

Besides giving women a place where they could socialize and dance, Ms. Schneider had live music, often by female entertainers. Among them was Melissa Etheridge, whom Gates said she saw early in what became a wildly successful rock career.

Because of Ms. Schneider's occupation, people were too quick to write her off without considering her activism in politics, charities and the drive for a city law banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians, Gates said.

"The world shouldn't be fooled by the fact that she was a bar owner," she said. "It just happened to be the only venue to do the good work that she did."

Like other neighborhood bars, Charlene's took on the personality of its owner.

"If you went in to see Charlene, you naturally got her slant on the day's current events, local and international, and a good dose of political science in the bargain, plus lots of gossip because Charlene lived to dish," said Jon Newlin, a longtime friend. "She was a grand old gal."

Ms. Schneider opened the bar after a series of odd jobs, including stints at Western Union and The Times-Picayune, where she was a hot-type operator.

Along the way, she had firsthand experience with discrimination. In the mid-1960s, after being arrested in a raid on a gay bar, Ms. Schneider lost her job as a cryptographer, as well as her security clearance, with NASA at Michoud.

"This was what radicalized her," Newlin said.

As a result of her experiences, one of her causes was the anti-discrimination ordinance, which the City Council passed in 1991.

After closing her bar, Ms. Schneider and her companion, Linda Tucker, moved to Bay St. Louis, where she operated an establishment called On the Coast.

For her anti-discrimination work, Ms. Schneider received the Human Rights Campaign Equality Award and the Forum for Equality Community Service Award.

In addition to Tucker, survivors include two sisters, Marsha Schneider Ladner and Dianne E. Schneider, both of Picayune, Miss.

A memorial service will be held today at 10 a.m. at Edmond Fahey Funeral Home in Bay St. Louis. Burial will be in Bayou Caddy Cemetery in Ansley, Miss.

Two days after closing in 1999, the Mint opened at the same location as the former Charlene's. John Paul's, a "mixed" bar, now operates at that address. After Charlene died in 2006, a plaque commemorating Charlene's was installed.

Photo: From Last Call at Charlene's, 1999

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oread Institute

Oread Institute (1849-1881)
Oread Institute

Location: Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

Founded: 1849

Closed: 1881

Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles
From the Worcester Women's History Project, Summer 2001 newsletter:

Oread Institute was built by Eli Thayer of Worcester on a piece of land known as “Goat Hill” off Main Street in 1849. The Oread offered three levels of instruction: primary, academic and collegiate. The four-year collegiate program offered a classical, college-level curriculum and is thought to be the first institution of its kind exclusively for women in the country. It was modeled after the program at Brown University, Thayer’s alma mater. The Oread taught women students for 32 years, from 1849–1881. Laura C. Spelman, later the wife of John D. Rockefeller, and her sister Lucy M. attended Oread in 1858. It later became The Worcester Domestic Science Cooking School (1898–1904) where, it is reputed, shredded wheat was invented. The Oread was razed in 1934.

Oread graduates & administrators

Sophia B. Packard (1824–1891) Educator, born in New Salem, MA. co-principal of Oread 1864–1867. In 1877, Ms. Packard presided over the first meeting of the Woman’s American Baptist Home Missionary Society and became treasurer and secretary. In 1880, she moved to Atlanta and, with the help of the Home Mission Society, opened a school for African-American girls named the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary in the basement of the Friendship Baptist Church. The school received generous funding from John D. Rockefeller in 1884 and was named Spelman Seminary after his wife, Laura. Packard became treasurer and President of Spelman until her death in 1891. Spelman Seminary became Spelman College in 1924. Packard is buried in Silver Lake Cemetery in Athol, MA.

Harriet E. Giles (1833–1909) Educator, born in New Salem, MA. Teacher of “Ornamentals” and Music at the Oread from 1864–1867. Co-founder of Spelman Seminary with Sophia Packard, she became its President after Packard’s death in 1891.

Helen Louise Kendrick Johnson (1844–1917) Hamilton, New York. Attended Oread 1863–1865. Wrote several children’s and travel books and, in 1897, Woman and the Republic, a collection of articles and arguments against woman suffrage. During 1894–1896 she edited the American Woman’s Journal and was founder of the Meridian Club in 1886 and the anti-suffrage Guidon Club in 1910 in New York City.

Abby Leach (1855–1918) Educator born in Brockton, MA, attended Oread 1869–1871. Graduated in 1871. Taught at the Oread from 1873–1878 and from 1876–78 was the “preceptress.” She took private instruction in Greek, Latin and English from Harvard professors in 1878 and was one of the first students enrolled in classes opened to women in 1879 at the “Harvard Annex,” which would later become Radcliffe College. In 1883, she became instructor in Greek and Latin at Vassar College. She became an associate professor in 1886, and full professor and head of the Greek department in 1889. She remained at Vassar for the next 29 years. She was president of the American Association of University Women 1899–1901.

Isabel Florence Hapgood (1851–1928) Translator and writer. Born in Boston attended Oread from 1863–65. She then attended Miss Porter’s school in Farmington, Connecticut until 1868. By the 1880s she had mastered all of the Romance, Germanic and many of the Slavic languages. She began translating in 1886, some of her translations include works by Tolstoy, Hugo, Dostoevski, Gorky, and Chekhov. She was a pioneer in introducing Russian Literature to English readers. She was a correspondent, reviewer and editorial writer for the New York Evening Post and the Nation for twenty-two years. She died in New York City and is buried in Worcester.

Photos: Oread Institute, and Miss Packard and Miss Giles

Tuesday, April 26, 2011



Location: 3424 State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Opened: ?

Closed: September 2008?

According to, MoDiggity's was just one of two lesbian bars in Salt Lake City (the other being Paper Moon Nightclub) when it shut down, apparently in 2008. Judging by the photo,'s description of MoDiggity's as being "in a drab strip mall on the south side of the city" seems pretty accurate. They go on to describe the place as a "no-attitude, easygoing women's sports bar" airing games and movies on television screens. It also featured "dancing on weekends, karaoke on Wednesdays, and Texas Hold 'Em poker nights on Tuesdays."  

In fact, boasted that MoDiggity's was the "only women's sports bar in the U.S."--though I find that hard to believe. Yahoo only went so far to claim that it was "the premier sports bar in U.S, exclusively for women," which at any rate, is a matter of judgement that leaves a little wiggle room.

Regardless of the veracity of the only women's sports bar claim, gave the place a general thumbs up:

Mo Diggity's Pub - Boasting excellent service and strong drinks, Mo Diggity's Pub, located at 3424 S State St, has a good crowd of regulars and a decent-looking clientele. As an added bonus, there’s no cover, so this is a good place to hit without blowing your budget.

It appears that for MoDiggity's to function, it had to bill itself as a "private club for women," which had as much to do with Utah's arcane liquor laws as "discrimination" claims.

I'm having a hard time determining just when MoDiggity's opened or closed, only that it was in business between 2005 and 2008 or so. Websites clearly indicate that MoDiggity's is closed now, but none of them say as of what date. Where are the gay and lesbian journalists, historians, and bloggers of Utah?

Photo by Andrew Collins

University Women's College, University of Melbourne

Original entrance to University 
Women's College
University Women's College, University of Melbourne

Location: Parkville, Australia

Opened: 1937

Closed: Went co-ed in 1975, and name changed to University College

A couple of things I noted in the college's official history below.

There were four men's residential colleges associated with the University of Melbourne before a residential women's college was started. This is a typical mismatch of men's institutions to women's institutions.

Despite this mismatch, it was still a 16-year struggle to get University Women's College off the ground. So much for an immediate redress to inequity...

From the College website:

Planning for the college's establishment began in 1917, when a group of women and men associated with the University of Melbourne organised a Provisional Committee to found a residential college for women, equal in status to the then existing four men's colleges of the University. In 1933, after a 16 year period of struggle and endeavour, the Provisional Committee was granted by Act of Parliament five and a quarter acres on which to establish a college for women attending the University of Melbourne. The foundation stone of University Women's College was laid in 1936 by Lady Huntingfield, wife of the then Governor of Victoria.

The first wing of the college (The Georgina Sweet Wing) had yet to be completed when the college opened for the 1937 academic year with nine students. A third storey was added in 1938, as was the Ellis Wing, which was opened in 1939. The full complement of residents was 42 students and four tutors. In the following years the College rapidly expanded and the wings of Syme (1953), Fraser (1958), Williams (1959), and Roper (1963) were added to the original building.

Of course, when the college went co-ed in 1975, it changed its name. After all, we wouldn't want "the menz" to be uncomfortable or anything. This is also a common pattern when women's colleges go co-ed. They bend over backwards to be accommodating and encouraging to men, even if it means changing their very name. (The administration of the Mississippi University for Women, now co-ed by court order, is also trying to impose a name change despite widespread alumnae opposition.) By contrast, men's schools tend to make very few changes after going co-ed, except for maybe adding a few more bathrooms.

By the way, St. Hilda's College, Melbourne's only other residential women's college, wasn't founded till 1964. But less than ten years later, it was co-ed as well (1973).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Baby Face Disco (Face de Bebe)

Denise Cassidy in front of 
Baby Face Disco (1980)
Baby Face Disco (Face de Bebe)
Location: 1235, boul. Dorchester, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Founded: 1968?

Closed: 1983?

Baby Face Disco is widely credited as being Montreal's "first truly lesbian bar."

According to Richard Burnett, Baby Face founder Denise Cassidy--who was nicknamed Babyface--managed several lesbian bars between 1968 and 1983, including La Source, La Guillotine, Baby Face Disco, Chez Baby Face and --after Quebec's French language law, Bill 101-- Face de bébé. (In case you were wondering, we're told that Cassidy inherited the Baby Face nickname from her brief wrestling career before she opened Montreal's first lesbian-only nightclubs.)

This is what Cassidy said about her experiences some 15 years ago in an interview by Quebec professor Line Chamberland. The English version was published in the Hour:

"It was difficult to be accepted by girls from [Montreal's mostly English] West End," Cassidy told Chamberland. "I came from the [mostly French] East End, I was more or less butch, and I wore gold lamé. Girls in the West End didn't have the same mentality; they were more snobbish — it wasn't a butch and a femme, it was two femmes. But once my name was established everything was okay.

"I also ran my club differently. Unlike other clubs, the girls couldn't do whatever they wanted. The law was the law. I was strict, but I was always respected."

Cassidy's bars protected lesbians from harassment. She also avoided underworld intrigue — the Montreal mafia demanded protection money from establishments throughout the city in those days — and prevented police raids by maintaining a "clean" establishment.

"The girls were scared to come [to my bars at first]. They weren't out like they are today and they were afraid their families would discover what kind of bars they went to.

"The first bars were pretty tough — it was a hard milieu, especially when men discovered my bars were for women only. There were always men who wanted to come in. I worked with a baseball bat by my side for the longest time. And there were fights. Friday night was hell sometimes!"

The brawls weren't just between drunk men picking fights; sometimes it was her paying customers as well.

"They [the girls] would come in alone, have a few drinks and let loose. I tried to get there before the fights broke out. I kept an eye on everything, although Saturday nights were quieter since they were mostly couples."

All the women I talked to for this column, including Suzanne Girard and Line Chamberland, remember Cassidy and her bars fondly. But the end was near after the language wars, fuelled by the 1980 Quebec referendum. Cassidy closed Face de bébé in 1983.

"It was impossible to mix the West [End girls] with St-Denis [Street, where Face de bébé relocated] — the English [versus] the separatists. [But] I made sure that everyone was happy, one group one night, another the second. I tried to be fair and it worked well seven days a week.”

In "Remembering Lesbian Bars: Montreal, 1955-1975," Line Chamberland provides the following description of Baby Face Disco:

Baby Face Disco was typical of the lesbian bars of this period [1968 on]. It was Montreal's first lesbian-only drinking establishment, created and managed by a butch named Baby Face, who had extensive experience in other bars. As in other discotheques, the space was equipped with a jukebox, a small dance-floor and strobe lights, which required a minimum investment. There were few tables, so customers stood or walked around. This movement made it easy to meet new people. Baby Face herself acted as bouncer, chosing whom to let in and keeping a watchful eye on her customers. The clientele was made up of many different groups, lesbian from different classes and ethnic backgrounds, older butches and femmes and younger lesbians - feminists, anglophones and francophones. Each social group behaved according to its own rules and rituals. Dress, etiquette and patterns of interaction were quite different between those who were into roles and those who were not. The former usually sat in the same area, mostly in couples and groups. They still cruised by having the waitress take someone a drink or - with permision of the butch if needed - by asking a woman to dance. These older ways of sexually approaching a woman coexisted with newer models. For younger lesbians, standing near someone, inviting her outside to smoke pot together or dancing alone in a sensuous manner were preferred. These cultural differences were puzzling for both sides.

So just what other bars existed prior to this time, or during this same time? In Donald W. McLeod's "A Preliminary Checklist of Lesbian and Gay Bars and Clubs in Canada, 1964 - 1975," sixteen other Montreal bars were identified as "most popular" with lesbians. These included Bar Labyris, La Baton Rouge, Black Bottom, Cafe Canasta, Cafe Casa Loma, Cafe Casbah, Cafe Only, Cafe Rodeo, La Cave, Chez Madame Arthur, Club Zanzibar, La Guillotine, Jilly's, Les Pont de Paris (which was founded in 1955, and included a separate seating area for lesbians), Le Sabre, and La Source.

Johanne Cadorette names the following lost Montreal lesbian bars from the 1980s and early 90s: Bilitis, L'Exit, Lilith, Kreu, K-2, Sisters, and O'side. As of 2004, with the closing of Magnolia, there were no lesbian bars left in Montreal.

Like many apologists for lost womyn's space, Cadorette doesn't necessarily see this as a bad thing. In fact, in an perverse twist on queer theory, she tries to turn this into a good thing, as a "simple manifestation of the evolution of queer women's culture." As she goes on to argue:

First, we are now talking about a community of women that identify as lesbian, bi, queer, transsexual and transgender, many of whom feel more comfortable socializing in mixed groups whose members include gay men and/or queer positive heterosexuals.

Secondly, we are broadening our horizons, and bars are taking a back seat. Queer women have more options for socializing than ever before. We can join groups that focus on sports, socializing, reading, politics, and ethnicity, attend sex workshops, etc.

This defense, though increasingly common, strikes me as ahistorical and naive. It ignores the history of how hard it has been to create and defend womyn's space in any way, shape, or form. It also vastly overestimates how acceptable such space is to so-called "queer postive heterosexuals," who are not necessarily that "positive" --especially in a consistent or truly respectful way. And what does "positive" mean anyway? That such "heterosexuals"--and we are clearly talking about mostly male heterosexuals, though Cadorette's generation no longer considers it nice to acknowledge this fact out loud--avoid actual overtly violent acts that would fall under the legal definition of assault? What about leering, groping, propositioning? To many lesbians, this wouldn't be considered "postive" behavior at all. To many heterosexual males, it's perfectly "positive." It's just the way they behave in bars. And now that all the "queers" tell us that the term lesbian doesn't necessarily have an agreed upon meaning, that "lesbian" can mean sleeping with men, why wouldn't the straight guys bug the lesbians? They've been told it's okay now! And these days, we're even told that rape is a matter of "interpretation," where the woman/victim's "opinion" is just that. (The whole "rape rape" argument.) So I fail to see any big historical change from fifty years ago. In the language and justification for men's acts, yes, but not in their actual behavior. The statistics still show that the vast majority of women are murdered, assaulted, or raped by men, usually heterosexual men.

I'm also skeptical of the floating lesbian party idea that Cardorette defends, which is increasingly popular not just in Montreal, but all over North America. Although Cadorette and others like her romanticize the whole "hobo" fantasy, this is really just minimizing a situation that should be raising concern. Why is it that only lesbians try to bravely treat their own lack of territory as a good thing? No other historically oppressed group would say they'd rather be homeless than housed, renters than owners, refugees rather than being citizens of their own countries. But as women, lesbians have been taught to feel guilty or nervous about establishing and defending their own space. It's still taboo--even 40 years after the second wave of the women's movement. Interesting, that....

Photo: Denise Cassidy at the door of her club Babyface, in 1980
(Suzanne Girard photo)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Silver Slipper

210 Jackson Street today
The Silver Slipper

Location: 210 South Jackson Street, Seattle, Washington, USA

Founded: 1969

Closed: Late 1970s?

In an 2009 interview with OutHistory, Mary Scott shared the following memories of the Silver Slipper, which was located in Seattle's Pioneer Square:

The Silver Slipper at that time was on -- 210 South Jackson. So we went down there a lot -- for about a year or so. And there were still quite a few of the bar regulars, but it seems to me that the older women just kind of disappeared. I found out later that a lot of them just simply were overwhelmed. They just couldn’t understand or cope with all of this big influx of feminist, out, wild lesbians. A lot of them didn’t look or act like lesbians, and they weren’t into butch and femme. Or everybody looked butch. You couldn’t tell the butches from the femmes! ...

But a lot of the younger non-feminist bar regulars, who were roughly our age -- in their twenties and early thirties -- stayed, and [there was some] social pushing and shoving, so to speak, a period of adjustment on both sides. ...

The Slipper was a women’s bar. It was a lesbian bar. Occasionally a man would come in, but he would be a gay man. He was kind of an oddity, you know? He was there because maybe he knew one of the bartenders, or maybe he was a friend or a brother of a customer there that night, or whatever. He had a legitimate tie, and nobody really minded that. But every once in a while mixed couple would come in. And you could pretty well tell, after a while, whether the men had a legitimate reason for being there, or whether he was with a woman friend or wife -- and they were there looking for a lesbian to go home with them for perverse three-way kinds of [sex ?].

So when you would see a mixed couple zeroing in on a woman who was by herself and started buying her drinks, you knew what was going on. And other lesbians would move in to protect her, or they would try to intervene and either get her out -- if she was too drunk to get out -- somebody would take her either to her home or to their home, or to somewhere for the night. Or they would try to get the het couple to leave peaceably.

Or they would distract them, or as a last resort -- and I saw this happen more than once. Some lesbian would go to the bar and get a beer, and come back and stumble and go, “Whoops!” and dump a beer on the guy. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Oh -- spill over here! Somebody bring a rag!” And they would all pitch in and clean up, and then they would pack up and leave. And I saw that happen two or three times.

Madelyn Arnold had a much chillier impression upon visiting the Silver Slipper in May 1975:

The other bar I was able to trace down, Pioneer Square's Silver Slipper, was like a speakeasy. The stairs leading up to the bar were hard to climb - easily descended, though.

Everyone I noticed glared at me. I had dressed up, naturally: I'd been taught to do that when you Went Out, and if I smiled at anyone, she scowled. I wasn't sure what it was that I had done ... maybe I seemed too eager. After being unable to get anyone to talk, I had a few mostly miserable beers and was heading out for a cab when someone generously helped me fly down the opening stairs. Which is my principal memory of the Silver Slipper.

Photo: 210 Jackson Street today. Location is currently occupied by Empyrean Seattle, which offers "continuing education in massage therapy."


Women in techology class, Lebanon

Location: Beirut, Lebanon

Founded: February 2011

Closed: February 2011

It is not uncommon for computer-oriented businesses or organizational settings to be considered "male"--even in the presumably advanced West. But the women of Lebanon not only face social discomfort in frequenting Internet cafes (e.g. the "gaggle of teenage boys" that dominate such places), but active opposition from male relatives who won't "allow" their wives, daughters, or sisters to inhabit such places. As a woman-only Internet cafe, PinkGray could have changed that. But after less than a week, the PinkGray experiment ended. Women apparently wanted to bring their "all their friends" (which presumably meant men), even though the men's Internet cafes wouldn't accomodate women. At any rate, the male owner decided he wouldn't make enough money in the venture, so he dropped it.

Internet cafe abandons women-only policy
February 17, 2011 12:00 AM (Last updated: January 01, 0001 12:00 AM)
By Olivia Alabaster

BEIRUT: The owner of what was to become a novel, women-only Internet cafe has now reneged on his original decision, after deciding that there was not enough demand for the idea.

As anyone who has been to an Internet cafe in Lebanon will know, they can be very gendered places.

Walk into one anywhere in the country and you will most likely find a gaggle of teenage boys, playing online games and shouting at each other. Or men, sitting around, smoking.

PinkGray, in Caracas, which opened last weekend, sought to offer women a sanctuary from this masculine environment, where women could go to get work done or Skype with friends.

As the owner, Allan Soud, explained: “I asked my sister – why do you never go to Internet cafes? And she said that the boys take liberties – it’s not a completely comfortable experience for girls to browse the Internet and chat with their friends.

“They’re often full of teenage boys playing games and shouting … for Lebanese girls, they want to chat with their friends, their boyfriends maybe.

“I asked men in my neighborhood, ‘Would you allow your wife to go to an Internet cafe?’ And 90 percent would say, ‘Are you out of your mind? Not my wife, my daughter or my sister.’ They are normally too masculine places, to say the least,” Soud added.

But after less than a week, Soud has decided that this unique business venture will not be profitable enough.

“Over the first few days, young women were coming into the cafe. But then they started saying, ‘It would be better if we could come with all our friends.’ I don’t think there’s enough demand for a women-only cafe.”

Nadine Moawad, a feminist activist, had supported the idea of an Internet cafe just for women.

“Often people say that women-only spaces constitute segregation and that that’s not how you solve the problem. But in this case, I don’t agree.”

Moawad, who is also a member of “Take Back the Tech,” a collective working with information technology as a means to promote gender equality, believes that parents are often uneasy about allowing their teenage daughters to visit Internet cafes dominated by boys.

She said this was especially an issue for girls from lower-income families. “They may not have Internet at home or their own laptops. And often parents worry about their daughters going to these places. The environment can be quite aggressive,” Moawad added.

And in today’s increasingly connected world, Moawad said that it is important that women don’t get left behind: “It’s crucial that all young women have access to the Internet.”

But for Soud, the demand for such a concept is not yet strong enough in Beirut, or at least in the Ras Beirut-area of Caracas.

“Maybe I can still open one in [the southern suburbs of Beirut] … we will see. But for now, I am going to be more selective – I’m not letting in teenage boys who play online games.”

Photo: Women in technology class, Lebanon

The Cortile (Neighborhood Courtyard)

Three women in Naples cortile
The Cortile (Neighborhood Courtyard)

Location: Italy, but variations exist throughout the world

One of the amazing things about surfing the Internet is finding fresh women's voices. It was through pure serindipity that I stumbled across this discussion of Italian women and their resistance to domestic violence. The historical function of women-only space--namely the cortile, or the semi-enclosed courtyard between houses--is particularly fascinating. I urge you to read the entire post by Olive Grrl:

Women-only Spaces

“The husband is like the government at Rome, all pomp; the wife is like the mafia, all power.” –Italian Proverb

Historically, Italian women have used women-only spaces as a way to resist domestic violence. Guglielmo states, “Women crafted their social circles with those they could trust and rely on the most, which were often a combination of kin and neighbors” (Guglielmo, 17). Women spent a lot of time in the cortile, “the semienclosed courtyard at the center of adjoining houses” (Guglielmo, 18). The cortile was an area where women could talk to each other about what was happening at home, while they prepared food together. These women shared stories and sought advice. Though the cortile of the 1800s no longer exists, women today will meet in piazzas to get out of the house and to get support when they need it. These “daily labors necessitated strong social networks, which also upset narratives of female passivity and isolation” (Guglielmo, 20).

Women’s ability to be in the public sphere more often has indeed been a great area of resistance. However, researchers on the subject have found that “men have historically attempted to exert more control over the women in their lives as power relations and social systems are shifting and women are gaining more independence” (Guglielmo, 23). The ironic thing about the cortile, the epicenter for women’s bodies and voices, is that often a beating would occur there. Public humiliation would be an addition to the physical violence against women. Guglielmo states, “…the man who broke his wife’s arm did so in the center of town and paid the doctor for her other arm too, announcing that he was paying in advance for the next time she spoke back” (Guglielmo, 24). This type of public display of abuse doesn’t occur as often as it once did, but women are also allowed to be outside of the home now, too.

Italian women have historically been able to resist domestic violence by their ability to exist in public spaces with other women outside of their family structure. These spaces have been a safety zone, and a place of rest and recuperation for battered women. Though the actual cortile is more of a memory, it continues to exist in different forms.

The courtyard has a long history as a women's gathering place. In a random search, I found references to "courtyard tenements" providing "genderized urban space" where Chinese working class women were able to form and operate social networks in early 20th century Beijing. There are also tantalizing references to courtyards in the lives of women throughout the Middle East, Africa, and the Mediterranean area. As women lead more "public" lives--especially in the West--the courtyard as a signficant women's space has been lost, but it has not necessarily disappeared from across the globe.

Photo: Women in a Cortile in Naples, Italy