Sten Russell

Sten Russell, Costa Mesa, California, October 24, 1976


Introduction:  a Los Angeles-based activist, Sten Russell was active first in ONE in the early-to-mid-1950s, and then in DOB through the late 1960s.  Her interview gives a sense of the tensions between men’s and women’s organizations over sexism, and the internal tensions that developed in DOB in the second half of the 1960s as a feminist movement revived.  She also refers to something that came up in many of the interviews: the widespread and deep fear that lesbians and gay men felt in these decades.]


 Side #1A
Involvement in ONE: knew Eve Elloree and Ann Carll Reid. Was working for the county of LA; “scared half out of my wits most of the time.”  Ended up contributing $10,000 to ONE.
Already out in gay bars. “you had a feeling of anonymity in the gay bars. You’d take your chances, the statistical chances that the cops wouldn’t bust you that night. But to actually be associated with an organization—that would be dangerous.”

Got involved: “Things couldn’t get worse. What could be worse? I could be dead.” Impressed by the people.

ONE: “There was always a crisis over money. There was never enough. We were always in hock.” Always assumed the police would come barging in and arrest us: “the fear was always there.”

“We were trying to get the girl to accept herself.” The men’s organizations trying to change the laws, hit the establishment on the head. 

Generally found herself in the minority at ONE. Legg and Slater getting into advocacyarguing that gay is better. She was more interested in getting gays to change their attitude about themselves.

Calls Bill of Rights “a betrayal” “rigged”DOB leaders listened to its memberswouldn’t do things without approval of members. “I was being torn apart between DOB and ONE. I was torn right down the middle between two groups of people that I admired very much. I had to choose.”

Sanders moved to city of LA, 12/57. Get chapter going right away that lasts through 1962 LA convention. Then falling apart.  Persistent problem: women join DOB, get their lives together, develop leadership capacity and leave DOB.  The non-leaders stayed. Claimed they wanted group-centered leadership, but wouldn’t take responsibility. Women “graduated.”


Side #1B 

“If you weren’t willing to dress up at that time you couldn’t get a decent job except in a factory.”
DOB “a revolving door.”

1968 Denver Convention: “Very emotional. It might as well have been the end. Gene Damon came down to get Sandy’s blessing to be named editor of The Ladder and then she took off. She had no trust in the democratic leadership. It was a damned debacle, a damned disaster.” 

“Women’s lib movement was coming much to the fore... DOB was dying from 1966. It took til 1968 to know it and from 1968-70 to pound the nails into the coffin.”

Del and Phyl into women’s liberation. Becomes a big conflict in 1966 at SF gathering. Leaders seeing themselves oppressed as women. Badly treated by gay men in movement. Del and Phyl move toward women’s movement. Decide to make Ladder more women’s oriented, but not man-hating. After 1966, “boiling” at men. “A change in our perception” 

“We had organized the thing and the men took it over.” NACHO in SF horrible. People screaming, plans for a super-organization.

1955/56: met Call and Lucas, liked each other but...

[comment by Helen Sanders: “They said how nice and immediately saw us as their auxiliary. And we said, ‘Up yours!’ That was the reason we wrote into our constitution that the Daughters could not join or belong to any other organization.”

Women’s movement, 1966-68, having a big impact on DOB. Remembers Betty Friedan’s book.

(Russell came from a small town)

1968 – Denver: relatively small. Lois Williams, treasurer, had dropped out, vilified, because she only dispensed money as organization specifiedi.e., for The Ladder. “She was beautiful and much desired by many people and she wasn’t available.”  Other good people dropped out.



1968: “The thing that we believed in and loved was already cracking up. It was breaking up.”

Knew Rita La Porte, watched her do her thing. Split between Sanders/Rush vs. Lyon/Martin over women’s liberation: Lyon calling Sandy “a male chauvinist pig.”

Furious about LaPorte/Damon taking over The Ladder. “A whole new bunch of people that were talking a language we didn’t understand.”  Martin/Lyon willing to see DOB die.