Laurie Barron and Marcea Rosen, November 27, 1995
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2017. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Laurie Barron and Marcea Rosen in November 1995 at their home in Erdenheim, which is located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. I knew about Barron because of her involvement with Radicalesbians Philadelphia and other LGBT activist groups in the 1970s; Rosen offered an opportunity to learn more about women who were married to men and had lesbian experiences in the 1950s and 1960s. This was one of several interviews that I conducted after I completed my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 but before the book based on the dissertation, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves, was published in 2000.
I exchanged letters with Barron and Rosen in 1998 and 1999, as I prepared my book for publication, and again in 2000 and 2004, after the book and then the paperback edition were published. In 1998 (and again in 2017), Barron asked that I modify and delete some of her references to other people, which I did then and have done in this transcript. After reviewing a draft of my chapter on lesbian feminism in 1998, which she had requested, Barron sent a few suggestions, beginning her comments by noting, “We received a copy of Chapter 13, and I stayed up late to finish it—I couldn’t put it down. It really brought back memories! I can’t wait to read the book in toto.” In 1999 they reviewed my chapter on gay and lesbian neighborhoods and sent additional comments.
In 2017, on a conference call for the advisory board of the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the Philadelphia LGBT community center, I learned that Barron recently had donated some of her papers to the archives. Archivist John Anderies later informed me that Barron and Rosen had moved to Costa Rica and that Rosen had died shortly thereafter as a result of an accident. I subsequently wrote to Barron to offer my condolences and request permission to put the transcript of our interview online, which she granted.
Date of Birth: 19 October 1948
Place of Birth: Philadelphia
Place of Mother's Birth: Atlantic City, New Jersey, or Philadelphia
Mother's Occupation: Secretary
Place of Father's Birth: Philadelphia
Father's Occupation: Certified Public Accountant
Race/Ethnicity: Jewish American
Religious Background: Jewish
Class Background: Lower Middle Class
1948-49: French Street, Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
1949-62: 7651 Rugby Street, Philadelphia
1962-66: 6404 Sprague Street, West Oak Lane/East Mount Airy, Philadelphia
1966: Barnard College, New York, New York
1966-68: 6404 Sprague Street, West Oak Lane/East Mount Airy, Philadelphia
1967: 21st and Chestnut Streets, West Philadelphia
1968-71: 6 Bellows Lane, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
1971-72: 2207 Naudain Street, Center City, Philadelphia
1972-74: 767 N. Bucknell Street, Art Museum, Philadelphia
1974-82: 6057 Daniel Street, Blue Bell Hill, Philadelphia
1982-86: San Diego, California
1986-90: 5017 Polaski Avenue, Germantown, Philadelphia
1990-1995: 408 Meadowbrook Lane, Erdenheim, Pennsylvania
1970-85: Singer (Freelance)
1972-79: Taxi Driver
1982-86: Office Manager (Gynecologist)
1987-88: Minibus Driver, Jewish Family and Children Services
1988-90: Social Work Student
1990-94: Social Worker/Case Manager, Jefferson Hospital
1994-95: Pyschotherapist, Philadelphia Mental Health Services
Date of Birth: 16 June 1929
Place of Birth: Camden, New Jersey
Place of Mother's Birth: Philadelphia
Mother's Occupation: Homemaker
Place of Father's Birth: Philadelphia
Father's Occupation: Butcher
Race/Ethnicity: Jewish American
Religious Background: Jewish
Class Background: Middle Class
1929-45: 1845 Broadway, Camden, New Jersey
1945-48: East Camden, New Jersey
1948-50: 47th and Pine Streets, West Philadelphia
1950-52: Parkdrive Manor Apartments, Lincoln Drive and Harvey, Germantown, Philadelphia
1952-71: 5 Radcliffe Road, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania
1971-76: 1232 Waverly Street, Center City, Philadelphia
1976-78: 1500 Locust Street, Center City, Philadelphia
1978-82: 6057 Daniel Street, Germantown/Blue Bell Hill, Philadelphia
1982-86: San Diego, California
1986-90: 5017 Polaski Avenue, Germantown, Philadelphia
1990-1995: 408 Meadowbrook Lane, Erdenheim, Pennsylvania
1965-69: Executive Secretary, Settlement Music School
1969-70: Secretary, Advertising Agency
1971-76: Secretary/Administrative Assistant, Philadelphia Singers
1976-82: Administrative Assistant, Planned Parenthood
1982-86: Secretary, Jewish Community Relations Council, Planned Parenthood, Real Estate Company
1986-95: Secretary, Jewish Community Relations Council and AIDS Walk; Retail
Marc Stein Interview with Laurie Barron and Marcea Rosen, 27 November 1995. Transcribed by Lisa Williams and Marc Stein.
MS: This is Marc Stein on November 27, 1995, and I'm here in Erdenheim in Montgomery County, just outside of Philadelphia, interviewing Laurie Barron and Marcea Rosen. And I guess maybe just to start off with, if I could hear a little bit about each of your family histories: what kind of families you came from, what sections of Philadelphia or Camden you grew up in, what some of your early years were like, before any kind of coming out stories that we'll get to in a few minutes. So who should we start with?
LB: You want to start?
MR: I'll start. This is Marcea. I was the youngest of three. My sister is nine years older than I am and my brother is twelve years older. My sister brought books into the house, which were very interesting to me as a young person: not only Henry Miller in brown wrapper, but The Well of Loneliness, which I read at a tender age. I wish I could remember exactly when.
LB: I think she's jumping ahead to the coming out story.
MR: No, no. This is not the coming out story.
MS: But pretty early. About how old, do you think, if you had to guess?
MR: Oh maybe thirteen, fourteen.
MS: And you were born in 1929.
MR: That's right. My brother, after the war, World War Two, went for his degrees at Penn in psychology and he brought home books that were called Abnormal Psychology. And in it were all these deviants and so I read those. I would read anything and I still do. And so at a very early age I was aware of differences. And they were very exotic. I enjoyed reading them and I was very tolerant. I guess I had a very early acceptance of diversity. Big word this year.
MS: Was the family liberal? Before you told me it was Jewish and middle class.
MS: Yeah. My father was a butcher, not too well educated, but because of my brother and sister and my mother, who was an avid reader, I was exposed to an awful lot of very good things at an early age. Music and so on and books, books, books, books. And so I did read these very strange books with pictures of very odd people. Mostly men. There were not many portrayals of lesbians in these books. They were mainly males or the Jukes family.You remember that? Do you know that?
MR: Yeah. But when I hit high school, things changed a bit. I was dating a lot of boys and I did have a close girlfriend. And we all had weekend jobs and we would meet on Saturday nights after work. And very often I would stay at her house and sleep over. And that's when I first became aware of my propensity. Although I did not act on it, I had one hand holding the other so I wouldn't reach over and touch that breast.
MS: And were you living in Philadelphia at this point?
MR: No, I was living in Camden. We're still in Camden. And things went on and I got married.
MS: In what year or what age were you?
MR: 1950. And it was O.K. It wasn't comfortable, but I did in the '50s what a lot of women did. They did what they were expected to do.
MS: You said it was not comfortable?
MR: No. I was, you might say, a rebellious person. I wanted to be different. I had been exposed through my sister's New York contacts. She hung out with a very notable art crowd, de Kooning, people like that, Franz Klein. And I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who were not ordinary middle class folks and who were artistic. So I was always different. I always worked to be different. I always felt I was different, but I wasn't quite sure, because in the '50s, conformity was the operative word.
MS: And did you have that sense of difference when you were a child as well?
MR: Only maybe intellectually, because the children I played with and the children I went to school with were mainly the children of immigrants. And they did not have the advantages that I did. They would come in my house and say, "Look at all these books."
MS: So you weren't different in terms of, say, being a tomboy or anything like that?
MR: No. No, I was a fast runner and there were not opportunities in those days. Not every grammar school had a gym and it wasn't something that I thought about very much. I was content. I was taking piano lessons when I was six years old and music was my life.
MS: And you and your husband were still living in Camden? Or was that Philadelphia?
MR: No. In 1950, when I was married, we lived in Germantown at that Park Drive Manor address you have. And we lived there for two years and it was lovely because it was right on the Wissahickon. And we wanted to be away from parents and so on and so we went to Germantown. Three children later, my husband was an academic and I did have the opportunity to meet a lot of nice folks, professors and their wives and so on, but there was still this professor's wife thing going on and I was dressing differently. My hair was down my back. Maybe people would say later than it should have been. I was wearing sneakers before anybody. So I worked at being different. And I think I felt I was.
MS: But you still hadn't had any kind of sexual experiences with women?
MR: No. No, not until seven years into the marriage, when I took guitar lessons, folk guitar lessons. And the teacher came to the house. And we had a very short affair. She was my first contact with a lesbian, an admitted lesbian. I'm sure I had known some before, but who knows?
MS: And do you remember the year when that happened?
MR: Yes. It was about '57, because she recommended me to the Barnes Foundation and I did take a two year class there. And she was separated from her husband at the time and she was also having an affair with somebody else she went to work with. But she was my first. It was brief. I still see her occasionally. And it was a friendly, it wasn't a breaking off or anything. I mean she was teaching my kids guitar at that point. And she had a reputation in town as a lesbian among a very small group of people. As a matter of fact, there was an art dealer whose daughter had to cease her lessons with her because the father found out that this woman was a lesbian. And the daughter eventually also came out. About that time I began looking around to see where they were, where were these women? And while I was at the Barnes Foundation, I met some gay men and I met a sculptor, a man with whom I had a short affair. He had lots of gay friends and I met various gay people around the Philadelphia art community.
MS: You said he was gay?
MR: No he wasn't.
MS: He wasn't gay?
MR: He wasn't. I endowed him with a quality of what I then called, this is so naive, it's silly to repeat it, it's hard to admit, male grace. Instead of being a rough football type, he was gentle. He was one of the gentles. And through him I met his close friends and these friends were a couple, a male gay couple.
MS: Had you met any lesbians through the woman, the guitar teacher?
MR: I met one or two, but very, very briefly.
MS: I see.
MR: I can't even remember who they were.
MS: But the gay men were more sustained friendships?
MR: Oh yes, oh yes. This was the beginning of my fag hag stage. Well the marriage went on and I knew it was going to end. And it was difficult, but finally I was able to end it.
MS: When did you leave?
MR: I think it was '71 when I moved or somewhere around there. We separated three years before the house was sold, so that must be about, well two years, '69, '70, something like that.
MS: So the marriage continued through the '60s.
MR: Yeah, yeah. Meantime I was going to the coffeehouses.
MS: Actually, I wonder if we should catch Laurie up on her childhood and then come back?
MR: Yeah, sure.
MS: And I'll make a note that we're at the coffeehouse stage in the late '50s with Marcea. I know Laurie's is going to be a little bit later, because you were born in 1948.
MR: My coffeehouses will be a little earlier. And I'm going to backtrack a few years with the guitar teacher.
LB: O.K. So I was born in 1948 and in a section of Philadelphia called Strawberry Mansion, which was very heavily Jewish, lower middle class Jewish at one time and then in later years became very much African American. We moved to West Oak Lane when I was ten months old and I grew up in a neighborhood where there were only a couple of Jewish people on our street. There was nobody on our side of Rugby Street. There were two, maybe three Jewish families on the other side of the street. We're talking about row houses with many, many houses on the block. And I grew up in a place where there was a lot of anti-Semitism.
MS: So was it white ethnics, non-Jewish, living in that neighborhood? Or was it a Black neighborhood?
LB: Well no, it was entirely white in West Oak Lane at that time. And I would say it was a mixture. There was Irish Catholic and Protestant and a number of different white ethnic groups, but there was an overriding atmosphere of anti-Semitism. And I grew up feeling that I was different in a lot of different ways. One of them was being an outsider as a Jew, being taunted as a Jew. And also as I grew up I was very much a tomboy. I was a heavy-duty tomboy. I can remember when I was very, very young, maybe three years old, telling my mother I didn't want to be a girl, telling her I wanted to be a boy. Could she make me into a boy?
MS: Why do you think that was? Why do you think you wanted to be a boy?
LB: Well I was already beginning to get a very clear picture of what girls were expected to do in the early '50s and what boys were allowed to do and I felt much more at home playing boys' games, playing out in the backyard, playing rough and tumble, climbing, exploring. I felt sitting still, trying to sit still and play with dolls and playing house was incredibly boring. And I couldn't understand why anybody would want to do that. I also didn't like wearing skirts because you can't climb fences and trees wearing skirts. It's much easier to wear pants. And so I very much rebelled against the sex role stereotyping at a very, very early age, but my notion of how to solve that at the time was to be a different gender. So I really wanted to be a boy.
MS: Did you have brothers and sisters?
LB: I have one sister who is four years older than I am and, as it turns out, this is sort of jumping a little bit ahead, but she's a lesbian. Growing up, I never thought of her as being a lesbian. It wasn't until some years after I was out and I invited her to come, well that's jumping way ahead. Further than you.
MS: So was she a tomboy also or was she more stereotypically feminine?
LB: She was a little bit of a tomboy, but kind of a little bit more ki-ki? You know what I mean?
MS: Yes. Actually, why don't you say what that means?
LB: Well, I mean she went both ways. She could be very, very femmy at times, and very, very tomboyish at other times. And I didn't feel that I could ever be femmy. I felt like I was being a false Laurie to dress up. From a very early age I felt like I was in drag when they put me in dresses. I just hated it. I hated it. When mother would try to fix my hair or put makeup on me or anything, I just absolutely rebelled. The only time I would use her lipstick was to put war paint on my face when I was playing at being, what we said then in our political incorrectness, Indians.
MS: And did you have any contact with people you then or later understood to be lesbian or gay?
LB: At that particular time, I did not know of any lesbian or gay people. I picked up derogatory things about lesbian and gay people from an early age. I didn't quite understand what it was all about. In later years, I kind of looked back and saw one of my cousins, a very close girlfriend, or even my mother's very close woman friend who didn't marry until she was in her late forties. When I reconstruct that, I can see that there were lesbian undertones in some of these relationships, but at the time I had no role models.
MS: What kinds of derogatory things did you pick up?
LB: Hearing things like, I don't think faggot so much, but I guess the Yiddish was fagela. Hearing someone, an effeminate man, being called a fagela. "He's a little bit of a fagela." I don't think I heard things about women so much as a child. But I guess it would be jumping a little bit ahead to say that in junior high school, I was in seventh grade, there was a gym teacher. Shall I say her name?
MS: It's up to you.
LB: Oh! I guess I will. And the talk was that she was a lezzy and she was in fact a spinster gym teacher who used to stand at the edge of the showers. And all the girls would have to strip and go through these showers with our hands up in the air. It was like a horse show. And we'd have to run through them. It was really stupid and it's very hard for girls. Well I imagine it's hard for guys, too. Like checking each other out, "Uh oh, his is bigger than mine." Well girls who were just beginning to develop, some of them haven't hit puberty yet and some of them have.
LB: It's really hard to throw them together. But anyway, the gym teacher would stand there and hand each of us a towel as we came through the line out of the shower. And she would just stare at our bodies. And she had this way of putting her tongue in her cheek. I can't do it on tape, but she just had a kind of lascivious look about her. And my take on that was that she was a dirty old woman looking at our bodies in a lustful way. And that was my first mental image of a lesbian. And it was really scary for me, because around that time I was beginning to kind of have a sense that I was really different from the other kids. I mean I think I knew that all through school, but as puberty was just beginning to change my fantasies, the dreams that I used to have and the daydreams of rescuing women started to have sexual undertones. And so what I had to transpose over this thought that I was attracted to women was this dirty old woman. And I thought, “That's what's going to happen to me. I'm going to grow up to be like Miss O'Belle.” And that horrified me. That really scared me.
MS: So were you dating as you moved into high school? Dating boys?
LB: Actually I did some messing around even in elementary school and in junior high school. We'd go somewhere with someone after school and neck and pet.
MS: With boys?
LB: With boys, with boys. I was curious. I didn't know what the big deal was, like what could they possibly be interested in me about? And they would get all hot and bothered and flushed and I just didn't. I thought, “Well this is weird. What is going on here?” So I wanted to know more about it. And I had some not good experiences as well, but there was something that I thought of a moment ago that I wanted to say something about.
MS: You were talking about your own feelings and then this image of a gym teacher.
LB: Right, but it was something to do with....
MS: Should we pause it?
LB: I guess it was, wait a minute. Well I guess I can move onto saying that I began dating boys. And as I moved into high school, I dated a few boys. I didn't date a lot. I enjoyed male company. Oh, I know what it was I was going to say. I was very athletic as a child and I used to play baseball and I could outrun all the boys and I could hit a ball hard and just run forever. But there came a point where the boys didn't want to play with me anymore. And I didn't understand what was going on. Like at one point, it was fine. As long as I could play well, they were happy to have me on the team, but then there came a time when my playing was just as good, but it was like, "I don't know. You can't do this. You're a girl." And I felt real excluded from that male camaraderie at a certain point. And yet I didn't feel like I could really fit in with the girls. I mean they were talking about getting bras and wanting to have babies when they grew up and all kinds of things that had no interest for me at all. So it was kind of strange. I felt like a third sex, like I didn't belong here or there.
MS: But you used that phrase, which is from the scientific literature. Were you reading anything at this time, along the lines of what Marcea was talking about?
LB: Well what I started reading, sometime in junior high school, maybe ninth grade, I started looking things up in the library. And I started seeing words like homosexual and lesbian and I read definitions. And I don't know where I originally got the address from, but somewhere, I don't know if it was in the Village Voice or something that I picked up somewhere, I got an address for ONE, Incorporated. And I sent away. They probably had no idea I was fourteen years old or thirteen or whatever it was.
MS: Was it that early, yeah?
LB: Yeah. I sent away for information and they sent me back in the mail their publication. And I devoured it. I mean I absolutely devoured it. I also got something from Daughters of Bilitis or Bilitis or Bilitis or however you want to pronounce it.
LB: No one ever pronounces it the same.
MR: I never got it right.
MS: So was that the Ladder? The magazine, the Ladder?
LB: Yeah. I got a copy of the Ladder.
MS: And then ONE magazine from ONE?
LB: And ONE magazine and something from Mattachine Society. I was just writing to all these places. And when they came to the house, I never let anybody see them. And I had a hiding place in my night table, behind my books. Such an obvious place. You'd think I was smarter than that! Of course my mother found it. I know that she did. But I had a Playboy magazine, 'cause I used to like to stare at the pictures of the women. And I had my stash of gay stuff stuck back there. And I had that stuff for years. I don't think I still have it, but I kept it for many, many years.
MS: One issue? Is that what we're talking about here? One issue of the Ladder and of ONE magazine or did you start getting it?
LB: Yeah. No, no, there was one of each. I was afraid that if I subscribed, first of all, I couldn't subscribe. I didn't have the money. You know I didn't have a job back then. I did some baby-sitting, but it wasn't really enough to do that. And I was also afraid if something came on a regular basis that I would start getting questions like, "Well, what are you getting in the mail?" So I was afraid to actually subscribe to any of these, but I found it very, very exciting to know that wow, there are these others. And at the time I thought of myself as kind of an outlaw. Not a criminal exactly, although there certainly was that overtone, but that I was really way out on the fringe.
MS: And did you relate as much to gay men as to lesbians, would you say?
MS: Did you have the sense that these were the same types of people?
LB: In some ways, more. In some ways, more so, and I can't explain that to you. I don't really fully understand how that is, but I didn't see that there was a difference. I just kind of lumped queers together in one category and I knew I was one of them.
MS: Let me try a couple of ideas about why you say maybe even more. Some people suggest because gay men were more visible than lesbians that even lesbians might identify more.
LB: Mmhmm [assent].
MS: And the other thing I've heard is that in some ways it's easier for gay men and lesbians at a young age to identify with the other, because it's safer.
LB: Mmhmm [assent].
MS: Because there's not the direct issue of attraction and sexual desire.
LB: I think there's something to be said for both of those. You know I think that very, very early on I had a sense of what androgyny was, that I identified with androgyny. And even when I was a little child, when I saw Caspar the Friendly Ghost, I identified Caspar as queer. Caspar was gay and Caspar was gentle. The animus and anima were one in Caspar. And I identified with that. I loved Caspar. I really loved Caspar. I don't know what they've done with the movie that they've just made recently, but when I was a kid I loved Caspar. There were other characters that I identified with. Annie Oakley. Any girl that got to wear male clothes, I identified with. Those were my heroines. I don't know that there were gay men that I particularly identified with, but I felt that there was some common bond. There was a common bond. And at the same time, I think I probably teased other people unmercifully, along with the other kids, if they were different, so that I would have some of the protection of the peer group. I wouldn't be as suspect of being one of them if I went along with them. And for a long time I was very ashamed about having participated in that.
MS: Do you think you called people fagela, that sort of thing?
LB: Kind of or making fun of a boy who I might beat up. And he would start crying and I'd say, "You're such a sissy.” “And I'm such a dyke!”
MS: But you didn't say that part.
LB: “And you should be proud of being a sissy and I'm proud of being a dyke! Someday we will.”
MS: So I guess we're not yet up to first sexual experiences, is that right?
LB: No, we've got a little ways to go. This is an interesting little sideline. And that is, when I was thirteen or fourteen, I was a book worm. Other than being a tomboy and being very physical, my favorite thing to do was just to be by myself and to read. I read voraciously. And when I was maybe twelve or thirteen, somewhere in there, my mother told me that she had a book for me to read that she had read when she was about my age. And she said she thought that I would really like it. She would tell me about things that she had read and then I'd read them and we shared a lot of that stuff. She gave me a copy of The Well of Loneliness.
LB: And I read it. And like with the ONE and the Mattachine stuff and the women's stuff, I ate it up. I couldn't put it down. I couldn't believe that there was like this whole book, not just an entry in the dictionary, but there was this whole book written about these people, my people. I identified with Stephen Gordon, of course. It was a little depressing because of the undertones and the tragedy. Despite that, I felt incredibly exhilarated by reading the book. I mean really exhilarated and aroused and all of that. And I never talked to my mother about it. For years I didn't talk to her about it.
MS: Why do you think she gave it to you?
LB: Well I think I would have to jump ahead to a time when I came out to her. I don't want to get really out of order here, but almost ten years later when I came out to my mother, it was a very difficult process for me because I was really scared. I was very close with her and I was afraid that she would reject me. And when I did come out to her, I finally said something about my lifestyle. Or she said, "Is it about your lifestyle?" And I was having trouble coming out with it and I said, "What do you mean my lifestyle?" And she said, "Well, I mean the fact that you're a lesbian." And I said, "You know that I'm a lesbian?" And she said, "Well of course darling, I've known for years." And I said, "Since when?" And she said, "Since you were a little girl. I knew you were going to be a lesbian." And then she reminded me. She said, "Remember when I gave you The Well of Loneliness to read?" And I went, "Oh my god." You know it was like revelation, like she knew what she was doing. This wasn't just a book she had read when she was a kid, like Les Miserable or [???]. There were all these other books she gave me to read and it never occurred to me that she was giving this to me with some knowledge that it would be particularly meaningful to me. So the only thing I could say to her at that point was, "I wish you had told me a long time ago. You would have saved me a lot of grief." And her reply was, "You know I figured when you were ready to tell me you would."
LB: What can I say? So she was very, very affirming and positive, but that's jumping ahead of the story.
MS: That's still good to cast light on the meaning of her giving it to you.
LB: Yeah. And back in junior high, this might have been junior high or maybe ninth grade, I'm not absolutely sure, but at that point I was really clear that I was not going to grow up to be a woman married to a man with children. I knew that wasn't going to happen. I was very well aware that I had sexual feelings as well as all kinds of other feelings for women and there was just no going back, even though I was occasionally dating boys. I actually went to an all girls school for high school, which I loved.
MS: What school was that?
LB: Girls' High, a hotbed of lesbianism.
MS: So I've heard. Was it?
LB: Yeah. Actually there was a good deal of stuff that went on. I mean I had my first physical experiences with women in high school, with other girls in high school. I mean there was a lot of fooling around, like touching and goosing and kibbitzing around. But there was also a good deal of serious necking and a lot of fantasizing and a lot of wearing one's heart on one's sleeve and writing love poems to other girls.
MS: And you were doing all that?
LB: Oh yeah, yeah, big time. When I was in the ninth grade, it was either the eighth or the ninth grade, I had a tremendous crush on my gym teacher. This was not Miss O'Belle! This was Miss Harvey. And we had an assignment to write on three-by-five cards. This was her hygiene class. Hygiene! What the heck kind of a class is that? We all washed each other, what can I say? We had an assignment to write something biographical, to write something about ourselves on three-by-five cards, and that assignment was due on a particular day. I wrote the history of my thirteen years and included in it that something very important about me is that I'm different than most girls I know, that I am attracted to girls and women. And I didn't use the word lesbian, but I said that I'm very attracted to girls and women and currently I am infatuated with you, Miss Harvey. And I wrote that on the three-by-five card! And that day, before she collected our assignments, Miss Harvey announced that she was engaged and that she was going to be marrying this other male gym teacher at another school. His name was Cook and she was going to be Mrs. Cook. And she announced that to the class and I wanted to die. I just could've fallen through the floor. You could have just opened up a space and I could've fallen through the floor.
MS: Oh no!
LB: And when she made that announcement, I don't know what kind of self-preservation was operating here and where I got this idea, but I tore the cards up in my lap into little pieces. And when she came around collecting them, I just looked at her and shrugged my shoulders. And she was kind of nasty and said, "Well that's a zero for today." And I thought, "Well, better a zero for today than ruin my life."
LB: But up until that point I maintained the fantasy that she might be one of them. And that if I came out to her and said, "You know, I'm in love with you," that somehow I had this fantasy she would take me away and we'd be happy forever and ever. But then when she said she was marrying a man, it just destroyed it for me. So that was eighth or ninth grade.
MS: So we're talking about early sixties now, right?
LB: We're talking maybe '62.
MS: And were there other major crushes or even relationships in high school?
LB: Oh yes. Very, very big crush on Ellen, who was two years older than me. And she was very affectionate with me and really very seductive. And yet when I finally gave her this long, long love poem and told her that I wanted to be physical with her, she gave me this, "No. It's not like that. You don't know what you're talking about. This is just a phase you're going through." It wasn't until years later when I was lovers with another woman named Carole, who had graduated a couple years before this, that I found out that Carole and Ellen were having an affair.
MS: Oh! Had been at the time?
LB: At that time when I had a crush on Ellen and Ellen was saying, "Oh no, I'm not like that.” Bullshit. I was just too young for her. I don't know. Anyway, that was pretty wild. And then, there was the time when I was fifteen, when my friend Cynthia and I hitchhiked. We had been hitchhiking to the Robinhood Dell for all the concerts that summer. And we went to the Robinhood Dell one particular night and then a bunch of us went down to the Art Museum and we went swimming in the fountains. It was a hot night. And then we went to someone's apartment and there was like a male/female couple and me and Cynthia. And while they were in the other room getting it on, Cynthia and I were getting it on. And that was probably the most blatantly sexual experience that I'd had up to that point in my life. Didn't get home until about two, three o'clock in the morning. And yeah, I was fifteen years old. And I know things are different these days, but back then, in the early '60s, all hell broke loose when I got home. And I was forbidden to see Cynthia. Actually, my father beat me up when I got home, very severely.
MS: Did they link it to Cynthia’s trouble because she kept you out late?
LB: Well, she was a bad influence. Now I don't think they put together that I had been with Cynthia, but I think they were afraid I had been with a boy. I don't know exactly what was going through their minds. It was about staying out late and about sex, but I don't think they had any idea whether it was sex with a man or a woman at that point. And they forbid me to see Cynthia. And this is kind of interesting, because they thought Ellen was a good influence on me. You know she was a nice Jewish girl and she was older. And she talked real good to adults. And she did not seem to be one of the real rebellious. I was kind of in with a crowd of, well we called ourselves beatniks then, but hippies were just around the corner. Ellen did real well with adults. She knew how to talk to them. And they allowed me, after I had been grounded for weeks, and then they finally let Ellen take me out for an outing or whatever. And what Ellen did was drove me a couple blocks away where Cynthia was waiting. And so Ellen kind of was a go-between for us to continue to have assignations. And then Ellen would bring me home. I think I had a learner's permit and they wouldn't let me drive after that. But then the next piece that the learner's permit reminds me about is that when I first got my driver's license when I was sixteen, I was not permitted to drive after dark and I was only permitted to drive in certain neighborhoods. And they were very clear with me. I think the Schuykill Expressway was a fairly new thing back then. It hadn't been around for a real long time and they had made it very clear to me that I was not permitted to drive on the expressway or to go into town. Center City was off-limits. I was allowed to drive up in the neighborhood to go to the bowling alley or to school or whatever. And one night, my parents were away and I took the car and I drove into town from West Oak Lane. I had either seen a copy of Gaia's Guide or someone had told me about Rusty's. I don't know where I heard about Rusty's, but I got the information that Rusty's was on Camac Street, off of Walnut. And I had to locate that, of course, and I remember driving around the block, around and around 12th Street and looking for it and then I finally parked the car. And I walked down from that street looking for Rusty's. And of course I saw a sign that said Barone's Variety Room, but I had no idea that that was Rusty's. And like I'm looking for anybody that might look like a lesbian. Here I was, sixteen years old, scared to death that I was going to get caught, that somebody was going to hit the car or the police would report that I had been in town or something. I was really living dangerously for me. I mean it hadn't been that much before that that I had been grounded seriously for this indiscretion with Cynthia. And here I was driving into Center City at night, walking up and down an alley. I thought if anything happens to me, my parents will find out that I was in town.
MS: And you never walked in, I take it?
LB: I never found it. I couldn't. I didn't know at the time. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I discovered that Rusty's and Barone's were arguably one and the same. So no, I didn't go in. Of course if I had tried back when I was sixteen, the woman who was the bouncer probably would have knocked me out.
MS: Well is this a breaking point for us to go back to the beatniks or are there other high school things that we should make sure not to miss?
LB: The one other high school thing that I'd like to tell you about is that I hung out with a group of girls who were the beatniks or whatever. We were non-conformists, we were anarchists, we broke the rules, we questioned authority, and we were proud of it. And one of the gym teachers, another gym teacher, I mean I’m telling you, gym teachers. One of the gym teachers, she had an Armenian name. I can't remember it. Chilikian, Dorothy Chilikian, was a stout woman. She was married. And during one of these hygiene classes, one of these health education classes, she was talking to her class about how most of the girls at Girls' High were decent and law abiding and just really good kids. And she would estimate that about ninety percent of us were really good kids, but then there was the other ten percent, the rotten ten percent. And she said, "They're drinking and smoking and trying drugs and doing this and being sexual. And they're doing, they're breaking all the rules, and they're the ones who are going to get you all into trouble." And she named us the rotten ten percent, which we then latched onto, the way today we've latched onto the word queer and run with it.
LB: It's like yes, we're the rotten ten percent. And a woman named Natalie Savanaugh, I'm not sure if she's still alive, but she was a short butch. She was very butch. And she made up out of cardboard, with little pins on the back of them, and gave them out to this group of us, that said, "Member: Rotten Ten Percent." Rachel Rubin was another one I went to school with.
MR: Oh yeah. She'd be a good one.
LB: Yeah, Rachel Rubin, Natalie Savanaugh, they were a class or two ahead of me. The people who were in my class, who are now very out, well the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Becky Birtha, the writer.
LB: And she wasn't out in high school.
LB: But at any rate, we had these little “Rotten Ten Percent” buttons. Somebody else also had made up buttons that said "ECHO," E-C-H-O, with a kind of a kilroy face on it and an asterisk at the bottom that said, "Ask" or "Ask me." And when people like Chilikian or another teacher would say, "What is that? ECHO?" We would say, "It's the Eastern Conference of Hemophiliac Organizations." But when somebody who we wanted to be out to asked us, we would tell them that it was Eastern Conference of Homophile Organizations.
MS: So you knew the existence of that.
LB: We knew the existence of, but I had no contact with.
MS: How do you think you knew about it? Do you have any sense?
LB: Oh god, I don't know because there was nothing in the papers back then.
MS: Well there was a conference in Philly in 1963 at the Drake.
LB: That was it.
MS: And there was a Confidential magazine story about the convention.
LB: I don't think I read that, but someone must have and someone must have come back to school and said, "Oh, this is what's going on." Because it was about '63 or '64 that we were wearing these ECHO buttons. And I wish I could have gone to the convention. I wish I had known about it before it happened, instead of after the fact.
MS: Actually, they probably would have excluded you because they wouldn't let minors in.
LB: Oh yes. They would have been scared to death to have a chicken like me there. Are you kidding?
MS: Now I have to ask you. Rachel Rubin, I've read things that she wrote in the early '70s in Wicce. But then I also was at the Philadelphia Folk Festival this summer and noticed that there was a Rachel Rubin who was an officer of the Philadelphia Folksong Society that puts on the Folk Festival.
MR: Yeah. I don't know if it's the same.
MS: Is that the same?
LB: Well I don't know. She would be about, let's see, I'm forty-seven. Am I forty-seven?
LB: I'm forty-seven. She'd be about forty-eight or forty-nine. If she's blond anymore, I don't know if she's still blond, but she was blond then.
MS: I actually didn't see her. I just saw her name in the program.
MR: It might be.
LB: It could be, because we were very folky back then. Joan Baez wannabees.
MS: So should we shift back a few years and hear about the beatniks and the coffeehouses?
MR: Well, my coffeehouse experience and my Rusty's experience. Well my Rusty's experience, I mean I'm surprised I didn't see you cruising the streets. I mean my kids were at home and I took the car because my guitar teacher had told me about this bar called Rusty's. And so I took the car one Saturday night and I drove around 12th Street. I drove around and around and I'm thinking I'm an older woman. Even if I went, who would want me? And this went on for a long time.
LB: An older woman, you were thirty!
MR: Yeah, older woman, yeah in my thirties. And I never found it.
MR: I never found it! And I was so upset and then, when I spoke to the guitar teacher about it, she just sort of smiled secretively, secretly. She didn't frequent the place, but I used to meet her at, what's the Halperins' called?
MR: Not the Second Fret.
MS: The Gilded Cage?
LB: The Gilded Cage.
MR: The Gilded Cage. And my kids were self-sufficient. I mean they were just fine. And I would take the car and then she would finish. She went around to homes and taught guitar and when she finished her work we would meet at the Gilded Cage.
MS: So would you describe for me the scene there?
MR: And also the Second Fret. And there was one other, too. Second Fret was owned by Manny somebody. I can't remember his name.
LB: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
LB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MS: Well the ones I know about are the Proscenium, the Humoresque, the Artist's Hut?
MR: The Artist's Hut, yeah, but the Gilded Cage was sort of the daddy, the mother of them all. I mean it wasn't grungy. It was a nice place.
LB: What was the place on Lancaster?
MR: You could get onion soup. Yeah there was a place, The Main Point.
LB: The Main Point, yeah.
MS: That not one I've heard about. What was the Main Point?
MR: Bryn Mawr.
LB: It was a coffeehouse.
MR: It was in Bryn Mawr.
MS: Oh O.K.
MR: It was the Main Line Gilded Cage sort of. I mean different owners. Didn't George Britten own that?
LB: I think so, yeah.
LB: Now I used to hang out at the Gilded Cage and the Second Fret and the Main Line as well.
MR and LB: The Main Point.
LB: But I never knew Marcea from back there because I was a teenager.
MR: Well I wasn't there all the time.
LB: I was a teenager hanging out.
LB: But go ahead, it's your story.
MR: I wasn't there during any of the raids, but I knew Esther and Ed Halperin. And I met a lot of people there. And I did meet some lesbians, but I don't remember who they were.
MS: Was it an openly lesbian scene?
MR: No. You could be yourself there, but that wasn't why you were there. You weren't there because you were gay. You were there because we had folk singers. And you could get a bowl of onion soup or just drink coffee all night. It was very friendly. It was a pick-up place. I mean you could go there and pick up somebody and meet somebody. My recollection is that it was very clean. There were no heavy drugs. There may have been some grass. In fact, I know there was. And I would meet this guitar teacher around ten o'clock at night and stay 'til maybe midnight or one. The acts were good. The acts became famous. What's the name of the other one, oh the Second Fret. Jose Feliciano was there before anybody knew him. I mean there were some really good. Audrey would dance there.
MS: You said it was a pick-up scene. Straight, lesbian, and gay?
MS: All three?
MR: Yeah, but it was a place where people like me, where I could go and not feel threatened by anybody. It wasn't like a straight bar. It was not at all like a straight bar.
MS: Let me ask you this. One of the people I've interviewed is Pat Hill, who remembers the Gilded Gage
MR: Oh yeah.
MS: She describes the Gilded Cage definitely as a lesbian and straight scene, but not as a place that gay men were visible or there in any number. Does that ring true for you?
MR: Yeah, yeah. There were lesbians there, but it was my feeling that it wasn't overpoweringly a gay place.
MS: People also remember the Humoresque, which was Mel Heifetz's place. That was the main one that was raided. That was more of a gay place.
MR: That was raided more. It was gay male.
MR: Yeah. Women weren't as visible. We could blend in a little more. Well you know I was married, I had children, I had a family, and I had a job. And wherever I went I was above reproach in a straight world. And I always enjoyed fooling them. I loved it, I loved it.
MS: You would fool people then?
MS: In what way?
MR: Just sort of humming to myself and saying, "I may be married to a college professor and have three kids and a house in the suburbs, but I'm not what you think I am."
MS: And can you tell me something, maybe both of you, about the neighborhood that the coffeehouses were in?
MR: Well the Gilded Cage is where Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Restaurant is.
MS: Oh is that right?
MS: I have the address and I never made that connection.
MR: It was that corner.
LB: 13th Street, isn't it?
MR: No, no, no, no, no.
MR: No, no, no, no, no. 21st. 21st.
MS: No my gym is down that block. Yeah, 21st.
MS: 21st. Between Spruce and Locust.
MR: That's right. And it's where Friday and Saturday and Sunday is. The Second Fret, Manny Rubin? Oh that was his name.
MR: The Second Fret was on Sansom Street.
LB: Near 17th.
MR: Yeah, something like that.
MS: Well I have the addresses, but I guess I mean more that kind of Rittenhouse Square neighborhood?
MR: Yeah, it was like that. It was like that.
MS: Was there anything particularly lesbian or gay about the neighborhood, do you think? Or was it really just the coffeehouses?
MR: The Square was often a meeting place.
MR: I didn't participate in that, but I understand that the men did. And when you say Rittenhouse Square, there was always a tinge suspect about it.
MS: Is that right?
LB: There was something about gay men walking with poodles.
LB: Walking in Rittenhouse Square. There were a lot of queens living in the buildings around Rittenhouse Square.
MR: Right there. How about Henry P. MacIllhenny? You know about him?
MS: Well how about Henry P. MacIllhenny?
MR: All right. Many years later, when I went to work with the Philadelphia Singers, I was working with Michael Corn, the conductor, who was gay. I worked for [?]. And as I said, that's where I met Laurie, but I also met a lot of other people. And these guys would gossip about the scene on the Square, that Henry MacIllhenny and I'll think of their names, very wealthy men, would dress up in gowns and have parties, very elegant parties. Our office was in 1900 Rittenhouse Square and Henry was right down the street. Of course he would have nothing to do with the gay community as a grassroots movement.
LB: He was very closeted.
MR: Yeah. And the kingpin of all of this group was Henry Gertzman. Have you heard of Henry?
MS: No I haven't.
MR: That's a whole other story. When I worked at Settlement Music School, I worked for a man, a famous musician, who was the director. And chairman of the board was Henry Gertzman, who was very openly gay, very high society. He lived on Panama Street in an art-filled home. He hobnobbed with society women. He had no use for people like me or anybody. I mean you had to be somebody. I didn't like him, but he would openly meet a friend on the street and they would kiss. Not always on each cheek, French style, no. And Sol, my boss, was very used to this. He was very used to dealing with Henry and his friends. And Henry died a few years ago and left a great sum of money to the school and all of that. But MacIllhenny, we could never reach him. We wanted to reach him for a building fund for the community center. You couldn't touch this guy.
MS: So was the Rittenhouse Square gay scene an upper class scene?
MR: Oh yeah.
MS: Or was it a place where?
MR: It was where people who didn't live there came to cruise.
LB: My perception of it, the reputation it had, at least from the '60s on and maybe before then, was that it was kind of a hang out, a cruising place, for not only gay people but also artists. There was kind of like an overlap of the gay and artistic community.
MS: So the same thing was true of the coffeehouses?
MR and LB: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Same social set?
MR and LB: Yeah.
LB: That there's more tolerance, that musicians and artists are more tolerant of sexual outlaws. And that people can comfortably intermingle in coffeehouses. Folk singers and gay people mix well. That was very articulate.
MS: You said something before about the Square not being so much a lesbian hangout or lesbian cruising space?
MR: Well I didn't go in there for that reason. I went there because I was on my way somewhere. I have no way of knowing that.
MS: And the other thing that I wanted to ask about the Square and coffeehouses is that one of the other issues that came up in the controversy, with the raids, was interracial mixing in the coffeehouses. That was one of the reasons Rizzo gave for raiding some of the houses. Do you remember it being a racially mixed scene?
MR: It wasn't fifty-fifty and nobody blinked an eyelash, no matter what you were.
MS: So there were people of color there?
MR: There were, yes. There were people of color. Not many, but there were. They were there.
LB: But I have to tell you that the climate back then, I don't know that it's really that much better today in some parts of the country, but back then, when I would walk with my arm around a Black person, a Black male, down the street, everybody would turn around and stare. I mean it was really seen as an outrageous thing in the '60s.
MS: And you would do that?
LB: I would do that just to drive people crazy. Yeah. I hung out with a number of people of color.
MS: Who you knew from where? From school?
LB: Well the guy that I used to hang out with was a guy named John Frances. John Frances III. And I knew him through a program at Hahnemann, a science program for quote high ability high school students. It was a science enrichment program in the summers that I attended for three years. And he was also a student there and we became very, very good friends and we actually dated some, which drove my parents crazy. But whenever we would appear anywhere in public together, you would think it was the Exorcist. Their heads would just about rip around, staring at us and disapproving looks and it was really a sensational kind of outrageous thing to appear interracially in the '60s. It just wasn't done.
MS: I'm curious just because of the story you just told about walking down the street arm-in-arm with another girl or with another woman. More common than, say, today?
LB: Well you know I think that high school girls can get away with that sort of thing and just be seen as girlfriends. I mean we didn't walk around kissing the way some lesbians might today, the way we might today. Not that we walk down the street kissing.
MR: We touch.
LB: We touch. We hold hands. We…
MR and LB: ...walk arm in arm.
LB: It's not a big deal to us today, but it was a little bit of a big deal in the '60s. I'm not sure. Almost anything that you did back then was a little scary.
MS: So for girls as well?
MR: Oh yeah.
LB: Absolutely. I mean just the word lesbian wasn't spoken out loud very much then.
MS: Right. I guess I'm wondering because some people say like what you were saying before about being able to have the cover of being married. You hear that young girls could be physical with one another in the sense of not kissing, but walking hand-in-hand, and that was not considered crossing a line.
MR: It wasn't until the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that I remember really being aware of groups of lesbians holding hands or arms like that. The Moratorium March on Washington. Things like that. You saw that then.
LB: It was later than that.
MR: I'm talking about the Vietnam War.
LB: Yeah, but I think it was later than that that you saw lesbians together in groups.
MR: I don't know. I just have an image of going to Washington. I think there were two big marches, although there was the big Moratorium march. That was the biggest one. And I remember groups of women, peaceniks, they were not liberal ladies with grey hair and tennis shoes by any means.
LB: Because that was very early in the women's movement and in the lesbian/gay movement.
MR: I know, but the antiwar movement brought out a lot of stuff, I think, that we may not have been totally aware of, that may not have been as blatant. It may have been hidden before. And when you have a unifying cause, people will come and be themselves.
MS: Maybe to switch gears a bit, I think both of you talked a little bit about Rusty's and not finding Rusty's. So I'm wondering if there were other spaces, say in the '60s, through the '60s, that you hung out in that were lesbian, that were lesbian and gay. Restaurants? Bars? Did you ever find Rusty's in the '60s or any other places?
MR: Read about them.
LB: I did eventually find Rusty's, went in by myself the first time. And I don't remember the feeling. I think I was pretty overwhelmed to finally be in a lesbian bar. I was maybe seventeen and I was just really scared to death about getting carded and thrown out. In fact, I think I might have been carded and thrown out. But I was in there for a few minutes before that happened. I saw a couple of women dancing together. I saw a couple of very masculine looking men, a couple of real butchy numbers at the bar and people kind of turning and looking me up and down as I walked in the room. And I was never a drinker. I was not attracted to bars in that way. I just wanted to meet other lesbians, but I was very shy. I was very shy and it was not exactly a place for a person to go by themselves and meet people when they're shy.
MR: I was told that had I gone out I would have hated it because it was rough, which maybe was fortunate. So I didn't get to a lesbian bar until you and June took me to Sneakers and that was way after that.
LB: Years later.
MR: And it was wonderful. I mean I drink. I would at the bar and have a drink and I thought it was marvelous.
MS: But not in the '60s?
MR: No, not in the '60s.
LB: I'll tell you where we used to hang out. Wait, was this in the '60s or in the early '70s? I'm not positive, but there was a place in Germantown called the Attic.
MR: Oh yeah.
MS: 5708 Germantown Ave.
LB: Yeah. It was upstairs and there was a pool table in the back room and a group of us used to go there pretty frequently to play pool and just hang out. Also another place that we hung out was [singing] Y-M-C-A. It was the YWCA in Germantown. They had a skinny dipping night for women.
MR: Oh that's right. I heard about that.
LB: And they had a sauna. And there were a whole bunch of lesbians who used to go there on the skinny dipping night and then we'd go over to the Attic afterwards.
MS: Is that right? And you actually heard about it.
MR: Well, I heard about it from her.
MS: Oh I see, later. So do you have a guess about the time period we're talking here?
LB: Oooh, I'm trying to think if this is before. Well it had to have been the early '70s because it had to have been out of the lesbian era.
LB: So I think we're out of the '60s now.
MS: The Attic, though, I'm curious about. Was it a mixed lesbian and gay space?
LB: I know that it was very much mixed Black and white.
MS: That was going to be my other question.
LB: Were there gay men there? I don't remember there being gay men there. I think there might have been some straight guys downstairs. I don't remember.
MS: So more lesbians as far as you remember.
LB: More lesbian.
MS: And white and Black.
LB: In the back room definitely. We took over.
MS: Partly I ask because the bar guides describe the Attic as white in the '60s and then Black sometime in the '70s and then for a brief period it seemed like it was mixed.
LB: I think it was the early '70s when it was making a transition from white to Black. Did they describe it as being mostly lesbian or mixed?
MS: No, mixed. Most of the time I think mixed. Or it's not specifically described.
LB: You know another thing about some of these hangouts is that they would get a reputation for being one or the other on a particular night of the week. So if you kind of went to a place with a bunch of women or if you went to a place with a bunch of guys, you could kind of make it a guy's place for the night.
MR: Take over, yeah.
LB: And if somebody else showed up and they saw a bunch, if a woman came in and saw a bunch of guys there, they'd think, “Eh, go someplace else.” So that may be what was happening there.
MR: But there weren't that many women's places.
MS: What about this? There's one other place that I've heard some mention of. I don't even know how to say it, but Rubery Gertrude in South Philly?
LB: I don't remember that.
MS: That one's described as being Black and lesbian in the bar guides.
LB: Mmmm, I don't know about that one. There was a place called the Funky Dunky. You heard of that one?
MS: I think so, I think so.
LB: Around 22nd and Arch?
MS: Also in the '70s?
LB: Early '70s.
MR: Oh yeah, was that the one on Arch Street around 13th?
MS: Was that in the same place as My Sister's?
LB: I'm not sure.
MR: Around 13th, 12th or 13th and Arch before redevelopment of Arch Street.
LB: Oh yeah. You mean the Smart Place.
MR: The Smart Place.
LB: Oh that was years later.
MR: Yeah it was.
LB: That was years later.
MR: See I came into the scene later than she did. I was dating men and going to the Drury Lane upstairs for dinner. Do you know about the Drury Lane?
MS: Yeah. Now that was early.
MR: And it was funny. Gordy and I would walk in the door and there was the men's bar and we would come in and they'd look. Thirty heads.
LB: Cruise Gordy.
MR: Thirty heads. This was a straight man, but an effeminate man who was a friend. And all the heads would turn and they'd see me.
LB: And they'd see you.
MR: And then we'd go upstairs and have a fabulous meal.
MS: Was that in the '50s?
MR: That was in the '60s.
MS: You were saying before actually that you were in your fag hag period, right, when you were hanging out a lot with gay men?
MR: Well I wasn't hanging out with them because I had a home and kids and everything and I just couldn't be as free as a lot of the single women. But I was always attracted to gay men and the reason I gave at the time was because, well maybe it's valid, they didn't come on to me.
MR: I mean I was a pretty exotic-looking person back then and they didn't come on to me. I could go to the movies with somebody or I could just be with them. And it was kind of nice working at the Singers, the same thing, because I had had other jobs where guys came on all the time. And it was a good place to be. In fact, when I was divorced and I moved into 1232 Waverly Street, I chose to be in Washington West gay neighborhood because I thought I would be safer. And I was. I purposely moved into a gay neighborhood.
MS: And remind me when that was?
MR: That was '71.
MS: On Waverly Street. We figured between '71 and '76.
MS: So you were looking for a gay male neighborhood. Is that what you're saying?
MR: Well I was looking for a gay neighborhood. I guess so, I guess so, because I knew where they lived and I knew where they were. I knew where the bars were.
MS: Right, I see. So I guess maybe just to finish up, any other spaces in the '60s that either of you remember? I mentioned Dewey's Restaurant before. Any restaurants?
LB: Yeah, it was called Fag Dewey's.
LB: That was the name.
MS: And did you go there?
LB: Yeah, from time to time, but I don't think I hung out so much at gay places in the '60s. I mean what happened is after my experiences in high school, I started doing a lot of reading about lesbianism and I remember getting Jess Stearn's The Grapevine when I went away to college. And I had affairs in college when I was at Barnard and then dropped out. Came back to Philadelphia.
MS: Affairs with women?
LB: Well with both.
MS: With both.
LB: With both. At that particular point I was trying to sell myself on bisexuality because a lot of the stuff I was reading was really sleazy and made it sound like lesbians were doomed to a life of furtive, brief, one night stands and being locked up in jail and being beaten up and being alcoholic and it really sounded pretty gruesome. And Miss O'Belle was still in my mind. And it was like I don't want to be a dirty old lady. And I thought to myself, “Well I'm attracted to women. I prefer women. But there's nothing anatomically about me that prevents me from being sexual with men.” So I did a good deal of promiscuous experimentation, trying to convince myself. I guess I was trying to find a man that would turn me on so that I could tell myself, “Yeah I can swing both ways.” Because that seemed to me to be more normal than being lesbian. I don't know how I got this idea, but somehow I convinced myself that to be bisexual is cool, to be lesbian was perverted. And I bought it and tried to live my life that way for awhile. I ended up, actually I dropped out of Barnard and worked for two years in a hospital and then went back to music school to get my degree in vocal performance. And when I was in music school, I was really trying to be straight. I thought to myself, “I'm never going to make it as a musician and a lesbian. It's just going to be too hard.” So I dated a guy. I actually started going with him very seriously and he proposed marriage and I just freaked out. I mean I thought to myself, “No, no, no, no. I can't live my life as somebody's wife.” And I realized that what I was attracted to about him was his feminine side. He probably would die if he ever heard me saying this, but he was very effeminate.
MR: Yeah, yeah. So was mine.
MS: Your husband?
MR: The boyfriend.
MS: I see.
LB: But I realized that I was lying to myself and to him because I was fantasizing him being a woman when we were together. And I broke up with him and that was in 1969 or '70. And I haven't had thoughts about men ever since.
MS: Maybe just to rewind for a bit, dropping out of Barnard: did that have anything to do with sexuality?
LB: It had to do with experimenting with drugs and sex and really trying to squeeze. I felt that I had been relatively sheltered up to that point. And here I was set loose in New York City and I was trying to squeeze a whole lot of time, work, and experiences into as short a time as I could. And I made myself sick. I really fell hard. I couldn't keep up. And ended up having a breakdown and having to come home to live with parents again and then leave them. I had an affair with a woman up there, a Greek woman who I thought had a mutual attraction with me until I actually proposed that we get together and said that I wanted to sleep with her. And then she kind of freaked out and said that that was sick and am I seeing a doctor about it and all of that. And it turned out that she was willing to sleep with me as long as there was a man present. It was really kind of sick. And I was willing to do that in order to be with her. But if he got out of bed, if he went to the other room to pee, then she wouldn't touch me. It was like it was sick then. But if he was there, it was cool, which is I guess my punishment for this idea that to be bisexual was healthy and to be a lesbian was sick. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. I was bound to fall into a relationship with someone who had that very same idea. Yeah. Taught me a lesson.
MR: It was hard back then. It was hard for me, because you didn't know where to meet, you didn't know where to meet women. I mean everything in my life I've always said has happened twenty years too late. And that's true. But the feelings were there. And when I finally met Laurie and met a lot of other women, I was thrilled.
MR: It was like home.
MS: And you met in what year again?
LB: '74 we met, '75 we started dating. And '75 we got married. We don't use the word married.
MR: You were going to say something about the Fourth. Didn't you ask about the 4th of July?
LB: About the Bicentennial.
MS: The Bicentennial.
MR: About the Bicentennial.
MS: Yeah we'll get to that.
LB: We're not there yet.
MR: All right, all right. I didn't want to forget.
MS: Yeah also, just maybe one other thing on the '60s, when I was asking before about spaces, I'm wondering if it's true that with lesbians there was much more stuff happening in people's homes?
MR: I was just going to say that.
LB: Parties. I think I mentioned something about my senior prom and then I said well I'm jumping ahead. Well to get back to my senior prom, I didn't go to my senior prom with a guy. And I couldn't go with a woman. But what a group of us did was instead of getting ready to have dates for the prom, we decided that we wanted to spend that evening together. So a group of us had a prom party. And we didn't go to our prom. I never went to a prom, but we had a very good time. Except that there was some drinking and I was never able to hold alcohol very well. I don't drink at all now, but back then I tried to because I thought it would be cool. And I remember there was a woman named Phyllis. Greene? I don't know what Phyllis's name was. Who later came out as a lesbian. And she is still as far as I know a lesbian living somewhere in Philadelphia. She's an African American woman. She was very butch, very butch, very strong. And Phyllis and I were friends and we were at this prom party and we were all sitting on the floor in somebody's recreation room. And I spun around. Somebody said something and I spun around and I knocked a drink over. And it spilled on her boots and she jumped on me and attacked me and started choking me.
MS: Oh my god.
LB: Yeah. She was like really pissed at me for spilling a drink on her leather boots. And I think she gave me a black eye. And when I went home that night and my parents asked what had happened, I said that I'd walked into a door. I didn't think it would be cool to tell them that this butch beat me up. Besides I didn't want to admit that anybody could beat me up because I was butch, too! So we got together. We hung out after school. A group of us used to hang out at the Hot Shop and Linten’s and places like that where we could go and have coffee and just be around other women.
MS: What was the first place you said?
LB: Hot Shop.
MR: Not there anymore.
LB: Probably not. That was at Stenton and Broad.
MR: Stenton and Broad.
LB: Yeah. I used to go to the Hot Shop.
MS: Is that a little north of Market?
MR: Of Olney.
LB: Oh it's way above Market. Girls' High is at Broad and Olney.
MS: Oh right.
LB: And Hot Shop was a few blocks above that and there was a Linten's on Broad Street just at Olney. We used to go there after school. So when I talk about the '60s, I think of the '60s mostly as high school, although I graduated in '66. So the next two years after I dropped out of Barnard, I don't know where I hung out.
MR: People's houses.
MS: Yeah, is that true?
MR: I didn't have that opportunity.
LB: Well you know I wasn't really part of a lesbian community then. There wasn't a lesbian community then to speak of. What had happened was that when I was at Temple, in college, at the beginning I was going with this guy and then I realized this was ridiculous and I started trying to find a lesbian community. And I remember going into a bookstore at I think it was 13th and Pine. Jay's?
MS: Jay's Place.
LB: Yes. Was it 13th and Pine?
MS: There were two locations. There was one at 1344 Spruce and one at 1511 Pine.
LB: It was 1344 Spruce.
MS: I think one was called Jay's Place II.
LB: Yeah. It was the one on Spruce and 13th. And it was basically a porno bookstore, but they had gay stuff in there. God I remember he had dildos in there and it wasn't anything like the Pleasure Chest. It was a very small space. There was very limited stuff, but I remember. I think I bought my first lesbian sex book in there. And it was really put together by men obviously, but it was their idea of what lesbians do.
MS: This is late '60s?
LB: This is late '60s. And it was a publication from I think Sweden or Germany. It was in another language and it had all blond models in it.
MS: You said "he" carried it. Did you know James Mitchell?
LB: No I didn't know him. I just assumed it was a guy's place because there wasn't really very much stuff for women in there. But I remember one night when I walked in there. I always hoped that I would meet a lesbian in there, like somebody would come in and cruise me. "Hi, you wanna' come home with me?" But I remember running into one of my professors from college, who was a very well-known musician, in there. And he was wearing a leather jacket. And it looked so funny to see him in there in that context. And I guess I really never thought about what his sexuality was before. You know he was a musician. That's like a whole category unto itself. And then I saw him and realized, “Oh he's into leather. Oh, O.K.” And of course him seeing me in there, there was this immediate recognition that we had something in common. And I think it was sometime around that time that I started hearing about the formation of the Gay Liberation Front at Temple and I started going to meetings and I met Tommi. And Tommi and I were also in a women's studies class together. Image of Women in English Literature, in the English novel, or whatever. We got to know each other a little bit in that class. I was very out in that class. I was always looking for the lesbian perspective in literature and why aren't we studying this, because there wasn't a hell of a lot of literature around then. I mean I don't know if that was before or after Rubyfruit Jungle was published.
MR: Yeah, I was just going to say.
MS: Just before.
MR: Just before. But there was not much around. There were a few books that some of us. Well I'm jumping ahead.
MR: There was Jo Sinclair.
LB: I’m jumping around. I'm sorry.
MS: If Gay Liberation Front was in 1970, I'm just remembering a few things I should ask about the '60s. There was an article in Philadelphia Magazine in '67 called "The Invisible Sorority" by Nancy Love.
LB: Oh I think I did read that.
MS: They had done a piece in '62 called "The Furtive Fraternity."
LB: Oh god.
MS: And five years later got around to doing the lesbian story.
LB: I don't think I remember "The Furtive Fraternity," but I do remember.
MR: I'd like to see that.
MS: Nancy Love was the author.
LB: I think I read that and when was it that 60 Minutes did that thing. Was it 60 Minutes? No it wasn't, but Mike Wallace was the reporter.
MS: I don't know about that.
LB: There was this whole big piece on the gay world.
MR: Well we have that film.
LB: Yeah, yeah, there's some footage.
MR: Lavender Lanes.
LB: Have you seen that?
MR and LB: Oh!
LB: There's some great footage on it.
MR: We'll make a date and you'll see it.
MS: All right.
MR: Great footage going back to silents.
LB: Yeah, yeah. I mean there's some horrendous stuff on there, too.
MS: There was briefly a Daughters of Bilitis chapter here in '67, '68? Any connection? And then in '68, the women in DOB formed the Homophile Action League.
LB: I knew about that. Byrna Aronson?
MS: Right. Now that continued through like '72, so you might have encountered it.
LB: Right. I encountered it more in the early '70s, maybe '69, '70, when I started really coming out and giving up all of this illusion about being straight. At that time I'd been hearing about the Women's Center. There was a Women's Center at 9th and Chestnut. And I had been hearing stories about it and about a Radicalesbians chapter. Of course I had started reading some stuff about Radicalesbians and about gay liberation. And I never got down to Chestnut Street. Just for some reason my school schedule or whatever didn't allow me to get down to Chestnut Street, but then they moved to Chester Avenue, to 47th and Chester I think it was. It was an old, old, huge house. And I started going out there. The first time I went out there I asked if I could volunteer to staff the desk. And I started doing that, just so I could kind of check out who was coming into these Radicalesbians meetings on I think they were Monday evenings. And I saw various women going in and going upstairs and I thought, “Why am I sitting down here?” So eventually I kind of resigned that time and started going up to the Radicalesbians meetings and fit right in and felt very comfortable.
MS: Well tell me about that group. About how many people were coming to the meetings? And was it mixed racial?
LB: It was mixed racial, mixed generational. It varied. There might be six, seven people at one meeting and maybe fifteen or twenty at another. There were a few core people who came almost all the time and then there were the next circle of people who came most of the time and then another group of people that came once in awhile and another group that would maybe stop in once and never come back.
MS: Do you remember who some of the core people were?
LB: Yeah. Mike Miller [Marlene “Mike” Miller], I remember. You have to interview her.
LB: You have to talk to her. Marty […] and her lover at the time, Margaret. I can't remember Margaret's last name. Gale Russo. Anita Cornwell.
MS: I've interviewed Anita.
MS: And Miriam Rosenberg? Does that name ring a bell?
LB: Miriam Rosenberg. She had a dog. I remember her bringing this large dog into meetings with her. And I remember seeing her there a few times. Not often. Now Carole Friedman had been a part of Radicalesbians when they were meeting down on Chestnut Street. And I heard rumor that she was the person who had the affair with Ellen.
MS: I wondered when you said that, because I interviewed her in Boston.
LB: Yeah, yeah. And I'd heard that she was a lesbian.
MR: Oh you interviewed Carole in Boston?
LB: And I desperately wanted to reconnect with her. But that didn't happen for some months after that. We ran into each other in some other context.
MS: I found her through Ada Bello who put me in touch her with her.
LB: Yeah. And I'm trying to think who else was in that core group. Oh god.
MS: And what did Radicalesbians do?
MR: Where's the paper bag?
LB: We dug radishes.
MR: Where's the paper bag?
LB: The paper bag.
MR: The paper bag with the printed invitations.
LB: Oh that was the thing I did. Well there were occasional parties and dances and that sort of thing. We met, we discussed endlessly, occasionally we formed committees. We did things. There were many, many outgrowths of Radicalesbians, including a women's theater group. Mary Warner was another person who was involved in that. We did improvisational theater. And in my mind I kind of mix up sometimes some of the things that happened with Radicalesbians and some of the things that were happening on the Temple campus because I was still at Temple at the time, spending more and more time at the Women's Center, hanging out with Gail and the other folks. But I was being a bit of a gypsy. I kind of lived in my car.
MS: So did Radicalesbians also do political demonstrations?
LB: Yeah, there were demonstrations against Rizzo. We had these huge puppets that were like Bread and Roses. Or was that what it's called? Bread and Roses? In San Francisco?
MS: Yeah, I know what you're talking about.
LB: With the huge puppets?
MS: Right, right.
LB: I mean it would take one person to hold an arm and another person and I was involved in that. And we would do demonstrations against Nixon and Rizzo and pro-choice things.
MS: Do you know what happened to Radicalesbians? Why it disbanded?
LB: I stopped going.
MS: O.K. That's why it stopped.
LB: That's right.
MS: And what about the stuff at Temple, to get back to that.
LB: Well let's get back to Radicalesbians. I think that we really had a political edge and a real radicalism at one time. And then I think that as more and more people heard about it and started coming to meetings, that got diluted some. And I mean it was really important for us to say the word lesbian. That was a very revolutionary thing for us to do at that time, to use the word lesbian openly and proudly. And then some women started coming who were referring to it as far out. And they were being closety about it. And I think that there was a dissonance between some of the older, more radical components, members. I mean we never had formal membership. That just didn't happen. But I think some of the newer people coming in, wanting to be a little bit more respectable and being a little bit closety, I think some of us kind of lost interest in reinventing the wheel and trying to raise their consciousness over and over again, week after week. And some of us just dropped out and it petered out, as it were.
MS: One woman suggested to me that there were sort of sectarian Marxists who tried to take it over in the end.
LB: Well yeah! That could be it, huh? There were folks who came in with their agendas, yeah.
MS: Because there were three issues of Lesbians Fight Back, the newsletter. And the last newsletter is very murky about the decision to disband. It talks about the decision to disband. And one of the pieces sounds like it's a personality issue. Someone's taking too much control.
MS: But then it had the other story about sectarian Marxists.
LB: Well I think both can be true really. Both can be true.
MR: Well the sectarian Marxists, even though I was not participating in this, were everywhere. And I mean if there was a new organization...
LB: They were there.
MR: They were right there.
LB: With their literature.
MR: They're still there.
MS: They are.
LB: It got tiresome.
MS: Was the line in Radicalesbians, would you say, anti-male? Anti-gay male? Or really just not about men?
LB: Good question, good question. I don't know that there was a line. I know that Mike Miller, some of her closest friends were gay men, that she probably had more gay male friends and was more gay male-identified than most of the other women in Radicalesbians[…]. You know what the dissonance was in Radicalesbians? It's sort of coming back to me as I talk. It was between gay women and lesbian feminists. And there were gay women who would come kind of to check out Radicalesbians and who might be made to feel very unwelcome because their politics were gay politics. Their consciousness was not feminist. They were seen as not women-loving women.
MS: And Mike was an example of that?
LB: Mike would have been an example of someone who was seen as kind of old gay, although I can see where she evolved beyond that. I felt myself right on the cusp between the two because at the time when I came out it was the beginning of the women's movement. I felt a pull towards feminism. And yet I also, from growing up as a tomboy and feeling The Well of Loneliness stuff and the identification with Stephen Gordon, I felt the pull toward gay liberation.
MS: It's interesting. That's similar to the story that Carole Friedman tells about herself, whereas I think she thinks Ada and Barbara Gittings were old gay.
MS: She felt like she made the transition. She was old gay herself chronologically, but sort of made the transition. And it sounds like you're describing something similar.
LB: I think she's like three, four years older than I am. So I think our experiences are kind of similar in a way. And yeah, I think I made the transition. I consider myself a lesbian feminist. Sometimes when I sit down with Barbara, her politics appall me. [Deleted at the request of LB.] But Ada is kind of a different case because she is old gay in many ways, but she has a feminist consciousness as well. And it goes beyond feminism. It's kind of like a global self-consciousness.
MR: She's so conscious.
MS: Right. She was a leftist, I think that the story I got from her really was that she was a leftist and then that sort of personal story, that right around this time I think her mother came to live with her. So she ended up having family obligations and sort of dropped out. So that's the story she told me.
LB: But it was a kind of odd time, the late '60s, early '70s, between the civil rights and the antiwar movements and the beginning of the gay liberation and women’s movements that were sort of dovetailing in there. And then, which side are you on? When it all shakes out, where are we here in the '70s.
LB: And it was a little bit schizy. I had to struggle. I had to struggle because there were people like Gale Russo who came from Radicalesbians in New York and came down to Philadelphia. People like Marty […], who never had that identification with gay liberation. They were coming out of the women's movement. And they had very little to do with gay men whereas I still felt some allegiance. And I remember, I actually had a straight male friend who I was like brother and sister with at that time. We'd go camping together, we did everything together. And I brought him to a Radicalesbians meeting. I mean talk about naive. I thought I was going to be ripped to pieces. I thought they were going to feed me to the wolves.
MS: Did men ever come at all? Or just not straight men.
LB: No! They wouldn't allow a man in there. But we were hanging out together and I said, "Listen, I've got to go to a Radicalesbian meeting. I don't want to miss it." And he said, "Well that's cool, I can wait in the car or something." And I said, “No you can come in." And can you imagine? I walked into the Women's Center and it was like, “What's he doing here?” And he was really fine. He was really cool. He was comfortable with the whole idea of women's space or the lesbian space. It never occurred to me. I mean I was just really naive. It never occurred to me that it would bother anybody. And boy did I get really mad.
MR: Oh, it is so hard for me to imagine you like that.
LB: Well that's where I was then. Like Kenny's cool, why can't you all, he's an honorary lesbian?
MS: So meanwhile you were participating in GLF at Temple? Is that right?
MS: Going to those meetings?
MS: And was that mixed lesbian and gay?
LB: Yeah, but more gay men than lesbians.
MS: And mixed race?
LB: I was sometimes the only woman there.
LB: Mixed race? I can't recall any people of color.
MS: James Roberts?
LB: But I don't know if he was involved in the group at the beginning of it or did he come on board later?
MS: I think he talks about the second year, but I think he doesn't describe it as particularly mixed.
LB: He might have been the only.
MS: It was the coffee hour I think that he talks about at Temple, the SAC.
LB: SAC, Student Activities Center, yeah. There was a coffee hour, we had meetings. When Society and the Healthy Homosexual by Weinberg came out, I got posters advertising the book and a bunch of them. And I went all over campus putting them up. And the scariest place that we went was the College of Music, where everybody knew me, because this was like more publicly coming out.
LB: And I put them up there, too. But I put them around the campus. I mean we did theater things there. I don't know.
MS: Did you have any involvement with GAA in Philadelphia?
LB: Maybe one or two meetings, but that was another thing that seemed like a boys' thing. At that point I think I was feeling more aligned with Radicalesbians and there really was a pulling apart in the early '70s.
MS: Between gay men and lesbians, you're saying?
MS: And were you connected with that?
MR: No I wasn't connected with anything.
MS: So we're not going to catch up with you until a little bit.
MR: I have a few things. Well a little before '75…. I heard that there was a bookstore right on South Street called Giovanni's Room. And I circled it around like I had circled Rusty's, because when I looked in the door there were people sitting inside. I was very shy and I thought this is new territory and that maybe I wouldn't be welcome. I wouldn't be welcome. So I never got to Giovanni's Room then. That was when...
LB: Pat Hill owned it.
MR: ...when Pat Hill owned it. But when it moved to Spruce Street, yes. But there was no opportunity for me to join anything because I didn't know about them. As a matter of fact, years later when I met Barbara Gittings, I said, "Where were you when I needed you? I could've used you back in the '50s!”
MS: So there is something I wanted to ask about your kids and your separation and divorce. Were there any custody issues that came up?
MR: No, they were grown.
MS: They were grown.
MS: And was there something else you were saying from then?
MR: No, just that I've always regretted that I was never a part of what Laurie was a part of because I was ready. I was really looking and ready.
LB: It was really exciting times.
MS: Your story represents, though, not just your own, I think.
MR: Oh I know there were others.
MR: I know.
MS: Well we just have about fifteen minutes left and I definitely want to ask about the Bicentennial but I also want to ask about neighborhood stuff and about your two coming together. So I don't know if we'll run out of time, but should we start with your meeting one another?
MR and LB: Sure.
MR: I can make it brief.
LB: Go right ahead.
MR: I've told it so many times.
LB: Go ahead.
MR: I was working in the office of the Philadelphia Singers. There were two of us, the manager and myself. And I had at that time become aware of Laurie's participation in a group of musicians, one of whom was Bonnie Hill the composer. The other was Elizabeth Fox, harpsichordist, and another one was another woman who played the oboe. And these women gave concerts. And I saw the flier and Lazman said, "Oh, they're all dykes!" I thought, “That's why I like them.” And one day, this is the closest I've ever gotten to here, besides the guitar teacher years before. And so one day I said to Laurie, “I'd like to join your club.” And she said, “Which club is that, the Book of the Month Club?”
LB: I was such a smartass.
MR: She was a smartass, very butch little number. Everybody's coming to rehearsals in little dresses and then she comes. I mean this is dressed up.
LB: I came on my motorcycle.
MR: Like she's singing Monteverde and I'm trained. I was a music major and so we have this great glue.
LB: A lot in common.
MR: So I decided that I was going to really look into this. And it wasn't that I was that wildly attracted to her. She was the one I could touch, see. So I invited her for a chicken dinner and I was living on Waverly Street and she ate her dinner and afterwards I said, I told her, I told her why. I said, “There's some things I want to ask you.” And I sat there and she answered questions that look like the first brochure that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force put out for people.
LB: Twenty questions people ask about homosexuality.
MR: Do you have to be butch or fem, this and that, lesbian feminism, the real basic kinds of things.
LB: I answered all your questions except that last one.
MR: She answered, but she answered them very articulately. I mean she was educated and well read. She had a wonderful vocabulary. She really did a wonderful job. And then the rest is history.
LB: Our last question she asked me was, "Is there some place I can go to meet women my age."
MR: Oh yeah.
LB: And I said to her “no.”
MR: Well I was feeling disadvantaged ‘cause I was in my forties.
LB: That was really horrible.
MR: And I thought, “Who the hell wants to bother with a forty year old lesbian. There aren't any. They're all twenty-five.
LB: I was twenty-five.
LB: And she was forty-five. And she was asking me about whether I wanted to go to lunch. I said “forget it.”
MR: And the next thing I know I find these little green poems in my mailbox and a flower. And it took awhile and I went forward and then I pulled back a little bit and the rest is history.
LB: That was '75.
MR: That was '75.
LB: That was March, early March of '75 when we started going together. Well we started seeing each other through the spring and dating but we started getting really seriously committed by June. And the following year was the Bicentennial year and I was involved in a touring company that was performing, in period costume, colonial American music.
MS: Is that right?
LB: And it was with members of a concerto of soloists and a quartet of singers.
MS: What was the group called? Do you remember?
LB: Oh Christ. I don't even remember.
MR: I don't even remember the Bicentennial.
LB: But we went all over the country.
MR: They went all over.
LB: And did all this music which does not have a great deal to recommend it. It's not my favorite music in the world and if I ever hear some of those songs.
MR: But that's not the July 4th story.
LB: But anyway, during that Bicentennial year we were invited to the governor's mansion for the 4th of July outside of Harrisburg.
MR: It was the national meeting of governors that they have every year or they have periodically. And Milton Shapp had a whole big thing.
LB: And I was friends with his son.
MR: So we went out on a bus. Yeah.
LB: We had known each other from college days. And he invited us to this big governors' conference. Did I perform there? Had we performed that night? I think we might have.
MR: No, no you didn't. We went out with Philadanco, remember? In the bus with Philadanco.
LB: Oh. O.K. Well I don't remember the performance.
MR: We were guests. We were guests.
MS: What's Philadanco?
MR: Philadelphia Dance Company, the Black dance company, wonderful.
LB: Well anyway, we stayed overnight in the governor's mansion.
MR: We missed the bus going back.
LB: Oh, well we ended up sharing with Governor Edwards of Louisiana. It got cold and there was a fireworks show and he had a blanket. We were shivering and he ended up giving us his blanket that we bundled under.
MR: We missed the bus going back.
LB: So they put us up in the governor's mansion. They put us in this room that had a bed in it that was about, I mean the width of the bed was like less than two feet.
MR: Antiques and reproductions and very high.
LB: It was very high.
MR: But you have to understand that most of the musicians who were participating in this event were put in this house and most of them were gay.
LB: Some of them.
MR: Weren't they?
LB: Some of them were.
MR: Yeah. It was really strange.
LB: Anyway, there were two single beds in this room. So of course we get into one bed and we had to spoon very tightly. But we were scared to death about falling out of bed because we could've gotten killed. It was so high that the drop to the floor was precipitous. Oh, and it was the one year anniversary of a very hot weekend we had the year before on the Fourth of July. We had gotten a little bit high. A little bit! A lot high. And we were laughing so hard that we both fell out of bed. I mean literally fell out of bed.
MR: Onto the floor.
LB: Onto the floor. We could have hurt each other but we were laughing too hard. And a year later at the governor's mansion we were on this really high bed and we reminded each other that we had fallen out of bed a year before. And said we'd better not fall out of bed this year or we'll get concussions. It doesn't sound funny anymore.
MR: But it was funny.
LB: It was.
MR: You had to have been there.
MS: Did you know about Shapp's sexual liberalism?
MR and LB: Oh yeah.
LB: Yeah, yeah.
MS: You were aware.
LB: Well not only did I know his liberalism, but he knew that I was a lesbian. And I had spent a lot of time over at the Shapp house talking about stuff like this.
MS: Before he was governor or while?
MR: No while he was governor.
LB: Before and during.
MR: And we went to parties together there.
LB: Before and during and I would say that there is a possibility that among the gay people he knew in his life, I might have had some influence on shaping his thinking about it. I mean he was a really good guy. He was a bright guy. He really did the right thing. And it's a shame that a lot of real negative things that dogged him happened.
MS: I actually don't know what those things are.
LB: There were scandals in his administration.
MS: I see.
MR: He had some people, campaign finance, well-meaning people. I mean we know who they are and all that.
LB: Well some of them were well-meaning and some of them weren't. But some people did wrong things that reflected badly on his having appointed them.
MR: Yeah, but we went as a couple over there for different events. Do you remember that? Somebody's birthday or anniversary or something.
MS: So you weren't going to any of the Philadelphia Bicentennial stuff?
MR: Well the Candlelight Concerts.
LB: I sang in the Candlelight Concerts as part of the Bicentennial celebration and was in drag a lot. Colonial drag. Cap and the whole thing.
LB: Honest to god. That pretty much catches us up to '76.
MS: I do want to also ask about some neighborhood stuff because it seems like it was around this time that you moved in together in Blue Bell Hill. Is that right?
MS: I guess what I want to ask is whether you think sometime in the '70s or earlier, Philadelphia developed any lesbian or gay neighborhoods, if you were a part of those neighborhoods, if you knew where they were, if there were parts of the city that were more friendly to lesbians and gay men.
LB: Mount Airy, West Philadelphia, and Center City.
MR: Yeah, yeah.
LB: That's it.
MS: And for gay men and lesbians? All three of those?
LB: Well I don't think gay men hung out in West Philadelphia. That was pretty much a lesbian area.
MR: They're more in Germantown, Mount Airy, and Center City, Wash West.
LB: I mean most of the people I knew in Mount Airy were lesbians. There were some gay men in Mount Airy. I didn't know of many gay men in West Philadelphia. There were a few, but not a whole lot.
MR: Do you know about the Wissahickon group?
MR: Oh, well that we'll talk about later.
LB: Yeah, because there is a whole gay and lesbian social group that’s been there for years up here in the northwest part of the city.
MR: And they're all the northwestern zip codes. We used to go to their monthly potlucks.
MS: Oh that. Recent stuff, oh yeah, I've heard about the group there.
MR: It's more than that.
LB: It's been around for quite a few years.
MR: I don't know how long.
LB: I don't know that it goes back to '76.
MS: I see.
LB: Tom Malim?
MS: Tom Malim: I do have a bit of a tape that Tommi Avicolli did with him.
MR: Oh really, good.
MS: Is he still around?
LB and MR: No.
LB: Tom Malim died several years ago.
MS: We were just talking about some neighborhoods, neighborhood issues. And I did want to ask about when you think the neighborhoods you just talked about became lesbian or gay or when you knew of them as those kinds of neighborhoods.
LB: I think that from the time I was in Radicalesbians in the late '60s, early '70s, West Philadelphia was seen as a neighborhood or at least parts of West Philadelphia. The Women's Center was at 47th and Chester. There were communes, collective houses that were being formed around West Philadelphia and then a group of women started moving into Mount Airy. There was a house on Carpenter Lane where Marty and Margaret and Gail and Sharon. What's her name?
LB: She's Malawi now. She was Sharon Grossman then. And a couple of other women lived. A group of them were the core of the group Wine, Women and Song. And there was just always stuff going on at that house. That was one of a number of lesbian collectives that formed in Mount Airy. But I think that mostly individuals and couples started moving into Mount Airy rather than big collective houses.
MS: So West Philly was more collectives?
LB: I think so. I think generally. I mean there were certainly exceptions, like Frances Haenkle and Ada moved in together at 47th and Larchwood.
MR: But they didn't live in a commune.
LB: That wasn't a commune, but here was a lesbian couple living together and then Barbara and Kay bought a house in West Philadelphia. And there were isolated couples and individuals, but there were also huge houses that lended themselves to collectives.
MR: What about the household of what's her name?
LB: Z, Z.
MR: No, not Catherine.
MS: Rosalie Davies?
LB: Cat O'Donnell?
MR: I knew her at that point. No, from your softball team.
MR: There was one at 44th and Pine.
LB: Yeah. I don't know if that's even still going on now.
MR: It's not. They sold it.
LB: But for years and years and years one group of lesbians after another moved in and out.
MR: Oh years. It was great. It cost you a hundred and fifty bucks a month.
MS: When I first moved to Philly I moved into I think one of the last vestiges of one of those collective houses.
MS: Which Sharon Owens was living in? Did you know Sharon?
LB: Oh, that's a familiar name.
MR: That's familiar.
MS: Black woman who was involved in Radicalesbians. She was a law student at Penn around this time.
LB: Sharon. Did she have another name? It rings a bell.
MS: Lawyer, she works in the Free Library now.
LB: Rings a bell, but I can't picture her.
MS: Were there differences between the Germantown/Mount Airy lesbians and the West Philly lesbians?
MS: What were the differences?
LB: Well putatively the differences were that the West Philly lesbians were more radical in their politics and more vegetarian in their diet.
MR: And also you have to realize that as these women got older, they became more affluent. They had a down payment. And so there weren't that many communes established anywhere. There's still a few going.
MS: So the more affluent types would move to Mount Airy, you're saying? Mount Airy/Germantown?
LB: Sort of.
MR: Sort of.
LB: Women who were into professions, I think, tended to migrate from West Philly to Mount Airy or to Center City.
MR: Or Center City little apartment to Mount Airy.
MS: And racially mixed communities? Both West Philly and Mount Airy? Lesbian communities?
LB: Yeah. I mean that's the one beautiful thing about, one of the beautiful things about Mount Airy is that it has for many, many years been a really diverse neighborhood, a mixture of Black and white, mostly Black and white, gay and straight.
MS: And I guess that's the other thing that I wanted to ask you: would you call them both lesbian neighborhoods? And what would that mean to call them that?
MR: Newall Street used to be.
LB: I would say that there are pockets of West Philadelphia and pockets of Mount Airy that are very gay and certain very gay and lesbian friendly. I wouldn't say that Mount Airy is a gay neighborhood. I mean 13th and Spruce, yes, but Mount Airy in general, no. It's much, much more heterogeneous.
MR: Yeah, you could say that maybe East Durham Street may have a larger proportion or Durham Street generally may have a larger proportion.
LB: Well when we lived on Pulaski Avenue, for example, our block of Pulaski Avenue, on our side of the street there were seven gay or lesbian households. Not people, households. I mean that's a lot for like fifteen houses on that side, that half of us were, every other house basically was a gay or lesbian household.
LB: You could say that that's a dyke street.
MS: And on the other side, where would you be surprised to hear that a lesbian or gay man lived within the city of Philadelphia? What neighborhoods seemed most hostile, most unfriendly?
LB: Although I think that's changing. There are pioneers that have moved into all neighborhoods.
MS: Right. But say in this period we're talking about, '60s and early '70s.
LB: Back in the '60s? I'd say anywhere in the Northeast.
LB: Kensington, Bridesburg, Mayfair, South Philadelphia, basically almost anywhere but West Philadelphia, Center City, and Mount Airy.
MR: But South Philadelphia always had gays.
LB; Yeah, but if you're talking about the '50s and the '60s, into the early '70s, people, look what happened to Emily. I mean that kind of thing went on all the time. This was a friend of ours who’s been having trouble with neighbors because she's a lesbian.
MR: Not Emily.
LB: Not Emily?
MR: No. Tara.
LB: Oh whatever. Anyway, I think the perception back then was that it wasn't safe to be gay outside of the really redlined, gay-defined areas where there was strength in numbers. You know if you lived on a street where there were other gay households or in a neighborhood where there were a lot of gay men, then there was a certain amount of safety. That if you called for help, somebody might help you, but in other neighborhoods you'd be so badly outnumbered.
MR: And it would be outright hostile.
MS: And all of Center City or particular parts of it?
MR: Well it's hard to say now.
LB: I'm trying to put myself back then.
MR: Well there were no gays and lesbians in Gray's Ferry. But there are now. Back then, no, very difficult neighborhood.
LB: Even Society Hill, I mean there's been so much change since '76 that it's kind of hard to remember back in some ways. But I think that basically the area of Wash West…
MR: Rittenhouse Square.
LB: ...and Rittenhouse Square were the gay enclaves in Center City.
LB: And that if you strayed outside of those areas.
MR: It was pretty iffy.
MS: And lesbians as well as gay men living in Center City, would you say? Disproportionately?
LB: I would say that there was a mixture, but there was a preponderance of gay men, that either because of the cost of rentals or whatever, lesbians had more of a tendency to be on the outskirts of Center City rather than right in the center.
MS: And do you think that that was about finances, that it was too expensive for many lesbians?
MR: Yeah. Well that's one of the considerations.
LB: I think, I think that's definitely part of it.
MR: I mean you were one of them.
LB: Yeah. I mean as soon as I could I moved away from the Art Museum area up to Germantown back in '74.
MS: Because it was cheaper, in part?
LB: Well I liked being on the edge of Fairmont Park. I liked being up where it was a little quieter and greener. I felt claustrophobic in Center City. I never wanted to live in town, even when I was living on Naudain Street.
MR: And when you moved to Daniel Street, there was a very interesting situation there. This Bluebell Hill, there's a lot of cousins and second or third generations living there.
MR: When she bought the house she was the first outsider.
LB: And when I bought the house in '74 I was the first person in something like sixty years that wasn't a member of one of the families to buy a house.
LB: On that street.
MS: And now this is part of Germantown?
LB: It's between Germantown and Roxborough.
LB: Just off Walnut Lane.
MR: Off Walnut Lane.
MS: Oh right.
LB: And it's a little street that goes right into the park. And these were post-Civil War houses. They were built just after the war, where people who had lived in them worked in the mills and worked for some of the wealthy families in Chestnut Hill. They were working class people on that street. It was a real white ethnic enclave.
MR: The interesting thing was that I had felt and I think you had voiced this also that it was O.K. if they knew you were lesbians. They damn well better not find out we were Jews.
LB: I felt more threatened as a Jew than as a lesbian there. And I was very out.
MR: Well we were doing things. She took care of the house. If she had let it go to wreck and ruin and no paint and everything.
LB: I fixed it up.
MR: She fixed it up. I would be outside gardening.
LB: I'd be up on the roof patching.
MR: It was fine, but it was the Jewish thing we were worried about.
LB: Yeah, because it was a racist area. Now it's interesting. We were the first Jews on the block. We were the first queers on the block that anybody knew of. And by now, there are a number of lesbians in the neighborhood. Other Jews have moved into the neighborhood. It's really been broken wide open.
MR: Well Howard lives two blocks away.
LB: Yeah, but I mean just right there on Bridget and Daniel Streets.
MR: Well when it got out that we were professionals in these little houses and they lived in them rent-free.
MS: I have wondered because some people do say that Center City is more gay male than lesbian because of economics, but then there's the Mount Airy/Germantown story.
LB: It's also children. Don't forget the children.
MR: Because lesbians are having babies and they don't want to have them at Fifteenth and Locust.
LB: But in the '70s, before '76 they weren't. And that's what we're focusing on, before '76.
MR: That's true. Yeah, that's true.
LB: How many lesbians did you know who had babies before then?
MR: There were some. Well I knew they were having baby groups around '78.
MS: Yeah, but back in the early '70s, people weren't talking about having kids.
MS: Well not having kids in the context of their relationships, but I have heard a number of stories with women coming out through the women's movement who had kids.
MR: Who had kids already.
LB: Well Marcea had three kids.
MR: They were grown, but I knew other people who had young children.
MR: And Rosalie Davies certainly was involved with custody things. She was one of those people from Radicalesbians, one of the core folks.
MS: Yeah, I've interviewed her as well.
LB: Yeah. I was just trying to think of other names because I know that I've left a whole lot people out.
MR: Well we must give him Mike's.
MS: That just reminds me. Were you involved at all in Dyketactics?
LB: I kind of missed Dyketactics. What was the year that that started? Was that '73?
MS: '74, I think, '75.
LB: '74, '75. By that time I was out of college, making my living as a singer, and kind of had grown away from Radicalesbians and was transitioning into, well that was around the time we started going together, '74, '75. Well '74 I was getting myself into this house that I bought. And '75 we were having our courting and honeymoon. So I don't know that I was really interested in anything political in those couple of years, to tell you the truth.
MR: We knew about them. We knew about them.
MS: Well some people have said that there was a pattern in groups like Radicalesbians.
LB: You came and you met somebody and then you left with them and you never came back. Yes, that would happen from time to time. And some of us kept coming back until we found the right one.
MS: Well maybe just one last question then. If you could put yourself back in say '75, '76 and say a few last things about the state of relations between lesbians and gay men at that moment. We were talking about the earlier '70s, things beginning to pull apart a bit. And you both talked about things being fairly close before that and a strong sense of identity between gay men and lesbians. By the mid-70s, were things changing?
LB: By the mid-70s, I think that I felt really quite separated from men, from all men. I think that would be a fairly accurate thing to say. Other than men that I worked with as a performer, most of whom were gay, I was pretty separated from men. I think that there was a lot of work that gay men had to do on their own sexism in order to continue to dialogue with us. And I was running into frustration. In the places where I had contact with men, I was finding that they were stuck somewhere and I wasn't going to be there to be their teacher. So I kind of moved on. And then in the late, well that's jumping ahead to the late '70s, Marcea and I both got involved with the predecessor of Penguin Place, the gay community center. During my tenure, it became the gay and lesbian community center and now I understand the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community center. Where will it stop? But we both were working with men in the late '70s, early '80s.
MR: And beating heads against walls.
LB: There were a great many frustrations then as well.
MS: Can either of you think of any examples of that?
LB: Oh how about resistance to having the name lesbian included in the title of the community center, for one.
LB: That's one. Arguments over NAMBLA kinds of issues. That was a biggie. Over objectification of women's bodies. Even over drag issues back then. I think that we've evolved a long way today. I mean I can enjoy drag. I can be kind of loosy goosy about some things that I was very...
MR: No, but there was a politically correct line back then.
LB: That I was very rabid about back then. A whole host of things, just like the whole butch, fem thing, which we didn't even really mention in this interview, was a source of great contention within the lesbian community in the early '70s. I think that we're kind of coming around over the past few years to an appreciation of that phenomenon.
MR: Well we've had some good help.
LB: I think that there's something that's happened over the past few years that really feels like it's possible to work together, that we are a community or many communities, that gay men and lesbians have more at stake together, to work together, than to be at each other's throats and tearing each other apart.
MR: In regard to civil rights issues.
MR: Which will bring a diverse group together.
LB: Just a whole lot of issues, a whole lot of issues. But back in the mid-70s, I would say that it hadn't begun to coalesce yet, that there was still a whole lot of pain and process to go through at that point.
MS: Any men that stand out in your mind as exceptions to that?
MR: Any men?
LB: Tommi Avicolli.
MS: That's the answer I keep getting when I ask that question.
MR: Tommi could be a model as far as attitudes and communication style.
LB: Who doesn't stand out is Mark Segal. I mean I think that if there weren't the Tommi's around, if there were only the Mark's, that I would still be a lesbian separatist. I mean just getting women included, getting lesbians included, in his publications, doing anything for us was such a struggle. I mean we were clearly marginalized.
MS: Did you have encounters with Mark during these years?
LB: Yes, from time to time.
MR: He was quoted in the New York Times saying lesbian issues are boring.
LB: I think that one of my first contacts with Mark was at Temple, when he first came down as a, oh I just love that this is on tape, when he first came down from New York as a really loudmouth faggot and came to Temple, where I don't know if he was even registered as a student. But he came to organize us. And there was a table outdoors on the campus that we were taking turns staffing where we had petitions promoting some kind of gay rights. I don't remember exactly what the issue was, but there was some sort of petition that we were asking students to sign. And people were going from class to class. Some of them had a lot of time to stop and read the petition. And others were in a hurry. Well when Mark was at the table and he would ask someone to sign, "Sign our petition," if someone just turned and kept walking, he would say, "Well fuck you!" And I said to him, "You know that person might have signed later in the day, but maybe they'll think twice about signing because you've just alienated someone who might have been a signatory later." And he was just such a, I mean we were all loudmouths in a way, but there was something about his brand of loud-mouthery that was so abrasive and obnoxious that we didn't get along from the very beginning. I guess he never did anything since then to change my mind about him. That's sort of my initial impression. You know the whole thing of chaining himself.
MS: In Gay Raiders?
LB: Yeah, well I guess it's a little like some ACT UP tactics today. And yes I do see the need to do stuff to get people's attention, but alienating people, yelling "fuck you" to someone because they don't stop what they're doing right then and there and do what you ask them.
MR: And you're there to get their support.
LB: You know?
MS: Well the other thing that strikes me, and I probably shouldn't say this on tape, but the difference with ACT UP and the Gay Raiders stuff is a sort of cult of personality, because ACT UP purposely did not put forward individual people consistently.
LB: Mark always seemed to be seeking publicity for himself and to just be really impressed on who was shaking his hand and whose show he was on and what papers he was in. He was self-aggrandizing, kind of a grandiose personality.
MS: Well we shouldn't finish up on this note.
LB: No we should. We should. We should. There are other things that go back to those days, like the David Susskind Show. I was in some of those things or in the audience at some of those things to support people. And those were very heady and exciting times. I have to tell you that today, once in awhile, I just have to stop. When I hear stuff on the radio and I see stuff on television, I have to stop and think, “Wow, it's 1995. It wasn't that many years ago that....”
MR: That we were going to channel 10 and the Bible thumpers came in in their black suits with the bibles and all us queers.
LB: I mean it wasn't that many years ago that you couldn't get a newscaster to say the word lesbian or gay. There was homosexual. And it was like they didn’t want to say it out loud.
MR: The New York Times, look how long it took them.
LB: Yeah. I mean it's pretty amazing. When you said that these last fifteen years have been a lot of backsliding or repression and all that, it's a very much mixed bag, because it's still amazing how far we have come.
LB: We've got a long ways to go and there is a backlash, yes. But we have come so far from the '60s and the early '70s. It really amazes me. Sometimes I catch my breath. You know? Or it catches me, it catches people. What is the expression?
MR: It takes your breath away.
LB: It takes my breath away. That's it. It's amazing. It really is amazing.
MS: No I feel that myself and I was born in 1963. And I think what affects me the most is when I see youth groups. And I know those began to be around in the early '70s, but they were really few and far between at that time. But now I think it's that whole phenomenon.
LB: There's a place people can go. I mean we don't have to go cruising up and down Camac Street…
MR: You're right.
LB: ...trying to look for Rusty's anymore. There are groups to go to.
MR: And there are published every week lists and lists of things.
LB: Yeah, kids growing up today don't have to go around for years thinking that they're the only one in the world.
MS: Something that really startled me when I came to Philadelphia was seeing the PGN boxes on the street corners.
MS: Actually you don't see that in other cities. I don't know if Philadelphians realize.
LB: You don't? Well in New York.
LB: There aren't boxes for some of the gay papers?
MS: Well partly there's not a longstanding tradition of papers in New York, The Native aside. I mean The Native doesn't have boxes, but the papers haven't tended to survive for very long in New York.
MR: Yeah we have two boxes.
LB: Au Courant, yeah.
MS: But Boston, which is a more gay politicized city and I edited GCN in Boston, we would never have thought to have boxes.
LB: Oh, that's interesting. I didn't know that.
MS: And I've never seen them in Chicago or D.C.
LB: Well I guess we have to thank Mark for that. It was probably his idea to get those out there.
LB: But there were papers before, you know that. Papers before PGN.
LB: And I sold advertising for some of them.
MS: Which ones?
MR and LB: New Gay Life.
MR: No. It wasn't Wicce.
LB: No. But I have some stuff here from my own personal archives that I can show you.
MS: Oh yeah. I saw you take it out.
MS: Well any final words before I shut this off.
MR: No, I think Laurie has wound it up very nicely when she said it takes your breath away because it does. All I can say about the '50s is the pain of the '50s. It was hard. And I am not always pleased with the choices I made, but I couldn't see any alternative at that particular time. These are our good times.
LB: Pretty amazing. We did a lot of really brave things back then. I really have to say that everybody's coming out. Not that it isn't brave to do it today, but it was particularly brave to do it in the '50s and '60s. When I think about Barbara Gittings on the picket line in the '50s saying, “I'm a homosexual and I'm O.K.,” or whatever her sign said, and me walking into Jay's Place, just walking in there, overcoming the fear of being seen in a place like that. Facing my own sexuality in the late '60s, before Stonewall or even right after Stonewall. I remember the first gay pride march. It was a rally. I don't think think it was a march. I think it was just a rally that first year, after the Stonewall riots. Maybe it was two years after Stonewall.
MS: '72 was the first pride march here.
LB: First one here? Well Stonewall was '69 and the first Christopher Street march was in '70. I think there was a rally in '71.
MS: Is that right?
LB: And the first march was in '72. I believe so.
MR: Were there fifty people there?
LB: I believe so. No, less than 50. But some of us wore masks because we were afraid. In fact, I remember wearing a mask. And then we had some kind of a coffin or something that we threw the masks into at this rally. Carole Friedman was involved in this. She's probably given you some experience, but we could not get any of the local papers, the Inquirer or the Bulletin, to accept a classified ad announcing that we were organizing this event and to invite people to call us. They wouldn't accept it. You just couldn't advertise using the words gay or homosexual or lesbian.
MR: And now PFLAG is marketing their ads.
LB: Their public service announcements.
MR: Yeah right.
MS: I'm wondering: something you're saying is making me think that maybe there was something in '71, because the '72 march was covered by the papers. And the numbers, there was something on the order of thousands of spectators and participants.
LB: This was earlier. It was in Rittenhouse Square.
MS: And other people say to me, "Oh, you're crazy. There were fifty people there the first year."
LB: It was on a Sunday. I had to sing in church that morning. I was singing at St. James. And then as soon as church was over, I came rushing into town and I was one of the people who sang songs up on the stage at the rally. And I think it was '71.
MS: And I know in '71, there was this brief period where there were no regular publications. And so there wouldn't have been any coverage.
LB: I could possibly have something from that time.