Philadelphia LGBT Oral Histories

The following interviews by Marc Stein are abridged transcripts from the oral histories he conducted with persons who recalled the Dewey's protests. The full interviews are featured on OutHistory and a source link is provided for each. 

Marc Stein Interviews Joan Fleischmann, 31 May 1994
Fleischmann was a high school teacher and a member of Mattachine Philadelphia and the Janus Society in the 1960s.

MS: What about restaurants or cafeterias or hotels [in the 1950s and 1960s]? Were there places that [LGBT] 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 one attracted a gay crowd?

JF: Both of them.

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.

MS: Really?

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: I know there was a sit-in at Dewey's in '65.

JF: Yes, I remember that. 

Marc Stein Interviews “Ray Daniels,” 4 June 1993
“Ray Daniels” is a pseudonym. “Daniels” worked in the 1960s as a receptionist for Clark Polak, the leader of Philadelphia’s Janus Society and the publisher of Drum magazine.

MS: Do you remember hearing about the sit-in at Dewey’s?

RD: Yes.

MS: Do you recall anything about it?

RD: I remember that Dewey’s on 17th Street. There was a Dewey’s on 17th and one on 13th. And 13th was the one where all the gays and the drags would go after the bars closed. The bar scene was very different back then than it is today. And then some gay bars started opening on the other side, west of Broad Street. So gays started going to the Dewey’s on 17th Street. And apparently they had had some complaints from some of the people, some of the hotels, some of the Center City people in that area. Or something must’ve happened. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly they had this policy where anyone who they suspected was a homosexual, they would not serve them. And that was what prompted the sit-in.

MS: What did Clark [Polak] do?

RD: I don’t think I was working for Clark at that time…. I think I heard about it, but I don’t remember being actively involved. I believe that was after I had worked for Clark. Yes, there was a protest. And they went in and they protested this policy. It was something that was really unenforceable and so after a while, when things quieted down, everybody kind of went back again. But for a while there they wouldn’t let you in. You couldn’t go in.

Marc Stein Interviews Becky Davidson, 15 September 1995
Becky Davidson was a young Philadelphia lesbian in the 1960s; she was active in the lesbian feminist movement in the 1970s.

BD: I went to the Dewey's [in the 1960s]. I never went to the bars. I never went to a bar until I was over 21. And then I went with the woman I was involved with and I never liked it.

MS:  What do you remember about Dewey's?

BD: The Dewey's on 13th Street was pretty much a gay hangout.  And I guess it was an offshoot from the Hideaway and the bars that were around there, which I think were predominantly gay.  Having never been in there, I don't know, but they were gay and not only gay. There were druggies. There were hustlers in there. And a lot of times there were violent things going on.  Like you'd pass by and somebody would be standing on a corner with a bloody nose. Things like that.  So the same people who hung out at those bars would come into the 13th Street Dewey's.

MS: Drag queens as well?

BD: Drag queens. There was [Rachel] Harlow. I don't know if you’ve ever heard of Harlow.

MS: Sure.

BD: People like that.

MS: And were there drags in Rittenhouse Square too or less so?

BD: They didn't really come in drag, but I knew they were drag queens. And occasionally we'd decide that we'd go shopping in a store and just freak everybody out looking for dresses for them.

MS: So was Dewey's lesbian and gay?

BD: Lesbian and gay, yeah, I would say mixed.

MS: And mixed racially?

BD: Probably more racially mixed.

MS: And you didn't go to the Dewey's at 17th and Chancellor?

BD: Yes I did.

MS: You went there as well?

BD: Oh yeah.

MS: Was that the same scene as the 13th Street?

BD: That was a hangout. That was a hangout for people. People would go there if they were cold or something. You'd go there and get a coffee or a hot chocolate and have a cigarette. Get warmed up.

MS: Same type of people as down at the other?

BD: Yeah, same type of people.

MS: Even though it wasn't around those bars, it was still as mixed?

BD: It was mixed, yeah.

MS: Any connection during the 1960s with the lesbian and gay movement?  Did you know about any of the groups? The Janus Society?

BD: Yeah.

MS: The DOB [Daughters of Bilitis] chapter? The Homophile Action League?

BD: Yeah, Homophile Action League. Mostly the Janus Society. I wasn't a member or anything, but I do remember that they did a demonstration against the Dewey's on 17th Street and I participated in that even though I wasn't a member.

MS: I have the flier from it. So you participated in that?

BD: I participated in that, yeah.

MS: You remember anything about it?

BD: Not really.  

MS: Were there people picketing outside?

BD: Yeah.

MS: Men and women?

BD: And the funny thing was that I was really ambivalent about what was going on because I had always hung out there and Bobbie and I had gone in there a lot and never had any problems.  I don't know whether there were gay people that had been kicked out or they weren't often waited on or what. I don't remember what the issue was. It was one of those things. And I thought, “Well I'm over here. I guess I'll picket along with them.”

MS: Do you remember Clark Polak? He was the head of the Janus Society.

BD: No.

MS: And you remember the resolution of the sit-in?

BD: Not a damn thing.

MS: Was it a sit-in or was it a demonstration?

BD: It was a demonstration outside that I remember.

MS: And were other women marching with you that you recall? 

BD: I think Barbara Gittings was there.  I think that's probably one of the first times I'd ever seen her. 

Marc Stein Interviews Bill Brinsfield, 27 October 1993
Brinsfield was a long-time Philadelphia resident in the 1960s.

MS:  What about Dewey's?  Some people have told me about a place called Dewey's?

BB:  Well Dewey's were late, late night hangouts, because they were open all night, but they weren't really a social [space]. People would just go in there and try to make eye contact and then maybe get talking to one another or meet out on the street or something like that.  But they were hangout, late hangouts. They go back to the '40s.

BB:  I knew Clark Polak.

MS:  You did?

BB:  Yeah, I did.  And I remember him marching in front of the Dewey's because Dewey's had a big sign and it said no queers, fags, and some other vulgar thing allowed or something like that.  And even the Pirate Ship, which was the biggest gay bar of all, had this great big sign on the mirror that said all queers and fags stay out. People were shocked when they walked into this great big paper sign. And I don't remember the exact year, but I remember him and he had a march outside of Dewey's because they refused to serve gays. And he was out there with picket signs and everything.

Marc Stein Interviews “Joey” Hardman and Frances “Smith,” 22 August 1994
Note that “Joey” and “Smith” are pseudonyms. Hardman was a member of Mattachine Philadelphia and the Janus Society; her partner Mae Polakoff was the first president of Mattachine Philadelphia in the early 1960s.

MS: You used to go to Dewey's restaurant?

FS: Yeah!

JH: Oh yeah, yeah.

MS: Was that a big gay hangout?

JH: Yeah.

MS: Both of them? I know there was one on 17th Street and one on 13th Street. Both?

JH: Yeah, we went to the one on 17th.

FS: Farrel Yesner. Yeah, I used to go with the owner of Dewey's.

JH: Oh yeah?

FS: Farrel Yesner. [For Yesner’s obituary, click here.]