Joan Fleischmann, May 31, 1994
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2014. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Joan Fleischmann on May 31, 1994, at her home in Royersford, Pennsylvania. Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen provided me with her contact information. I earlier had learned about Fleischmann because she was a leading Philadelphia homophile activist in the early 1960s and she had donated materials related to the Mattachine Society of Philadelphia, the Janus Society, and East Coast Homophile Organizations to the archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. I very much wanted to interview Fleischmann because there were very few surviving Philadelphia homophile movement activists from the early 1960s and she was involved in Philadelphia in a period when Gittings was more involved in New York. I re-connected with Fleischmann in the late 1990s, as I was finishing my book City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves; she sent me several photographs for use in my book. At that time she was living in Hollywood, Florida, and she reported that she was volunteering at the Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives in Fort Lauderdale. In 2013, I unsuccessfully tried contacting Fleischman in Florida and British Columbia, where I understood she had lived for a time. Shortly thereafter I found an obituary for her; she had died on 3 January 2013 in Royersford. In 1994, Fleischmann provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 3 June 1933
Place of Birth: Philadelphia
Place of Mother's Birth: Reading, Pennsylvania
Mother's Occupation: Housewife
Place of Father's Birth: Chicago, Illinois
Father's Occupation: Owner of grocery store and butcher shop chain
Race/Ethnicity: German (adopted parents); Irish (birth mother)
Religious Background: Catholic childhood; Metropolitan Community Church in 1994
Class Background: Middle Class
1933-51: Reading, Pennsylvania
1951-56: Stone Harbor, New Jersey
1956-58: Riverside, New Jersey
1958-60: Summit, New Jersey
1960-62: 44th and Chestnut, West Philadelphia
1962-63: 21st and Pine, Center City, Philadelphia
1963-66: 4800 Block of North Broad, Philadelphia
1966-68: Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
1968-84: Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania
1984-1994: Royersford, Pennsylvania
1955-64: High School English Teacher
1964-66: Administrative Assistant, City of Philadelphia
1966-67: Telephone Service Representative
1967-93: High School English Teacher
Marc Stein Interview with Joan Fleischmann, May 31, 1994. Transcribed by Abby Schrader, Nathan Wilson, and Marc Stein.
MS: I thought we could start by talking a little bit about your early years. I know you told me before the tape started that you were born in 1933 in Philadelphia. So if you could just tell me a little bit about your childhood and your family life?
JF: I was born in Philadelphia. I'm adopted. My parents lived in Reading, Pennsylvania. Although actually they didn't live in Reading; they lived in the country until the local Roman Catholic priest put a guilt trip on them about not sending their child to Catholic school, at which point they promptly moved to Reading and enrolled me in Catholic school, where I cried myself to sleep every day for the next four years. I do not remember Catholic school with any pleasure. It was repressive, mean, and nasty. I still remember the nuns' names. I have no idea why I became a teacher when I think of what kinds of role models those women were.
MS: Maybe you wanted to do it differently?
JF: Probably, I probably felt I don't ever want a child to have to feel as awful as I felt for those four years of my life.
MS: They were stern and strict. Was it that sort of thing?
JF: Oh they were awful. They were absolutely awful. You don't know what you've been spared, not having been raised a Catholic.
MS: Brothers and sisters?
JF: No, I am an only child. And when I was in tenth grade, I'd had enough of that, so I decided that I was going to enroll myself in public school. And so I did. I went to the local Catholic high school and said, "My parents are going to transfer me to Reading High School." Went to Reading High School, told them, "My parents are transferring me from Reading Central Catholic High School." And everything got done and I went home and presented my parents with a fait accompli. And I have pulled a veil over what happened at that point. Nothing much must have happened, because I did go to public school. And it's there that I met my first gay person. I didn't know anyone at Reading High School. I entered there in eleventh grade and those people had been together for years. So it was kind of lonesome. So I joined the band and a boy named Ken started to talk to me and we became good friends. And he was at that time just discovering his sexuality. When I first met him, he was not out. That happened during the time that he was a junior or senior in high school. And through him I met other gay boys and became very, very friendly with a lot of them. I used to have crushes on a number of gay men in the Reading area. I was kind of like a mascot at that point. They used to take me everywhere with them. We would go to bars, of course all unbeknownst to my parents, who are probably turning over in their graves right now hearing all this.
MS: You were underage.
JF: Yes I was. I was the only teenage female in most of those places in Reading.
MS: Do you know how Ken found these other teenage boys?
JF: I always thought there was a network. I don't know how, in those days, men found one another, but they seemed to be able to. He seemed to have no trouble. I think he met his first lover probably during the time after I met him, because he was not out.
MS: Do you remember the first conversation you had? Did he just all of a sudden take you someplace one day or did you talk first?
JF: Yeah, he just sort of said, "Oh I have some friends I want you to meet." And there was a hotel in Reading called the Abraham Lincoln, which had a coffee shop and a drugstore, and that was our meeting place, where we used to hang out when we were kids. And it was always me and those guys.
MS: Was it a gay hangout or just your crowd?
JF: It was a gay hangout. It was right across the street from a gay bar and right up the street from another gay bar.
MS: What were the bars called? Do you remember?
JF: I can't remember the names. One was called the Big Apple, I think. But that was little bit later on. I can't remember. I've wracked my brain for names of bars in Reading but I can't. They don't come to me.
MS: But the people who would hang out at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel coffee shop would be mixed-age or young people?
JF: Mostly young people, mostly teenagers.
MS: And mostly boys?
JF: Yes, all boys.
MS: All boys, except for you.
JF: Yeah, except for me. And Kenny, as he got more involved with gay men--at that time they were really boys; I keep calling them boys because that was what they were to me--he met older gay men. And those were the ones I used to get crushes on. And as I got older, I believed that that was probably a protection because these men were not going to be interested in me. And that was good. I didn't have to deal with the ordinary normal teenage boys who would be attempting to do things that didn't interest me.
MS: Were you dating in high school?
JF: Yeah, I did date. But again, in retrospect, I picked young men to go out with, whom I probably could not really have become interested in. Men of a different social class, of different background, with different aspirations in life. One man I was dating had graduated before I did and went into the service. And he used to come home. And we used to go out and he used to tell me how men have needs and the chaplain told him if he didn't get his needs satisfied that something terrible would happen to him, etc., etc. You know all that kind of crap, which I didn't buy, even back in that time, and of course nothing ever happened.
MS: So nothing did happen sexually with the boys you were dating?
JF: No, not with the men, no. But it was neat. We had a lot of fun.
MS: Do you remember when you first realized that Ken was gay? Did he tell you?
JF: He told me.
MS: And do you remember what kind of language he used? What he said?
JF: I don't know that he did tell me. I think he just introduced me to his friends and allowed me to draw my own conclusions.
MS: I see. Were you equipped with any kind of knowledge to understand what this was all about?
JF: Not really.
MS: What the church had taught you about?
JF: The church had taught me that this was wrong. But I never paid too much attention to that sort of thing. As a matter of fact, I don't know that it was ever articulated between Ken and me that he was gay. And certainly there was never any discussion about what I was, because I always had these crushes on these gay guys. And I guess we didn't think about it. We didn't talk about it.
MS: Would the guys have known that you had crushes on them, the gay guys?
MS: And what would they say or do about it?
JF: Well they used to treat me like a little sister. It was kind of like an indulgent pat her on the head; you know, a "make sure she gets home before midnight" kind of situation. Actually, my mother used to wonder where I was and what I was doing. And I was actually safer than I could ever have been anyplace. My father was actually the first person to ever articulate anything about Kenny. He never talked to me directly, as Germans of that type are wont to do. But my mother came to me one day and said, "Your father thinks that Kenny is"—long pause—"queer." "What do you mean, mom, queer?" I knew of course exactly what she meant. But she said, "Well." I said, "Well, he's not. He's my boyfriend. And he's not that type. I don't know why daddy thinks that because that could not possibly be true."
MS: So they thought he was your boyfriend?
JF: Well I told them that he was my boyfriend. But my father knew. I have no idea how he knew, but he knew.
MS: Was he at all effeminate?
JF: Kenny, yeah.
MS: Do you think that's how?
JF: Yeah, he was short and thin and had long blonde hair. And yeah, he was somewhat effeminate. In fact, my friends at school, we exchanged class rings. We went through the whole bit. We even went to a dance once together. And my friends, my female friends and other friends in high school, thought I didn't know. And they used to try to tell me. I think they thought that I thought I was dating a straight guy. And of course I knew all the time. So there was a lot of dancing around, trying to not get into these conversations and avoid having people tell me what I already knew and couldn't have cared less about.
MS: What did they try to tell you, do you remember? Also that he was queer?
JF: Yeah. "Don't you know about Kenny?" I said, "Of course I know him. I like him."
MS: So you started going to the bars, then, when you were a teenager. And were there other women in the bars?
MS: It was all gay men.
JF: I never got to meet any women. I used to want to meet women and they would say, "Oh those lesbians."
MS: They were hostile to lesbians?
JF: I think it was just that they didn't have lesbian friends. And sometimes I used to think that they were being protective. Not wanting me to get into something which maybe they felt I didn't know what I might be getting into. I wanted to meet them. I didn't have any feelings about women particularly, but I just did want to meet women and wanted to know what their lives were like, too.
MS: Do you remember any crushes on girls or women in those years?
MS: So what happens next? You finished high school?
JF: I finished high school. My parents moved to New Jersey, partly because they wanted to retire. My father wanted to retire. Partly to get me away from Kenny, who was in my mother's opinion the world's worst influence, the devil incarnate, right? So we moved to Sun Harbor. And Kenny moved to Atlantic City. He got himself a job in Atlantic City, working in a restaurant and of course spending all his time in the men's bars. And he was having such a good time that I wanted to go, too. So I persuaded my parents to let me get a job in Atlantic City. And that's where I encountered my first women. There was a bar. I can't remember the name of it. Jean would know. I'll fill it in for you later if it's real important. And the bartenders were women. It was a hangout for lesbians. And I used to go there. Jean remembers this. Jean is eleven years older than I am and she was in the bars. Jean was active from the time she was a teenager. And she remembers me. She remembers the bartender saying, "Oh my god, here comes jailbait." And I keep saying, "You can't." She says, "Joan, when I first met you and we started going together, I knew I had seen you before. And when you told me these stories, that was where it was." And I used to sit there with my soda or whatever and just stare at this one bartender. I had this terrible crush on this bartender. It must have been awful. In retrospect, it's so funny. I would just sit there and stare at her. I thought she was just the most wonderful thing I had ever seen in my life.
MS: Do you remember what she looked like?
JF: Yeah, she was very butch. She was tall and dark and very attractive. Butches at that time wore men's clothing and she used to wear a white shirt and dark pants. And I just thought she was really it.
MS: And how were you dressing?
JF: I was always fem. I used to go in there in my uniform after working in the drugstore where I worked at the soda fountain. I used to rush right down to the bar and I'd sit there and stare. I don't know what I thought was going to happen. Obviously, nothing ever did. I mean older women are not interested in seventeen year old girls, particularly. And so that's really how I spent the summer, working and running around with Kenny and sitting at the bar and staring at this woman. And then I went off to college.
MS: And where did you go to college?
JF: West Chester.
MS: And were you living at college when you were a student?
MS: And did anything interesting happen during those years?
JF: No, again, I continued to be having crushes on gay guys. And I still didn't meet any women, which is odd considering that West Chester at the time was a college that trained phys ed teachers and it was a hotbed of lesbians. And they were all over the place, but because I was not very athletic, I never got to meet any of them. And I went through four years of college without ever meeting a woman.
MS: And did you know gay guys at West Chester?
JF: I didn't know them, but Kenny and I were still friends. He had moved to Philadelphia and I was going into Philadelphia to meet him and his friends. I took my college roommate in with me and introduced her to all the gay guys. But I dated occasionally in college, straight men, but I wasn't really particularly interested. So nothing exciting happened to me when I was in college.
MS: So this would have been the early fifties?
JF: Right. I graduated in '55.
MS: In '55. So during the early fifties, then, did you ever go to gay bars in Philadelphia or any of the gay spots? Rittenhouse Square?
JF: Yes, because Kenny was living in Philadelphia. He was living near Rittenhouse Square. And that was a hangout for gay guys. And so I don't remember going to bars, but I do remember hanging out in Rittenhouse Square.
MS: And it was guys, not lesbians, in Rittenhouse Square?
JF: No, just guys.
MS: Just guys. And mixed racially or was it pretty much white at this point?
JF: It was pretty much white. Very few African Americans or Latinos.
MS: And what about restaurants or cafeterias or hotels? Were there places that people tended to go for a bite to eat? Do you recall?
JF: There was a Dewey's, I think it was called. Is that the name? It was Dewey's. I remember Dewey's.
MS: I know there were two of them. There was one on 13th and one on 17th by Chancellor. Which?
JF: Both of them.
MS: Attracted a gay crowd?
MS: What kind of people would go there?
JF: All kinds of people. At two or three in the morning, you'd find streetwalkers. You'd find drag queens. You would find everybody. Liberace came in one time.
JF: Yes, I got his autograph for my mother.
MS: One time when you were there?
JF: Yeah, at the one on 17th Street. In walked Liberace. It was unbelievable.
MS: Was that in the fifties?
JF: Yeah, isn't that funny?
MS: So you were at this time hanging out with Kenny and his friends pretty much, but you didn't have a circle of women friends in Philly?
MS: Were there ever strange moments because of that? Was anybody ever hostile to you?
JF: No, they weren't. They were just my friends, and because Kenny kind of met these people at about the same time that he introduced me to them, it wasn't as if I was joining a circle of men who were hostile towards women.
MS: Do you think they were sexist? And even if you wouldn't have said so then, would you say so now?
JF: No, I don't recall anything particularly.
JF: No. It was a lot of fun. One of the men had learned to do hypnotism. And we used to have a lot of fun with his hypnotizing different people. And then we used to have panic time when somebody wouldn't come out. I don't think he was very good. And at the time we didn't know that. And god knows what kind of damage he did to people's psyches, but we used to do crazy stuff like that. It was fun.
MS: So you finished college in '55 and you got a job teaching high school in New Jersey, right?
MS: And you moved back to New Jersey then?
JF: Right, I lived in Riverside for a while and after two years I got the job in Summit. And I taught there for a year. I used to spend summers at home in Stone Harbor. And after my first year in Summit, I was home and things were really boring. I was working in the local hardware store and a man who delivered ice used to come in all the time. And he would talk to me and I knew he was interested in me. And for lack of something to do, I went out with him a couple of times. And when he decided that he wanted more than just friendship, I said, "Well, you know, I don't do that because I am a lesbian." Well I wasn't. I mean it was just a convenient excuse.
MS: And would you have used that word, do you think?
JF: I think I probably said, "I'm gay." I don't think the word lesbian was part of our vocabulary back in those days. I probably said, "I'm gay" or "I like women" or something like that. And his reaction to that was to say, "Well, I know a woman." And my reaction to that was to say, "Hallelujah, at last. Finally!" And so it turned out he did know a woman, a young woman, who was lifeguarding at one of the pools in the area in the summer. And as luck would have it, she was also from North Jersey, but her family had a home in Stone Harbor and she had been there for every summer of her entire life. Of course so had I, but our paths had never crossed. And so he introduced us and there was an immediate chemistry and I actually met my first woman and came out. We used to take him out with us. We used to use this man shamelessly. God! I do blame him for what he did, but in retrospect I can see something of why perhaps. We used to take him places and let him pay. Or we would go to the boardwalk and we would go on all the rides while he waited for us.
MS: Did he know what was going on?
MS: He did. And you immediately started having a relationship with this woman?
JF: Yeah. In fact we broke the bed in my bedroom.
MS: In your parents' house?
JF: Oh, yeah, in my parents' house. I had a very low bed with just little feet like this. And I fell on it and she fell on me and one of the legs just went boom.
MS: How did you explain that to your family?
JF: My father said, "What was that?" Because he was in the living room and it was the next room. I said, "Oh I must have dropped a book." I have no idea how I explained the fact that the leg was off the bed. Teenage hijinks maybe, I don't know.
MS: And you said she was a lifeguard. And from what you were saying before, was she kind of butch? Was she athletic?
JF: She was very butch.
MS: And did she dress the part, too?
JF: Well, since her family was there in the summer, not really. I mean just short shorts and shirts. She was not a drag butch or anything like that.
MS: Drag butches are what you were describing before, like the bartender?
MS: Wearing men's clothing?
JF: Right. But everything was fine that summer. And after a while, I stopped seeing this man at all. And he would come into the place where I worked and he would make remarks like, "It's going to be nice to see you in a waitress's uniform." And I thought, "What is he talking about?" I just dismissed him.
MS: This was at the school?
JF: No, this was at the hardware store in the summertime. And I just sort of dismissed him; he was kind of strange. And I went back to school. And the woman whom I was dating, her girlfriend got wind that she was going with someone. She was older and lived in North Jersey. And her girlfriend got wind of the fact that she was seeing someone at the shore. Came down to try to straighten things out and then, as a way of getting rid of me, she introduced me to other women. Figuring that if she introduced me to other women, I wouldn't be after her girlfriend. So that was how I got to meet women in the North Jersey area. And so when I went back to Summit, I got to meet some women finally and really got involved with women. And that was just fine and everything was great. And that was about the time when I got involved in DOB. I am not clear on whether I got involved with DOB before I met—and that's how I met Barbara—or if I met Barbara because I needed help. I think I must have gotten involved in DOB when the school district got the letter.
MS: Why don't you tell that story?
JF: Well it happened in the early spring, in February or March. I was in my classroom teaching and a message came for me to see the principal. And I just knew what this was. I have no idea of how I knew, because there could have been a million reasons why the principal would want to see me, but I knew. And I walked into his office and he said, "Sit down. I have some letters here that are very disturbing." And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I have letters from a man that say you are involved in a homosexual relationship." And I said, "I don't know what you are talking about." I denied the entire thing to him. And he had names and he had places. This man had written down everything, every time that I had seen this woman during the summer. He didn't know anything at all about my relationships during the year, but he had everything down from the summer. Names, everything. And I denied it all. I said that the reason this man had done that was because I rejected him. Because he said, "Well why would someone do this to you?" "I had gone out with him once or twice and I didn't like him. And because I rejected him, he's trying to do this to me." And I guess we kind of left it at that at the moment. I think he said he had to speak to the superintendent and to the school board and to see what they would like to do. And at that point, Barbara came into the picture. I don't remember her being in the picture before that, although I must have been involved because I see references in my diary to DOB from that year, so I must have somehow or other found out about DOB.
MS: Maybe through the circles of women in North Jersey?
JF: Probably, yeah. But I spent a great deal of time in New York. The woman I was going with was a drag butch and she and her friends called themselves the mayor and the councilmen. And we used to go to a particular bar in New York every single weekend.
MS: Do you remember the name of the bar?
JF: Oh, the Surfmate, I think. I'm not positive, but I think that's what it is. And so I might have run into someone in there who was involved in organizations because I was always the kind of person who was interested in being active in things. At any rate, I contacted Barbara and told her about this and she found the name of a lawyer. In fact, I came across the lawyer's name and address in one of those books.
MS: What's his name?
JF: Oh god, I don't remember. Is it important?
MS: No, that's alright. It wouldn't have been Spencer Coxe, though, would it?
JF: No, I know Spencer. He's in Philadelphia or was anyway. No this was some man from Union City, New Jersey. I went to see him and by that time they had already offered to give me a good reference if I went quietly. And his advice was to take it, because he didn't feel that he could win the case and that the notoriety would be such that I could probably never work there again and I would be liable not to ever teach again.
MS: Now did your family know about any of this?
MS: And did any of the other teachers know about any of this?
MS: And you said something before about how the guy didn't know that you had been seeing other women during the school year. So you had become involved with multiple other women during this time?
JF: No, I was going with one woman. Serial monogamy, it's called. I was going with a woman named Mel.
MS: She was the woman from New York whom you described as drag butch.
JF: Yeah, right. She was actually from Patterson or someplace like that. But we would spend most of our time in New York.
MS: What drew you to her, do you remember?
JF: She was very attractive and she was butch. And that was my pattern at the time. That's all we knew, really. In the early and middle fifties, most people played a role and if you happened to be a feminine kind of woman, then you were a fem. And if you happened to be more athletic and happened to look more boyish, then you were a butch. And it was a very constraining, constricting time.
MS: You felt that at the time?
JF: No, at the time, I didn't. But in retrospect, when I look back over those years, I wonder that a bunch of intelligent women played out these roles the way they did.
MS: So you had the good letter of reference and you got another job, but in the meantime you had met Barbara and somehow encountered the DOB.
JF: Right, yeah.
MS: And I know you wrote some articles for The Ladder in the late fifties, right? And were you a writer, aside from what you were doing with The Ladder?
JF: Well yeah, I did some writing and I still do. In college, in my creative writing classes, in fact my first lesbian poetry I wrote in college. And submitted it just to see what this particular professor's reaction would be, because she was a single woman and I just sort of wondered how she would react to that. And that was one thing that was published later on in The Ladder. I tend to write mostly nonfiction or lightly disguised fiction, I suppose it might be. I write mostly about things I am really concerned about, including the bisexual thing that Jody [Shotwell] and I got into. I mean as a person I really liked Jody; I enjoyed Jody a lot as a person. But I simply couldn't stand her so-called bisexuality.
MS: Tell me how you met her and what that was all about. Do you recall?
JF: I must have met her through DOB.
MS: In New York, do you think, or down here?
JF: No, she is from Philadelphia. She was married, had two children, two sons. I used to go to her home frequently. She was always involved with younger, very boyish women. And I saw many women get hurt, badly, by that situation, because Jody wasn't about to leave her husband.
MS: Did her husband know?
MS: And he accepted it?
JF: I think he knew she wasn't going to leave him. I think he knew that she was there for the duration, that these women were just something she fooled around with on the side. And it was my experience that in a bisexual relationship, somebody always gets hurt, and it's always the lesbian. And so I really objected strongly to that.
MS: So you had this exchange in The Ladder about it.
JF: Oh yes, we had a lot of exchanges, believe me. Both verbal and in writing. And we got into that thing in The Ladder.
MS: What would she say in response? Do you recall?
JF: Not really. She had her reasons, I suppose, but since they weren't very valid to me, I don't remember them.
MS: Now somewhere in the late fifties you got involved with DOB-New York, as did Barbara. Were you involved with Barbara at this point?
JF: Were we involved together, you mean?
MS: I mean were you involved romantically with one another?
JF: Did Barbara tell you we were?
MS: Yeah, that you were briefly.
JF: Yeah. I didn't want to reveal anything that she didn't want revealed.
MS: I may have come across it in some of the archival material and I think I probably asked her about it.
JF: Yeah. I was living in Summit, I remember because I only had a single bed. I remember somehow or other that I was in Summit at that time. And my father died in June of the year that I left. And my father had been very ill, so I told people I was going to be moving home to be with my mother. My father was very ill and then when he died I said that's when I was leaving Summit, to live with my mother, who would be by herself. And I remember I was with Barbara the night my father died. And when I got home, my mother had gone to the hospital, and I called the hospital, or she called me and told me my father had died. And Barbara said something to me afterwards about, "Well, you really wanted to deny the fact that your father was that sick. That's why you were staying with me, rather than going home." But Barbara and I did not agree politically on a lot of things. Barbara was always, in my opinion, less apt to be tolerant of men at that time. I mean that was my perception. She may see things differently, but that's how I see it. And DOB was a woman's organization that didn't seem to want to have a great deal to do with men. And that was something that at the time I couldn't see, having spent so much of my time with gay men. And I remember there was a lot of infighting in DOB. A lot. There were all kinds of things going on, very exciting at the time.
MS: Was this at the national level or the New York branch?
JF: I remember writing letters to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon about things that were going on. In fact, I looked for that correspondence. It may be among the stuff that I turned over to Tommi [Avicolli Mecca], I'm not sure. But I had written letters about my frustration with some of the things that were going on. And I remember getting back nice, considered, measured thoughts from the two of them. But at some point I decided to ally myself with Janus and Mattachine and ECHO. And then Barbara was the DOB representative to those organizations. And it always seemed to me at the time, and I remember that Marge seemed to feel the same way although I could be wrong about that, that DOB was always trying to throw monkey wrenches into things. They never wanted to go along with the ideas that other groups had. They were so concerned about women, about lesbians and their rights. You know it may have been that the men were sexist. At the time I didn't recognize that. But it may have been that way. But my feeling always was like the old Ben Franklin saying: "If we don't all hang together, we will all most assuredly all hang separately." And that was always how I felt about organizations. And that there's no place for this "well we're women, so therefore we're not going to deal with you because you're men" kind of thing
MS: And Barbara and the DOB were more into that?
JF: I think so, yeah.
MS: So maybe if we can go through a couple of years at a time. It seems like the first involvement you had was in DOB-New York. Barbara was one of the founders of the group and maybe the first president and I think you were the first secretary maybe? Does that ring a bell?
MS: And so it seems like you were going up to New York with Barbara pretty frequently for those meetings, is that right?
JF: Yes, well practically every week. I mean I have like days and days and days in this book. Like every week there's something else.
MS: Is that right?
JF: We had those gab 'n javas.
MS: And why were you both working in New York and not doing something in your own town, in Philadelphia? Was it that you were both safer doing it in a different city? Or was it that New York was a bigger place?
JF: I think it probably had something to do with maybe both of those, although I don't recall Barbara ever being too concerned about being safe. I'm sure I was. But I was living in North Jersey or in South Jersey. I really wasn't doing much in Philadelphia at first.
MS: So for you it made just as much sense to be in New York.
MF: Yeah, to be in New York.
MS: And how long were you involved with Barbara romantically?
JF: A very short period of time, maybe six months at most.
MS: And it was while you were still living in New Jersey?
MS: And how did things start happening in Philadelphia, do you remember?
JF: You know, I don't remember.
MS: Maybe I can help with some of that. It seems like some of the New York Mattachine guys, Curtis and Al, came down for some planning meetings to start a group in Philadelphia, a Mattachine group in Philadelphia.
JF: Right, yes.
MS: And it seems like there were one or two meetings with some interested people and then in August 1960 the famous Radnor Raid. And it seems like things then developed after that. Now were you at the Radnor Raid?
JF: That was the one where we all went to jail on the Boy Scout bus.
MS: So tell me about that. I've talked to a few people there and I've talked to Jack Adair, whose house this happened at.
JF: Is that where it was?
MS: Do you remember him?
JF: Very vaguely. Is he an older man?
MS: Barbara put me in touch with him. Yeah. It was a family estate. And his father had recently died. And they used to run an after-hours club on the estate. I've forgotten what it was called. But so far I've only talked to men who were there. Barbara Gittings wasn't there.
JF: No. That wouldn't have been Barbara's kind of thing, come to think of it. I was there, Mae was there, Joey was there. Oh by the way, Joey says yes, if you want to interview her, she'd be happy.
MS: Oh great.
JF: She's not too sure that she's going to remember anything. Joey's like 76. And so she may not be much of a source, but she said yes, you can do that.
MS: Oh great, terrific. Thank you.
JF: I'll get you her phone number.
MS: So there were at least three of you who were women there?
JF: Yeah, and there were more women there. Mae, me, Joey, probably my girlfriend Bobbi was there. I don't remember who else.
MS: Bobbi is who you were involved with after Barbara?
JF: Yeah, the first woman I actually lived with in Philadelphia. And we were showing these movies. And I had been led to believe that they were going to be porno flicks, right. Well I don't know if you are familiar with Fireworks. Do you know it? Have you seen it?
MS: I've seen it because I saw the reference to it.
JF: I mean porno flicks, my god! People opening drawers and putting scissors in them and a bunch of fireworks going off.
MS: This is the Kenneth Anger film?
JF: I don't know. All I know is it was called Fireworks. And I can't remember what the other one was. There was another film, too.
MS: There was more than one.
JF: That's right, there was more than one. But that's the one I remember because it was so symbolic.
MS: Can you say more about what you remember about it?
JF: Well I remember fireworks going off. And I remember a hand opening a drawer and putting a scissors into the drawer and then closing the drawer.
MS: Was there nudity?
JF: I don't remember. The whole thing was so highly symbolic.
MS: It was very abstract?
JF: Yes it was. And when they raided the place, I couldn't believe that they are wasting manpower on this. I mean there was nothing pornographic about any of these films. They are so old-fashioned today that I am sure nobody would ever think of showing them as a sexual thing. But I remember I was standing in the back. It was in a barn. It was on the second floor. And the police came off the steps and I said, "Oh my god, it is a raid. I don't believe this."
MS: And you had never been involved in a raid before?
JF: No. And I remember people frantically trying to hide their ID. And there were a lot of John Does that day. And I remember thinking, "What would happen if my name is in the paper?" Of course, men, who were more accustomed to these things, were frantic. I remember men were absolutely out of their minds with fear over the fact that this might reach the newspapers. I had never had any experience with having my name in the paper, but I guess men had, because sometimes they raid bars and things like that happen.
MS: So let me just back up one second. You said you were expecting that it was going to be porn films. That's what people had told you?
JF: Yeah that's what I thought, that it was going to be sexual.
MS: Had you helped to plan the meeting?
JF: Not really, no.
MS: Had Mae, as far as you know?
JF: No. In fact I have no idea. It must have been some man involved in organizations who had gotten the man at whose home this was held, because he was not someone who was active in organizations. So I really had little to do with it, except to go to it.
MS: And so they took you off to the police station.
JF: In a Boy Scout bus.
MS: It was a Boy Scout bus?
JF: It was a Boy Scout bus! They didn't have anything big enough to haul off all these people.
MS: And was it an all-white crowd?
JF: Yes, as far as I can recall.
MS: And if you had to guess the percentages of men and women, what would you guess?
JF: Oh, I would say ninety percent men.
MS: O.K, because I know that eighty-four people were arrested. I have that from the newspaper accounts. So do you remember that number of people there?
JF: No I don't remember that. I remember it was a large crowd.
MS: And how long did you stay at the police station? Do you remember?
JF: Quite a long while. Hours, I believe. There were people who had cars that were back at the estate who were having trouble getting back to get their cars.
MS: Oh the Stables, that's what the estate was called.
JF: Right. And I remember one man, whose name is Jack, who has since died, giving me his identification, because somehow or other some of them felt that they might be searched, but we wouldn't be.
MS: Is this Jack Ervin?
MS: So he has died, is that right?
MS: Richard Schlegel, I don't know if you remember him, tried to help me find Jack Ervin.
JF: Yes. Jack died about two years ago. And I remember having some men's ID in my purse.
MS: They thought you wouldn't be frisked or anything like that?
JF: Right, maybe because they assumed there would not be any policewomen and the policemen wouldn't do that.
MS: Were you? Did they find anything on you?
JF: No. I remember people giving false names and I am pretty sure I did the same, although I don't remember that part particularly.
MS: I think that you had already been using Jan or Joan Fraser in The Ladder.
JF: Joan Fraser, yeah. So I am sure that I probably used that.
MS: How did you come up with Fraser?
JF: I always used to think, as a child, that I must be Scots, because I was always interested in bagpipes and things like that. And I always liked the Fraser tartans and it had the same last initials. That was convenient. When I was really, really young and stupidly naive, I sent something to The Ladder and I signed it Stephen Gordon. And I got a very kind letter back from someone saying, "Well, since everybody knows who Stephen Gordon is, we really advise our writers not to use those names."
MS: When did you read The Well of Loneliness? Do you remember?
JF: In high school.
MS: In high school. Do you remember thinking anything about it when you read it?
JF: I remember thinking it was very sad; it was such a sad story.
MS: Did you identify with it?
JF: I didn't really, because the main character is so masculine. I didn't identify with her. When I was in high school I read a book called Psychopathia Sexualis. Do you know it?
MS: Sure. Is this the book by Krafft-Ebing?
JF: Yes, I don't know how I got my hands on that, because it was a restricted book in the library. But since I used to live there, I got it. And I remember being so frustrated because so much of it was in German and trying to figure it out. My parents both spoke fluent German and I knew I couldn't ask them what some of these words were. But that book was very influential, I think.
MS: It influenced you, you mean?
JF: Yes, it gave me feelings that these were perversions. And I learned about lots of things that are sexual perversions that probably I never would have learned about, at least certainly not at the age of fourteen or fifteen.
MS: But before that you would have had the feelings but not thought that there was anything wrong with them. Is that it?
JF: Right. But Krafft-Ebing dealt with all kinds of perverted behaviors and he included homosexuality right in there with bestiality and a bunch of other things that were really bad. I'm surprised you know that book. Most people don't.
MS: Well it's my field. I guess back to Radnor. The raid happened. You spent part of the night, it sounds like, at the police station. And it seems like out of that meeting the Mattachine Society of Philadelphia was formed. And I think you were immediately either the Vice President or the Secretary.
JF: Yeah, I was both at different times.
MS: And Mae Polakoff was the President?
MS: And you said that you knew Mae very well. Can you tell me some about her?
JF: Well, Mae was like my mother in gay life. She's been dead about seven years and I still miss her every day. She was a vibrant, alive, wonderful woman, very social. Her house was always full of people, lesbians, gay men.
MS: Where did she live?
JF: For a while, she and Joey lived in Philadelphia, and then they moved to the suburbs, to the Hattboro area, and then they moved back to the suburbs of Philadelphia. And when she died, she was living in in the very far Northeast.
MS: But in Philly, I think someone told me she lived in the Southwest. Is that right?
MS: And how did you meet her? Do you remember?
JF: Yes. The woman, Mickey, whom I had met through that man, she and her girlfriend, Lois, knew people who had a summer house somewhere in New Jersey.
MS: This is the lifeguard, Mickey.
JF: Right. And they took me with them to this woman's house and Mae and Joey were there. And we got friendly. And Mae kind of adopted me. I mean, I was a lot younger than they were and so were my girlfriends and they used to treat us like kids. If the ice cream man came around, "Let Joan go. She's the young one. She can go and get us the ice cream." Or do runs to the store. I mean it was almost like I was their daughter.
MS: And it sounds like she and Joey were together for a very long time?
JF: Yeah they were.
MS: Is Mae from Philadelphia?
JF: Yes, Strawberry Mansion.
MS: Now I heard that Joey worked in a factory and that Mae ran a secretarial service. Is that right?
MS: Where was Mae's business?
JF: Right on the corner of Broad and Market or Chestnut. And it was a big office building, which I think is not even open anymore, where she had her offices. She moved around a little bit, but she was mostly down in that area.
MS: So she was middle class?
MS: And was she Jewish?
MS: And Joey, do you know where she worked?
JF: Leeds and Northrop.
MS: And she was more working class?
MS: Were they a butch/fem couple as well?
MS: With Joey butch?
MS: And so you started spending time with them in Philadelphia as well.
JF: Right. I used to spend most of my weekends in Philadelphia at their house.
MS: So you weren't necessarily going to bars at this time?
JF: Not really. Not that much, at that time, because they didn't go to bars that much. Established couples didn't seem to spend a lot of time in the bars. You mostly went there to meet people. And I started to go to bars more after I met someone. I wasn't going with anyone at that time. I was living at home in South Jersey. And I remember saying something to Mae about,"Well, I want to meet somebody." So I deliberately went out to a bar to meet somebody. And I did. Mae and Joey used to have to pass on my girlfriends. If they didn't approve, I'd be in big trouble. She was really kind of like a mother.
MS: Did they ever disapprove?
JF: Oh yeah. There was one woman I went out with who was sort of a friend of theirs, a woman they called Cadillac Bert. They called her that because she drove a Cadillac. And they didn't know that she had asked me out. She was an older woman, maybe about their age I guess. And when I announced that I was going out with her, Joey got very upset. She said, "No way, you shouldn't being going out with her. She's an alcoholic and she does this and that and she is not really good to women. And you don't want to go out with her." And I said, as kids will, "Too bad." And I went and of course what they said was true. And as I said, really Mae was more like a mother than my own mother was to me, because I needed someone as a lesbian to kind of guide me in the right direction. In fact when Jean and I first met, Mae didn't approve, because she had known of Jean. Jean is really well-known. She may not look it now, but Jean was like the person that everyone knew in Morristown. And Mae knew of Jean and she was very disapproving, because Jean drank at that time. And Mae was very upset. She didn't approve at all. And the first time I took Jean to her house, they didn't get along. It was obvious that Mae did not approve. And Jean was very angry with me. And in fact we didn't see Mae and Joey for quite a while, because they didn't approve of Jean. They finally came around, but it was just like parents and a child that marries someone that the parents don't approve of.
MS: So maybe we can spend a little bit talking about Mattachine Philadelphia before it became Janus. It was a mixed group of men and women, as far as you remember?
MS: But Mae was the president. Did the lesbians and the gay men get along together well in the organization?
JF: Yes they did, until, what was his name again, I keep forgetting his name.
JF: Clark. I have a tendency to forget the names of people I don't like. And it doesn't matter if it was thirty years ago or not. Until Clark came along, everyone got along real well, from what I could see.
MS: And what kind of things did Mattachine do?
JF: We used to have speakers. We used to have social events. We went to Fire Island. We did things like that. We had parties.
MS: About how many people would come to your meetings and your events?
JF: It would depend. Oh I don't know, ten, fifteen, twenty, sometimes maybe more. But there was a nucleus of, I would say, about six to ten people who really kept things going and did things.
MS: That would have been you and Mae and Joey.
JF: Joey was sort of on the periphery. She really wasn't that involved. It was Mae and me and a couple of men whose names I can't recall.
MS: Jack Ervin was involved from the start?
JF: Jack Ervin was involved, yeah, and one or two others. I kind of get confused about Mattachine before ECHO came along and Mattachine after ECHO came along.
MS: Well I know ECHO started in 1963. And I know before ECHO came along Mattachine changed to Janus. Do you remember how that happened?
JF: I think it had something to do with the fact that Mattachine on the West Coast and Mattachine in New York didn't seem to have the same kinds of goals. And also perhaps because they were much more male-oriented than Philadelphia. Philadelphia seems to be the only place where women were really involved, outside of DOB, in an organization. I can't recall women from Washington, for example, or women from New York. The only women I remember are women from DOB. And it had to do with not wanting to be affiliated with Mattachine completely.
MS: Why do you think Philly, of all the places, would have a group for a few years that had lesbians and gay men in it together?
JF: I think it's because of the lesbians involved. Mae was a very strong person, a person who gets things done. And because she ran a secretarial service, she also had access to everything that we needed in order to do publicity, to do a newsletter, and so on and so forth. I mean it made it easier. And I don't mean to seem egotistical, but I think it was also because I was there, too. And I'm a strong type as well.
MS: But why didn't you both see your natural affinity to DOB?
JF: Mae never did be involved in DOB and I think my problem was probably Barbara and the fact that we weren't getting along. We didn't have the same kinds of goals. I mean Barbara's a very strong person, too. And I think we probably clashed. I don't remember exactly what happened. I probably blanked it out, but I think that Barbara and I clashed a lot. I've been thinking about it and trying to remember. I remember letters to San Francisco that I wrote. And I came across notes in my books about things that I had said or things that Barbara had done that didn't suit me. And I think I was probably just looking for someplace else to be active, rather than DOB. It sounds terrible. I'm going to say it, but you better not use it. I couldn't have been a star in DOB, because they already had a star. And I was looking for somewhere else where I felt my talents were more appreciated. And the fact that Mae and I happened to be friends, everything just seemed to fall into place at that particular place and time. And I don't think it would have happened that way five years earlier or five years later.
MS: Well in December of '62 Philadelphia Magazine came out with "The Furtive Fraternity."
JF: I haven't seen a copy of that in ages. I don't even have one.
MS: Oh really? There's one at the archives that I was able to look at and I guess seven of you from the Janus Society were interviewed at the offices. The author was Gaeton Fonzi.
JF: Gaeton Fonzi.
MS: Do you remember how the article came about. Did he just decide to do it or did someone contact him?
JF: He contacted us. I think there had been some publicity before. There was a lawyer, Gil Cantor, a straight lawyer. Do you know him?
MS: Yeah, sure. I'm not sure if he's still alive, but I've heard a lot about him.
JF: Oh, I hope he is. Gil used to come to meetings. In fact I used to date Gil. He had aspirations in that area. Probably his first lesbian. Never went anyplace, but he used to take me to nice places and that was fine. Gil may have been a contact there.
MS: He was a straight lawyer who would come to meetings? Were there a lot of straight people coming to meetings?
JF: There were people like doctors or psychiatrists or psychologists who would occasionally come to things.
MS: I see. What was his interest? Why was Gil Cantor interested?
JF: I don't know. I think it started out as a civil rights thing. And then it got to the point where, believe it or not, I was thin and gorgeous then, where Gil and I did things. He started to ask me out. And I wasn't with anybody at that particular time. And I thought, "Well, this man obviously has money." He was a married man. He has money and he can take me nice places and he did. And we went out off and on. And when finally it got to the point where he wanted more than I was willing to give, I said, "Look, you know I'm a lesbian. You've known this from day one and I thought we were just having fun." He kind of drifted away and from the organization, too. But I think he did start out as being someone who was interested in civil rights.
MS: Had there been any local lawyers involved with the Radnor Raid that you remember?
JF: I don't remember. I don't remember if anyone got a lawyer or what happened.
MS: Jack Adair remembers that there was some local Philadelphia newspaper coverage, which I haven't been able to find. I've found suburban newspaper coverage.
JF: I didn't know that. I didn't know there was any Philadelphia coverage.
MS: There may not have been. He may be misremembering that, because I've looked and I haven't found anything. O.K., for the article, I know seven of you were interviewed and it's pretty clear who everyone is based on the descriptions. I think you told the story of being fired from your teaching job. And there were three men and four women. Do you remember who the people were?
JF: Mae, Joey, Bobbi my girlfriend and I, Jack. I might be able to remember if I saw the article.
MS: So was Bobbi involved with the organization? I guess she was.
JF: Vaguely, yeah. She sort of came along with me.
MS: And was she from Philadelphia, too?
MS: And was she a butch, as your other girlfriends had been?
MS: So in the winter of '63, I know the first ECHO conference happened, which you were very involved with. And then in the middle of the winter, Clark Polak ran for president of Janus. Do you remember who Clark ran against? It was someone named Marge Miller, Marjorie Miller.
JF: Oh sure. You know who she is? Marge McCann.
MS: I have some letters that say that, but she doesn't remember running in that election.
JF: Oh yeah, I do.
MS: But you remember it.
JF: Yeah. I remember everything about Marge McCann.
MS: First tell me about the ECHO conference. You were very involved with that, right?
JF: Yeah, what was that, '63?
MS: Yeah, fall of '63.
JF: I think it was August.
MS: The conference itself? It was right after Labor Day, so it must have been in September.
JF: Because I have an ECHO meeting at Janus office on the 24th of August and then I have ECHO convention on August 31st in my book.
MS: Were you the chair for that conference?
JF: Yeah. This part is off the record, O.K.? [Pause] The idea was that masculine men and feminine women were good public relations for us. And so only the men who were really masculine and the women who were really feminine were the ones who were put to the forefront. And that was one of the reasons, hopefully not the only one, but one reason why I chaired things and chaired the convention and did a lot of the public kinds of things. I didn't look like the stereotypical bulldyke.
MS: Was there a masculine man who also was put forward frequently for that role?
JF: I'm thinking Richard Schlegel, but I'm not sure. I can't remember. The men were, with maybe one or two exceptions, more masculine, not men that people would have turned around and said, "Oh, look at that queer."
MS: And was there the feeling that a woman was a better spokesperson than a man?
JF: No. One would think that back in those days, men would have been the obvious choices. I think that maybe it had something to do with the fact that we weren't very threatening.
JF: Women were less threatening to the heterosexual public. That's one of my theories about this.
MS: So that's why it would have been good to have a feminine woman.
JF: I remember we had great difficulty finding places to have these conferences, because as soon as they discovered what the subject was, most hotels would said no. I remember going to the Drake. I recall--god we were so young then--what a big deal this was, to go down to the Drake Hotel and to do these negotiations and to get these people to agree to allow us to have this conference there. I remember that one thing I did was to name all the well-known people, like Albert Ellis. God how pathetic! I don't actually believe I wanted Albert Ellis to come someplace and speak, but I did. And some people from the Kinsey Institute were there and a few other well-known names at the time. And I think that may have been what persuaded the Drake to allow us to have this. I remember feeling so diffident about telling them, using the term East Coast Homophile Organizations. Well lots of people had no idea what homophile meant. And sometimes we got things past people because they didn't know what it meant. And when they found out what it meant, then they would cancel all of the arrangements.
MS: So was that part of the point of using the word homophile?
JF: Yeah. I noticed things in my books; you would never know what those things are. You would never know. I mean I don't know who I thought was ever going to pick up my datebook.
MS: So what was the idea of having people like Ellis and the Kinsey Institute people speak at the conference?
JF: We were desperate to know why we were what we were. I don't understand this today at all. I can't believe our mindset at that time period. But somehow or other it seemed that if we knew why we were what we were, that that would lend legitimacy in some way to what we were, if that makes any sense. Maybe because we felt that if it wasn't our fault, if it was the fact that we had a close-bonding mother or an absentee father or whatever it happened to be, we couldn't be blamed for it.
MS: I see. So it was out of genuine interest. It wasn't out of wanting to persuade the hotel to allow you to have the conference in the first place.
MS: Your genuine interest in their ideas.
MS: Did you also have gay or lesbian speakers?
JF: I don't recall that we did. Do you still have programs and things like that?
MS: I do, yeah. I think maybe Cory might have spoken.
JF: That's right.
MS: And maybe an author of a lesbian novel once spoke at one of the conventions.
JF: I think we were mainly interested in getting straight people there. There were some members of the religions. There was one priest who had written a book who came to one of our conventions to speak.
MS: Was it Lee? Was that his last name?
JF: I can't recall.
MS: And something mentions that Kurt Konietzko spoke. Does that name ring a bell?
JF: No, I can't remember. I can't remember this priest's name. And there were some ministers and people like that in attendance and Kinsey's people.
MS: The only coverage of the conference that's really extensive was in Confidential magazine and I have that article. Do you remember that?
JF: Yes, I remember that.
MS: Now I got the idea that the reporter wasn't a Confidential reporter, but that he sold his story to Confidential after the fact.
JF: I remember the reporter being there.
MS: Did you know he was from Confidential?
JF: I think I did. I remember his being there. I remember being excited about the fact that there was someone there and at the same time afraid. I mean the steps that we took to keep ourselves anonymous in those days were unbelievable. To someone who didn't live through those years, it's amazing.
MS: So you didn't want publicity?
JF: Well we wanted publicity in the gay community. We didn't want personal publicity that would allow us to be out.
MS: I see. So you consider the conferences a success?
JF: Oh yeah. I thought they were. I thought the fact that we pulled these things together. I mean just us. I mean there was nobody of major importance around. There was no one whose life's work had been in the gay and lesbian movement. There were no professional gay people there. Today, you have resources that you can call upon that we didn't have. We were just average people, most of us with full-time jobs, who worked our butts off to get those things going. Every weekend of my life was something that had to do with ECHO or Janus.
MS: It seems like there was kind of an informal dress code at the conference? Men were encouraged to wear suits and women wore dresses.
JF: That's another thing. When I spoke earlier about being feminine, that was said about at least one person. That she was not feminine. That she didn't dress feminine enough. That she didn't wear lipstick and makeup and all that. Oh yeah, that was a big deal. Anyway, the only picture I have is that one over there and you can't see what I am wearing, but I remembered, when I saw the picture, what I was wearing. And it was a dress and I would wear heels and the whole bit.
MS: So what did the butch women who were involved do?
JF: They wore skirts.
MS: They wore skirts. And I guess they would have been familiar with having to do that for work.
JF: Yes. Right, if you weren't going to look like a woman, you really weren't welcome.
MS: The reporter from Confidential tells a story, I don't know if it is true or not, that two queens came into the conference at some point.
JF: That was true.
MS: And got chased away. It was true?
JF: Yeah that was true, yes.
MS: And there is another story that he tells about how one of the hotel elevator operators had noticed two men going up the elevator, but when they came down they were women and he didn't know which they actually were.
JF: I don't remember that. I'm sure it happened.
MS: But you remember the other people.
JF: Yes. We were so into being respectable.
MS: And yet I think there was also a report that someone challenged Ellis during his speech from the audience.
JF: Yes, you're right. I remember that. And I remember not exactly knowing what to do. I do recall that, now that you mention it.
MS: Someone said something like, "You'd have to be crazy to go to see you as a psychiatrist." I think someone said something like that.
JF: I don't remember the exact thing, but I do remember. And again we were so anxious to have things go right that I remember being upset at that. See now it's inconceivable that we pandered to these people the way we did.
MS: And the next conferences were in Washington and in New York and you were still very much involved in leading the conferences, if I remember correctly. Did the delegates from all four groups involved get along through those three years when the conferences were being held?
JF: Yes, we generally did, with the exception of Clark Polak.
MS: Did the folks from DOB and Frank Kameny and the folks from Philadelphia get along?
JF: Frank was always more militant, because he at that time had less to lose. He had already lost his job. He had less to lose than a lot people, so he was, in my opinion, more militant than many of us were because keeping one's job was important.
MS: Was Janus the only group bringing men and women to the meetings?
JF: I'm not sure. There were women in New York, a woman named Shirley.
MS: Right, they were the DOB representatives. Shirley Willer.
JF: Right, I was trying to remember if they were only with DOB. I guess they were the DOB people. So I guess Janus was.
MS: I think there was someone named Lilly Vincenz from Washington, but that's the only woman I've found.
JF: I remember that name, but I don't remember her.
MS: Maybe we can talk a little bit about Clark Polak and then talk a little bit about the conflicts with DOB that you alluded to before. I know Clark threatened the management of the Drake when they were going to cancel the hotel and he was disciplined for that. Does that sound familiar?
JF: Yeah, that's right.
MS: Do you remember the first time you met Clark? Because I don't know how he got involved with the group.
JF: I don't either. I remember that Clark wanted to run things and that there was a kind of insurrection led by Clark, in which he got himself elected president. And I remember being really angry about all of that and Mae being beside herself.
MS: But Mae had decided to not run again.
JF: Yeah, and I don't know why exactly. Maybe she was just burned out.
MS: And you had gotten involved with Marge?
MS: How did you meet Marge?
JF: I think I met her at a meeting.
JF: Yes, because I was going with her. Yes, that must be exactly how it happened. I met her either at a DOB meeting or at a Janus meeting.
MS: Was she going out with somebody when she joined, somebody who introduced her to the group. Could that have been Bobbi?
JF: No. Do you mean my friend Bobbi?
JF: No. Bobbi didn't really know anybody. In fact, I was with Bobbi when I met Marge. I don't know how Marge got involved.
MS: I think she told me the story, but I've forgotten. Marge ran against Clark. Why do you think Clark won?
JF: Because I think he planned to win. I think he got people, men especially, to vote for him.
MS: Is that right? So you think there was a gender gap in the election?
JF: Probably. I think so. I remember being so angry at the time.
MS: Were you angry at the men for electing him?
JF: I was angry at Clark. I mean to me, it signaled the beginning of the end because his goals were, in my opinion, to take the organization in a totally different direction.
MS: And what was that direction?
JF: I felt that Clark was more interested in making this a social group for men to meet men. He had had some sort of business, where he did something or other with that, I think.
MS: A personals correspondence club?
JF: Right, something like that.
MS: I know he started one up in '62.
JF: Yeah, right.
MS: With Lewis Coopersmith, who I've also interviewed. Do you remember him?
JF: Oh, sure. I remember him very well. I didn't know he was still around.
MS: He still lives in the same place.
JF: Oh my gosh.
MS: I think he's retired now.
JF: He worked for that stationary store.
MS: Oh yes, right. In fact, I found him because he has the same address. And it's listed as a meeting place for the Janus Society. 1611 Addison, maybe?
JF: Right. That's amazing; that's amazing. Good Lord.
MS: So you had a bad impression about Clark from the start. You thought he was really interested in having it just be a gay male group.
JF: Right, a social kind of thing, rather than an activist group.
MS: So really you thought he was not so much of an activist?
JF: Right. I thought he had another agenda.
MS: What was that other agenda?
JF: Well, the social group for men.
MS: So I know he started in '64 to publish Drum and there were these big lectures in city hotels. And I know for a while in Drum you actually were writing a woman's page. And there was a newsletter that came out, the Janus Society Newsletter, and you wrote for that as well. So for a while, at least, you were still working with Janus.
MS: And going to meetings?
JF: Yeah. In fact, Drum, the name, was my idea.
MS: Is that right?
JF: Yeah. We were talking about names and things and I said, "Well there's the quote about marching to a different drummer." "Oh, hallelujah," said somebody, so that's what we chose.
MS: And did you think anything about that quote in a sexual way?
JF: Yeah, I did.
MS: Did you know anything about the history of Thoreau?
JF: I'm an English teacher.
MS: Oh right. I mean because some people think that there's a lot of homoerotic content.
JF: Yeah right. I thought about that, yeah.
MS: Interesting. And I know when Drum appeared it was a big scandal from the very first issue because of the cover shots and the photography.
JF: Right, now I remember. I haven't looked at any of those things in so many years. That was all the stuff I turned over, so I haven't seen it in ages. And that was a big problem, too. It was just that Clark was definitely trying to do something that we didn't think we wanted to do. That was the beginning of the end.
MS: Let me ask you something about what you said before about the social side, because I can understand that. It also seems, though, that Clark had this political agenda that was about the rights of pornographers and then later on taking on court cases and paying for court cases and all that. And I know there was a sit-in at Dewey's that he organized in '65.
JF: Yes, I remember that.
MS: So somewhere along the line he developed a political agenda. Do you know anything about how that happened?
JF: No. It may have been there all the time, but it was just such a different agenda than ours. I mean the rights of pornographers concerned me not at all. In fact, we were all so paranoid about being accepted that I probably thought, "Oh god, pornographers, now we're going to be linked up with pornographers. How will other people ever accept us if they link gay people with pornographers?" And Clark wanted a kind of a place for men to meet other men, which was not our idea.
MS: What was his attitude about lesbians? Do you remember?
JF: I was always at such odds with Clark that I never got to know him well enough to know. I mean Clark was always such an in-your-face kind of person.
MS: That's what everyone's said to me.
JF: Yes, yes. He used to just get on my nerves so badly that I never got to know him at all as a person. All I remember were fights. It really is a shame, because maybe things might have continued differently had it not been for Clark. But there just was no way to keep things going after he had been legitimately elected as president.
MS: And there never was another election?
JF: No, no.
MS: Do you know why that was? Why no one insisted upon another election?
JF: I think because people just kind of gave up. And I think a lot of it was burnout.
MS: And did the women really leave the organization when Clark was in charge?
JF: Pretty much so, yeah.
MS: There was a woman who edited the newsletter, the For Members Only newsletter, called Barbara Harris or Barbara Horowitz?
JF: Oh, sure.
MS: And she was a high school teacher, I think.
MS: An English teacher?
JF: Right. She taught at a school in the Far Northeast. Washington? Lincoln?
MS: Lincoln, maybe.
MS: And I think she'd been a model in New York?
JF: That may be. That may have been long before the time I knew Barbara.
MS: And I guess she stuck by him, it seems like. She continued to work with him. She defended him. I have all these letters where she defends him to other people. And it seems like she also was very feminine.
JF: Yes, she was. We were good friends for a while, and then I lost touch with her when I moved out here.
MS: So you got along well with her?
JF: We got along fine.
MS: Do you know why she was able to work with Clark when everyone else left the group?
JF: No, I don't. I must have suppressed all that because I don't remember that. I probably did or otherwise I probably wouldn't have been friends with her. But we were good friends for a while. We used to have fun going out and trying to make people figure out who was the butch. We used to go out and dance together and giggle and carry on. People didn't know who to approach. As far as I know, she's still teaching. I haven't talked to her in about ten years.
MS: Oh, really. You think she's still around?
JF: Oh yeah. She would be in her fifties, I would guess.
MS: Is that right?
JF: Well the last time I spoke to her would be about ten or fifteen years ago.
MS: Do you know where she lives or where she was living then?
JF: What's that big apartment building off the parkway, the one that's sort of semi-circular?
MS: In the Museum area?
JF: Yeah. It's been there for years.
MS: That area, though. And her name was Horowitz?
JF: Horowitz. Her father, I believe, was a principal at some high school in Philadelphia.
MS: Maybe I'll try to find her.
JF: Yeah. I'll look and see if I have anything recent, but I doubt that I do. I think I must have called the school. I think that's how I finally got her. I called the high school and she was still there. She was living with someone and I heard since then that she was breeding dogs, so whether she's still teaching I don't know.
MS: I see. Now in 1965 you and Marge decided to start a Mattachine chapter in Philadelphia, another Mattachine, and it seems like there were things going on behind the scenes to eject Janus from ECHO. Can you talk to me about what was going on?
JF: I don't actually remember.
MS: Maybe I'll try to give you some hints with some of the correspondence that I've seen. It seems like you and Marge wanted to leave the Janus Society officially, but you wanted to remain involved with ECHO. And I know there were some letters from Frank Kameny, confidential letters, advising you about how to go about setting up a Mattachine. But in the meantime, Marge was still a national DOB officer and Del Martin wanted the two of you to start a local DOB chapter.
MS: Can you fill in any more of the details?
JF: I remember these things. And I remember how much they meant to me at the time. But I know that we wanted to figure out some way to get rid of Clark because we felt that as long as Janus was part of ECHO, things would not go anyplace that we wanted them to. I know we felt that he was not legitimate. That he didn't have the same goals as we had. I remember letters from Del and Phyl, but I don't remember what they were about. I think Marge was probably more involved than I was in that, because she was an officer of DOB. I don't recall what happened.
MS: And this was around the same time that DOB also decided to leave ECHO, because you started the pickets?
MS: Did you march at any of the Annual Reminders?
JF: Yes I did. I marched in one.
MS: Was it the first one? In '65?
JF: I believe it was the first one, because there's a picture in some book in which I can identify myself. I don't know which book it is. There are innumerable pictures in various books, but I saw one book snd I found a picture of myself in one of them. And I thought, "Oh, great."
MS: That must have been a scary thing to do.
JF: It was. The thing I was most concerned about was television. I figured that otherwise it would be very difficult to identify people, because usually the photographs are grainy and so on and so forth. But I was concerned about television. And that's why I didn't do it anymore, because of tv. I was very envious. I did march on Washington, though; I did march on the Pentagon at one point.
MS: At one of those early demonstrations.
JF: And that was not a problem because it was Washington.
MS: Was it mostly New Yorkers and Washingtonians who came to the Annual Reminder, less so Philadelphians?
JF: Yes, I think so.
MS: And the Dewey's sit-in was just a few weeks before the first Annual Reminder. Were you at all a part of that or were you already less involved with Janus?
JF: I was less involved.
MS: And the picketing obviously created conflict with the national DOB. Do you remember what that was all about?
JF: No I don't. I remember DOB as being more a place for individuals to develop good feelings about themselves than as a real activist group. I mean the gab 'n javas, meetings of that sort, a lot of talking about why you were what you were and how you felt about it and things like that. And I don't think I was as much into that as I was into being more politically active. So DOB was never really my place particularly.
MS: After DOB decided to withdraw from ECHO, I have a reference to a group of Philadelphia lesbians going up to a DOB New York meeting, when they were still officially members of DOB New York and trying to get the DOB New York to vote to encourage the national DOB to change its mind.
MS: Were you part of that?
JF: Yeah, I remember that.
MS: Because I know it mentions Marge. I can't remember if it mentioned you. But you went up there.
MS: And was the idea to take over the New York DOB?
JF: Well the idea was to try to get them to do something to make the national group change its behaviors. They were so conservative, I guess is the word I want. And we weren't. I mean, if I were the same age today as I was then, I'd probably be out in the front of ACT UP. Because that's the kind of person I was. But given the constrictors of jobs and things like that, we did try to change DOB. And there were lots of letters, again, back and forth to San Francisco, and those people were intractable. They had done good work in what they had done, but my god. And that's why in my opinion DOB finally ended up out of existence. There just wasn't any room for that anymore. Or any need for it perhaps. I mean social life, you can get. It seemed like it was more a social group than anything else. I do remember one thing. There was conflict between Marge and me over her and DOB and me and ECHO.
MS: How is that?
JF: I don't remember exactly, but I remember there was conflict. Probably coming more from me than from her.
MS: You thought she shouldn't be involved with DOB?
JF: Yeah, it was something like that, yes. I sort of remember that.
MS: Because she did try to stay involved with all the groups.
JF: Yeah, right. And I was kind of like be one thing or be the other. Don't be both. You are being disloyal. And besides, how can you do this to me? I love you. But it didn't do any good with DOB. In fact, that was one of the things I found when I was looking things up about DOB's leaving.
There it is.
MS: What does it say?
JF: This was in April of '64, DOB dropping out. And this was for a newsletter. I was listing things that needed to go into a newsletter. And the comment I have written down is "DOB dropping out, an affront to other organizations at this late date." And I've got it underlined fifty-five times.
MS: That's interesting because they actually didn't leave that year. They waited until '65.
JF: But they must have been talking about it. Because what I was doing at that point was getting things together for a convention. Because I have a note in here which says by May 25th, report on ECHO for DOB newsletter. So I was trying to get things organized.
MS: Did Mattachine Philadelphia, the second Mattachine, have any real life outside of ECHO? It seems like it was pretty much a vehicle for you and Marge to remain involved with ECHO. Is that fair?
JF: Yeah, I think that was it pretty much. The other Mattachines encouraged us to try to keep things organized because they wanted more Mattachine chapters in the East. The West Coast Mattachine was so influential. From what I recall, since it's mostly men, we didn't have a great deal to do with the West Coast. They came East once or twice for our conferences. And I met some of those men, but because the people on the West Coast were so influential, the ones in New York and Washington and Boston were very anxious to get Philadelphia to continue organizing in Philadelphia so there would be more people to offset the influence of the people on the West Coast.
MS: There is one letter I have from Frank Kameny that I was interested in your thoughts about. I can't remember if it's to you or to Marge, but he says when you start this new Mattachine Philadelphia, the new president probably should be a man because most of your support is going to come from men.
JF: I don't remember that.
MS: Does it sound like Frank?
JF: It sounds like Frank Kameny, yeah. When I look back at those things, I don't remember chauvinism particularly, or sexism, but I am sure it was there. We just didn't notice it. I am sure that if something like that were said today, there'd be irritation. But yeah that sounds like Frank; Frank was a take-charge kind of person.
MS: Did you think the chores in ECHO got divided on the basis of gender? Who did what?
JF: Well maybe so. One of the reasons why chores perhaps were divided by sex is because of Mae's secretarial service, which meant that a lot of things she could do were much easier for her to do than for someone else. Because she typed and she could run things off. Her secretarial service was a real boon to the organization. Although things like secretarial jobs always did seem to be women's jobs, come to think of it.
MS: So can you tell me how you got out of the movement, because it seems like sometime around '65 several things happened. You and Marge split up. Mattachine Philadelphia didn't really take off. And that was the last year of the ECHO conference.
JF: I remember that we had an ECHO meeting and we decided to dissolve and I don't recall exactly why. I have a sense that we felt our job was done, but I don't exactly know why we would have thought that. We were still having meetings. We were still going to New York. Marge and I were still going even though we had broken up. We were still driving to New York together and I was still involved. In fact, I actually went to work for Clark for a while.
MS: Is that right?
JF: Yeah, I had quit teaching in the spring, like a couple of months before Marge and I had broken up. And I needed something to do, because she had been supporting us. And Clark had a personnel office and he said he could use me, so I went to work for him for a couple of months.
MS: How was he as a boss?
JF: He was fine. I mean everything was O.K. He was definitely using me and he was paying me very little if anything. And I was working mostly for commissions.
MS: Was this at Frankford?
JF: Yes, under the El in Frankford. And I think maybe part of the reason why my involvement stopped was because it was really painful for me to go to meetings and see Marge there. Because I took that break-up really hard. I lost 150 pounds. I became anorexic. I didn't know it at the time. And it was really difficult for me to be around her at the time. So at that time, I didn't know she had done me the greatest favor of my life, because I never would have met Jean if we hadn't broken up. But at the time, I didn't know that.
MS: Because you had really fallen for Marge at the time?
JF: Oh, yeah.
MS: What was the occasion for your breakup?
JF: We fought a lot. I was always into making her prove she really loved me. And it finally got to the point where, for her, it was just one fight too many, I think. In fact, she had gone to a meeting in New York, which I did not go to. And she never came home. And the next day, she called and said, "I'm not coming back, it's over." I mean figuratively, I'm not coming back. She lived there and continued to live there for awhile. And I don't know, I guess my heart just wasn't in it after that, and the fact that we seemed to think that Mattachine and ECHO had done what it was supposed to do and Mae had dropped out, too, pretty much. I think it was one of those things where people think, "Well it's done."
MS: Did you keep abreast of developments? Did you continue subscribing or reading?
JF: Oh yeah. I read The Ladder as long as it came out and I had met some really nice people in Washington, men who I was in touch with after that, and I used to go visit. The organizations were social for us, too. We got to know lots of people and I was constantly every weekend in New York or Boston or Washington or something like that. And I continued to be friends with people I had been friends with. But my women friends were more and more non-activists.
MS: Where were you meeting them?
JF: I guess in the bars and places like that. You meet one person and she introduces you to someone else and so on and so forth.
MS: So you had nothing to do, then, with the founding of DOB in Philadelphia or the Homophile Action League?
MS: Or anything like that?
MS: So you never really did anything with the gay movement in Philadelphia after that.
MS: And were you in touch with Barbara during these years?
JF: Yeah, off and on. Not very often. She was in Philadelphia and so was I, so maybe I would run into her occasionally, but our paths didn't cross very much.
MS: Well maybe to shift gears a little bit, I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about neighborhoods in Philadelphia during this time. Was there any neighborhood that you thought of as a lesbian and gay neighborhood in Philadelphia?
JF: Well Center City was a gay neighborhood.
MS: When you say that, do you mean for men and women?
JF: For men, basically,. Women didn't seem to live in any one particular place.
MS: And was it all of Center City or was there a particular part of it?
JF: Well I guess the parts around 12th and 13th and Locust; there were a lot of men who walked those streets looking for someone to pick up. That's where the prostitutes were of course, too. And most of the men I knew who lived in Philadelphia lived in Center City.
MS: And lesbians lived everywhere, all over?
JF: Yeah, they were just sort of all over the place.
MS: Why do you think that was? What explains the difference?
JF: I think because men have more of a society of their own, especially gay men who are active in gay life. Women are different. Women never seem to congregate the way men do. There is an organization in this area called the Brunch Bunch. Are you familiar with them?
JF: They're in Delaware and Chester County, I believe it is. They've had to limit their membership to just Delaware and Chester County for men because so many men have joined this group. But they're having an awful time finding women. They want women in the group, but they're having a terrible time finding women. I mean it's a social group. And men seem to do these things and women don't.
MS: Some people have said that there are some parts of Philadelphia that were at least more comfortable for lesbians to live in, like West Philly, Mount Airy, Germantown.
JF: That may be. See I only lived in West Philadelphia for a short time, but I didn't really notice that.
MS: So not in your experience.
JF: Not really.
MS: Were there any neighborhoods that you would have thought, "No way can I live in this neighborhood as a lesbian"?
MS: You could have lived anywhere.
MS: Maybe I'll also ask about the homes that you had. You shared a home with Marge for a time.
JF: An apartment.
MS: And then with the girlfriend you had before Marge, I think you said?
JF: Bobbi, yeah. We lived in two different places in Philadelphia.
MS: And were those the homes that you had in Philly with lovers?
JF: Yeah, those three.
MS: And how did you divide the house chores, the house responsibilities? Were things pretty evenly divided when you lived in those situations?
JF: Yeah. Pretty much so, except that I never liked housework. I hated it. But I remember we used to do things on Saturdays. A lot of people did.
MS: So would someone walking into your apartments at that time have known, "I'm walking into the apartment of a lesbian"?
JF: It's possible because of the pictures and books and things like that.
MS: So you wouldn't have been concerned to put those sorts of things away?
JF: Well yeah, I guess I would have. I really didn't have, other than my mother, straight people coming into the house in general.
MS: Is that right?
JF: Right, my friends were almost all lesbians or gay.
MS: Your friends were almost all lesbians and gay men.
JF: Right, yeah.
MS: Did you socialize a lot in other people's houses and in your house?
JF: Back in those days, we spent a lot of time in bars, much more time in bars than we did in other people's houses.
MS: So house parties?
JF: Not nearly as much. Mae used to do that, but then most of my younger friends, we lived in apartments that weren't that big. Mae used to have lots and lots of house parties. In fact, when we first started the organizations, one of the things we did to raise money was we would have dinners. I came across a recipe for corn pudding that I must have gotten from Mae thirty-some years ago that we had used for one of these dinners. We used to have them at her house. And we would cook, have a spaghetti dinner or something like that, and people would pay to come to these dinners. I just remembered about that. They were fun; it was a lot of fun. But that was one of the ways we raised money for the organization.
MS: What bars do you remember in the sixties in Philadelphia? It sounded like you didn't go to too many in the fifties?
JF: Rusty's. And the Surfmaid.
MS: The Surfmaid.
JF: Oh, did I tell you about the time that Rizzo took me to the police station? When he was he was police chief? The Surfmaid was right off Broad Street, between Chestnut and Walnut, Walnut and Locust, something like that. Very close to where the parade, the Mummer's Parade, went up Broad Street. And what we used to do on New Year's Day was go to the bar and then go watch the parade, just walked across the parking lot to watch the parade. And every time you got cold, you walked back to the bar to have another drink. And that particular stretch of Broad Street was all gay, because everybody was in the bar and out of the bar and so forth.
MS: Is that right?
JF: And Rizzo at the time was chief of police. And there was Bobbi, who was short and slim, very boyish looking, not butch, but boyish looking. And we had an argument. And they threw us out of the bar because we were arguing loudly. And a male bouncer was the one who threw us out. And I wasn't ready to leave. And I must have been telling him so loudly and clearly. And he had us both by the arm and he was taking us out the front door. At that point, Rizzo drove up in a police car, accompanied by two policemen. And he got out of the car and I recognized him. And of course there are all these myths about Rizzo, that his son is gay and that's why he hates queers and so on and so forth. At any rate, he got out of the car and he said, "Is this guy bothering you?" And I said something like "Yes." Why I would have said something like that, I have no idea, but I must have been drunk or something. I said, "Yes he's bothering me." And he says, "Do you want to press charges against him?" Of course, later on I realized that he was eager to proffer charges because that would be a way of closing down that bar. At the time, I did not know. But I must have backpedaled a bit. And he took in the situation, it was quite obvious. He was looking at Bobbi, looking at me, looking at the bar and what was going on here. And he said, "Do you want to proffer charges?" And I said "Yeah, yeah." I did. And he said, "O.K., come on, we'll take you down to the police station and you can proffer charges." He said, "Get in." He put us in the police car, took us down to the precinct, where we sat around for awhile and thought about it. And I decided no way did I want to go through with this, so we left before they got to us. But I told that story for months afterwards. But that was a mixed bar, men and women. And drag queens used to go in there. It was a neat place.
MS: What period would you have been going there? Do you remember when it was open?
JF: That would be in the sixties, the mid-sixties. I think I was going with Bobbi, so that must have been before I met Marge.
MS: And Rusty's was the other place?
JF: Rusty's was the other place.
MS: Did you go to any of the more exclusively gay male bars?
JF: I may have gone once to the Westbury. But that really was it. Really women were not welcome in most of the men's bars in Philadelphia at that time.
MS: Were men welcome in Rusty's?
JF: Not really. There were a few men who Rusty knew, like johns or something of that sort, and she would let them in there at the bar, but not very often. Most men were told it was a private club.
MS: What do you mean johns?
JF: I think there were women who were prostitutes who were also lesbians. And I think some of the men, the one or two men that I saw in there, were men who may have been johns for these prostitutes.
MS: So can you describe to me the atmosphere in Rusty's?
JF: Well it was a party. It was small and sort of run-down looking. And the jukebox was always blaring. And Rusty always stood at the door. And it was a big deal if she spoke to you. You really were somebody if Rusty knew you enough to speak to you.
MS: Was she the owner or the manager?
JF: I don't really know. We used to hear that it was Mafia-owned and things of that sort. And we were always worried about raids. I was never caught in a raid there, but there were raids.
MS: So did Rusty ever talk to you?
JF: Yeah. I mean she wasn't political, so she knew nothing of any of that sort of thing, so she wouldn't have known me from that. But I got to be a regular there, especially after Marge and I broke up. I was there every weekend and she would talk to me occasionally. She didn't know me real well and I didn't know her. Jean knew her. Even though Jean didn't go much to Philadelphia, she did know Rusty. Rusty was always like someone from another world. She was very rough and tough and masculine. And I was sort of in awe of her, strange as it may seem, I guess because she ran a bar. And I used to always get the feeling that, if she wanted to, she could kick me out of here, although I don't know if she ever did that. I think that she may have barred people, maybe troublemakers or things of that sort. And I may have gotten that impression from that. So I was always kind of afraid of her.
MS: We were talking before about the Ell Club and the Lark Bar. You were going to the Lark Bar?
JF: Not at that time. I started to go to the Lark Bar. I guess I did. I was living in Philadelphia, because that's not where I met Jean, but Jean was going there at that time. The Lark was a mixed bar though.
MS: Mixed male-female.
JF: Mixed men and women, yes, more men than women. And the Lark was like a neighborhood bar. The atmosphere was different, in my opinion, from Rusty's, because Rusty's was all women. Rusty's atmosphere was kind of frantic, a lot of flirting, a lot of carrying on, people behind their lovers' backs.
MS: Women bartenders and bouncers?
JF: Men. She had a male bartender most of the time.
MS: Is that right? Gay?
JF: I don't know. I never sat at the bar, so I don't know. I mean there were people who sat at the bar and people who didn't and I never did.
MS: And were there other places like the Lark Bar that you would have gone to in the suburbs?
JF: No, not really. There were some bars in Reading, but by that time I had been away from Reading for so long I didn't even know where they were. Bobbi and I did finally once go to a bar in Reading, called the Circle Bar. But it was too far from Philadelphia.
MS: What about this Reading picnic that you were telling me about before?
JF: Oh the wild Reading picnic!
MS: When did you first start going there?
JF: I guess about twenty-seven, twenty-eight years ago, when Jean and I first got together. Reading has always had a very active social life. Lots and lots of gays and lesbians there who do lots of things and this group called the XYZ Club always had these picnics. They had them in a place called Epler's Grove. And they were always mixed, men and women, and they started with clams. They used to have clam bakes. Really good food.
MS: The club ran it?
JF: This club ran it. In fact, one of the guys that I used to have a crush on in high school, whom I had totally lost contact with, turned out to be one of the people who ran it. He had married and had children, but was still involved with gay life. And he turned out to be one of the people who ran the XYZ Club. I discovered it when I went up there and found him there. There was dancing and music.
MS: Open invitation?
JF: Anybody could go. Or somebody had to be a member of the club, but that somebody could be like three people removed from you. Somebody who knew somebody who sold a ticket to somebody who knew somebody else who sold you a ticket.
MS: And about how many people would go?
MS: And what percentage were women, if you had to guess?
JF: Maybe twenty percent women, at most.
MS: And mostly white, all white?
JF: Mostly white. Those picnics were so well known that peole like Harlow used to come. And I remember my first sight of Harlow. I could not believe it. I absolutely could not believe it. She couldn't have enjoyed herself because all the people did was sit and stare and come over and walk by. We happened to be sitting in the pavilion, about two tables away, and we had lots of people come over and talk to us that day. What a celebrity she was.
MS: You didn't encounter her otherwise in Philadelphia?
JF: No, I never did.
MS: Epler's Grove, was this some person's estate? Is that what I've heard?
JF: It's a picnic grove. Out in the Pennsylvania Dutch area, up toward Reading, there are lots of picnic groves that are owned by maybe the VFW or something of that sort. There's one called Maier's Picnic Grove, which was at one time owned by Maier's Bread. And they'd just rent it out to civic groups. Now how they ever got Epler's Grove all those years, I have no idea, because those picnics became completely notorious.
MS: An annual one every summer?
JF: That was enough. Good lord.
MS: What was notorious about them?
JF: Oh the men. I mean if you didn't like men to begin with, those picnics were not the place to go. Or maybe they were the place to go.
MS: Why? Can you give me some details?
JF: Well it was a very large grove. And mostly people stayed in the area where the pavilions were and the large pavilion, where you could dance and where they had the beer kegs and the food and so forth. But you could go sort of down through a meadow and up onto sort of a mountain. And when you hit the other side of this grove, where there was this hill, was a place where men had orgies. And this was daylight, broad daylight, and these guys are out there cavorting around. Doing god only knows what. And only once someone said, "Come along, I have something to show you." And at that time I didn't know what was going on and neither did most of us. But someone had found out that the guys had gone down there. And so this person led us, this long circuitous route, to a place where we could see what was going on. And I saw it that once and that was the last time I wanted to see it, so after that I never went down there. But apparently it got worse and worse and worse and worse and worse until finally the police raided them one year; I wasn't there.
MS: In what period? Do you remember? Seventies or eighties?
JF: Probably eighties, because they finally stopped those picnics completely, I guess after the middle eighties. The law was you weren't allowed to have alcoholic beverages that you brought in. You could only buy what was there already. And that was the basis on which they raided, because people always took bottles.
MS: Were there any other events like that, like the Reading Picnic, that you remember?
JF: They have picnics now, but they are run by a group called Lambda Live, which is mostly a women's group, and they are so tame. You just sit around and drink beer and eat and that's about it.
MS: But back in those days?
JF: Back in those days, no. Oh, the Lark had picnics.They were a little better than the Reading picnic, not much.
MS: Do you remember the drag queen parade on Halloween night in Philadelphia?
JF: No. I remember the drag queens coming up Broad Street with the mummers.
MS: Is that right?
JF: Oh, yeah.
MS: On New Year's Eve?
JF: On New Year's Day.
MS: On New Year's Day?
JF: Yeah, right. How long have you been in this area?
MS: Just five years now.
JF: Oh, O.K. There used to be a time, this was before women were allowed to parade at all. I don't see it; if they do it I don't see it. They may do it as part of the organized groups or something. But the drag queens used to join the parade and march up Broad Street.
MS: Is that right?
JF: Yeah. And everybody would be cheering and clapping and even the cops would be smiling.
MS: Do you remember the period when this was happening?
JF: That would be the sixties.
JF: Yeah, they'd be on television. There'd be pictures.
MS: A couple of quick things I also wanted to ask you about. Do you remember a controversy over naming the Walt Whitman Bridge?
MS: Do you remember Rizzo's coffeehouse raids?
JF: Yes, vaguely.
MS: Do you remember anything lesbian or gay related about that?
JF: No, but I remember that.
MS: This may have been before you were really in Philly. The Whitman Bridge controversy was in '54-'55.
JF: That was before.
MS: Well, we've covered a lot of ground. We haven't talked much about the late sixties or early seventies. I don't know if there are things that you want to fill in about what you were doing then. It seemed like you were teaching and not so much an activist then.
JF: Right. I got involved in the seventies in NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English. And we got the Gay Caucus and the Committee of Gay and Lesbian Concerns going. I don't know if you know who Nancy Garden is?
JF: She writes young adult novels. And she had written one. In fact I came across a letter from her. She had been to an NCTE Convention promoting one of her books and we had a booth. That was the first time, I guess, that I became visible as a lesbian. NCTE had labels that you wear and they have ribbons hanging from them and each ribbon is a different color for a different kind of thing that you are involved in. And so if you're wearing both a red and a green ribbon that means that you are a committee chair and that you are also an officer and something of that sort. And that was the first year that I got involved with that. I actually had on my badge. I used Fraser, but on my badge it said Gay and Lesbian Caucus. And the ribbons, you could tell from the colors, if you checked, what I was doing there. And for most of us that was the first time that most of us came out to the public. And it was very exhilarating; it was exciting to do that. We took boxes of books. We had a booth. We had reading lists and we sponsored several workshops and things of that sort. And I guess it was a convention in Washington, because I've been all over Washington and Ohio and Connecticut and New York and Boston and so on. And she [Nancy Garden] wrote to me afterwards and said that she had a book coming out called Annie on My Mind, which is a young adult novel about lesbians. And what she wanted was to see if maybe the caucus could give her some input. Maybe we would do some publicity for her, because her publisher, who was very supportive, was kind of at a loss to how to publicize this, because it was the first time they were publishing something of this sort. And she said she herself was a lesbian, which I was surprised to know, because I was familiar with her books from teaching high school. And as I said, it was very exciting doing that. I've always wanted to be involved in things and that was like my next involvement. I felt alienated in a way from the gay and lesbian movement. Things like ACT UP, for example, I feel that if I had been younger, I would have been involved in something like that, but at the time when that kind of activism started, I felt alienated from it. I didn't feel that the in- your-face kind of thing was what I was into.
MS: Did you feel that way also around Stonewall and then around the rise of lesbian feminism in the early seventies?
JF: I also had a problem with things like political correctness. In fact, that was one of the things that made me probably stop my involvement with NCTE. Some of the women who were involved were very politically correct. And I wasn't into this.
MS: What does that mean for you?
JF: Well for me it means that first of all, there is no such thing as butch/fem. I mean we're all women together, there are no lipstick lesbians. We all stomp around in our combat boots and our bib overalls, right. In some cases it means no involvement with men and separatism. Things like that.
MS: I'm not sure I understand the butch/fem part? Who believes there is no such thing as butch/fem?
JF: People who are politically correct feel that butches oppress women.
MS: I see. So you didn't have any patience for that?
JF: No, this is ridiculous.
MS: Did you at the time, or have you since, considered yourself a feminist?
JF: Oh yeah, I am a feminist.
MS: Would you have called yourself a feminist in the sixties and the seventies?
JF: No, because I probably wouldn't have known the name, I wouldn't have known the word. Now that I've retired, I am involved in things like the Women's Center of Montgomery County. Well its principal area is empowering women, especially in the area of domestic violence. And I'm involved, politically, in Democratic politics in this area, too. And my students would call me a feminist.
MS: And you would call yourself that, too. Can you mark a time when you think you would have?
JF: Maybe when Ms. Magazine first started. Gloria Steinem became well known and I began to realize what men had done to women and how oppressive men had been.
MS: So you were affected by that?
JF: Oh yes.
MS: Did it affect your relationships with gay men once you realized that?
JF: I would say no, but yes it has. I have one especially close male friend, who moved about a year ago to Florida. And he is my best friend, my friend Joe. I was telling him about one of my experiences at the Women's Center and he said, "Oh well, I guess what they'd say at the Men's Center, ha ha ha." And I said, "Joe, that's very insensitive." And he said, "What do you mean insensitive?" He said, "Women abuse men." I said, "Joe, statistics do not show that," and I went on to quote. And he said, "Well, you just look at the women's statistics." And I said, "God, what a pig you are." And there are times when I can see what lesbian separatists mean and there are times when I would just as soon never deal with a man again, excuse me. And there has always been controversy about transgendered people in the lesbian community. I don't know about gay males and how they feel about that. But there is a lot of controversy about how accepted transgendered people should be among lesbians. And there are lots of people who write to a magazine that I subscribe to that is mostly all letters and things of that sort, people write about how transgendered women should not be allowed at women's music festivals, for example, because they really don't understand what it is like to be a woman. And I kind of see that. I mean I don't know what it is like to be a man and if I decided to become one I still wouldn't have had the experience of growing up as one. And so a man who becomes a woman hasn't really had that experience and can't really be a woman. It's sort of interesting. When I look back at all my involvement in organizations, I think that today I'd probably have a hard time being that involved with men and being able to work with men, unless they were very liberated themselves.
MS: So do you think that Barbara Gittings was ahead of her time when you were talking about how she was more that way in the early sixties?
JF: I don't know what you mean exactly.
MS: It seemed like you were saying she was a little bit more of a feminist in the early sixties, that she was a little less interested in working with gay men.
JF: Yeah, that's true. I don't know why that was.
MS: Maybe it was a different kind of thing.
JF: I think there probably were a lot of lesbians who didn't want to be bothered with men. My own particular history of being involved from the time I was a teenager with gay men probably made me look at them differently. Many of our women friends did not have men friends at all. It just so happens that I have always liked being with men and relating to men. This Brunch Bunch, for example, interests me, but Jean won't go because she says it's all men. I agree with the man who spoke to me about the Brunch Bunch. And he said, "Women are different and we'd like that different point of view in our lives." But lots of women don't feel like that.
MS: So do you think that relations between lesbians and gay men are better today than they were when you were an activist in Philadelphia?
JF: I don't know. My own relationships haven't changed with men. I still have friends who are men. But as I said before, a lot of women don't. And it seems that organizations that are started by men seem to stay masculine even when they don't want it that way. And groups like the Reading group, called Lambda Live, is almost all women. And it wasn't because they planned it that way. It's just that that's how it seems to work.
MS: Well any final thoughts you want to share, anything we haven't covered or summary thoughts about your years in the movement or your years in the community?
JF: I'm just so glad that someone is finally dealing with our part of the history. Because Stonewall, those people were brave to do what they did, but lately it's become not so hard to be an activist. Gays and lesbians have achieved a lot more legitimacy in many ways. I mean when Mark Segal writes about how the mayor asks him which commission he wants to be on, I think, "Oh gosh, we are legitimate." But back in the days when I was active, it wasn't anything like that at all. And while I didn't spend a lot of time thinking, "Oh god, what's going to happen to me," the chance was always there that something could happen to ruin my career and things of that sort.
MS: So when you say it's good to cover this story, you mean the pre-Stonewall story or the Philadelphia story?
JF: I mean the pre-Stonewall story and Philadelphia story because Philadelphia never gets its fair share in any way. When I read a magazine and they take a poll of people, there is never anybody from Philadelphia. Or if I am reading a fashion article and they are talking about how people dress in different cities, there's never anything about Philadelphia. Philadelphia always seems to get short shrift in every way.
MS: And you think it's getting short shrift in lesbian and gay history?
JF: Oh yeah, really. What do you read about? San Francisco, New York, maybe Washington. I mean who are the names? With the exception of Barbara, what names do people know from Philadelphia? And if it weren't that Barbara had been lucky, when she was younger, and able to spend all her time, there wouldn't be any names now from Philadelphia.
MS: And do you think Philadelphia was as much of a center of activity?
JF: I think it certainly was during that period of time, perhaps not now. I don't know about now.
MS: But at that time?
JF: But in that period of time, yeah, it really was.
MS: Why do you think Philadelphia has been shortchanged? Why do you think Philadelphia has not gotten the attention?
JF: I don't know. I wonder about that, as I said before, about everything. Philadelphia never seems to be mentioned, except in negative terms. I don't know. I always thought that of course it's not New York because it's not big enough and it's not Washington because it's not the center of government. But I'm really glad you're doing what you're doing. I will be very anxious to see this.
MS: Well I'm glad you've been willing to help me. Thanks.
JF: You're welcome.