Marge McCann (born 1939), Interviewed May 26, 1993
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2016. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Marge McCann in her Germantown home in May 1993. I had learned from several sources about McCann’s involvement in the homophile movement of the 1960s and it was easy to find her since she remained active in the Philadelphia gay and lesbian community (I believe she was serving in the early 1990s on the board of directors of Philadelphia’s gay and lesbian community center, where the gay and lesbian library/archives was located). In 2013-14, I contacted McCann, who had moved to a retirement community outside of Philadelphia, to ask for her permission to post a transcript of our interview online; she granted her permission. Before the taped part of the interview began and in follow-up correspondence in 1997, McCann provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 28 September 1939
Place of Birth: Teaneck, New Jersey
Place of Mother's Birth: Cleveland, Ohio
Mother's Occupation: Homemaker
Place of Father's Birth: Brooklyn, New York
Father's Occupation: Civil Servant
Religious Background: Protestant
Class Background: Lower Middle Class
1939-46: Westwood, New Jersey
1946-52: Delmar, New York
1952-56: 4653 Byberry Road, Northeast Philadelphia
1956-57: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
1957-58: 4653 Byberry Road, Northeast Philadelphia
1958-61: Temple University dormitory and nearby apartment, North Philadelphia
1961-62: 4615 North Broad St., Logan, Philadelphia
1962-63: 4841 North Broad St., Logan, Philadelphia
1963-65: 4839 North Broad St., Logan, Philadelphia
1965-66: 10th St. between Locust St. and Spruce St., Center City, Philadelphia
1966-68: 5235 Laurens St., Germantown, Philadelphia
1968-71: 6407 Wayne Ave., Germantown, Philadelphia
1971-96: 251 Harvey St., Germantown, Philadelphia
1996-97: 239 Harvey St., Germantown, Philadelphia
1961-62: Payroll Clerk, John C. Meyer Typesetting
1962-63: Market Research Clerk, Fleer Bubble Gum Co.
1963-66: Market Research Clerk, Ide Associates
1966-76: City Planner, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
1976-77: Not Employed
1977-82: Self-Employed Researcher
1982: Manager, Philadelphia Parking Authority
Marc Stein Interview with Marge McCann – 26 May 1993. Transcribed by Marc Stein and Tracy Nathan.
MS: I thought we should start with some background information about where you were born, growing up, what your family was like, and your first coming out experiences.
MM: Oh my. I was born in Teaneck, New Jersey. I’m the eldest of five. I have two younger brothers and two younger sisters. We moved to Philadelphia when I was a late freshman in high school, the end of ninth grade. And I guess you would have to say my first coming out experience was that summer. My mother sent me to bible school. And I fell in with a very racy crowd at bible school.
MS: Was this in Philadelphia?
MM: Yeah. Well actually it was just over the line in Bucks County, but yes essentially. And I became infatuated with a girl who was a year younger than I was at that point. And we got involved in a surprisingly sophisticated physical relationship for those times at that age. And I was in love. I knew it as well as I could define it. I was in love. And that relationship lasted for a year.
MS: So you continued to see her after the summer?
MM: After the summer, yeah.
MS: So she lived in Philadelphia as well?
MM: No. She lived over the line in Bucks County and my bicycle got a serious workout.
MS: So were you surprised that this relationship happened? Did you have any inkling before that that you might be attracted to women or girls?
MM: Well I guess I did because I wasn’t surprised. I remember first grade. When I was in first grade, I was in a two-room schoolhouse. There were six of us in first grade and we had two teachers, Mrs. Ickers and Mrs. Lamb. And I don’t remember which teacher it was, but one of them was really spectacularly well-endowed. And I used to raise my hand all the time because she would come and she would bend over and look at my paper from the other side of the desk and I could look down her dress. And I remember that very clearly. I don’t know if all little girls and little boys have that fascination when they’re that age or not.
MS: But you did.
MM: But I did and I remember it. It stuck in my mind. Don’t remember which teacher.
MS: So had you ever heard any kind of discussion of lesbianism or homosexuality when you were growing up?
MM: Yeah. Well not discussion, but reading. I had read some stuff. I’m not sure that I understood it at the time, but once I learned to read there was no keeping me back and there was no constraining what I read. I read everything I could get my hands on. And that included the dirty books in the second dresser drawer underneath the wedding pictures in my father’s dresser. So I had read several novels featuring blood-speckled breasts and things like that and I had read a little book on masturbation, which had a list of definitions in the back. I remember a homosexual was someone who loves one of the same sex. It didn’t make sense then. The grammar didn’t make sense at that point.
MS: So were any of the novels that your father had lesbian-themed?
MS: But you were reading about sex.
MM: Yeah, I was reading about sex. So I think I was more aware of sexuality than most kids at that age. I mean I started playing doctor very early. I started masturbating very early, I understand from talking to other people. And I was playing doctor with a little girl down the road. And we got into some pretty heavy duty stuff for little girls.
MS: Do you remember now, looking back, any people from your childhood who you think were lesbian or gay?
MM: I have often wondered about her, the girl I played doctor with so much.
MS: Any adults?
MM: No, no. And I’ve never even thought about that before.
MS: So no one in your family?
MM: Not that I knew of. Not that I connected with.
MS: O.K., so you’re in ninth grade and you’re back in Philadelphia and I know you talked to Tommi [Avicolli Mecca] about a story where a male friend of yours took you somewhere.
MM: Jerry Kass, god bless him. He lives in California now. I just heard from him.
MS: Is that right?
MM: This morning, as a matter of fact, yeah. He lives in West Hollywood. I don’t know where this came from. I mean I was struggling with my own private devils, but I certainly wasn’t talking to anybody about it. Not anybody. I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I was getting crushes on girl after girl after girl after girl, but I certainly wasn’t talking to anybody about it.
MS: And nothing happened sexually after the relationship that you had?
MM: No. But one day, just before he was moving to California, I don’t know how it came about. I don’t know what possessed him. I really don’t. But Jerry said to me and to my best friend Fran, “Can you get age cards?” And I didn’t ask him why, but I approached my mother’s best friend, who consented to loan me. Her name was Lois Addison. I got an age card that showed I was thirty-two years old and I was sixteen at the time. And Fran got a card. And Jerry took us in town on the subway. We were on the L. And he took us to the Surf, which was in the back at the corner of 13th and Spruce roughly. And he took us to a place that was at 12th and Locust called the Bag of Nails, I think. And he took us to one room of that complex at 13th and Locust. It’s still a complex at 13th and Locust.
MS: Do you remember much about those bars? Were they mixed lesbian and gay? Were they mixed white and black?
MM: The Surf was mixed but mostly men and mostly white. At the Bag of Nails—if that was the name, I think it was something like that, some name that could be easily screwed up accidentally—he introduced us to two women, one of whom I got instantly fascinated with. And I don’t remember anything about the rest of the crowd. And I don’t remember the other one at all.
MS: Did anything happen with this woman?
MM: No. I don’t even remember her name.
MS: Did Fran end up coming out?
MM: No. In fact, she was one person who, when I did, decided to have nothing more to do with me.
MS: So was she horrified at these places you were visiting?
MM: No. She was fascinated then.
MS: It was later?
MM: But later, when I came out and I came out to her, she said “oh no, no, no.” So that brings us to college.
MS: There’s something else I want to ask you about the bars. Do you think he was taking you to places where there would be lesbians so you might not have seen places that were more exclusively gay male?
MM: Yeah. I think he was taking me places where there would be lesbians. Yeah. Then he left for California.
MS: He must have been older than you or was he moving?
MM: No. He was a senior in high school also. I mean he was a year older ’cause I skipped second grade. So I was a year younger than a lot of other people, but that’s no difference. He obviously knew what was going on down there.
MS: And how do you think he picked you out?
MM: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I was doing my very best to be straight. I mean I got religion. I did everything.
MS: You said that you hadn’t been having sexual experiences with other girls in high school, but I wonder if that meant that you had been with boys?
MM: Well actually no. I didn’t start getting explicitly sexual with boys until after high school, right after high school, senior trip kind of thing.
MS: So what was that all about?
MM: Trying to prove that I wasn’t a lesbian. It didn’t work. What would happen was I would start seeing a guy and we’d end up sleeping together and that would be the last time I saw him. I wouldn’t see him after that.
MS: So that happened as you were finishing high school and then starting college?
MS: So then for college you went to Gettysburg and then Temple.
MM: I went to Gettysburg and Temple. Nothing happened at Gettysburg. I went on having crushes. When I was at Temple, when I finally moved into the dorms at Temple, there was a young woman named Sue Perkins, from California, a freshman, who I got involved with essentially very quickly.
MS: How did you identify one another?
MM: Lord knows. I mean we were just fascinated with each other and ended up playing the little run your fingers up and down somebody’s arm games until that turned into explicit sexual contact.
MM: She was horrified. She was scared to death of being a lesbian. We got caught.
MS: By whom?
MM: I originally had a room in a dorm on Broad Street in a little converted townhouse, a row house. And the dormitory mother of that group suggested that perhaps I’d do better in a larger dorm. So the following semester, she had me moved. And Sue moved also and we got rooms next to each other. No we didn’t, as a matter of fact. We were on separate floors. And Sue didn’t want to room with me because she didn’t want to be a lesbian. So I got a room with a roommate named Barbara, who was a very religiously Catholic person. So to make the best of a bad situation, I would occasionally convince Sue to come up to my room and we would do necking and things like that but not much. But this one night, she came up quietly because my roommate was asleep. She woke up. She got hysterical. She ran over to the dormitory mother to tell her. I spent three weeks defending my right to exist and denying it, absolutely denying that anything had happened.
MS: Who were you defending yourself to?
MM: The dorm mother, the dean of women, the dean of housing, and the school psychiatrist.
MS: Were any of those people supportive in any way?
MM: Not in the sequence of events until the end. Sue was an art student. She was younger than I was. She was away all day. So I took the brunt of it. And I took that deliberately because I knew that she would break. So to each accusation, I said, “Whatever is going on here, Sue is very homesick. She’s very unstable. Let me deal with it. Let me handle it. Leave her out of it. This is my deal to deal with.” So they took me and they only interviewed her once.
MS: But when they were interviewing you, you were still denying it.
MM: I was saying that what was happening, she was a freshman—the end of her freshman year by then—she was very, very homesick. Her parents were getting a divorce. She missed her boyfriend. She had come up to my room. We were good friends. We’d been good friends for a long time. She came up to my room. She was really upset over a letter she got from home. She was crying. I was holding her. Religious roommate woke up, misinterpreted the whole thing. So that was the story I went with. But I knew that if they pressured Sue at all, she would have blown that story. So I made it very clear that I was going to take responsibility for this. She was much too fragile to be bothered with all this. So we did the dean of women and we did the dean of housing and we did the school psychiatrist and we did the house mother, of course. And the school psychiatrist said to me, “Are you aware that you have, do you know if you have, any homosexual tendencies?” And I looked at her and I said, “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you because I’d be thrown out of school.” So we came to an impasse very quickly. And she wrote “no overt homosexual tendencies” in the report. And I was saved. This was all during finals. Just before I went home for the summer, the house mother called me down for tea. And we had tea. And as I was leaving she just said, “In the future, dear, do be more discreet.” And the next year, when I came back, each of us had little dorm meetings at the beginning of the school year about how, “There are some people who are lesbian or homosexual. And there might even be someone in this dormitory, so please don’t walk around naked because you might tempt them.”
MS: And you think that was in reaction to what had gone on with you?
MM: Oh yeah.
MS: Did your family know anything about what was going on?
MM: No, no, no. Oh no.
MS: Your family didn’t find out until much later?
MM: I never told them the story. My family’s never heard the story, as a matter of fact.
MS: But did you come out to your family later?
MM: Not until I was forty-six.
MS: So much later?
MM: Much later.
MS: So you and Sue didn’t last together?
MM: No. She went back to California at the end of her freshman year.
MS: Were you exploring any parts of lesbian Philadelphia?
MM: I wasn’t old enough to go to bars. And that’s the only thing there was, as far as I knew. In the next year, which turned out to be my senior year I think, I got involved with somebody else who had heard all the rumors and was determined to make me straight.
MS: And you showed her how to be gay instead?
MM: Right, yeah. And the woman who lived next door to us in the dormitory had a girlfriend, who is still around in Philadelphia, interestingly enough. She used to come visit Harriet in the dormitory in the room next to Barbara and mine. That was kind of fun. So that was all new. And Barbara and I then were looking almost old enough so we could go to the bars. So we did.
MS: So that was in 1960? ’61?
MM: I graduated in ’61. That would have been the end of ’60,’61. The ’60-’61 school year.
MS: And what were the bars that you were going to?
MM: We went to the Surf. That was the only one we knew.
MS: Can you describe the layout, what it was like inside?
MM: Yeah, it was square. It was big. It was square. The bar was sort of square in the middle and you walked all the way around it. There were booths along the outside walls and a square bar in the middle. And you danced in between those spaces. It was rather peculiar that way.
MS: So there was dancing?
MM: There was dancing. A black drag queen named Sarah Vaughan taught me how to dance.
MS: Is she still around?
MM: I don’t know. The last I heard, she was cooking at the New London Cafe on Fairmount Avenue. That’s the last thing I heard and that was quite a while ago.
MS: So can you describe how it is that you learned how to dance from him?
MM: He just sort of saw me floundering and said, “Here, I’ll teach you to dance.”
MS: Was there a lot of socializing between the gay men and lesbians in the bar or was it pretty separate?
MM: It’s hard for me to tell because we—Barbara and I—didn’t do any socializing except at the bar. I mean we were the college kids who came to the bar. It was not a college bar. So we were college kids who came to the bar. There was one woman who kind of took up with us and visited us in the dorm a couple of times and my nerve appalls me at this point because she was clearly super-dyke. Her name was Mazie. I never knew her last name.
MS: What about mixing in the bar? Was there much between gay men and lesbians?
MM: I think there was at that time in that bar. That’s all I would know about.
MS: Do you remember talking to gay men?
MM: A little bit, yeah. But we didn’t talk to much of anybody. I mean it was just mostly to be there. I mean I guess we did talk to different people. Otherwise, how would we have met Mazie, for example? But we were probably both very shy and totally unused to any kind of bars at all, let alone gay bars. We didn’t go that often.
MS: Were butch/fem roles pretty significant there?
MM: Oh yeah, big time.
MS: So which were you identified with?
MS: And what about Barbara?
MS: Never any doubt?
MM: Never any doubt.
MS: Did that suit you at that time?
MM: Yes. When I think about it, there was a woman that I had a terrible crush on before Susan whose name was Jill. We never consummated it, but I had done an awful lot of reading. I read all of the Beebo Brinker stuff and all of those novels. So I knew they were going to be butch/fem, right? I just couldn’t figure out exactly where I fit because I couldn’t imagine never being made love to but I also couldn’t imagine being traditional female. So I had no idea how this was going to work out. But in the relationship with Susan and the relationship with Barbara, that wasn’t an issue. So that pretty well set the pattern.
MS: And would you dress differently?
MM: I didn’t have much of a sense of style in those days. It wasn’t until I met Joan that I knew fly- front pants for girls existed, so I didn’t dress all that differently at that time. You’re talking about a time when jeans for women were just becoming available at Sears, O.K. There weren’t pants available to buy for women.
MS: So were you wearing pants? Were you wearing jeans?
MM: I was wearing jeans from Sears Roebuck and a couple of pair of side-zippered pants that I had found somewhere. But it’s amazing how little there was available to wear. And I had not yet had the nerve to go in a men’s store.
MS: So what did butch/fem mean to you? Why was it appealing?
MM: It wasn’t a fact of appealing or not. It’s the way it was. And that was the way it was. And there wasn’t any other way at that time.
MS: But it sounds like it worked for you, though.
MM: You didn’t have a choice. I mean it probably did. I’m not sure. I still don’t know much it fit with my own predilections or how much I made my predilections match what had to be. I don’t know that. Because when I think about before I got involved with that, not being able to figure out which I was going to be, and then having gotten involved with Susan and having gotten involved with Barbara and being the sexual aggressor in both cases, and having selected in both cases girls who were not interested in returning the favor, that set the pattern.
MS: So for you it was really about sexual initiation and who was doing the initiating.
MM: Yeah it was and the being-in-charge-ness. That fit for me. Oldest daughter. What I do wonder is if I had had a different first couple of partners, it might not have been quite so stone butch as it was at that time.
MS: Which is what you were?
MS: And what did stone butch mean for you?
MM: Untouchable. Neither of those two or the next couple of women I was involved with had the slightest interest in making love to me. So that kind of set the pattern.
MS: Was that unsatisfying at the time?
MM: At the time it was physically unsatisfying but not emotionally unsatisfying, if that makes any sense. I don’t remember at all being emotionally upset.
MS: Were you ever around during a bar raid?
MM: No. But I missed some by like that much. You have to talk to [my partner] Carol. She worked in Rusty’s for years. And she was involved in raids and things like that well before I ever knew her. And she was a coat-check; she did bartending and coat-checking at Rusty’s.
MS: In the ’60s?
MM: Yeah, or in the early ’70s. She can answer that. I can’t answer it.
MS: But you said you had some close calls?
MM: Yeah. Times when I left just before, things like that, but I was never involved.
MS: Any trouble with violence on the streets? Anything like that?
MM: Some cat-calling. No physical violence.
MS: What would happen and where? Center City?
MM: Yeah, in Center City. First of all, at that age we’re after college and we’re past Barbara. And I had gotten a job and I was going to bars every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night.
MS: Why those nights?
MM: That’s when they were open. I went to Rusty’s Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. And then I met Joan, so that’s bringing us to a different time. Most of the time, particularly once I learned there were fly-button pants for girls, if I was traveling by myself I didn’t get harassed because I was passing. If I was traveling with other women, then it became obvious that we were a bunch of lesbians. If I was traveling by myself on the subway at three a.m., I could just kind of slouch down in my coat and pass.
MS: So what kind of harassment would you get?
MM: Just name-calling mainly. You know, “You want a real man?” That kind of stuff.
MS: Do you remember anything else that was said?
MM: No I don’t. It didn’t happen very often, not to me.
MS: And did you know who owned the Surf?
MM: She was a stripper. Lillian? What was her name?
MS: So it was a woman who owned it.
MM: Yeah, it was a woman stripper, very well known. Good friend of Frank Rizzo’s kind of thing. Carol would know the answer to that question. What was her name? I don’t remember her name.
MS: So this was not organized-crime-owned as far as you knew.
MM: Not as far as I knew. But I probably wouldn’t ever have known. I never was particularly close with the management. Carol was.
MS: O.K. So then why don’t you tell me about meeting Joan and how that happened?
MM: I presume we met in the bar because that was the only place you ever met anybody.
MS: This was Rusty’s, you think?
MM: It might have been the Surf. I’m not sure. She was involved with a woman named Barbara Zivitz. And she knew a woman named Bobby, who I knew. At any rate, we met in a bar and we were attracted to each other and we started talking. But she was involved with Bobby.
MS: Was she a fem?
MM: Yeah. And she started talking about the movement, I think, pretty early in our relationship. And since I was interested in her, I was interested in the movement. And Bobby wasn’t, so I had...
MS: An edge.
MM: ...an edge there. And we started seeing each other. And she stopped seeing Bobby. And then she sort of moved in. I’m not sure exactly how that happened.
MS: Why were you interested in the movement? Was it really just because you were involved with Joan?
MM: Well it was the first I’d heard about it. But I think my initial interest was wanting to impress her, so I got involved. And obviously it still stuck.
MS: So that was in ’62, something like that?
MM: I think so, yeah. Well let’s see, I graduated from college in ’61. At that point, I was still going with Barbara. And we lived together through Barbara’s senior year, which would have been the ’61-’62 academic year. So then Barbara moved back to Atlantic City, which would have been in the summer of ’62. So I probably met Joan very near the end of ’62.
MS: And in case I don’t get to talk to her directly, could you just give me some background on her? Where she came from, how old she was, what she was doing?
MM: She was a couple of years older than I am. I’m not sure, I don’t remember exactly how old. She came from Atlantic City or one of the shore towns. I think it was Atlantic City. She was an adopted only child. She was an English teacher in a suburban school district.
MS: In New Jersey?
MM: No, here in Philadelphia, one of the suburban school districts. She lived in Jenkintown when I met her. I don’t know if I ever knew exactly where she taught. We were very private about those things.
MS: Jewish family?
MM: No, she was Catholic. It’s a German name, as opposed to a Jewish name. She was several years older than I was.
MS: And she had had relationships before you?
MS: And do you know how she got hooked up with the movement?
MM: No I don’t. Because I don’t know who of the people that were in Philadelphia that we both knew would have been her entree. I don’t know that. It might have been Clark [Polak]. I don’t know.
MS: Was it before you got involved that she had trouble in the school district?
MM: No. Well, wait a minute, let me think about that. She was still teaching when I met her. She lost her job after that, I think.
MS: If it will help at all, the December 1962 issue of Philadelphia Magazine featured an interview with seven people from Janus. And one of the things I was wondering is if you were one of the people?
MM: I don’t think so.
MS: Because it says two of the women, Barbara and Marge, were secretaries, Joan was a schoolteacher, and Jane was an assembly-line worker in an electronics plant. Marge and Jane were middle-aged. That made me think that it must not have been you.
MS: Barbara and Joan were both in their early twenties. And then there were three men. They were named here Bill, a store clerk, Mel, a computer programmer, and Jack, an insurance salesman. But Joan does talk about having been fired from a job. She said, “A boy I refused to date wrote to the school board and told them what I was. I was called in and they informed me that if I left quietly because I was a good teacher they would let me resign and give me a good recommendation.”
MM: That must have been before I met her. I don’t remember hearing about it. She was teaching when I met her. She was going someplace every day and she was bringing home a salary. She said she was teaching, O.K.?
MS: Right. She had probably got another teaching job.
MM: She had probably gotten another teaching job.
MS: But I guess I’m wondering if maybe she got fired twice.
MM: I think that’s possible.
MS: Because she was the head of an English department at some point and got fired. Would that have been before you?
MM: I don’t know. I’m trying to remember. I mean I got fired during the period we were together.
MS: What was that all about?
MM: Oh that was a political thing—a political small “p.” I had started as a payroll clerk at this company and one of the three siblings that owned the company was the head bookkeeper. And she went in the hospital and I started doing her job. And she was out for months and so pretty soon I was office manager. And then she came back. I was out. And I went and found Joan in the hairdressers and said, “Don’t do it. We can’t afford it.” Because it was in the middle of summer and she wasn’t teaching.
MS: Do you remember your first Janus Society meeting or Mattachine meeting?
MM: Not clearly as distinguished from others. I remember meetings.
MS: Where were they held?
MM: A lot of times they were in our living room.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Yeah, on North Broad Street. I can probably drudge up the address eventually.
MS: Actually, I think I have the address in the newsletter listed as the meeting place. I remember a North Broad address.
MM: Yeah. 4720, something like that. So the meetings were in our living room—a pretty decent sized living room.
MS: Were some of the meetings at Mabel Polakoff’s place? Do you recall that?
MM: Yeah. Mae and Joey: I haven’t thought about them in years. That would be Marge in that article. And Joey would be Jane, because she was an assembly worker and Mabel was a secretary in business for herself.
MS: Oh, right. That’s good; that helps. And do you remember anybody else going to those meetings?
MM: I probably would remember with name triggers.
MS: Jody Shotwell?
MS: What was she like?
MM: Jody was married and had three kids. And she was cute.
MS: Did she identify as bi?
MS: What was she doing there?
MM: She identified as lesbian, but she was married with three kids.
MS: Did she have an understanding with her husband?
MM: I think they probably did, but I don’t think it was explicit. I think it was just kind of she went away sometimes.
MS: O.K. And did she have relationships with women?
MM: Yeah. We slept together once.
MS: While you were with Joan or before?
MM: After. She’s dead now. She died quite a few years ago.
MS: Did you meet Barbara in these years? Did Barbara Gittings ever come to these meetings?
MM: What’s interesting is that Barbara dated Joan before I did and I met her a few times. We never hit it off. And I don’t know how much of that was vestigial Joan or what else was going on.
MS: What did you know about their relationship? Did it last long or was it short-lived?
MM: Really, I didn’t know much about it at all. But the suggestion from that was that they did not date for long.
MS: So Barbara wasn’t coming to these Janus meetings.
MS: I don’t recall that she was.
MS: Maybe because of the conflict with Joan?
MS: There’s one suggestion in a letter that I’ve come across, from a third party, not Barbara or Joan, that says that Joan, in working so hard within the Janus Society, was trying to undermine Barbara by not doing anything to establish a DOB chapter in Philadelphia.
MM: She was trying to undermine Barbara by not doing anything to establish a DOB chapter in Philadelphia? We talked about organizing one.
MS: Why don’t you tell me about that?
MM: I’m trying to remember.
MS: Well there was a DOB chapter later. But this letter was earlier on and it said something about how this represented a challenge to Barbara because there were all the cities where there were sex-separate organizations, but Philadelphia, at least for a couple of years, had a mixed-sex group.
MM: And that was a challenge to Barbara? I’m not sure why it would be a challenge to Barbara. Because Barbara was so active in DOB?
MS: Right. The letter said something like, “In Barbara’s own backyard, there’s not even a DOB chapter.”
MM: And that was because there was a mixed-gender chapter and there was only seven activists in the world?
MS: So it sounds ludicrous to you.
MM: I don’t pretend to have understood the motivations. I mean I really don’t. I was naive organizationally at that time. Barbara was older. Joan was older and much more experienced than I was in the organizational stuff at that time. We hung out with the people from DOB in New York from time to time, Shirley and Marion. Some very prominent lesbians who I don’t remember the names of came to Philadelphia and we went to New York and we were socially involved with them.
MS: Let me ask you this: did you have a sense that in the years that Mae Polakoff was running Janus that lesbians and gay men got along pretty well in the organization
MM: I think we got along, yeah. I don’t think there was a lot of conflict. There wasn’t a women’s movement yet so there wasn’t anything to have a conflict about. We knew our place.
MS: I know Joan edited a woman’s page in the newsletter for a short time.
MM: I don’t have a remembrance of that.
MS: There was one discussion group that was called something like “how can male and female homosexuals get along.” So there must have been some kind of tension.
MM: Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t recall it, though, because Joan and I as a couple hung out with the men and with the women.
MS: Is that right? So you were socializing a lot with gay men?
MM: We were socializing with the gay men, yeah, particularly with the men from D.C.
MS: Is that right? Now was this through ECHO, through the East Coast Homophile Organizations?
MS: And so one of the things I noticed is it seems that when Clark Polak became head of Janus, he sort of took control locally, but you and Joan really were the main people in ECHO.
MM: Yeah, yeah. We didn’t like Clark.
MS: Why don’t you tell me about meeting Clark? Do you remember meeting him?
MM: I don’t remember my first meeting him. I really don’t. And I don’t know how much of my dislike was a reflection of other people’s dislike, because again I was naive and new to all of this.
MS: Because you were younger than the other women?
MM: I was younger and I didn’t know anything about gay life, let alone about gay political life.
MS: So can you give me some more impressions?
MM: There was a rumor going around that one of the reasons that Clark moved to California was that he had worms. And that was the kind of impression he gave people. He was very energetic. I remember he was always working really hard on things.
MS: Did he stop holding meetings after a certain point?
MM: I think they stopped. We certainly stopped going, but I think they stopped.
MS: Did you ever go to the Janus office on 17th Street?
MM: Yeah, on 17th Street.
MS: What would you go there for?
MM: I don’t remember. I remember going there. So I guess we stayed active for a while because I can’t imagine going there for anything other than meetings.
MM: I think maybe part of the estrangement from Janus may have had something to do with the Janus Society’s policy on sexuality being more blatant.
MS: You mean in Drum magazine?
MS: That’s certainly implied in a letter that I have that was drafted when ECHO kicked Janus out. Let me ask you something else as well. There’s an issue of the Janus Society newsletter where Polak was running to be president of Janus—I think I mentioned this to you before—and he’s running against somebody named Marjorie Miller, which I thought was the pseudonym that you were using for a while.
MM: I was using Marjorie Lewis.
MS: Marjorie Lewis.
MM: Because my middle name is Louise.
MS: Oh, really. O.K.
MM: It was easier.
MS: So do you have any idea who this person was?
MM: Oh wow. I mean Marjorie is such an unusual first name.
MS: Right. The campaign platform was called Assistance, Instruction, Development. It called for a lot of the same things that Clark called for, an expansion of what Janus was doing.
MM: Assistance, Instruction, Development doesn’t ring any bells at all.
MS: So you’re pretty sure it wasn’t you.
MM: I’m pretty sure but not positive. I didn’t use pseudonyms for very long, so I didn’t have one that really stuck.
MM: Because once I got involved in DOB I dropped the pseudonym. So my name is on the Ladder letterhead as Marjorie McCann.
MS: Now how did you become involved with the DOB? Through going to New York?
MM: Willy-nilly I got myself elected to national corresponding secretary. I don’t know how that happened.
MS: And what work did that involve? What did you actually have to do for that?
MM: I was supposed to answer letters that people wrote. I didn’t do much of it. And I didn’t stay national corresponding secretary for very long and I don’t remember how I stopped being national corresponding secretary. I remember typing lots of letters.
MS: I think you stopped shortly after the blowout over the DOB withdrawing from ECHO and the question of whether they would support demonstrations.
MM: Probably, yeah.
MS: That’s at least the timeframe.
MM: That certainly would make sense.
MS: There’s another letter that I came across, a letter that’s sort of marked confidential from Frank Kameny, that’s suggesting to you the idea of starting a new organization and that it be a Mattachine Philadelphia. Does that ring a bell?
MM: No. Wow. This is embarrassing.
MS: Do you know where that idea came about, to start a Mattachine, to break from Janus and start a chapter of Mattachine? Was it because of the conflicts with Clark?
MM: Now that I’m thinking about it, I had forgotten that we really tried to start a Mattachine here. But we did try. We didn’t get very far.
MS: Did you ever hold meetings?
MM: I think we probably held a few, but when there are only seven activists in the world and you’re doing it all with mirrors.
MM: No new people came in that I can recall.
MS: It did seem to me that it was a vehicle for you and Joan to continue being involved with ECHO.
MM: That could be. That could very well be. I was very much a follower at this time, not a leader, even though I had offices. I was sort of presentable.
MS: What were your impressions of Frank Kameny and the whole idea of starting demonstrations?
MM: I think that I thought that it was a very bold thing. I was not willing to be in demonstrations, although I was in a couple at Independence Hall.
MS: You were in a couple?
MM: Yeah. And I was willing to go to other cities. Other cities were much safer.
MS: You seemed to be very active in ECHO. You were mistress of ceremonies at one conference.
MM: Yeah, all kinds of stuff.
MS: And on the program committees and things like that.
MM: And I spoke. I gave a speech once.
MS: That was on a survey that you did of sodomy laws, right?
MM: Yeah, yeah. And I was on TV in Canada.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Yeah, Canadian Broadcasting.
MS: I think actually I have a note about that. Maybe I’ll ask you some of the questions that I have from my notes. There’s one letter I have that I thought would maybe make you smile. I think it’s from Dick Leitsch. It just says Dick on the letter, but it’s about one of the innumerable ECHO meetings. The letter reads, “We missed you Saturday. ECHO meetings lose a lot of sunshine when your vivacious smile is absent. Besides, your presence helps prove all Philadelphians aren’t loud-mouthed finks.”
MM: That’s funny.
MS: Who do you think were the finks that he was talking about?
MM: I can only think Clark.
MS: That’s what I figured.
MM: I can only think Clark. That’s funny.
MS: So that does seem like a good example of you getting along with the activists from the other cities.
MM: Yeah. Julian Hodges from New York. We used to go and spend weekends at his apartment.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Yeah. And I now wonder how many of these people were using pseudonyms. I know Kameny was using his real name because you still see it. But Julian Hodges, Bob King. I wouldn’t even be able to find them because I don’t know what their real last names were.
MS: Right. I think there’s information on whether they were pseudonyms and what their real names are, if ever you’re really interested in tracking down people. I have a note here that one of the other things that Mattachine Philadelphia did was start a Council on Religion and the Homosexual locally?
MS: What church groups did that bring in?
MM: I don’t remember.
MS: There’s one mention that Mattachine Philadelphia made an official appearance at a lecture by Samuel Hadden, the psychiatrist from Penn.
MM: Oh yeah.
MS: Do you remember anything about that? I think it was at the Penn Center Inn on Market Street.
MM: I remember being there.
MS: Did you have any encounters with Hadden before or after? Does that name ring a bell?
MM: Very, very vaguely.
MS: What about the other big psychiatrist in Philly, Joseph Wolpe at Temple?
MM: No, that doesn’t ring a bell at all.
MS: Here’s a report that the president of Mattachine Philadelphia appeared with Gil Cantor on the Red Benson show.
MM: I remember Gil Cantor.
MS: You do?
MM: Yeah. I mean I remember that there was a Gil Cantor. I don’t remember him as a person much.
MS: But that could have been you.
MM: I suppose it could have been.
MS: Do you remember much about the meeting when DOB withdrew from ECHO, when it was decided on to start the demonstrations in Washington?
MM: No. That was a strange time though because DOB was trying so hard to be closeted.
MS: And Mattachine less so?
MM: And Mattachine I think, less so. I mean DOB had this skirt and lipstick policy. Part of it was the difference in clothing for women was much stronger than the difference in clothing for men. Men could be successfully closeted in everyday casual wear. Women, to be successfully closeted, had to wear heels and hose. It was a much bigger clothing difference. So I’m not sure that Mattachine was intentionally less closeted, but they didn’t have to make the same emphasis on a dress code.
MS: That’s actually something I’ve really wondered about, because in so many of the other cities Mattachine was a predominantly male organization. And here in Philly it’s two lesbians who started Mattachine.
MM: Yeah, but we were being directed. I really do think you’re right that it was possibly the way to keep Joan and I involved in ECHO, because we didn’t have an organization after the Janus Society.
MM: I don’t remember much about the DOB split because I wasn’t ever really active in DOB because we didn’t have a chapter here. And I was kind of cowed by Shirley and Marion, who were forceful people.
MS: Now there is mention that a group of lesbians from Philadelphia went up to a DOB New York meeting.
MM: That would be us.
MS: And voted a resolution urging the national DOB to support the demonstrations.
MM: That would be us.
MS: And do you remember much about that?
MM: Joan and I and who else? There was always a carful. Maybe Jody.
MS: Let me try this from a letter. This is a letter objecting to how the New York chapter had railroaded the vote. And it says, “It was the first time since March 1964 that I (the letter writer) have seen Marge McCann present at a New York chapter business meeting. Carol never attends.” Would that be Carol Marshall?
MM: Yeah, whose real name is Carol Lehane.
MS: Oh, O.K. “While Joan F. is with us infrequently. Shirley, our president, courteously opened the floor to these Mattachine members and ECHO representatives. The New York chapter now has a number, we think at least six or eight, of Mattachine-oriented women in its midst.” And then there was this vote and then there was a big fallout. I guess at the following meeting, “five Mattachine members not previously DOB members have joined the New York chapter.” This is in another letter sent to the office. “Together with Joan F. and Marge McCann, these members have been very actively engaged in gaining support of their (Mattachine’s) views on picketing, both among our newer and older members.” I did want to spend a little bit of time on this because it seems really interesting. They suggest that you’re trying to make the New York chapter a quote unquote boy-girl organization. They call you “Dr. Kameny and his willing female exhibitionist disciples.” And then they call you at another point, “Frank Kameny and the girls from Philly.”
MM: Yeah. What’s interesting is that reminds me that I stayed active in all of that after Joan and I broke up.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Because I met Carol Lehane at an ECHO conference in D.C., which was several months after Joan and I broke up and we were still doing ECHO stuff after we broke up.
MS: So you were on good enough terms to be working together?
MM: Yeah, for some time, until we got to be on really bad terms.
MS: I see. But you and Carol had gotten involved?
MM: Then after that Carol and I got involved. She was from New York and she moved to Philadelphia.
MS: To be with you?
MS: How long were you together?
MM: Not for long.
MS: What’s interesting to me about that whole episode in ’65 is that you were just describing yourself as very naive organizationally, new to this whole experience, and yet.
MM: I obviously got active.
MS: Here you were, acting like the best of them.
MM: Yeah, right. I’d pretty much forgotten about that. And I’m starting to remember driving to D.C. on Saturday and New York. I bought a car and it became the car that everybody went back and forth in, going to D.C. on Saturday and New York on Sunday a couple of times.
MS: So what seems so complicated to me is all the alliances and stuff that were forming. What was your sense of that?
MM: I really wish I had a clearer memory of all that. I mean I’m sort of starting to dimly remember being really annoyed with DOB for its very straight-laced stuff. And feeling, I guess, that the wave of the future was to make more demands for rights, rather than pleas for acceptance.
MS: Right. And that explains the split from DOB, but at the same time Clark was becoming awfully militant, but it’s not as if you all were allying with Janus or with Clark.
MM: No. No. And he was pretty well out of it by then, wasn’t he?
MS: No. He was still pretty involved.
MS: And then also Barbara seemed to be on the militant side of things, and yet you and Joan don’t seem to have been allies with her.
MM: We didn’t ally with her, no. And that might have been a personal thing between Joan and Barbara, having been seeing each other, having it not have worked out.
MS: That’s what I wondered about, because it did seem that in the full range of the political spectrum, you all were awfully close to Barbara’s positions on things, active in both DOB and tied to the Mattachine.
MM: Yeah. I would wager that the reason we didn’t get involved with Barbara was fallout from Joan and Barbara having dated each other.
MS: And do you think the split with Clark had anything to do with sexism?
MM: I didn’t know about sexism then. I mean it might have been about sexist things that happened, but they wouldn’t have been identified as that. They would have been just discomfort producing. We wouldn’t have called it sexism because we didn’t have that word then.
MS: Right. Well it did seem you weren’t in principle opposed to working with men from other cities.
MM: No, not at all. I do remember, however, that we were always the coffee makers, the photocopiers—well, typers of things in triplicate. This was before photocopiers. I mean there was a clear set of chores for women. On the other hand, I got to be president of a few things.
MS: Would you say there was more inequality in the gay movement than, say, in other movements in the ’60s?
MM: I don’t know because I wasn’t in any other ones. From what I’ve read, no, not particularly, except that there were so few of us that I think there was more opportunity for a woman to be in a leadership position because there were not quite as many people as there were positions.
MS: So how many activists are we talking about in Philadelphia in the mid-’60s?
MM: That I knew of? I mean you’ve named them. I didn’t know of any others. We had our occasional join-on for a couple of months and then people get scared and drop off or get disinterested and drop off.
MS: It seems like a lot of people have said that the bar community and the activist community were really divided in the ’60s. And yet it seems that Clark Polak was tied into the bars, and from what you’ve described you and Joan were tied into the bar scene. So I’m wondering if maybe Philadelphia was an exception in that regard.
MS: It wasn’t?
MM: No. The number of people that were activists you can count on two hands, O.K. So it wasn’t an activist scene and a bar scene that were sort of co-equal.
MS: There was the bar scene.
MM: There was the bar scene and there were the few of us who were activists. And if we wanted a social life, we still had to go to the bars.
MS: So you sensed that people in the bars were hostile to activism?
MM: They’d out and out tell you because I tended to try to proselytize to get more people to be activists. By this time we were only going to women’s bars. By this time there was a woman’s bar.
MS: And that was Rusty’s?
MM: And that was Rusty’s.
MS: Where was that located then?
MM: It was hidden. It had a couple of different locations, most of which were on Quince Street. For the longest time it was the Variety Room, above what is now Moriarty’s on Quince Street. But she had a couple of other locations.
MS: Now Rusty was the manager but not the owner, is that right?
MS: Do you know who owned the bar?
MM: It was rumored that it was the Italian Mafia. I have no idea whether it was true or not. Carol might know. She might actually really honest to god know. Have you talked to Rusty?
MS: No. Is she still around?
MM: Yes. She lives over here on Rittenhouse Street and she’s friends with Carol.
MS: O.K. That would be a great contact for me. I have an interview that was done with her in Wicce in the early ’70s that showed me that she’s really a character.
MM: Oh yeah. And she still is.
MS: Great. So you were telling me, though, about people responding negatively in the bars.
MM: Absolutely. And people kept saying, “You shouldn’t be doing this; you shouldn’t be drawing attention.” And I finally figured out what was happening. What we were saying, as activists, was: “Don’t believe the stereotypes. We’re not all bull dykes; we’re not all screaming queens. We’re everywhere,” the beginning of the “we are everywhere” stuff. What the people in the bars were saying was, “Yeah, we know we’re everywhere. But as long as we don’t look like the stereotypes we’re safe. And by letting people know that we don’t all fit the stereotypes, you threaten us with exposure.” And some people avoided us—who were known as activists—because we would blow their cover if they were seen with us.
MS: Do you think that was a stronger feeling among lesbians than gay men because lesbians sort of would pass more, according to the myth.
MM: According to the myth. I mean these were some obvious women, some very unobvious women who would say those things. And whether it was more among gay men I don’t know, because I was never in the gay men’s bars. And I don’t recall talking about it with the activist men. I mean we may have, but that’s the problem with my memory.
MS: But back to this question, so if the bar community wasn’t all that receptive, I still have this sense that there’s a difference in Philadelphia because the activists in other cities were pretty anti-bar. And it doesn’t seem like the Philly activists were. I mean Barbara was to some extent.
MS: But it doesn’t seem that you and Joan and Clark were.
MM: No, we weren’t.
MS: The activist lesbians in other cities, as you were saying before about DOB…
MM: Well there again that’s the DOB-Mattachine thing. DOB kind of existed to supply an alternative social setting that wasn’t the bars. Although if they told you they never went to the bars they were lying through their teeth. Who do you think showed us the bars in New York City? Shirley and Marion showed us the bars in New York City. So maybe it was just personalities or the different philosophies. I mean having been brought into activism in a mixed-gender organization, I think, had a lot to do with how it grew here in Philadelphia.
MS: How do you mean?
MM: Well I guess if my first organization had been DOB, my philosophy as a growing activist would have been shaped by that. Instead it was shaped by Mattachine and Janus. And I probably would have ended up the same place as I am now, but I would have gotten there a different route.
MS: And that meant being better about bars.
MM: More mixed-gender.
MS: Different attitudes about sex and sexuality, would you say?
MM: I don’t know. We didn’t talk about it much at all.
MS: Do you remember, for example, being hostile to the physique photography in Drum
MM: No. It’s real interesting because that kind of division still exists between lesbians and gay men.
MS: Right. But you don’t remember. Do you remember Joan feeling that way?
MM: I don’t remember.
MS: The other thing I noticed in the way you were talking was that you described doing a lot of mixed-gender socializing in the early ’60s, but then you were just telling me about starting to go to lesbian-only bars at some point.
MM: Yeah, when there was one.
MS: And that would have been ’65 or so?
MM: I don’t know when it actually opened. When I first knew about it would have been ’65, ’66.
MS: So did your socializing then really change? Did it become more just lesbians?
MM: Yeah, yeah.
MS: At home, too, when you would socialize?
MM: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Why do you think all of a sudden there was a lesbian bar in Philly? I mean there hadn’t been one before.
MM: Somebody took a chance and opened a bar. There were occasionally gay men, more often straight men actually in Rusty’s. And the bartender was gay.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Bill Schafer. He died a while ago. I can’t remember when he died. I don’t know. It never occurred to me why wouldn’t there have been. That’s more the question for me.
MS: O.K. And then the DOB chapter that started in Philly in ’67 that Ada Bello and Carol Marshall were involved with, were you at all associated with that?
MM: No. Carol and I had stopped seeing each other.
MS: So you really pulled away from activism, from the gay movement.
MM: Yeah, I did.
MS: I just realized I have one other question going back a few years. Someone I interviewed in California who was involved with Janus for a long time said that he and Clark tried to start a DOB chapter in ’63, ’64 and that there were several meetings that were run by two men, but they were supposed to be women only. Does that ring a bell?
MM: No, it doesn’t.
MS: He’s the only one who said that to me. Well maybe if I can change the subject a little bit, I’m also interested in talking to people about their experiences on the job. I wondered if you experienced any kind of discrimination or harassment in the ’60s and if you knew other lesbians or gay men at work?
MM: To the latter question, no. In the bubble gum factory job, I was there only a few months and then I took the job with Ide Associates. Taking that job coincided with the time when Carol Marshall moved from New York to my apartment. And she needed a job, so I got her a job at the same place I was working. When our relationship got stormy, she told my boss about our relationship.
MS: Your boss was a man?
MM: My boss was a man. He responded in a not untypical fashion of deciding that what either or both of us needed ultimately, I guess, was a good schtup from him. She stayed at that job for about a year after that. And she and I took turns getting lots of overtime because he would set us up for overtime so that he could be late at the office with us, one at a time. And we would fend him off. And then he’d get really annoyed and give the other one overtime for a while. And he kind of played this thing for about a year until she left that job.
MS: Was he physically coming on to you?
MM: Oh yeah, big time. He once asked me, when we were driving to a meeting and driving back, if I could push a button on the steering wheel and give him an orgasm, would I do it. And I told him no. I mean he was peculiar. So if that counts as on-the-job harassment, which it certainly was, I mean it was sexual harassment at its purest. And it was explicitly because I was a lesbian. That made me much more desirable in his eyes. Other than that, no.
MS: Your getting Carol a job, do you think there was much of that, lesbians and gay men helping one another find jobs?
MM: I think so, yeah.
MS: Were you on the receiving or giving end of that at other times?
MM: No. No.
MS: But did you know other people who it was true for?
MM: I just have a sense of that kind of support, the job referral kind of thing. I don’t know specifically of occasions, but I have a sense of people talking about it. “Why don’t you try here?” But I have also the opposite sense that it was very dangerous to find a job for somebody because you might be outed by them. We didn’t use those words then.
MS: Right. But why did Carol tell your boss? Out of anger?
MM: In a fit of anger with me.
MS: Maybe I’ll also ask you something about the homes that you had. If someone walked in off the street, would they have been able to tell that your apartments were lived in by lesbians?
MM: It depends on how far they got. If they got to the bookcase, yeah. Or if they got to the bedroom and saw that there was two people in one bed. Other than that, no. I still have—still had until a little while ago—the drawing from one of the ECHO posters, from which I carefully cut off all the words so that I could frame it and hang it on the wall.
MS: So you had things that meant something to you but no one else would guess.
MM: Yeah. It wasn’t like now when you have multicolor flags on the walls or things like that.
MS: Did you ever have trouble with a landlord?
MM: No, I never did.
MS: Rental agency or anything like that? Did you know people who did?
MS: What about the way the households worked when you lived with your lovers? Was it real shared responsibility?
MM: Shared financial responsibility. Yeah, pretty much shared responsibility.
MS: Shared cooking, shared cleaning?
MM: Shared cooking, shared cleaning. With Joan and I, she did all the cooking.
MS: Was that part of the whole butch/fem dynamic?
MM: I think so, yeah.
MS: But it didn’t extend in any of the situations where you were working and your partner was not working?
MM: No, although I did know of those types of relationships.
MS: Well maybe we should move then to the late ’60s, early ’70s. I know that at some point you got involved with the women’s movement.
MM: ’74, ’75.
MS: And how did that happen?
MM: Women lead me into these things. Of course I was aware of this feminist movement. And at some point or other, it hit me upside the head and I thought, “I could have gone to law school.” And so I was aware of it, talking about it with people but not doing anything in it. But there was this woman I worked with whose name was Veronica, on whom I had a terrible crush. Whose sister was active in New Jersey NOW. And in 1975, the national NOW convention was going to be here in Philadelphia. So Veronica’s sister Diana was on the planning committee for the national conference. And she asked Veronica to come be on the planning committee. Veronica asked me to come be on the planning committee. And I said, “Of course, of course.” And I ended up being on the planning committee.
MS: So you were on the national planning committee?
MM: I was on the planning committee for the national conference before I joined the organization.
MS: Did you know anything about the election of Jan Welch as the first lesbian president of a NOW chapter?
MM: I knew of it.
MS: But that was earlier, right?
MM: That was earlier.
MS: And was this a significant conference for lesbians? Was this one of the conferences where some resolutions were made?
MM: It was a big deal. It was a serious big deal. And it was a significant thing for me because it was the first time I’ve ever walked into a room and said, “I’m a lesbian.” And that was amazing.
MS: Where did you do that, at the conference?
MM: That was at a NOW planning meeting of some sort, some sort of a planning meeting.
MS: Why did you do that?
MM: Because I decided I was going to do it up front. If this women’s movement was serious by god they were going to deal with it.
MS: And did they deal with it?
MM: Some did, some didn’t. But it was enormously empowering for me personally. The women’s movement did amazing things for my head. And the way the women’s movement was challenging roles meant that I could rethink mine as stone butch. I didn’t have to fit that. And that was the thing that really set me spinning.
MS: What was the first relationship where you weren’t that? Do you remember?
MM: You’re talking about gradual change, not actual events.
MS: So it was gradual.
MM: Yeah. I mean it was an epiphany to realize it, but to overcome that many years of conditioning, I would say with no intentional harm or intentional emotional damage to other lovers, this is the first relationship I’ve been in that has been physically egalitarian.
MS: And how long have you and Carol been involved?
MM: We had a commitment ceremony last year. We’d been together a few years before that. So it took a long time.
MS: And were there other lesbians on the planning committee?
MM: Yes. And what a pleasure that was. Just to know, to see women who were not in the bars, to see competent women standing up and doing things.
MS: Can you say who they were?
MM: There was a woman named Arly Scott from Boston who is perhaps the first one that comes to mind. Arly Scott sticks in my mind most of all.
MS: So this was a national planning committee.
MM: National planning committee, yeah.
MS: They had people from all over?
MM: People from all over the country. I mean there were some prominent names.
MS: And did stuff happen at the conference around lesbianism that you recall?
MM: I’m trying to recall. I believe so, but what happened for me was I was in charge of registration. And that was the year the American Arbitration Association had to come and re-register everybody because of fraudulent registrations trying to affect an election. So I was much more caught up in that than in the issues before the conference.
MS: What was the substance of the political fight about the election?
MM: I can’t remember her name. Karen Degrow was running and some conservatives. So it was a liberal-conservative thing, kind of a DOB-Mattachine thing.
MS: This was after Betty Friedan’s lavender menace speech right, because I think that had been earlier.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. It wasn’t explicitly lesbian-straight, but it was liberal-conservative. And liberal included lesbians. And there was much accusation of inadequate registration of people who weren’t quite qualified to vote.
MS: I’m assuming you were on the liberal side?
MM: I was on the liberal side. And I was in charge of the registration procedure. Here again I was in this thing before I knew what was happening. So this maelstrom was whirling around me and I’m just trying to run registration.
MS: Was there any substance to the allegations?
MM: There were, I believe, some faulty registrations.
MS: And what was the outcome? Do you remember who won the election?
MM: The liberal.
MS: And did you then become involved with the local NOW?
MM: Yes, I did.
MS: Was it a lesbian-positive group at that point?
MM: No. It was trying very hard to be neutral.
MS: Who were the key players in NOW locally?
MM: The key players at that time were Maida Chandler, Susan Sutton, Kay Wolfbine, who was from Colorado but moved to Philadelphia in that time in pursuit of a relationship and got involved with Philadelphia NOW.
MS: I see.
MM: Ernesta Ballard was involved at that time, although not for long. Maida Chandler was president of the Philadelphia chapter. And Judy Miller was another officer.
MS: You mentioned to Tommi some split that happened in ’77-’78.
MM: Oh yes. Very messy.
MS: Was that a liberal-conservative split? Or a gay-straight split?
MM: That was pretty close to lesbian-supportive, lesbian-as-anathema split.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Yeah. That wasn’t the explicit issue. The explicit issue was much more principled. Whatever it was, it was much more principled.
MS: So were there actually two NOW chapters for a while?
MM: There were. There was Philadelphia-NOW and East-Philadelphia-NOW. And East-Philadelphia-NOW I guess lasted about a year after that.
MS: And did you have other connections to the lesbian community in the early ’70s? Would you go to any women’s events or anything like that?
MM: I didn’t know there were any. I mean I was still doing bars. That was pretty much the only connection.
MS: Had bar-life changed much with the rise of feminism?
MM: It was a little bit less closeted, a little bit prouder, but not a lot. A lot dressier.
MS: It was a lot dressier? Was it more integrated racially?
MM: No. No.
MS: It was still pretty segregated?
MM: Still pretty segregated, yeah.
MS: When did that change?
MM: What’s changed? I don’t know. I don’t go to bars now.
MS: People say the male bars were desegregated at some point in the late ’60s, in part.
MM: How desegregated? Three blacks in a white bar does not make desegregation.
MS: I guess the point is that people have talked about how there was literally a line of demarcation between black gay bars and white gay bars and there was no crossing and that in the late ’60s some crossing started. That’s what some of the BWMT [Black and White Men Together] men have said.
MM: Yeah, O.K., that may very well be. I think there may have been, but I don’t know that there was ever a black lesbian bar. I don’t know.
MS: Actually, one of the things that some people have said is that the black bars were more gender-mixed.
MM: I guess by necessity.
MS: Right. But you wouldn’t have gone into those.
MM: No. I remember talking with maybe Joan, because we had a woman in our social circle who was black, about going with her to the black bar, but we never did.
MS: Do you remember what the name of the bar was? Or where it was?
MM: On Moll Street?
MS: Where’s that?
MM: On Moll Street in Center City. But I don’t know the name of it, although I might agree if I heard it. But I don’t remember.
MS: Maybe I’ll ask you this other question then. Do you think Philadelphia had in the ’60s and early ’70s a gay neighborhood?
MM: It would have been Center City to the extent that there was one, yeah.
MS: Bounded in any way or pretty much all of Center City?
MM: Center city east of Broad and Walnut to South.
MS: And Rittenhouse Square?
MM: Well the Rittenhouse Square area was a little bit different because that was like hippies.
MM: And as a matter of fact, there were a fair number of gay people who were also hippies, but it was defined differently.
MS: I see.
MM: I mean for a summer I hung out around there.
MS: Is that right.
MM: The Gilded Cage. Carol worked there for awhile.
MS: Is that right? So then were you around for the Rizzo crackdown on the coffeehouses in the late ’50s?
MM: I was, but I wasn’t in them.
MS: I see.
MM: I wasn’t in them. I know about it. And I knew some of the people.
MS: So did you know Mel Heifetz and his role in those at that point?
MS: O.K. So in the early ’70s, was it still just Center City that was the place that gay people thought to live or to go to?
MM: Yeah, gay men anyway.
MS: Gay men. Were there lesbian neighborhoods or areas where lesbians were more likely to live?
MM: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. No.
MS: Because some people say Germantown’s more a lesbian area.
MM: It is now. Yeah, Germantown, Mount Airy, oh yeah.
MS: But you think that’s happened really recently.
MM: Well I don’t know, probably in the ’70s. I mean I’ve lived here twenty-some years. And when I moved onto this block, there were several other identifiable lesbian households. So maybe it was already happening in the early ’70s.
MS: What do you think that was all about? Why Germantown/Mount Airy?
MM: Big pretty houses cheap. I paid $9,500 dollars for this house.
MS: That’s a good reason. And the word of mouth must have been spreading within the lesbian community.
MM: Sure, partially because it’s a partially black neighborhood and housing is always cheaper in an area that’s partially black.
MS: And it must have had some kind of reputation as relatively tolerant.
MM: It would have to. It’s partially black.
MS: What about West Philly?
MM: I didn’t even know about West Philly until more recently, so I don’t know when it became fairly lesbian and heavily lesbian now.
MS: That wasn’t your thing?
MS: So in terms of your socializing, it sounds like it was pretty much in the bars, so it was pretty much Center City.
MM: It was, yeah. It was in the bars until I got active in NOW. And then it became with people I met around the state through NOW because I got active in Pennsylvania-NOW as well as Philadelphia. So I’d be traveling all over the state on weekends going to meetings. As a matter of fact, once I got involved with NOW I pretty much stopped going to bars.
MS: Is that right?
MM: Yeah, because I got to meet a lot of people from all over the state outside of the bars.
MS: Right. Do you think relations between lesbians and gay men changed by the early ’70s, compared to what they were like in the ’60s? That’s a big question I know.
MM: Oh my. I don’t know. I don’t have a sense of that.
MS: Well let me try this. Some people say that the rise of the women’s movement created the wedge between lesbians and gay men.
MM: I’m sure in some individual cases it did, because the rise of the women’s movement created a wedge between women and men. And it would have been no different in the gay culture because we got a sense of our own worth. And gay men were no faster than other men in catching up with that.
MS: Well can you give me some instances of that? I mean you mentioned the coffee and copying or typing at the meetings. What other sorts of things?
MM: I don’t think it’s possible for people to understand that we weren’t aware of it until the women’s movement. When I say to you that, “Lord, I could have been a lawyer.” When I was in college, the thought of becoming a lawyer never even crossed my mind. I guess it’s so hard to convey that before the women’s movement, the vast majority of us never had a clue. We weren’t aware of discrimination because it wasn’t defined as discrimination. We believed, along with everybody else, that men should make more money than women. It didn’t feel fair, particularly for those who knew we were going to have to support ourselves all our lives, but we couldn’t put our finger on what it was. It wasn’t until the people, the theorists if you will, who were the first feminists, the first of this wave of feminists, laid it out for the rest of us, that we got it. So there wasn’t a sense of injustice until the injustice was defined. So we weren’t aware that we were being treated as second-class citizens because there was no concept of second-class citizen.
MS: Well it’s interesting that you said that you felt that gay men were no better, no worse. Because some people I’ve talked to say gay men were much worse than straight men. And then other people say that gay men, while still a problem, were a little better.
MM: I guess it depends on who you knew. I mean it all really does.
MS: Right. But your experience was no better, no worse?
MM: No better, no worse. I’ve had higher expectations of gay men. They should understand because they were discriminated against. As a result of the discrimination against women, being thought of as feminine meant that they got the same discrimination. But most of them didn’t get that. I had to pound it in many, many times.
MS: Did you have a lot of face-to-face conflicts about this with gay men in the ’70s?
MM: Not when I was in the women’s movement. I didn’t know any gay men when I was in the women’s movement. It wasn’t until I got back into the gay rights movement that I started knowing gay men. And are there conflicts? Were there conflicts? You betcha’.
MS: So it really did seem like you followed a trajectory from your early days being in mixed-gender bars, mixed-gender political groups, to the ’70s being more part of a lesbian community.
MM: Yeah. And now I’m back to mixed-gender in the past few years.
MS: When do you think that changed? Not just for you, but I guess in general. Some people say AIDS.
MM: Before AIDS for me.
MS: It was before AIDS?
MM: Well it was before AIDS was a big issue. I got involved with the community center. I got involved, I guess, first with the task force. And I’m not sure how that happened. I guess some people I knew through NOW started pulling me into the gay rights movement, the task force, the community center, and various other things. I got to meet a fair number of people and got pulled into being active. This is how this happens, but in a mixed-gender environment. I was for a while a social separatist. I’m not anymore. A lot of our good friends are gay men.
MS: So in this period, the early ’70s, would you say that you were being a social separatist?
MM: Yeah. I’m not sure how intentional it was. It’s just that I was involved in NOW and I was involved in the lesbian subset of NOW. And there were enough of us to make a fully substantial well-rounded social group. And it was a very intense group because we were fighting for our rights within NOW and fighting for women’s rights against the world. So I didn’t have any exposure to gay men until I got back involved in the gay rights movement. But I guess what I’m saying is that in that movement, I’m not on the separatist side of it. I’m now on the mixed-gender side.
MS: Any final thoughts?
MS: Any final words for posterity?
MM: Oh my.
MS: All right, well thank you.