Thursday, January 26, 2012

Washington Female Seminary

Two "mistresses" from the Washington Female Seminary (late 1800s)

Washington Female Seminary

Location: Northwest corner of Lincoln and Maiden Streets, Washington, Pennsylvania, USA

Founded: April 21,1836

Closed: June 1948

Washington Female Seminary was a Presbyterian seminary for women. Though historic accounts say that it was organized by "a group of enterprising citizens in Washington," men's names are the only ones mentioned, especially the names of two local men who were relatively prominent abolitionists.

However, the Seminary did have a strong tradition of female leadership through its women principals. Mrs. Frances Biddle, the first principal, remained just a short time, till 1840, as she was apparently "not quite the person for the job." Miss Sarah R. Foster (later Mrs. Sarah B. Hanna), a former student of Emma Willard (another pioneer in women's education), served from 1840-1874. This time around, at least according to this source, they found just the right woman for the position:

The board chose well; the new principal was to serve for 34 years and under her expert guidance the seminary soon became one of the most famous schools for girls in the region. She was a born administrator, possessed of uncommon tact and energy. In no time at all she and her school began to exercise a great influence upon the entire community.

After Mrs. Hanna's retirement, she was succeeded by Miss Nancy Sherrard, a graduate and former vice principal at the Steubenville Female Seminary. (Once again, we're seeing how women's seminaries and colleges provided mutual support to each other.) Miss Sherrard remained till her retirement in 1897. She in turn was followed by Mrs. Martha McMillan, who served till 1901. During Mrs. McMillan's tenure, a second building was finally added to the school--various additions had previously been added over the years, but not a new building as such. The commission went to a Pittsburgh woman architect, Elice Mercur. This also follows a pattern we have seen before, of women's colleges and schools providing important opportunities for women architects and other professionals.  Today this building, now known as McIlvaine Hall, belongs to Washington & Jefferson College.

Classes began in 1836 with just forty students and an emphasis on "providing not just a finishing education for young women of good Christian standing but a rigorous, classical curriculum." The "course of study," we are told, included "grammar, ancient and modern geography, mental and natural philosophy, history, arithmetic, astronomy, and evidence of Christianity." Pretty tough-sounding stuff indeed.  By 1845 the curriculum had been expanded to include geology, algebra, geometry, political economy, chemistry, botany, rhetoric, logic, mental and moral science, and scripture history.

Life at the school during this era was certainly less than luxurious by contemporary standards, but there were apparently few complaints:

The hospitable three-story building, which fronted on Maiden Street, had 40 rooms. The students' rooms were furnished , and the girls were expected to keep them neat and tidy. The furnishings would be regarded as decidedly chilly and austere by today's standards. Carpets could be found only in the parlors and in the teachers' quarters; no pictures adorned the walls, and there was no central heating. Warmth was provided by little coal or wood fires in each room. There was as yet no gas, electricity, or running water. Light was provided by dip tallow candles. Beds were equipped with two mattresses, a straw one for summer and a feather one for winter. Pupils took turns serving as "monitress," and were responsible for visiting the dormitory room during study hours to make sure that students were in their rooms if they were supposed to be in, or out if they were supposed to be out. Demerits were given for infractions. Food was abundant and apparently good. While life was rugged, letters written by students of the period attested that they found it enjoyable.

Pioneering journalist and author Rebecca Harding Davis (1831-1910) graduated from Washington Female Seminary at the age of 17 in 1848. Though serving as class valedictorian, she found the school a bit wonting in its academic rigor at that time. As she later reflected, the Seminary taught "enough math to do accounts, enough astronomy to point out constellations, a little music and drawing, and French, history, literature at discretion".

Scholar Gregory Hadley describes Davis's frustration with an authoritarian father who thought that higher education was wasted on women. She desperately wanted to go to college, but that wish was thwarted. Her father hired private tutors to teach her younger brother, but none for her.

Rebecca eventually went to Washington Women’s Seminary in Washington, Pennsylvania, a school which trained women to become missionaries, pastor’s wives and teachers. During this time she studied the Bible intensively. Washington, Pennsylvania was also on the American lecture circuit, which meant that scholars and political thinkers regularly came to the city to lecture on abolitionism, human rights, women’s rights and the plight of immigrants. Couched within the ethical teachings of Christianity, Rebecca Harding Davis was challenged to explore ideas, read widely, and think for herself about social as well as religious issues. Judging from her later writings, it is likely that during this time in her life, Davis began to reach the conclusion that in order to be faithful to the ethical teachings of Christ, one should work for to bring justice to those who were suffering injustice. 

After three years, she graduated at the top of her class and returned home, where she found her family hostile to her liberal ideas.  Rebecca was expected to stay at home and help her mother take care of her brothers and sisters, who now numbered five.  In her spare time, Rebecca tried to continue her education at home by studying her brother’s old college textbooks, but under the psychological pressure of her parent’s constant opposition and the chore of taking care of little children,  she became deeply depressed.  She felt that life had become a curse because she was unable to use anything that she had learned. From the pit of this despair, she found strength to make a break from the bondage imposed upon her by her family and social class.

Rebecca Harding Davis
Eventually, Davis published her first novella, Life in the Iron Mills (1861), which is now considered a masterpiece of literary realism. She went on to have a successful writing career in many ways. But as Hadley observes, she was almost too advanced for her time:
Rebecca Harding Davis’ writings often preceded the works of other well-known authors of her day.  Her portrayal of the psychological pain of soldiers during the American Civil War was written years before that of Stephen Crane.  Davis’ study of the social imprisonment of Victorian women anticipated Kate Chopin, and her riveting denouncement of the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and capitalism were written well before Upton Sinclair’s novels.  

By the time she died, Davis was virtually unknown. It was not until the feminist writer Tillie Olson rediscovered her writings in the early 1970s that interest in Davis's life and work was revived.

Throughout the last decades of  nineteenth century, the school continued to expand in academic breadth and enrollment: "By the mid-80s the seminary was graduating an average of 20 students annually; in 1884 there were 140 pupils in attendance, 60 of whom were boarders."

As it entered the first decades of the twentieth century, Washington Female Seminary had certainly developed a well-earned reputation for academic excellence. This glowing recommendation is from 1910:

Washington Female Seminary Class of 1888
From its opening Washington Seminary has grown slowly, but steadily, both in members and in character and range of opportunties afforded. It is one of the few schools in which the Bible is scientifically taught from a literary standpoint. Its certificate admits to the leading women's colleges of the country. In addition to the College preparatory course and regular course there are also studies in music, art and elocution. The proximity of the Seminary to Pittsburg with its famous resident orchestra, musical advantages and art exhibits, affords the opportunity of hearing the great symphanies and soloists, and seeing the work of the great artists. Washington Seminary numbers her alumnae by the thousands.

A 1913 advertisement for the school further boasts that "certificates from the college preparatory course admits to the freshman class of Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke, Ohio Wesleyan and other leading institutions."

So what happened? It seemed that the Seminary developed financial problems around the first World War. An ambitious capital plan was embarked upon, which involved the purchase of a 36-acre site with buildings outside the central part of town. The project was finally abandoned in the 1920s with little explanation. As the country entered the Great Depression years, the financial difficulties only grew worse:

By the early 1930s financial pressures and increased competition from the growing number of public high schools created so many difficulties that in 1932 the trustees voted to close the school. Through the efforts of a devoted faculty and a determined principal, however, the seminary reopened almost immediately as a day school and junior college and it continued to operate on this basis for another sixteen years. Accreditation and financial problems continued to plague the administration and after the second World War the pressures became more intense. The school property had been sold to W&J in 1939; so, homeless and without funds, the trustees gave up the struggle for good in December 1947. The 112th commencement in June 1948 was the last. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tink's Pub

Tink's Pub
Tink's Pub

Location: 22 South Preston Street, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Opened: 2001

Closed: January 1, 2012

Here's a bare bones description of Tink's Pub from gaybarlouisville:

Tink's Pub is located at 2235 South Preston Street and is a lesbian bar that welcomes everyone. They have billiards, weekly events and drag shows.

Well, that's pretty straightforward. Other reviews make it sound like a more "mixed" kind of place. Like this one from GayCities:
Tink's Pub interior

One of the oldest clubs in Louisville
A friendly neighborhood bar where people feel comfortable to "come as you are." No expensive cover charges or fancy dress codes. Just people, drinks and a place to unwind.

This review from ehow comes somewhere down the middle:

Tink's Pub is a lesbian bar that opens its doors to the general public. Tink's has free pool on Tuesdays and karaoke on Wednesdays. Mondays have happy hour during opening hours. Tink's also has weekly events such as drag shows.

I think what this suggests is that we no longer have any consensus on what "lesbian bar" means anymore. But I digress....

Patron reviews were mixed, as they generally are. On the plus side was Bonnie M. in December 2008:

Tinks is a friendly little place to go, have treated Erica and I very nicely :) if you want a place to go where you can talk, then I recommend Tinks :)

And then on the minus side was (a rather snotty) MammyGraham in July 2010:

Ok, so the place was a total train wreck, but I'm no snob, so I was willing to have one drink at this place. But then the dude at the door says it's $5 cover. Say what? $5 for a run-down, dyke-infested shit hole? So I left without having a drink; something I never do.

Regardless of Tink's merits (or lack thereof), she became the latest lesbian bar death this past New Year's Eve. I'm starting to think there are more spotted owls than lesbian bars these days. From

Louisville's only lesbian bar to close New Year's Eve [LGBT]

After several lives over the years, Tink's Pub, a local lesbian bar, will once again close its doors after one last hooray on New Year's Eve.

The current incarnation, located at 2235 S. Preston, has been a central Louisville staple for ten years. The bar, which boasts that every night is ladies' night, has provided a great gathering space for ladies (and lots of men too) to shoot pool, play music in the jukebox, play video poker, throw darts, and sing karaoke. It also offered the occasional drag king show.

The owner had hoped that someone would offer to buy the bar before its closing, but no deal has been confirmed as of yet.

Saturday night's final celebration is themed "Cheers! to Ten Great Years!" The bar will be open its normal hours of 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM. Fans of the bar can post memories and messages on the bar's official Facebook page.

This obituary from Leo Weekly provides even more detail:

December 14, 2011

And then there were four
Louisville’s LGBT community loses two gay bars in one month

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, says that nationwide, gay bars have emerged as unintended collateral in the fight for acceptance. As more non-gay establishments welcome LGBT customers, creating friendly environments, the segregated model becomes somewhat antiquated.

“It’s very bittersweet. On the one hand, acceptance is increasing. There may be, in many people’s minds, a feeling that there is less of a need for specific lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender spots,” Hartman says. “We’re losing some of our history when we’re losing these places.”

It’s one reason Hartman is working with Preservation Louisville to mark significant locations in the city’s LGBT history.

“What we’ve found is that so many of these early spots were indeed bars,” Hartman says. “These safe gathering spots were nightlife hubs where folks could come and commiserate and not fear.”

Four gay bars remain open: The Connection, Tryangles, Marty’s Tavern and Teddy Bears. Longtime followers of Louisville’s LGBT culture say that’s the fewest number of local gay bars in decades.

Fleur de Lez is a lesbian social group that meets up for monthly happy hours. This month, organizer Zanne Koehne chose Tink’s — one last time. Gathered at a table in the well-worn billiards room, the young women chat about the loss of the city’s lone lesbian bar.

“I think some people want a little flashier, a little fancier,” Koehne says. “This is a hole in the wall. But it’s a fun hole in the wall.”

Several years ago, the bar drew a younger crowd, many from University of Louisville. But over the years, faces aged. Younger customers found new spots as other more mainstream bars in town increasingly offered sporadic “gay nights.” Still, Tink’s is a staple that many in this group say will leave a gap.

“I have no problem with gay or straight boys,” says Stacy Staggs. “But I like Tink’s because I’m bound to run into lesbians. And I like lesbians.”

Chris Riffle recently moved back to Louisville from Portland, Ore., a progressive city that she says just lost a decades-old lesbian bar.

“I think it’s because people are assimilating into mainstream culture,” Riffle says. “They don’t need that underground place to go to be a lesbian.”

Still, LGBT-friendly bars play a critical role. Holly Knight says when men and women decide to come out into their “authentic self,” the most likely place they’ll turn for support is in a spot where they’re sure to find similar people.

“I think these bars are more than just bars,” she says. “They’re safe places.”

Knight says Starbase Q had become that secure space for Louisville’s transgender and transsexual population. Overall, she feels Louisville is a very tolerant, hospitable city, but the threat of harassment and the fear of losing employment over an alternative lifestyle is real.

“I’m not saying every gay person needs to go to a gay bar to buy drinks and support it,” she says. “But I think gay bars are important in that way.”

Louisville’s gay bars date back to the 1930s, according to the Encyclopedia of Louisville. Many were in hotels, including the Beau Brummel at the Seelbach and the Beaux Arts at the Henry Clay Hotel.

These first bars were gay-friendly but not actually designated as “gay bars.”

But in 1953, Louisville’s first prominent gay bar — the Downtowner — opened on Chestnut Street. (It eventually burned down and relocated to the property that now houses The Connection.) Cate Fosl, director of the U of L Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, completed an oral history on LGBT culture in Louisville. She says the Downtowner was the target of the city’s first gay rights protest in 1970 by a group that came to be known as the Gay Liberation Front.

“Even though they had cross-dressing performers, they wouldn’t allow cross-dressing by bar patrons,” she says.

In the late ’70s, Mother’s Brew, a lesbian and feminist bar located at the current site of the Kentucky Convention Center, also became a hotbed for activism. Local community activist David Williams, who founded U of L’s Williams-Nichols archive stocked with local LGBT history, says gay- bar owners were reluctant to support the movement at the time. They worried acceptance would diminish their customer base.

“They didn’t come around until the ’80s,” Williams says. It was in the ’80s and ’90s that the number of gay bars multiplied, mostly in the downtown corridor, with as many as 10.

“Frankly, what I think started killing off bars is the Internet,” he adds. “The bars were about the only place where gays and lesbians would feel safe meeting new friends and possible love.”

In the late ’90s, that changed with the advent of dating websites and chat rooms. Williams doubts, though, that gay bars will become entirely a relic.

“There’s still quite a lot of folks in the gay and lesbian community who are shy about being seen in public as a gay or lesbian person,” he says. “So there is always going to be a need for a gay space, a lesbian space.”

The bar industry is notoriously fickle, and the recession has only made it harder to endure. Some argue there are just not enough patrons to support eight or nine gay bars in tough economic times.

Williams predicts it won’t be long before another gay bar opens. Still, as someone who’s followed the history of LGBT in Louisville, it’s hard not to take note of this particular moment.

“It fluctuates. But we’re back down to where we were 30 years ago,” Williams says. “It’s a bit surprising.”

To read more about the aforementioned Mother's Brew, see here.

Photo: Exterior of Tink's Pub  and interior

Monday, January 23, 2012

Unnamed Bar (Syracuse, New York)

Unnamed Bar

Location: Syracuse, New York, USA

Open/Closed: 1950s

Up until now, I've never posted on a lesbian bar unless I had at least a name. An actual street address is useful too, but sometimes a girl just can't get too picky. Especially when it comes to tracking down herstory, which can be very elusive indeed.

In this case, all I have is a rather lurid account by a gay man who went to Syracuse University back in the 1950s. In his internet memoirs, he mentions a couple of Syracuse bars from that era. One was the Orange, a mostly straight bar near campus where gay men sometimes congregated (cautiously). Then there were two downtown gay men's bars: Bersani's, a "dark, sleezy dive," and the Bell Room. That leads us to our mysterious, unnamed lesbian bar.... 

There was a third gay bar in town, a private "club" on the main drag that had all the appearance of having been a speakeasy or gambling club at one time.  The entrance was a metal door between two stores; when you opened it you were faced with a long flight of metal stairs, at the top of which was another metal door with a shuttered peep hole.  Opening the door downstairs tripped a buzzer as I recall, but in any case just walking up the metal stairs was announcement enough and the shutter snapped open and your approach was watched by a pair of hard, dark eyes.  These belonged to Rose, a huge Italian-American bull dyke, who was always dressed in flower print house dresses.   

The place deserved to have been recorded by a Toulouse-Lautrec, but one with a good dash of Georg Grosz in his temperament, perhaps.   

The majority of its customers were working class lesbians, a group of whom worked in commercial laundries - and these were women not to be trifled with.  There were gay men too, a somewhat more varied assortment: some of the “flamers” from Bersani's, a few from the other bar and the occasional odd ones - like a couple or three wide-eyed college students, or some polished-looking slightly older guy with a professional job.

The first time I was there was when the little group of us from the Orange went downtown, and I was introduced to the city gay bars.  However, later on Reg and I went back by ourselves.  He got involved in a flirtation with the bartender, and I got to know the dykes.  Just how that began I can't remember, but after a while I was dancing with them - even little Dotty, who was Rose the Doorman's woman.  Dottie was often out of it.  I think working a hard manual labor job all day long and then trying to booze and stay up with Rose on her job was more than she could handle.  She usually dressed in jeans and a pea jacket, and often ended up collapsing into sleep in a booth.   A few times I saw Rose watching her from her post by the door, then come lumbering over in her huge flower print dress to bend over and literally lift Dotty out of the booth with both hands and hold her up like a doll.  She covered her with kisses, Dotty would briefly come to and smile, then Rose would plunk her back down in the booth and to sleep again.  

I don't know if the place was licensed or not, but it did serve hooch after hours.  I saw two uniformed cops come into the place one night (scared the piss out of me) and they went into the kitchen with Jimmy [the bartender].  They came out very soon with a couple of small paper bags.  Sometime later Jimmy told Reg and I that the cops came in for "lettuce sandwiches."  Huh?  Sandwiches from a non-working kitchen?  Oh, right..."lettuce."

El Cafe

Gas Light Cafe (1958-1971)
El Cafe

Location: 116 Macdougal Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: 1970s

El Cafe is another one of those random lesbian bars I happened to find by strolling through New York Songlines--a very neat guide to the historical geography of New York City. This is what they had to say about the location:

116: Below Frequency ("body piercing/ watches") and Spring Gallery (Chinese gifts) is the storied space of Alibi. It was previously the Wreck Room and before that Scrap Bar, a punkish bar with post-industrial decor. In the 1970s, it had been El Cafe, a lesbian bar. In the 1950s it was the Gas Light Cafe, the "quintessential Beat hangout"; it launched the Village poetry-reading craze with readings by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, LeRoi Jones et al.; Bob Dylan played here and stayed in a room upstairs. Before that it was Louis' Luncheon, hangout for writers, Ziegfield Follies chorus girls, gays and lesbians.

Alibi - 116 Macdougal Street today
This always happens when I investigate old lesbian bars in the Village. I can find photos and information about the location's earlier and later incarnations--when it is/was mostly male and/or straight. But little to nothing for when it was a womyn's space. Funny, that....

El Cafe definitely fits the rule. I could regale you with stories about Bob Dylan and the other Dude Poets at the Gas Light. I could list all kinds of recent GLBT poetry readings at Alibi.

But I can't find anything more about El Cafe. Hopefully, I'll have another happy accident at some point, and trip over something interesting to share.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Beit Hasho'eva bar (formerly the Minerva)

The Beit Hasho'eva bar
The Belt Hasho'eva bar (formerly the Minerva)

Location: 98 Allenby Street, Tel Aviv, Israel

Opened: 1994

Closed: 2008

Here's how Frommer's reviewed her back when she was still known as the Minerva Bar:

This always-interesting basement art gallery with an adjacent bar is an easygoing meeting place for the lesbian community. Both the bar and gallery are open daily from 8pm until late. Increasingly pan-gender-friendly.

Aguide2israel had this to say about Minerva's.

The most popular lesbian bar in TLV. Excellent music from different DJs every night, passionate vibes and a gender baffling atmosphere. With its 10th anniversary behind it – Minerva is a proud TLV institution that never fails to provide a sweet time to its dedicated crowd

 After she became Beit Hasho'eva, the TelAvivGuide weighed in with this review:

Situated in a legendary location, Beit Hashoeva is a lively yet unassuming place that will fit various tastes and styles. Taking over the space of the Minerva bar, a long standing lesbian bar that dominated the lesbian Tel Avivian scene for over a decade, Beit Hashoeva is the answer for a laid-back yet upbeat all-women night. Though Beit Hashoeva claims to be a place for gays, lesbians, bi and friendly-straights, the majority of the crowd usually possess two “X” chromosomes (choosing the location the Minerva used to be sets the tone). The music varies and the crowd is perhaps on the more mature side, though it really depends on the event, the DJ and the day of the week.

And then there was the ever-reliable GayCities, which, as usual, was brief and to the point:

Beit Hashoeva *
Formerly: Minerva

Hangout for the ladies
Though all are welcome at Beit Hashoeva, it's become the lesbian stomping ground for Tel Aviv.

But even though this "lesbian hangout" had 5 stars--and was the only lesbian bar in town--she didn't survive much beyond her 14th birthday. In December 2008, it was announced that Beit Hasho'eva was closing for good.


Tel Aviv's last lesbian bar closes its doors after 14 years

It would be hard to fill the void left by the Minerva, which wasn't just another hangout for Tel Aviv's lesbian community; it was its beating heart.

The Beit Hasho'eva bar officially closed its doors on Sunday, bringing to a halt 14 years in which it served as the heart of Tel Aviv's lesbian community.

Throughout the years, the Minerva, as it was formerly known, was burnt down, reopened, sold to different owners, only to return to the hand of community stalwart Adi Keizerman under the new moniker "Beit Hasho'eva."

It was always changing. Its basement first served as a gallery, then as an empty dark room. A pool table went in, and then out, a stage and smoking lounge were added, the DJ booth moved around a bit, but in essence things stayed the same.

However, the Minerva wasn’t just the lesbian community's favorite hangout, but an inherent and important part of the life of that community. It has not finally closed its doors, after 11 years as the Minerva and 3 as the Beit Hasho'eva following the owner's wishes to turn the building into a luxury high-rise.

In its final closing time, the bars black walls were lit with soft spotlights which illuminate the bar that stands at the Minerva's center. Tall, square tables are positioned around, under a row of brothel-like red lanterns. The DJ's booth stands on a small podium.

Facing it, behind a black curtain and a old lit-up Motel sign, a smoking lounge appears with three couches and illustrated pink wallpaper. The minimalist décor in the bar was meant to serve the girls who came there, getting out of the way of the odd look across the room.

And at the time of its closing, squares and hipsters, fat and thin, young and old – the entire community – came to pay their last respects to the Minerva, the only exclusively lesbian bar in a city advertising itself as a refuge for Israel's LGBT population.

I see here that Beit Hasho'eva was kosher. Can't help but wonder if this was the first-- and only--kosher lesbian bar in existence....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot

Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot

Location: 2711 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened: early 1950s

Closed: 1958

I first found out about Tiny and Ruby's here:

The trumpeter Ernestine “Tiny” Davis and her partner, the drummer Ruby Lucas, ran the 1950s lesbian bar Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot (2711 S. Wentworth Ave.); it was demolished to make way for the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Fortunately, there's more information than that. This brief bio on Tiny Davis is from Matt and Andrej Koymaski:

"Tiny" (Ernestine) Davis (August 5, 1907 - 1994) U.S.A.
Little is known of Davis' early life and thus her career is where most get acquainted with her. In 1937, the Piney Woods Country Life School of Mississippi founded the 16-piece band known as "The International Sweethearts of Rhythm". The purpose of the band was to financially support the school, which educated the poor and orphaned black children in that state. But in 1941, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm severed their ties with the Piney Woods Country Life School, moved to Virginia and recruited seasoned professionals to join their band.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm pushed the fevered audience to new levels as Edna Williams, Willie Mae Wong, and Ruby Lucas upped the ante on the song "Swing Shift." The Sweethearts were unique in that it was both all females as well as a racially integrated group. Latina, Asian, Caucasian, Black, Indian and Puerto Rican women came together and created music that more than held its own in the Swing Era: the musicians and the music they played was admired by their peers, including the likes of Count Basie and Louis Armstrong.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm played big band jazz that cooks. The Jubilee Sessions, originally recorded for radio broadcasts aimed toward America's black soldiers serving during 1943 to 1946, provide a rare opportunity to hear these women play. The Sweethearts didn't get as much exposure to mainstream audiences in the South as the all-white, male big bands of their day because of their racial make-up and the atmosphere of violent racism in that region. When they did tour the Deep South, the three or four white women in the group would paint their faces dark so the police would not remove them from the bandstand and arrest them.
While their exposure to white audiences was somewhat limited, they were extremely popular with black audiences. The All-girl band singer Tiny Davis and her partner since 1948, Ruby Lucas, owned Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot in Chicago during the 1950s. In 1988, a short film entitled Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin' Women was made as a tribute to Davis, and her lesbian partner of 40 years, drummer Ruby Lucas.

Out and Proud in Chicago tells us a little more about the club itself.

IN THE 1950s, TRUMPETER TINY DAVIS AND PARTNER RUBY Lucas opened "Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot" at 2711 S. Wentworth Ave.--"light, white, brown, and yellow," the femmes and the daddies all came to see Tiny use her tongue "like Pops, and better than Bix." Tiny had been a star performer with a wartime all-girl band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. A 1986 documentary, Tiny & Ruby--Hell Divin' Women, profiled the couple. Ruby was Tiny's partner for 40 years and was herself a drummer and pianist.

From Florence Hamlish Levinsohn, we further discover that their decision to open the club was due to the disappearance of post-war work for women jazz musicians:

After World War II, work for women became scarce, and women musicians were not immune. Tiny and Ruby decided to establish a permanent gig for themselves, and in the early 50s they opened a club, Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot, on South Wentworth Avenue. After their property went to the city for the Dan Ryan Expressway in 1958, the two women went back to playing other people's clubs. They played at Big Mike's in Old Town, the Brass Rail in the Loop, and other clubs in and around Chicago until Tiny's arthritis put them out of business.

Check out this
video clip. Amazing stuff!

And check out this clip of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm from 1946. Wonder who the sax soloist is. I'm totally smitten....

The Twelve-Thirty Club

1230 North Clybourn today
The Twelve-Thirty Club

Location: 1230 North Clybourn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened: 1933, perhaps earlier?

Closed: Ordered closed December 27, 1934/gone by early 1935

Sometimes called the 1230, the Twelve-Thirty Club is usually mentioned in the same breath with the Roselle Inn. Both were Chicago "women's cross-dressing clubs" or lesbian bars which were closed on the same day by mayoral decree. From the Chicago History Museum blog:

Although 1933 marked the end of Prohibition, the Pansy Craze continued for almost another decade. But even as speakeasies were allowed to reclaim their status as bars, many queer–friendly spaces were shut down. The Ballyhoo Café, Dill Pickle Club, and two establishments frequented by lesbians, the Twelve Thirty Club and Roselle Inn, all closed in the mid-1930s. In October 1935, the Cabin Inn and the De Luxe Café were raided by the Chicago Police, who insisted that the drag queens “Put on pants or go to jail.” By the time Chicago entered the 1940s, the congeniality of Prohibition had past: a sharp line had been drawn between gay and lesbian bars and straight establishments.

Once again, both clubs are mentioned here:

After 1920 women who occasionally wore men's clothing and those who passed as men began to socialize more openly in cafes and night clubs. In Chicago two night clubs, the Roselle Club, run by Eleanor Shelly, and the Twelve-thirty Club, run by Becky Blumfield, were closed by the police during the 1930s because "women in male attire were nightly patrons of the places". Many of the couples who frequented these clubs had been married to each other by a black minister on Chicago's South Side.

And also in this article on Chicago's "Gay 30s" by Lucinda Fleeson:

Still, reformers demanded that Mayor Edward J. Kelly clean up nightlife, and they campaigned against strippers and female impersonators. Early in 1935, police padlocked the K-9 Club and the Ballyhoo. Two lesbian cafés, the Twelve-Thirty club, at 1230 Clybourn Avenue, and the Roselle Inn, at 1251 North Clark Street, were shut. In October 1935, police raided two State Street nightspots, the Cabin Inn and the De Luxe Cafe. "Put on pants or go to jail," police ordered the drag queens. For a while the black-and-tan cafés were allowed to continue their drag shows, but then they, too, were shut down. Police raided the Halloween Balls at the Coliseum. By 1935 Mayor Kelly had eliminated gay nightlife.

 Lastly, there is this reference:

1230 was a women's cross-dressing club in the early 20th century.  it was one of three clubs chicago mayor ed kelly ordered closed on december 27, 1934.

Not surprisingly, the Twelve-Thirty's twin sister, the Roselle Inn, was one of the other clubs cited in that shut down order.

As can be seen in the photo above, all physical remains of the Twelve-Thirty Club have been obliterated.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Our Hideaway

Our Hideaway
Our Hideaway

Location: 16 Bolduc Lane, Chicopee, Massachusetts, USA

Opened: 1949

Closed: 1999

Found at UMARMOT (Special Collections & University Archives), University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries:

Founded in Chicopee, Massachusetts in 1949 under another name, Our Hideaway was the oldest women’s bar on the east coast, offering the local lesbian community a safe haven in which to socialize for fifty continuous years. Before the bar was forced to close after losing its lease in 1999, it was home to a diverse community of women from those known as “old timers,” comprised of women patronizing the bar for upwards of 25 years, to college students new to the area.

As part of a project to research the lesbian bar as a social institution, Smith College student Heather Rothenberg conducted interviews of the women who frequented Our Hideaway. During the course of her research an unexpected announcement was made: the bar was closing. As a result, Rothenberg’s efforts to document Our Hideaway extended far beyond her original intent, and she was able to capture the final days of the bar as both a physical place as well as a community of women assembled over five decades. The collection consists of interview transcripts, emails, photographs and Rothenberg’s written reports. Transcripts of the interviews were modified to protect the privacy of the women interviewed; the original transcripts are restricted.

So that's where I first found out about Our Hideaway. Didn't find out much else, as that would require a cross-country trip. But as it turns out, the end of the story isn't buried in a UMASS archive. From the Hideaway website:

Since its closing, there had been various reunion events held at other locations.  But in May of 2010, Mayreane S. and Terri D. decided to reopen the Hideaway (Terri's sister now owns the building and the upstairs B-Bar) at its original location, and hold monthly events and special occasion parties.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Bohemian (Cafe Bohemia)

15 Barrow Street today
The Bohemian (Cafe Bohemia)

Location: 15 Barrow Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 1969, and intermittently lesbian space going back to the mid 1950s 

This has happened more than once. I find one, maybe two, short references to an old Greenwich Village lesbian bar. And then... Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not another word. And that's when there are gobs of information on the space's other (mostly male/male-oriented) occupants over the years. Lost herstory at its very best. (See Mona's for another example.)

So it was with The Bohemian. Almost by accident, I came across this 2009 article in New York called "Gay Old Times...1969." And in this article I happened to spy the following very brief but intriguing notice:

Miles Davis in front of the
Cafe Bohemia, mid 1950s

The Bohemian (15 Barrow St.)
GSC: “This one is for GIRLS only.”

GSC being the the third annual Gay Scene Guide (1969).

Wow. But I sure had a hard time finding out anything after that. Even my old standby, New York Songlines, had nothing to say about this address ever housing a womyn's space.

I did determine that the building at 15 Barrow Street has been around since the nineteenth century.  In 1955, it became the Cafe Bohemia, a major jazz venue that once featured the first Miles Davis Quintet, Art Blakey's original Jazz Messengers, and Kenny Dorham's Jazz Prophets.

Next thing I know is that in 1990, this place has become the New Barrow Street Ale House, a more-or-less straight bar which still occupies the same location today.

So where's my lesbian bar? Was the 1969 Gay Scene Guide totally mistaken? I was baffled for the longest time.

Then I stumbled upon this little anecdote in Maurice Isserman's The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington.

It seems that sometime in the 1950s, Michael Harrington had become disenchanted with St. Louis, Missouri and its provincial ways, so he decided to move to New York City--and more specifically to Greenwich Village--to become a writer.

On that first night in New York, he found his way first to Louis's bar on Sheridan Square and then moved on to the Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street. "It was then in a lesbian phase," Michael would recall, "and, like all straight men from the Middle West, I found that fascinating.  I got into conversation with an attractive young woman, but then her girl friend appeared, angry with my heterosexual poaching."

Interior of 15 Barrow Street today
Ha ha. Isn't that amusing? I read on for a few more pages, but this self-styled socialist radical never did acknowledge anything overtly aggressive, invasive, or disrespectful in his actions. Typical male lefty at his finest. He can't even imagine how this "attractive young woman" and her "girl friend" might have felt in battling out the same old sh** with straight boys night after night after night. Nope, he never considers this encounter from their perspective at all. The lezzies are just exotic titilation for wide-eyed "Show Me" state boys, you see.  

But what we do learn is that Cafe Bohemia apparently went through periodic (and no doubt uneasy) "lesbian phases" where lesbians were (somewhat) tolerated as part of a larger (male) bohemian and/or hipster jazz scene. And that one of those phases was apparently around 1969. And that at least one was in the 50s when Mr. Harrington so kindly dropped by. A similar pattern is sometimes seen in other "bohemian" bars as well, whether in New York, San Francisco, or New Orleans. (See, for example, the Pony Stable Inn and Miss Smith's Tea Room.)  A co-existence that was not a co-existence of genuine equals, but one in which lesbians had to constantly defend their marginal territory--and their lovers--from male predation and encroachment. 

Just for the atmosphere, you can listen to a cut from Kenny Dorham's album here, which was recorded live at the Cafe Bohemia on May 31, 1956.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bonnie & Clyde's

Bonnie & Clyde's

Location: 82 West 3rd Street, New York, New York, USA

Opened: Early 1970s

Closed: Mid 1980s

Just found a very nifty site called Queer Spaces, which documents various spaces related to GLBT history around New York City. Here we see a sign that tells us about Bonnie & Clyde's:

Bonnie & Clyde's, a lesbian bar, stood at 82 West 3rd Street from the early seventies through the mid-eighties. Bars were one of the few places where people could be open about their sexuality. But bars were not only about meeting and mating. In the early seventies, Bonnie & Clyde's was a hangout for politically active lesbians as well as a place where women socialized across racial and class lines. Often women would gather here after meetings at the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse to continue discussions, arguments or strategy sessions begun earlier in the day.

And here's a little background history on the Queer Spaces project:

As our contribution to the Storefront for Art and Architecture's show Queer Spaces, REPOHistory exhibited eight signs that were placed at New York City sites where gays and lesbians gather for social and political purposes.

The signs described and emphasized the political histories of each site, and their installation was timed in order to coincide with the commemoration the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

Further discussion of the Queer Spaces project can be found in REPOhistory's article published as a part of QUEERS IN SPACE: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance, Seattle: Bay Press, 1997.

3rd Street: New York Songlines adds the following information about the 82 West 3rd Street location:

82 West 3rd Street today
In the early 1970s, this was Bonnie & Clyde's, a women's bar. Upstairs had been the gay restaurant Tenth of Always, which later became Bonnie's, and more recently the Boston Comedy Club. Now it's the wine bar Vyne. Downstairs is Zinc Bar, a little jazz club--formerly the Baggot Inn, a pub that featured live music.

Peggy Shaw (of Split Britches fame) also mentions Bonnie & Clyde's in an interview for the Documenting Lesbian Lives Oral History Project at Smith College:

I remember the first lesbian bar I ever went into. It was - I had never seen women dancing together slow before. I had never seen – I had seen drag queens from the bars in Boston, but I had never really seen that kind of really beautiful intense drag of a butch woman and a femme woman. Beautiful. Scary. It scared me. ‘Cause I – I just – it was so other than the culture. It was pretty scary. So you drank a lot pretty fast. You drank. The bars took a lot of money from us. You know, work hard, on Friday night you go to Bonnie and Clyde’s on East – on 3rd Street in West Village, which was an incredible club. I don’t know if you ever heard of Bonnie and Clyde’s. It was mostly black women bar. Lotta attitude, a pool table, a lotta alcohol. I think I stood against a wall drinking a beer for like five years. It wasn’t really encouraged to talk to anybody. You just gave attitude and you get drunk enough and maybe you end up going home with somebody sometimes and that was a failure because you were so drunk and you didn’t know them. It was pretty rough. I mean a lot of men talk about the bars in a different way because men just, I don’t know, they just slam each other against a wall and jerk each other off in the dark. But women don’t do that. In those times that’s what men were doing.