The Women of ONE
By former ONE, Incorporated President Jim Kepner
The Early 1950s
Too many writers have claimed that, prior to the formation of the Daughters of Bilitis (1955, San Francisco) the homophile movement, as it was then known, was almost entirely white male, and the rare women participants were expected to make coffee or keep minutes. Of course a few male chauvinists in the Mattachine Society did suggest such duties, “now that we have some girls here,” but some Mattachine women, from early 1953 on, played pivotal roles, and from 1954 until 1960, women took leading roles in ONE Incorporated and its publication, ONE Magazine.
In those early movement years many contributors used a pen name when they wrote for ONE Magazine or if their name appeared on the masthead. I myself had several, most frequently it was Lyn Pederson or Dal McIntire. In the lines that follow I will use italics for all pen names, and quote marks for nicknames.
Betty Perdue, aka Geraldine Jackson, (who took this writer to his first Mattachine meeting In late 1952) did a poem, "Proud & Unashamed," for ONE Magazine’s first issue, Jan 1953, and helped use a paper cutter to disastrously trim issue #2, produced in the office of editor Dale Jennings’s sister Elaine. Betty regularly complained that my news column "Tangents" ran too many unhappy stories—raids, murders, arrests, blackmail, etc. "Why can't you give us more happy news?" Well, happy news was hard to come by in those days. Betty continued to attend many ONE affairs until her death during the 1987 earthquake—possibly a heart attack.
Corky and Joan
February 1954 was ONE's first special edition, "The Feminine Viewpoint." A section by that name later occupied about a third of each magazine issue for years. Leading ONE was the team of Editor-in-Chief (and Board President) Ann Carll Reid (“Corky” Wolf) and Art Editor, elfin Joan Corbin, aka Eve Elloree, whose delicate, clever sketches long set the magazine’s tone. “Corky” and Joan had grown up together in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and had subscribed to Lisa Ben’s pioneer lesbian publication, Vice Versa: America’s Gayest Magazine (1947-48). Some items from that early carbon-copied newsletter were reprinted in the Feb. 1953 issue of ONE Magazine.
Tiny, hard-driving "Corky" was a breadwinning butch who wanted her femme at home and limited to wifely concerns. Joan, one of the most personable and talented individuals I've ever worked with, eventually grew restive, spending more time working at ONE's office—by then across the hall from Elaine's quarters—and by 1957, a game of musical chairs began. Joan moved in with Stella Rush, aka Sten Russell, who did verse and excellent reporting for ONE and for The Ladder, the magazine of The Daughters of Bilitis. “Corky” partnered with “ who wrote chunks of "The Feminine Viewpoint" under several names, including Gabrielle Ganelle. “Corky” was unwilling to admit that homophile women’s and men’s interests and goals sometimes diverged. She became upset by the suggestion that we start a separate women’s magazine. Troubled by ill health, "Corky" eventually returned to the midwest, visiting ONE’s office once in recent years.
Joan, who continued occasional work with ONE and later with Tangents magazine, joined with fellow artist Wilna Onthank, aka "Willi" or Dawn Frederic, a victim of Catholic guilt (her gay brother committed suicide). "Willi" did a few ONE covers plus layout work for my own baby, ONE Institute Quarterly of Homophile Studies. Melancholy "Willi" and I often spent pleasant time together socially. Eventually Joan joined with a handsome horsewoman, Gingere, and rode off on a trail away from the rest of us.
Another woman on ONE's editorial board was jolly Nancy, aka Alison Hunter (who once dumped her collection of hot sauces into a pot of chili I had made). Also in our expanding social circle at ONE was Irene Weiss, a gamin crewcut blond (very unique at the time) who later started Califia Community, a Los Angeles feminist project; and a striking pair of small, very formal metaphysical women decked out impressively in gold braid and clinking bangles.
Stella and Sandy
Stella soon found her psychic twin in Helen Sandoz, or “Sandy,” the forgotten first president of the Daughters of Bilitis, who with other Gays had produced a small civic booster magazine in Portland. She also helped encourage fellow Sears employee Troy Perry in 1968 to start a church that would minister to gays. I thought rail-thin Stella and Sandy both seemed butch, but they called themselves "ki-ki" meaning, among other things, they’d found an equal butch/femme relationship. “Sometimes I need a shoulder to cry on, and when she needs one, my shoulder’s there,” explained one. Stella and Sandy served as ONE Trustees until mid-1960. Later they became active in the Council on Religion and the Homophile and in Prosperos, a metaphysical group long allied with our movement. They edited The Ladder in 1967. I visited them once when they moved to Costa Mesa and last saw Stella at Orange County’s first gay festival (Sandy had since died).
Evelyn Hooker and Blanche M. Baker
We were especially close to UCLA’s non-gay, dynamic and warm research psychologist Dr. Evelyn Hooker, (1907 - 1996), subject of the recent film documentary Changing Minds, whose research shattered so many false assumptions the shrinks had made about homosexuals. Also close to us, and non-gay, was motherly, ebullient Dr. Blanche M. Baker, a state surgeon turned psychiatrist, who electrified our first Midwinter Institute in January 1955. After calling most gays wonderful, well adjusted, often highly talented people, she stopped and laughed: "I'm not used to saying this to people who already agree with me," so she shook us up by talking about reincarnation, insisting she'd been a gay man in most of her earlier lives. She wrote "Toward Understanding" for ONE, the first advice column in an American gay publication. Then-prominent cure-peddler, the strident Dr. Albert Ellis, bitterly attacked her for saying that gays weren't necessarily neurotic.
The Later 1950s
Many women around the country wrote to and for ONE Magazine, including Jeannette Foster and Barbara Grier. We rarely questioned the idea that gay men and women were similarly victims of social prejudice and discrimination, but we found that most of our male readers wanted more sex, while most of our female readers wanted more sentiment. Betty Perdue wasn’t the only one to complain that gay men had their minds in tea-rooms (public toilets)—though she admitted having had sex herself in both tea-rooms and bushes.
Tall, dynamic Venice V. joined ONE's staff around 1957, but her forceful ideas on promotion clashed with another staffer. I recall her somewhat noisily interjecting comment from under a table she was sanding and shellacking while I lectured on “Homosexuals in World History.” It was ONE Institute of Homophile Studies’ first course on the subject. Venice felt free to throw in many perceptive comments, as did Stella and Sandy.
By 1958, the Daughters of Bilitis organized an off-and-on Los Angeles chapter, and while ONE and DOB were friendly, the DOB drew off recruits who might earlier have come to ONE. Turnover and a new awareness of male chauvinism reduced ONE’s feminist viewpoint. Coralee Webb, our first Black woman, came later, as did Flo Fleishman and Jo, and my neighbor, Thelma, who moved from ONE's drama group to later SPREE plays. But as vigorous new feminists critiqued male-dominance and sexism, women became scarce in mixed groups other than the Metropolitan Community Church and the parade committees.