Main article on Washington University Gay Pride activities
    Flier for 1979 Pride Activities (side 1)
    Flier for 1979 Pride Activities (side 2)
    Brochure for 1979 Pride Activities (Logo and map)
    Directory on 1979 Brochure
    Brochure for 1979 Pride Activities (Agenda)
    National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights
    Other St. Louis Lesbian Groups in the 1970s
    Women Take Back the Night (Gaylife article)
    Women Take Back the Night 1979
    Dykes Find a New Home
    Lesbian Rights Alliance
    Herstory: Finding The Lesbian Heritage
    Homophile Community and the Law

Jim Andris, Facebook

Herstory: Finding The Lesbian Heritage

by Nan Sweet

[from the Lesbian and Gay News-Telegraph, November, 1988

In St. Louis, as everywhere, Lesbians have been searching for a space, for a voice. for their own identities. From decade to decade, group to group, the search has found different expression.

In the fifties in. St. Louis, there was an all-women's bar. Madame Touhy’s, where Busch Stadium now stands, and at least 10 other Gay bars in the City. In the Sixties, Lesbians wore Villager shirts with “fruit loops” and Bermudas for butches and pedal pushers for femmes.

In the Seventies, collective protects formed, as Lesbians tried to break the cycles of oppression that they lived under. Projects included collective houses, the Women's Eye Bookstore, and the Women's Garage. In the apolitical Eighties, some Lesbians stroll the Arsenal street Schnuck’s on Sundays, while others take to the streets as Women Rising In Resistance, and still others never see anything written about Lesbianism that isn't sold as pornography.

This summer, four women, Georgia, Laura Ann, Totty, and Flowing, contributed their knowledge of St. Louis Lesbian herstory to the archives of CLEAR (Community Liaison for Education and Research). CLEAR is an arm of CHALLENGE-METRO Lesbian and Gay community services.

A long-time taxicab driver, Georgia came out at 18 in 1950. She met a WAC who asked her if she ever went down •where all the girts go.” This was “Olive St,” which meant bars at 12th and Olive, 7th and Pine, and Olive east of Grand. There. Lesbians, Gay men, and prostitutes befriended each other: “if someone came from out of town, they never had to stay in a motel.” Georgia recalls.

Together, this community endured monthly, even weekly, police raids. “It was the Vice Squad, on a slow night.” she explains. “Local District do can’t care; the Captain would come by for his expensive Scotch at Christmas." Once the paddy wagon pulled up and Red, who was in the rest room, was overlooked. She chased the wagon, hollering. “Let me in! My woman's in there!” Red and Helen were together 44 years when Red died this spring.

There were Halloween Balls held at places like the Lambskin Temple: “You had to wear a tux and have a broad on your arm.” There were Sunday barbecues and buffets at Burke's bar on Jefferson south of Gravois. Other sources speak of violence and abuse in the community then as now. but Georgia felt at home with her Lesbian and Gay male friends.

Down on the South Side, a group of women frequented the California Bar. or C.B.. at California and Shenandoah. They did not mix with the “Olive St. group, preferring the clean-cut lifestyle, says Georgia, of softball, bowling, and one foot in the closet. The C.B. was open by the late 1940’s and closed in 1976 when the owner, a woman, was sentenced to prison for running guns for the St. Louis Lebanese "Mafia.”

Totty came out at the C.B. in 1961, the summer she was 18. A star semi-pro softball player, Totty found three women competing to “marry” her and keep her in cars, furnished apartments ('Be at this address at 7 tonight’), and regular meals.

To make your way at the bar, you simply followed the rules: If you wanted to dance with a femme, you had to ask her butch (not her). Once “married,” the femme would go nowhere publicly without her butch. If the butch went out with her butch friends, that meant there was trouble in the relationship. The femme was attentive and never talked back in public. At home she would control her butch with meals and schedules.

Once married, the couple put all their money into one pot If a break-up came, the butch would walk away with just the shirt on her back. These rules haven't changed today, for many Lesbians.

Butch behavior is “so male and yet so different,” Totty says, still seeking her own definition.

Women League softball players were 90% Lesbian. Totty says, but played under male managers. Crowds were as large as 5000 for women's fast-pitch softball of the Sixties. Rules structured life on and off the field. On road trips, parties would end with curfews and bed checks. She knows "only one woman caught in bed with another woman.” Roles came onto the field: if a femme played ball, she tended to pitch or play first base, "the cleanest positions.”

Alcohol made this lifestyle, for all its athleticism, treacherous for many. Totty dried out in 1973. She still coaches, now preparing the Archivals for the Gay Olympics.

By 1969, Lesbians began to create alternatives. Laura Ann was part of many of these, having cut her teeth during the Sixties on black liberation and an abortion underground railroad. Between 1969 and 1975, five coffeehouses, Gay or Lesbian, blossomed in the area, one in the basement of a mansion on Delmar, another on Twelfth in the current Youth Hostel.

In 1974, New Lesbian Alliance opened its two-story space on Miami and Louisiana in the South Side, housing Tiamat Press, a library, Moonstorm, Lesbian Alliance legal committee, and rap groups. In February. 1975, the building was firebombed, a crime still unresolved. “My legal files had been rifled before I was contacted: and I lived only a block away." Laura remembers.

The early Seventies also saw the First Annual Fruitbowl: a dyke softball game with Gay male cheerleaders. Georgia and her friends decorated their cars, held a parade, and ended with a picnic.

Lesbians broke the all-male hold on St. Louis’s premier technical institute. Ranken Tech. Laura was the first women admitted, Peggy Miller the first graduated (in 1974). For their part, middle-class women professionals held a Conference on Lesbianism in 1972 at Washington University. Mac McCann presided at her bar, the Bottom of the Pot, at Euclid and McPherson. She later operated the Middle of the Rood bar on Newstead near Manchester and Mor or Les on South Grand.

Lesbians developed Camp Artemis for welfare mothers and their children and the Land collective near Ava, Missouri. They ran collectives for roofing, a Women's Garage, and the Women's Eye Bookstore, “never meant to be a traditional business,” according to Laura, who was involved with it until it closed last year. The store was a place for women to work collectively, to test “theory and practice." July House, a housing collective for women, is still going.

In 1979. and on the eve of the Eighties, Lesbians organized St. Louis’s first Take Back the Night march, attracting 1500 marchers. This event was a Direct Action, and would come to typify the political style of the Eighties. In 1984, the national Sonia Johnson inspired Women Gathering occurred in St. Louis, closing with an acton at Reagan-Bush Headquarters. Flowing was a leader in this event. She reports that the Republican convention, running concurrent with Women Gathering, denounced the St. Louis demonstrators to the press as an “unwashed, unshaven bunch of dykes.”

The influence of wicca and women's spirituality as well as political frustration fired Flowing and other Lesbians who acted within Women Rising In Resistance and later Lesbian Acts. They surrounded a judge's house with a candlelight circle to protest his handling of the case of an abused woman charged with murder, the National Enquirer covering. These women bugged and spooked the City courts into handling women battery victims in a less clumsy manner.

“Fruitloops may be out, wicca may be in. Collectives still battle for life, however, and Lesbians still fight multiple oppressions in St. Louis: Black single parents who are Lesbian, they have it the worst,” according to Totty.

The New Lesbian Agenda has met and will meet again in Lambert Lounge, in the Malinkrodt Building on the Washington University campus, the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30. The Agenda plans ongoing social activity and perhaps a Lesbian Conference m 1979. Lesbians are still searching for a place and a voice. But certainly, they have an herstorical identity of great depth and in rainbow colors.

For further information on the Lesbian Herstory project and the Lesbian and Gay archives of CLEAR call 647-1925 or J67-0084.)