Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gaby & Mo's

1809 Manor Road today

Gaby & Mo's

Location: 1809 Manor Road, Austin, Texas, USA

Founded: February 1999

Closed: December 15, 2001

Here's how the Austin Chronicle reviewed Gaby & Mo's back in November 1999, just a few months after she opened for business. (Hint: You have to wade through a lot of verbage before it's confirmed that this is a lesbian place):

Agoraphobes need not apply. The feeling in this newly-resurrected cafe is all about wide open spaces, thanks to its plentiful picture windows and big streetside deck area. On any given night, you can find the outdoor seating area packed with contented patrons -- girl groups drinking beer and French Place locals flipping through the local news -- soaking up the consistently friendly atmosphere.

Inside, the room is all brightly mellow celadon walls and paint-stenciled linoleum floors. Tables scattered around the upper area give unobstructed sight lines for protracted sessions of people watching and an "up-close and personal" view of the cafe's stage, which hosts a range of poetry readings, open mikes, and assorted live performances. (Check the front window posters for current schedule.) A few steps down, the sunken lounge area is the more reflective area and home to the joint's huge yellow La-Z-Boy, a relaxing bonus seat worth jockeying for.
Since its recent opening, the cafe has garnered good buzz for its simple menu of home-cooked bakery items, which includes sandwiches on freshly baked house breads and substantial rotating lunch specials. They've also got a full lineup of hedonistic desserts and deep selection of beers. Name your indulgence; they've got you covered.
And on a subcultural note, Gaby & Mo's also won a well-deserved nod as "Best Chance at a new Chances" in 1999's Best of Austin competition. As a friend recently put it: "It's basically a girl's bar (pause) but it's very straight-friendly." All the ladies in the house say WOOOOOOO ...

Gaby & Mo's seems to have had a split personality: the earnest plain Jane coffeehouse daytime self described above--and a glamourpuss out-on-the-prowl nighttime self. Clubplanet eluded to the latter:

Gaby & Mo's - Let’s call it what it is. Gaby & Mo's, at 1809 Manor Rd, is a good place to pull. The crowd is good looking and the ambiance is sexy, so if you can’t meet someone here, well, keep drinking and try again. Liquid courage always helps. Look, we’re not guaranteeing anything, but at Gaby & Mo's you should have plenty of options.

This is the same venue?

Happy Gaby & Mo's patrons (2000)
Some interesting and random events connected to Gaby & Mo's over her relatively short lifespan:

A "Yoko Ono Birthday Hoot" (!) was held here in 1999 and 2000.

In March 2000, a Grrl by Grrl Fest was held at Gaby & Mo's, which featured 13 musical acts. The event came back for an encore in March 2001.

On August 3, 2000, Gaby & Mo's hosted the Austin Poetry Slam Team Send-Off Party--the purpose of which was to raise funds to send the team to the National Poetry Slam in Providence, Rhode Island.

In February 2001, a "Happy Hummus Party" was held here, which included live music.

We know that Gaby and Mo's was still open in March 2001, as they got a great restaurant review from the Austin Chronicle:

Their weekday Blue Plate specials are just slightly more substantial -- veggie burgers, tomatoey vegetarian lasagna, or herby fusilli with pesto, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and feta cheese all come with a salad and freshly baked roll. In fact, just about everything here is so adept that you can't help but question, who are these Gaby and Mo, and where did they learn their trade? As it happens, Gaby and Mo are fictional characters invented by owners Patti Carvajal and Jill Miller. The two women have brought their considerable restaurant experience (Patti managed Kerbey Lane for a number of years) to bear in this undertaking, and it shows.

She even got a mention in the New York Times that same month and year.

But by the end of 2001, she had finally thrown in the towel:

Finally, I just got confirmation that Gaby & Mo's will be closing its doors for good come December 15. "We've been struggling from the get-go," says co-owner Patty Carbajel, "and we thought when the students came back things would get better, but they didn't." Carbajel plans on trying to get new investors and hopefully open another venue in the next year or so.

To this day, you hear laments from people who are still grieving the loss of Gaby and Mo's. This 2009 lament from spitfiregrrrl is typical:

I desperately miss Gaby & Mo’s in Austin (an out of business Lesbian coffee shop) and the few others I know of have gone out of business as well.

Today, the space is occupied by Chile's Cafe Y Cantina.

Photo: Gaby and Mo patrons

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grace and Rubies Restaurant

North Linn Street today
Grace and Rubies Restaurant

Location: 209 North Linn Street, Iowa City, Iowa, USA

Opened: 1976

Closed: 1978

Grace and Rubies was a woman-only private club and restaurant. Years after it closed, co-founder Sue Gibson had this to say about Grace and Rubies and its importance as womyn's space:

"Women of the present time may not understand that men had a way of taking over, of filling the spaces of classrooms, meetings and areas of recreation with their concerns and plans and often, louder voices.  Grace and Rubies [a women's-only restaurant in town in the 70s] provided a place where women could go their ideas and feelings with other women and to enjoy one small space away from men." 

Other women associated with Grace and Rubies include Susan J. Norman, who was on the board. Her papers are preserved at the Iowa Women's Archives at the University of Iowa. Grace and Rubies is also mentioned in the Jill Jack papers, also at the University of Iowa.

Perhaps the most comprehensive description of Grace and Rubies comes from a 1977 article published in the University of Iowa newspaper. This is how young journalism student Lynne Cherry described the place itself: 

The club is located in an older, two-story house at 309 N. Linn St. Plants are located throughout the building and any wall can be used to display members' artwork.

Downstairs are a kitchen, two dining rooms connected by a small chamber lined with bulletin boards. On the boards hang handwritten notices for such things as a club meeting, a costume party, intermural flag football and a women's clinic. The dining rooms are crowded with tables, dimly lit and rather drafty, yet they are made cozy by the feeling of comradeship among the members and the cheerful wisecracks issuing from the kitchen.

Another dining room, a bathroom and a reading room housing a small library are upstairs. The library consists of two bookcases of donated books, mostly by and-or about women, and some feminist newspapers.

Grace and Rubies acting manager Ginny Blair explained why women joined the place:

Women usually join Grace and Rubies because they "feel at home" there and have a "sense of belonging, of having something in common," Blair said.

Others join, she added "because we have a reputation for great soups." The restaurant serves a variety of alcoholic beverages, natural foods, soups, sandwiches and vegetables.

So what did it take to join this wonderful place? Put it this way. It wasn't like a man trying to break into the Bohemian Grove or the Augusta Golf Club:

Any female over the age of ten can become a lifetime member of Grace and Rubies by reading and understanding the club's bylaws and paying 50 cents.

(Many years later, Lynne Cherry blogged about her memories of this article here.)

Of course, even in the 1970s, the simple, non-elitist, woman-only membership policy at Grace and Rubies roused the ire of the powers-that-be. So it wasn't long before the Iowa City Council got dragged into a fight over whether the membership policy was "discriminatory." The argument: Grace and Rubies didn't charge enough to be a real private club! Dyke: A Quarterly had this rather witty response to the issue back in the spring of 1976:

....Meanwhile, back in Iowa City, Grace & Rubies Restaurant is still alive, kicking and struggling to get out from under while the City's new mayor, a woman, instructs the human relations commission to investigate the legality of the restaurant's policy of refusing membership (and admittance) to men. The outcome of the investigation is unknown, but if it takes the commission as long to investigate Grace & Rubies as it does to investigate sex discrimination in employment claims, the restaurant will be around for a number of years, no matter what the outcome.

The Iowa City Public Library maintains a vertical file of materials documenting the legal struggles of Grace and Rubies. See here and here. Eventually, the commission ruled in the favor of Grace and Rubies.

But that doesn't mean that men finally left them alone or respected their space.

Like many male artists and writers, then budding novelist T.C. Boyle--while still a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop--became obsessed with womyn's space and his perceived "exclusion" from it. In May 1977, he published a short story called "The Women's Restaurant"--a story that explored his narcissistic fixation on Grace and Rubies and his unrelenting desire to invade that space. As noted in a published list of Iowa City-inspired fiction,

Grace and Rubie's on North Linn Street in Iowa City in the mid-seventies inspired a short story about a man determined to eat in their restaurant. "It is a women's restaurant. Men are not permitted. Women go there to be in the company of other women, to sit in the tasteful rooms beneath the ancient revolving fans and the cool green of spilling plants. . ."

And where was this story originally published? In Penthouse! A "space" where women's participation was--and is--largely limited to the prone position. Oh, the brutal irony....What else do you possibly need to know about how obtuse, hypocritical, and privileged these idiotic male artistes really are?

And that's not even going into the dangers that Grace and Rubies faced in being exposed to a pornography-obsessed male audience--even in lightly fictionalized form. Indeed, Boyle's story succeeded in exposing, redefining, and highlighting all womyn's spaces to this audience as nothing more than pornographic girl-on-girl fantasies for the male gaze. As such, it's hard not to argue that this story--and the way in which it was published and distributed--is really part of men's ongoing assault against womyn's spaces that they cannot directly own, control, manage, infiltrate at will, or profit by.

And here's the proof of how the relative strengths of women's spaces and men's spaces are completely and totally unequal. Grace and Rubies vanished within two years. With its 50 cent membership fees and ongoing legal struggles, I seriously doubt that any women associated with this venture made any profit whatsover. On the other hand, Penthouse, which has been around since 1965, is still going strong. If anything, it has become more violent and overtly misogynist over the years. And when its founder died in 2010, he was one of the wealthiest men in the U.S.

Today, Grace and Rubies' former location is occupied by the Guitar Foundation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hocker Female College

Hocker Female College (1908)
Hocker Female College

Location: North Broadway, Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Founded: 1869

Closed: 1932

Unlike Miss Seward's School (featured below), Hocker Female College was founded by a man (James Monroe Hocker Sr.), and its first principal was a man as well (Robert Graham). I have yet to find any women's names associated with the founding of this school.

The first campus building was simply converted over from one of Hocker's many luxurious homes (Hocker made his fortune in banking). According to one authority, the school was started "because it was felt there was a need for a school of higher education with Christian values and scientific principles for the young women of our country."  Hocker Female College was set up as a "Christian preparatory school and college for women" and was closely associated with the Disciples of Christ Church.

Hamilton College (1904)
In 1877, Hocker decided to relinquish control of the school and sold it to a "joint stock company" with an all-male board of trustees. The school was then renamed Hamilton Female College in recognition of William Hamilton, a College trustee and major benefactor.

By 1889, Kentucky University (later Transylvania University) had become a major stockholder in the college, and by 1903, it had assumed total administrative control (basically a hostile takeover?). After that, Transylvania downscaled Hamilton College into just a junior college for women which was affiliated with Transylvania. The college was closed in 1932, after suffering declining financial support and enrollment for a number of years.

The main building survived as a women's dormitory at Transylvania--the one last remaining shred of womyn's space--until it was demolished in 1962.

The only remaining building from Hamilton College is the Graham Cottage Alumni House, the alumni reception center on the Transylvania campus. Built in 1863 for James M. Hocker, it became the home of Robert Graham in 1869.

I'm sure there were women who cherished their student days at Hocker/Hamilton, and that many of them forged life-long connections with their classmates and teachers. But for the most part, this appears to be the kind of "womyn's space" where men and male-dominated institutions played out their power-and-control games from the very beginning. As a pawn in these power struggles--and with little apparent or organized female investment in the outcome--the school was essentially doomed from the start.

Miss Seward's Female Seminary

Miss Seward's Female Seminary
Miss Seward's Female Seminary

Location: Alexander Street, Rochester, New York, USA

Opened: 1839

Closed: 1853

Miss Seward's Female Seminary was founded by Miss Sarah Seward, a graduate of the Troy Female Seminary. (The Troy Female Seminary, in turn, was founded by Emma Willard, an early advocate for women's education, in 1814. The Troy Female Seminary STILL EXISTS as a girls' school though it is now known as the Emma Willard School.) Women who established schools for girls and women were often graduates of girls' schools and/or women's colleges themselves, so Miss Seward's certainly fits that pattern.

Sarah Seward arrived in Rochester in March 1833, and "almost immediately" opened a school for girls at the former United States Hotel Building. "Miss Sayles" (no first name given), who was also a Troy Female Seminary graduate, soon joined this endeavor as Sarah's assistant. According to the Semi-Centennial History of the City of Rochester,

Miss Seward's school speedily achieved great success. After continuing in the United States Hotel for one year it was removed to the large stone building at the corner of Plymouth avenue and Spring street, the present site of the First Presbyterian church. During its continuance at that place for nearly two years, and till its removal to Alexander street in the autumn of 1835, it continued to flourish, and there followed an awakening of the people of Rochester to an appreciation of the value of higher female education.

As the Semi-Centennial History goes on to elaborate,

The school building which Miss Seward caused to be erected in that year was large, having sixty-four feet front. It was attractive in appearance, and the handsome grounds around the building were four or five acres in extent. All the appointments were complete and appropriate to a boarding-school for young ladies. The sum expended by Miss Seward and her friends for the grounds, buildings, scientific apparatus and other requisites to a large institution for higher female education exceeded $12,000. The ability and skill, as teachers, of Miss Seward and her assistants were justly appreciated not only in Rochester but throughout the state and to some extent in other states. The first year after its establishment the school numbered nearly a hundred pupils, many of whom were from various parts of New York and from other states and from Canada, and Miss Seward's seminary took front rank with the best like institutions in the country. It was incorporated in 1838.

Unlike many of the early women's colleges, girls' schools like Miss Seward's were very much womyn's spaces--run by and for the benefit of women and girls. According to a report published in 1838, all of the school's administrators and teachers were women. Here's the list:

Miss Sarah T. Seward, Principal and Teacher of Teacher of Ethics and Metaphysics.

Miss Philena Fobes, Teacher in Drawing, Painting, and Mathematics.

Miss Martha Raymond, Teacher in the French Language.

Miss Sarah C. Eaton, Teacher in Natural Science.

Miss Mary A. Thorpe, Teacher in the Primary Department.

Miss Julia R. Hall is also an assistant teacher.

In fact, the role of men at this place was surprisingly peripheral:

Lectures on history, botany, and elocution are delivered occasionally at the institution at by professional gentlemen of the city.

In addition, we see that the school had a a pretty stubborn streak of independence when it came to the  male-dominated political and economic social structure of the time:

This valuable seminary was erected and is sustained wholly through individual enterprise. "Our friends will recollect," says the late report, "that we have no legislative fund to aid us, no trustees to be interested in our success; and our institution (if it deserves the name) is simply an individual effort to be useful."   

The "late report" was the school's 1837-1838 catalogue, which can be viewed here. Note that the quote above omits the final words: "and the only hope of reward is 'she hath done what she could.'" Interesting how the part about female agency was left out.

In the "late report," you can also find a poem by 13-year-old "Alice" on leaving the school and her grief at losing her beloved "youthful band of sisters." It truly encapsulates what schools like Miss Seward's meant to these young women, and the deep, often life-long connections that were made there.

So how and why did this school finally come to an end? In a nutshell: Miss Sarah Seward got married.

Why did she do this? Social pressure? Desperation? Financial fears? In mid-19th century New York state, a woman who married essentially committed civil suicide. She lost all legal rights she had as a single person--which weren't all that numerous to start with. ("Miss Sayles" at some point got married as well--to Mr. William S. Bishop. For what it's worth.) The Semi-Centennial History explains it thus:

On the marriage of Miss Seward to General Jacob Gould in September, 1841, Jason W. Seward, a brother of Miss Seward and president of the corporation, assumed direction of the institution. It continued its good work under his guidance, aided by Miss Seward's former assistants, till 1848, when it was finally discontinued, or superseded by the Tracy female institute. In 1856 the grounds were sold to Freeman Clarke and the buildings removed to give place to the mansion of Mr. Clarke, who now resides there.

So, despite the careful and laudatory language here, this is essentially what happened: a man (the former principal's brother) managed to seize control of a successful girls' school and "succeeded" in running it into the ground in little more than seven years.

Nowadays, the property is part of the University of Rochester.

Saturday, December 10, 2011



Location: Vikoriagade 2-4, Copenhagen, Denmark

Opened: Maybe 2007?

Closed: Apparently still open, but now straight and "queer" oriented

From what I can tell, you'd be hard pressed to classify Vela as your typical lesbian venue. From ucityguide:

Previously a strip club, this is now a lesbian club, although the vintage furniture and red colors have remained. Men are welcome too, who will also enjoy the reasonably-priced cocktails and "pussytails."

Well, as we say here in the American midwest, "that's different."

I'm imagining two midwestern dykes who win the lottery and embark on the great Scandinavian tour. After playing tourist in Copenhagan all day, they're looking for a place to go out for the night. Or as we might call this scene, the Case of the Dueling Travel Guides....

Partner A: Are you sure you want to go to this Vela place? I'm looking at Out travel, and I don't think this is a lesbian bar. And it sounds pretty sleezy. Maybe we need to check the guidebooks again, honey. (Partner A points to entry):

Vela is new to the scene. Located in the red light district, it is a former strip club and the red décor and vintage furniture is still intact. Sunday nights Berlin party is a sure fire blowout.

Partner B (looking dismayed): You're right. That does sound pretty dubious. But wait! (She shuffles around for another guide.) Here at Wikitravel, it's saying this is a lesbian place. Or at least it's "targeted at lesbians." Is that the same thing? (Partner B points to entry):

VELA, the only bar/lounge in town that is targeted at lesbians is on Vesterbro.

Partner A (leafing through yet another guide): Copenhagen Gay Life says it's a gay place. But I'm not seeing lesbian anywhere. And what's with this racist "oriental-style gay gem" crap? And this "pussytail" sh** is really pissing me off. (Partner A points to entry):

A real oriental-style gay gem. This little night club featuring a very special and a bit nostalgic feel is located right in the middle of the trendy neighbourhood Vesterbro. The bar serves cocktails and pussytails at affordable prices. Rent the bar for private events

Partner B (who has already located still another guide): It's not like that! Here at AnOther, it says that Vela is "a former prostitute haunt turned lesbian bar replete with beautiful wood-panelling and turn-of-the century Chinoiserie." I'll have you know that "Chinoiserie" is in a totally different league from "oriental-style" crap. I think it sounds like a perfectly charming place. So there!

Partner A: Not to me! It's sounds like this place just found a fancier way to be snotty AND racist! All I want a pool table, a cold beer, and a place to meet some Danish lesbians. Is that too much to ask?

Partner B: Snotty and racist? You said before it sounded sleezy. Which is it?

Partner A: Snotty, racist, and sleezy. It takes a special talent to hit the triple crown.

Now our dyke travelers look upset and thoroughly dejected.

Partner A: Did you pack The Rough Guide to Denmark? Wait, I think I see it under your jeans jacket. (She pulls out the copy and thumbs through the pages.) Aha! (She points to entry):

Hugely popular oriental-style place that began life as a predominantly lesbian venue - it serves "pussy-tails" as well as cocktails - but now attracts partygoers of all persuasions. Wed-Sat only.

Partner A: See? It's not a lesbian bar anymore! If it ever was one! So we came all the way from Rochester, Minnesota to party with "partygoers of all persuasions"? We could have stayed home for that! And I'd still have my dog!

Partner B: What about that place called Chaca? Isn't that a lesbian bar?

Partner A: Check the guides again. Closed last year. I wish I were back home! At least I'd know where to find a cold beer and a pool table.

Partner B: What? And miss the Little Mermaid statue???

Chaca Bar & Cafe

Chaca Bar & Cafe

Location: Sudiestraede 39, Copenhagen, Denmark

Opened: April 2007

Closed: 2010

Here's how she introduced herself on Myspace:

Lesbian bar in central Copenhagen situated in "gay street", Studiestræde. We offer two floors, small dancefloor, sexy bartenders, cheap food and drinks and good times all around! Chaca Bar & Cafe Studiestræde 39 Copenhagen, Denmark

And this is how Gaygetter described Chaca just after she opened:

A new lesbian Bar & Café with Karaoke in the heart of the old city.

Mostly Lesbians and their friends. Young, middle and old are having fun here. 2 Floors.

Wednesday & Thursday is "Play-night" and Friday and Saturday music and dance.

And from ucityguides:

Café Chaca
Most lesbians meet here for drinks, a light meal, or a night of karaoke. You'll find people of all ages, creating a welcoming atmosphere especially during the occasional special events.

The Rough Guide to Denmark covers many of the same points:

Predominantly lesbian bar spread over two floors with lots of different events; games nights, speed-dating and karaoke the most renowned. Good cocktails, too. Wed-Sat only.

In addition, the DK Travel Guide: Denmark described Chaca as "the lesbian meeting place of choice."

Then there's this blurb from crusinggays. (We've got "Professional table foot-ball" here, people! Out of the way!)

Lesbian bar on 2 floors. Professional table foot-ball available.

Patron reviews, though rare, were enthusiastic. Here's a December 2007 review, apparently from an English woman:

Chaca is THE lesbian bar to go to in Copenhagen. Great atmosphere, very friendly and lovely owner! Don't miss out and make sure you go there when in wonderful Copenhagen!

According to gayScout, Chaca closed in 2010. No details are provided.

But is interesting to observe that even in one of the most arguably liberal, non-homophobic places on the planet (legal gay partnerships started in Denmark in 1989), a woman's bar doesn't survive for long--even when it appears to be one of maybe two lesbian bars in the entire city. (The only other lesbian bar that was sometimes listed for Copenhagen, Vela, has apparently gone "queer"--so it no longer exists as a womyn's space either.)

And it's not because Denmark has somehow magically transcended gender "exclusivity" either. On the contrary, I see plenty of male-only bars and events that are still listed for Copenhagen. But as we know, the rules are always different for the boys....

Friday, December 9, 2011



Location: Calle Gravina 13, Chueca, Madrid, Spain

Opened: ?

Closed: Became "mixed" sometime around 2010 or so?

Here's how GayCities described Escape, apparently when she was still in her younger days:

Girl bar with hip hop and dance music
The DJ at Escape draws in the crowd with a drop-it-like-it's-hot playlist. There's typically a line to get in at peak hours

And from TripOut Travel:

A hugely popular lesbian nightclub, throwing down hip-hop or sultry dance sounds, and cranking ’til the wee hours.

From Time Out Madrid:

This cavernous dance hall draped in bullfighter red is one of the most popular destinations for women and is filled to the brim with the sexiest chicas in the city at the weekends. In fact, its popularity has spiralled to the extent that it's now one of the more boisterous clubs around Plaza de Chueca.

Hmm. All those senoritas enjoying buenos tiempos without any hombres around? Can't have that! So...POOF! Like so many lesbian places, Escape wasn't lesbian anymore. It was gay men, it was straights. It was "any type of person." But not lesbianas.

We see evidence of the transition at Gay-ville:

Dance club. Good atmosphere. Open from Wed-Sun. For men & women.

A July 2011 blog entry clarifies the details. As you suspected, Escape is now no longer "exclusively lesbian":

One of the most popular nightclubs in Chueca is Escape in Calle Gravina 13. Although it started as an exclusively lesbian club, nowadays you will find gays and straights having fun and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere as well as the dance music and all the latest Spanish hits.

And finally, we see additional confirmation of the same from egotour:

This gay nightclub offers a relaxed environment with music ranging from dance to Spanish. The place started as a lesbian club but is frequented today by any type of person. Open Thursday to Saturday from midnight on.

In fact, notice that we're soon seeing NO SPECIFIC MENTION of lesbians--or even of straight women!--at all. All the "sexiest chicas" have apparently been "disappeared."  Now just the "cute guys" mysteriously remain. From GayMadrid4U:

A gay club mixed ages relaxed and friendly playing Spanish to dance music lots of cute guys open Thursday to Saturday.

So even though gay male/straight places outnumber lesbian ones at a ratio of...what? At least 20:1? 50:1? 100:1? A zillion to one? Doesn't matter in the end. They just had to colonize and take command over this space, too.

Unfortunately, my Spanish language reading comprehension skills are pretty much non-existent at this point, so I'm unable to sift through the Spanish websites for any of the sordid details. Maybe it's just as well.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blackstone College for Girls

Blackstone College (1928)
Blackstone College for Girls

Location: Blackstone, Virginia, USA

Opened:  Received its charter from the Virginia state legislature on February 15, 1892 and opened its doors to students in 1894

Closed: 1950

The Blackstone Female Institute was established by the Farmville District of the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. It began with six acres of land that were donated by the Blackstone Land Company--hence the college's name. The first session of the school included a grand total of six teachers, 29 boarders, and 42 day students.

From the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center, who later acquired the campus property:

At the beginning of the school, the five year course covered the equivalent of the 8th grade and 4 years of high school. In addition to standard academic courses, the curriculum included 3 years of Bible studies, 2 years of educational psychology and 1 year of moral philosophy.

Enrollment peaked at nearly 500 before a fire in 1920 devastated the campus. While the structure was under construction the wing built in 1908 was also destroyed by fire. Because of the fires, the leaders of the Blackstone College for Girls were determined that the replacement building would be immune from fire. The date the buildings they had constructed out of concrete with little woodwork stand strong in good condition. The auditorium and gymnasium were added in 1926.

In 1933, part of the dining room was closed off to construct the present indoor swimming pool for the students. Today the pool is used by our many guests and the surrounding community.

Blackstone dormitory (1930)
In June, 1943, the college suspended operation for the duration of WWII. The school was converted into the Blackstone College Apartments for use by servicemen and their families. Classes resumed in 1945, but after several successful years, a dwindling enrollment and the reactivation of Camp Pickett for the Korean War forced the college to close in 1950. 

So in our inventory of how and why womyn's spaces are lost, file this one under militarism/Cold War.

Photos: College, dormitory

Yanbu Women's Park

Yanbu Women's Park
Yanbu Women's Park

Location: Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

Opened: September 2008

Closed: December 25, 2008

Sometimes you'll hear people attack women-only space as reactionary, as something inherently backwards and regressive. As something that's especially entrenched in ultra-religious, anti-woman countries like Saudi Arabia. It's not something we want in "modern" countries, no sir! "Mixed" (male-dominated) spaces are always more "progressive" don't you know.

News flash: Backwards and regressive countries like Saudi Arabia certainly don't like "mixed" spaces. But they're also supremely ambivalent about women-only public space. They basically fear anything that doesn't keep women locked up at home, isolated and depressed. Can't let the ladies get a little fresh air or anything. As for getting a little exercise or....GOD FORBID! SINGING! That is strictly verboten! So back in 2008, the authorities in the city of Yanbu shut down the only outdoor recreation center for women in the town.

Notice that even though the ladies dutifully held "religious lectures for women" on the premises, Yanbu Park was still considered a threat to "religious regulations." And notice how the place was closed down by what we'd call the vice cops. Sound familiar? Interesting that whenever the women folk gather together--whether it's for dancing in a 1950s New York bar or singing in a Saudi Arabian park--the men folk classify it a "vice" matter.

Then there's the matter of economic self-sufficiency. The park provided jobs for women. Also scary! And not allowable. Women must be financially dependent on men!

From Arab News:

YANBU: The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice closed down the only women’s park in Yanbu on Thursday. The move resulted in the loss of 60 jobs for local women, Al-Watan newspaper reported yesterday.

Suleiman Al-Hamadi, vice chairman of the commission’s Yanbu branch, said the reason for the closure was complaints by people in nearby houses that they were disturbed by the sound of music from the facility. “The commission closed the park with the permission of the local administrator as it received many complaints from local residents about loud music and singing from there,” Al-Hamadi said.

Local women frequented the facility, as it provided health and sports clubs meant exclusively for women.

Shaimah Al-Anazi, owner of the entertainment facility, told the daily that several policemen ordered women and children visitors out from the park and closed the facility without giving any reason for their act.

Muhammad Al-Balawi, chairman of Yanbu Municipal Council, had inaugurated the park last September. The opening function was also attended by Ata Allah Al-Nazawi, director of the General Organization for Social Insurance, and Ibrahim Al-Alouni, director general of Abdul Latif Jameel Social Services Program.

“I will approach the Madinah governor and the chief of the commission to find out the real cause of closing the park, which is the only outdoor entertainment facility for women in this city,” Al-Anazi said. “It was a small village that catered to women’s entertainment needs while conforming to the regulations and Saudi traditions.”

Al-Anazi said she did not get any notice or warning from the authorities before closing the facility in which she had invested SR2 million. She suspected that the commission might have been provoked by an allegation by some people that the facility violated religious regulations.

She said such allegations are baseless and, on the other hand, the facility used to hold frequent religious lectures for women. She added that some people also mounted pressure on the guards in the park to quit their jobs.

Umm Emad, a divorced woman who worked at the park, said she and her three children would have no income to support themselves if the park remained closed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Little Frida's Coffee House

Little Frida's Coffee House
Little Frida's Coffee House

Location: 8730 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California, USA

Opened: One article reports September 1995--at least for this location. Keanu Reaves was spotted at Little Frida's in June 1994, but that seems to have been the earlier address at 8545 Santa Monica Boulevard. Little Frida's seems to have opened at the earlier location around 1991 or 1992.

Closed: May 1999?

Little Frida's was a well-known West Hollywood lesbian coffee house from the 1990s.

Here's how CaseNet descried Little Frida's back in the day:

...this delightful place has a selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches. New selected art is featured and displayed every 6 to 8 weeks. Relax in their lounge or sit outside. Very clean and well maintained. Tuesday is music. Wednesday is comedy. Thursday is special workshops or symposiums. Entertainment starts at 8 pm. They also sponsor special events.

And here's a sampling from Little Frida's Calendar of Events. Busy Place! Some noteworthy highlights:

The Women with Balls Comedy Showcase for Women used to take place at Little Frida's.

Melissa Ferrick was here in January 1996--and on later dates as well.

The first All Women's Motorcycle Parking Lot Sale was held at Little Frida's in February 1997.

The solo show "Ballistic Femme" with Marie Carter was staged here in July 1998.

Over the years of her existence, Little Frida's managed to accrue some degree of fame. Celebrities were spotted there, like Keanu Reaves:

Little Frida's, a lesbian coffee shop in West Hollywood, may be one of the few places in America where the androgynous beauty of Keanu Reeves is lost on the local populace. Its sole customer, who's wearing a nose ring and has a large, colorful tattoo crawling up her back, barely offers a bored glance as Reeves glides by, singing along with piped-in U2. Soft-spoken and courteous, Reeves has a china-doll complexion, black beads for eyes, and a worn leather book with handwritten notes on Hamlet poking out of the pocket of his scraggly suede jacket. Sipping his cranberry juice and appearing politely horrified by the femo-phallic artwork on the walls — "Good morning!" he says, astounded, to one graphic painting — Reeves appears more like a slacker poet than the next great action hero.

When Ellen Morgan (Ellen Degeneres) came out on the Ellen show on April 30, 1997, Little Frida's was featured in the episode.

Later in the episode Ellen comes out to her friends, who are so supportive of her they take her to Little Frida’s, a real lesbian coffeehouse in West Hollywood, to listen to a parody of 1970s women’s music sung by k.d. lang. At the conclusion of the episode, Melissa Etheridge gives Susan a toaster oven as her tongue-in-cheek reward for converting another woman to lesbianism.

Watch it here.

Other films where Little Frida's provided some of the scenery include Bar Girls (1995) and Travelling Companions (1999).

In fact, Little Frida's appeared in the media so much, that it veered into over-exposure for some folks. From the Lesbian Flicks blog: 

One thing I want to say is that I am tired of seeing Little Frida’s (coffee bar) in movies and television shows. It always looks different than it is, and I don’t happen to like hanging there. I may be the only one in L.A. though.

Apart from all the media hype, Little Frida's provided the setting for more than one real-life romance. Here's one story from 2006:

We met at Little Frida’s Coffee House 14 years ago when I lived in Los Angeles for a summer… I was “straight”, 17 years old and couldn’t believe lesbians could be so HOT. I fell hard for her but she was dating someone at the time. Rosa, being 23 years old and “out” for almost 10 years, thought I was too “new” and a baby to boot. We became great friends.

When I graduated Smith College, I moved to New York City. She called me and told me she wanted to come visit. It was a different kind of call… borderline phone-sex. It seemed like I was waiting for that call all my life. She got on a plane the next day and we’ve been together ever since.

Here's another romance that got ignited at Little Frida's:
Little Frida's leaflet (1996?)

(Stanley): Essie Scoffield, Stanley, my friends call me. I’m originally from Los Angeles, California and moved to Hawaii five years ago.

(Laura): My name is Laura Belding, I’m originally from Vermont but I’ve lived in Hawaii for ten years and I currently live in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. 1999, Los Angeles, we were at a little coffee house called Little Frida’s in West Hollywood and I was with somebody else but Laura was sitting at a corner table and she was reading a book and I just happened to glance over and she looked up and she smiled at me. Laura’s got a great smile (laughter). So, we just had that instantaneous contact and that was it.

Even as  late as last summer, a blogger named sprouthead was reminiscing about Little Frida's:

I don't know what year Little Frida's closed, but in the late '90s it was one of my havens. I would make the trek from Irvine to West Hollywood just so I could sit in Frida's, have a cup of coffee, and write in my journal in a place where I felt I wasn't alone.

I wonder where the queer youth hang out now?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


A Kiss at Lips (1994)

Location: Elgin, Illinois, USA

Opened/Closed: March 1,1994--or whenever it "reopens" in reruns

Lips was an imaginary lesbian bar that appeared during an episode of Roseanne, an American sitcom that ran from 1988 to 1997. Comedian Roseanne Barr played the title role in the show, which concerned a (straight) midwestern working-class married mom.

Lips came into being during the sixth season, an episode called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (episode 18). You can watch a clip including the bar scene here. "The Kiss" is here.

As you can see, Lips is housed in a little one-story stucco building at the end of a narrow, dead-end street. (Scary!) The interior is an electric blue, with cheesy decorations that look like they were fashioned from aluminum foil. The "clients" are portrayed as leering and aggressive (even More Scary!), and the bartender as flirty and tatooed --no shedding of stereotypes or hetero fears here.

Victoria E. Johnson has written one of the better critiques:

The April 30, 1994 [sic] episode of Roseanne, titled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," chronicles Roseanne Connor's and her sister Jackie's trip from their hometown of Lanford, Illinois to Elgin for a Friday night on the town at a gay bar with their friend Nancy (played by Sandra Bernhardt) and her partner Sharon (Mariel Hemingway). While Roseanne begins the episode demonstratively vocalizing her "coolness" with the trip and her wisecracking ease around her lesbian and gay friends, when Sharon kisses her at Club Lips, she becomes threatened and confused. The remainder of the episode explores Roseanne's attempt to examine her own fears and desires, and to recuperate her "cool status" within the group and for viewers, thus enabling her to return to "unruly" form the following week.

During the 1990s, it became quite the fad for TV shows to feature a "lesbian kiss episode"--especially during network "sweeps" time. Other shows that featured a single kiss during that period include LA Law, Picket Fences, Party of Five, and Ally McBeal.

Back in 2005, Virginia Heffernan pulled apart the real motives behind the TV "sapphic pucker up" craze:

Eminently visual; cheap, provided the actors are willing; controversial, year in and year out; and elegantly reversible (sweeps lesbians typically vanish or go straight when the week's over), kisses between women are perfect sweeps stunts. They offer something for everyone, from advocacy groups looking for role models to indignation-seeking conservatives, from goggle-eyed male viewers to progressive female ones, from tyrants who demand psychological complexity to plot buffs.

Hooray for the all-purpose lesbian kiss, then, cynical though it may be.

Les Bos

Les Bos exterior
Les Bos

Location: South Park, Colorado, USA

Opened/Closed: Depends how you define it. South Park episode including Les Bos originally aired on April 11, 2007.

Just for something different, I thought it might be interesting to feature a "lost womyn's space" that never existed in "reality" as such, but only in the world of fiction. Such is the case with Les Bos.

Les Bos interior
Les Bos was a lesbian bar that once played a role in Comedy Central's animated series, South Park. Up until now, I hadn't been terribly familiar with this show. What fragments I had seen more-or-less by accident seemed offensive and tasteless. But in stumbling around the Internet, I came across a couple of references to Les Bos, which was specifically featured in a South Park episode called "D-Yikes!" from season 11 (episode 6 to be exact). So I forced myself to watch the episode in question. If curious, you can watch it here. If that sounds like too much of an ordeal, you can find a plot summary here.

My conclusions? Yup, this show is offensive and tasteless. That it manages to be slightly amusing (for a few brief seconds here and there) is the best I can say. And even those moments are cancelled out by the outrageous racist/lesbian stereotyping which I didn't find funny in the slightest. 

But I was also struck by the fact that when it was announced that Les Bos would be sold, the bar dykes decided to fight back and save their space. And they won! If only THAT happened in real life....