The Stone Wall


stone wall

I was thrilled to discover I live just down the road from the childhood home of the author of America’s first lesbian autobiography, The Stone Wall. The book was published in 1930 in Chicago under a pseudonym. It wasn’t until 2003 that the author’s birth and married names were discovered by Tufts University doctoral candidate Sherry Ann Darling in what historian Jonathan Katz calls “a major example of creative, historical detective work.” I was just as excited to find that the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC – oft cited as the place the Gay Revolution began in 1969 – was originally opened the same year the Stone Wall was published, as a tearoom and in probable tribute to the author.

I first found mention of the autobiography in The History Project’s Improper Bostonians (1998). One tantalizing sidebar paragraph: ”’Mary Casal’ (her real name is not known) was born in Western Massachusetts in 1864. Her autobiography, The Stone Wall, published in 1930, is the amazing psycho-sexual self-portrait of a young woman’s growing awareness and acceptance of her lesbian identity. For a time, she taught in a ‘very select girls’ day school on Beacon Hill’ and is quite possibly included in [a] photograph of Miss Ireland’s school… ”

stone cover

Casal’s Massachusetts’ roots were not mentioned in earlier notice by lesbian literature authority Barbara Grier or historian Jonathan Katz. Darling includes Grier’s 1976 review reprint in an online OutHistory bibliography   :

Grier, Barbara (alias: Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal. Reproduced from  Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women from the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press 1976 :

“Apparently this is an undoctored life history of a Lesbian. Mary Casal wrote her life story in a casual conversational and entirely frank manner. Since Miss Casal was born in 1864 and was at the time of writing 65 years old, the complete detail of her love affair is almost amazing. Miss Casal was born in New England on a farm and apparently was a part of the class described as upper middle class. Her parents were a rather odd mixture, her mother a descendent of the very pure Puritans and her father a descendent of a distinguished English family of artists and musicians. She was the youngest of nine children and her childhood friends were all male… By the time she had completed her college education she had had three or four … crushes and one of them had apparently been physically satisfactory. In her effort to make her autobiography utterly untraceable, Miss Casal has obscured the sequence of her life to an extent that makes dates impossible to find in relation to her big love affair. However, somewhere in her middle thirties she met and fell in love with a girl two years younger. The affair was entirely complete and very happy for both women for many years, approximately fifteen years or a little more. During these happy years the women discovered many other women of like temperament and the authoress expresses her initial surprise at this, because previously Mary and her friend Juno had thought they were the only women in the world who loved another woman.

Miss Casal’s revelations about the Lesbian world of New York and Paris around the turn of this century are most interesting. Although Miss Casal tries to give the impression that she was never a professional author, it is hard to believe in view of the quality of writing in her memoirs. I heartily recommend this as almost a class[ic] case of lesbianism. Unfortunately the book is very rare and quite expensive. Those willing to take the trouble can borrow the book through the Library of Congress.”

lesbian lives cover

This review by Grier was likely published in the Ladder before The Stone Wall was reprinted in 1975 by Arco Press. A more recent reprint in 2018 by Forgotten Books makes hardback and paperback editions more readily available. The Stone Wall  is also now available for free online.

Jonathan Katz offered a much longer critical review of The Stone Wall in his work Gay American History (1976). OutHistory.org has now made this available online.

I encourage anyone to read The Stone Wall. It is a concise two hundred pages. Given that the author would have been the age of my grandmother when she wrote it, I was struck by her unusual frankness about sex. Her autobiography also provides examples of of what are now called #MeToo moments in late 1800s-early 1900s. Casal discusses childhood abuse and struggles with marital sex. She also gives accounts of intimacy with other women and entry into the subculture of women like her. Nowhere does she refer to herself as a lesbian, though Sherry Darling discovered that Casal’s editor/publisher referred to her a lesbian in correspondence with others and may have edited out anything he considered “too hot” for 1930. At the age of sixty-six, the last of her family still alive, she was not too reticent, although she did disguise some facts to spare her peers.

It is a delight to see historians recover more of her story, linking her solitary work to a much larger, vibrant subculture.   In 2004, David Carter, investigating Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, discovered that the same year Casal’s autobiography was published, a tearoom named Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn opened on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village NYC. The owner was Vincent Bonavia.

In those Prohibition days, the tearoom gained a reputation as one of the most notorious in the Village. Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn was raided for selling liquor. Carter also  postulated that its name selection sent a coded message that lesbians were welcome there. Casal and her woman partner lived for a number of years in Greenwich Village.

In Sherry A. Darling’s dissertation on Mary Casal, she uncovered the underground lesbian community centered around actresses in the legitimate theatre in NYC circa 1890-1920 that the author was part of. Darling believes, based on her research, that one character in Casal’s memoir is a male impersonator and actress who introduced Casal and her partner to others in that circle.

In 1934 the tea room, now a bar, moved to two former stables that had been merged and renovated at 51-53 Christopher Street, the current site of the Stonewall Inn.

stone stables

In this pre-1930 photo, the horse stable on the left #53 had already been converted to use as a bakery and the third floor of the stable on the right had yet to be razed.

 

bonnies-stonewall

This 1939 NYC tax photo shows Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn sign on the far right over the joined buildings. Source:NYC Municipal archives.

The business changed hands and function over the decades but retained some variation of the same name on the old signage.

Stonewall-6edt

Matchbook cover circa the 1940s before it became a restaurant. Courtesy of Tom Bernardin.

 

In 1969, as the Mafia-owned gay bar the Stonewall Inn, it returned to its uproarious origins.

Stonewall- daviesnypl1

Diana Davies photo of the Stonewall Inn taken Sep. 9, 1969 after the June-July riots had closed it down. Note on the sign that “Restaurant” had replaced “Bonnie’s.” Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Through extensive research into the few concrete details in The Stone Wall, Darling discovered that Casal was Ruth Fuller Field, born and raised in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Field later lived with her husband in nearby Montague on the Connecticut River. Casal had written that as a young lady she had spent the summer with a married sister whose family was great friends with the neighboring Governor, who had recently lost his wife. Given the approximate time period Darling was able to identity the Governor. Through his diaries and local property deeds, she identified his friends and neighbors. Through the genealogy records of those friendly neighbors and corroborating detail in The Stone Wall Darling found the name of the sister who had visited them that summer: Ruth Fuller Field.

I easily found confirmation that the person Darling identified as using the Casal pseudonym grew up in Deerfield. These documented details about Ruth Fuller Field echoed elements in Casal’s autobiography as well.

There is the 1870 U.S. Census record filled out by Deerfield’s historian George Sheldon. Ruth W. is the youngest, at 5, of six children living with their parents Joseph and Lydia Fuller. A black “colored” male farm laborer also lived with them.

stone 1870 census

George Sheldon also wrote Deerfield’s history and genealogy in 1896. In it, Sheldon included the Joseph Fuller family, noting that he was a teacher of music as well as a farmer and that by then he resided in Mont[ague]. In addition to the children in the 1870 census, three deceased children were listed. Ruth W. is the last of the living children listed. She was born June 17, 1864. She married Feb 12, 1887 to Frank A. Field of Mont[ague].

There appear to be no street names or house numbers back then, but an online search of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society’s collection provided details about Ruth’s most famous uncle, George, who painted landscapes of the neighborhood where the Fuller families lived. Called the Bars, because of some residents’ use of whole tree trunks stacked up to make fences, it was several miles south of (Old) Deerfield center, just past the saw and grist mills on the Deerfield River.

I was curious about just where that might be. It sounded as if it was on or near one of my favorite drives, a back way to Old Deerfield that passes through woods and farm fields before it comes out along the Deerfield River, where I might pass an acre of lavender in bloom.

When I searched for old maps, I found a watercolor tinted lithograph online dated 1871, from an atlas of Franklin County by Frederick Beers. The mills on the river (Mill Village) were marked south of Deerfield center. The race, a small canal, diverted the river to the mills. Each building was marked with its function or the names of its residents. Clustered together on the road south of the mills were the Fuller residences!

1971 map of Deerfield closeup Fuller neighorhood_edited-1

Enlarged neighborhood detail from 1871 Deerfield map by Frederick Beers.

The J.N. Fuller family (Ruth’s) lived next to Joseph’s father Aaron and his mother Sophia, and across the road from his brother George, who became the acclaimed painter even as he struggled to make a living as a farmer.

A Mill Village Road starts across the highway from where I live. Since it was a sunny March day when I found the map, I copied it and drove down that road. I passed by odd housing developments and cornfield stubble still under melting snow. The road started to descend toward the river.

Coming around a wooded bend, I saw a sign on the right side of the road, the Bar’s Farm Stand. Pulling over into its vacant, muddy little parking lot, I stared straight ahead at an old gambreled house, large and immaculately preserved. It looked like the one in photos at the PVMA identified as belonging to George, Ruth’s uncle. Across the street were two houses, just as marked on the old map. One, a boxier, old white painted house was in the position marked as the residence of Ruth’s grandfather Aaron. Next to it, with a driveway lined with sugar maples, sap buckets hung out, was a dark-stained wooden house. It was just where the map indicates Ruth’s family would have lived.

JN Fuller home Mill Village-1

Photo by Kaymarion Raymond, March 2019

The cluster of old houses were indeed located on a plateau, higher ground above the river flood plain with woods uphill and fields around that would have been in hay or planted with potatoes. As I continued north toward Old Deerfield, the road dropped down to the river, met Stillwater Road. The one room school the Fuller children attended at that crossroads was gone. Where the mills would have been on the river was now a dairy cow pasture, but running through it was a winding shallow gully that must have been the remains of the race that diverted water to the mill wheels. If I had gone farther, I would have passed a favorite Fuller swimming hole. Already I’d gone by a man pulling on his waders, getting ready to fish in the river.

SOURCES:

__Casal, Mary.[Ruth Fuller Field.:] The Stone Wall: An Autobiography. Eyncourt Press. Chicago. 1930. Free online PDF.  https://archive.org/details/stonewallautobio00casa

__The [Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians. Beacon Press, Boston. 1998.

__Darling, Sherry A. “A Critical Introduction to The Stone Wall: An Autobiography.” Dissertation, Tufts University. 2003. Hat tip to Anne Moore UMass archivists for accessing a copy of this for me.

__Katz, Jonathan Ned. Introduction, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930). Outhistory.org. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/casal

__Darling, Sherry Ann. Bibliography, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930). http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/casal.         includes article by Grier cited below:

__Grier, Barbara (AKA Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal.” Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women From the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press.1976.

__Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

__ Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC).June 23, 2015, Designation List 483LP-2574STONEWALL INN, 51-53 Christopher Street, Manhattan. Includes pieces of the building history not included in other sources.

__Stonewall photos used here, and many more, gathered from various sources into an excellent online slideshow.  https://www.nyclgbtsites.org/site/stonewall-inn-christopher-park/

__”The 40 Songs on the Stonewall Inn Jukebox June 1969.” Just for fun if you read this far,  oldtimer nostalgia. Playlist on Spotify by Douglas Bender on Feb 18 2014.“[Motown] is not an audible sound. It’s spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen.” – Smokey Robinson. Record Compilation Credit: Williamson Henderson, President SVA. https://www.charentonmacerations.com/2014/02/18/stonewall-jukebox/

__Deerfield Mass. Census of 1870. Schedule 1, Inhabitants, Page 6.

__Sheldon, George. A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times when the People by Whom it was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled. Volume 2. Press of E.A. Hall & Company, Deerfield Mass, 1896.

__Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society. Deerfield Massachusetts online collection. Much information online about George Fuller, Ruth’s Uncle, including paintings and descriptions of their neighborhood. http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/collection

__Beers, Frederick. “Deerfield.” Atlas of Franklin County. 1871. http://historicmapworks.com/Map/US/8346/

cold brook farm

https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll6/id/6268

In the Field family since 1866.

Cold Brook Farm, Montague, MA
Description ‘125 acre plantation, 6 or 8 buildings, electric water-powered generator, sawmill, cider mill, 26-room house for summer guests, dairy and beef hogs, tobacco, onions, asparagus, various garden vegetables, steamboat landing, Black family as cooks, had electricity before the town was electrified.’
Contributor Name Parzych, Joseph A.
Decade 1990-1999

 

The Peak of Lesbian Enterprise


An unprecedented number of Lesbian enterprises existed in Northampton in 1976-77, both old ones and new, that evolved out of the 1975-76 Separatist struggles. What particularly made this creative flowering different was that Lesbians were, for the first and only time, able to control, rent, and/or buy multiple spaces within downtown Northampton.

This was made possible in large part by the economic decay of the downtown. Its largest business, McCallums Department Store, had closed and many others followed as the city’s population sprawled and shopping malls were built further and further down King St.

When I moved to Green St. in 1970,  everything I needed was within walking distance. Over the next decade, much of that disappeared except for a changing cast of banks, bars, and restaurants. One by one, all but two of the neighborhood markets folded as well as the A&P on Bridge St. and the supermarket on Conz St. The working population that lived downtown in rooming houses or over just about every business aged and declined, too. Two downtown schools – Hawley Junior High and St. Michaels – closed. The working people’s businesses I relied on began to close their doors: Fine’s Clothing, Woolworth’s Five and Dime, Tepper’s General Store, Foster and Farrar Hardware, Whalen’s Office Supply. For a brief time, before real estate speculation and gentrification took hold and turned Hamp into Noho (competing nicknames), space affordable to women became available.

Below is a map of current downtown that I’ve amended with the location of the major 1970s Lesbian enterprises, which peaked in 1976-77. Following it is a brief description of the activity that took place at each address. All of this will be detailed in future posts if I haven’t already.bst 70s map_edited-2

#1. 200 Main St. Lesbian Gardens. Third floor space that was originally rented along with half the second floor by the Valley Women’s Center/Union. 1974-77. Currently Harlow Luggage building.

#2. 66 Green St. Green St.Top two floors, rooming house that started to be lesbian in 1972 and continued to be all or mostly lesbian at least until 1991. Building bought and demolished by Smith College. Currently grass.

#3. 1 Bridge St. Gala Café.  Lesbian backroom 1975-1979. Torn down, part of Spoleto’s currently in that space.

#4. 25 Main St. Nutcracker Suite. One large room on a back corridor as I recall, I believe on the fourth floor, 1976-77. This address also was used by the Grand Jury Information Project, Ceres Inc., and later, I believe, by Chrysalis Theatre. It was in what is now known as the Fitzwilly’s (Masonic) building.

#5. 19 Hawley St. The Egg and Marigolths. 1976-77 (estimated). Originally rented in 1973 by Mother Jones Press which in 1976 became Megaera Press and joined with Old Lady Bluejeans distributing and the Women’s Film Coop to form the Women’s Image Takeover WIT. Additional space in the building was rented to accommodate several craftswomyn and Greasy Gorgon Garage auto repair. These formed a collective of businesses with the self-chosen odd name. Sweet Coming bookstore moved there in 1977.

#6.  78 Masonic St. Common Womon Club. 1976-82. Private dining club for feminist vegetarians owned by the non-profit Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bill Streeter for his book bindery. Currently it is the Mosaic Café.

#7.  68 Masonic St. Nutcracker Suite: Women’s Self Defense and Karate Dojo. Moved from Main St. 1977-78. Womonfyre Books. 1978-82. Owned by Ceres Inc. Later bought by Bart’s Ice Cream as their bakery. Currently it is lesbian owned Bela Vegetarian Restaurant.

Jacqbear: My First Herstory Buddy


This winter I got an email from someone through this blog. A lesbian in California had done an internet search looking for information to include in an obituary she was helping write. At fromwickedtowedded.com, she had found posts of Jacqueline Elizabeth Letalien’s writing about the local herstory, the experience of being a Springfield bardyke in the 1970s .  Recognizing we had a mutual friend, Sue wrote to tell me that Jacqueline had died.

Over the next few weeks I met and corresponded with several California lesbians who filled me in on Jacqueline’s more recent life and the details of her death. Sue, who first contacted me, was editor of the Humboldt County lesbian monthly the L-Word , which had published Jacqueline’s “Kulture Klatch” column since 2001. I also heard from a friend and former co-worker of Jacqueline’s at a local library; and a former partner who had moved with her from Oakland to the redwoods land of coastal northern California. I welcomed their insights and reflections, along with the personal details about a woman I had known best back in the 70s.

I hadn’t been in touch with Jacqueline since 2016, when I tracked her down to inquire about republishing some of her bar dyke poems. Though we were not regular correspondents, I find in my files an accumulation of papers she sent me sporadically over the decades from the West Coast. These include document collections of Valley history given to or saved by her and copies of her writing, particularly as they reflected on Western Massachusetts. She was my earliest and closest collaborator in establishing a core record of the beginnings of second wave feminism and lesbianfeminism in the Connecticut River Valley, work that provided a basis for this blog forty years later.

Her ex wondered if I had brought Jacqueline out, an inference from the stories told about me. Although we had fumbled around in bed once, two sort of clueless butches, I didn’t bring her out, at least not sexually. Perhaps I had politically, in a way, by introducing her to the Gay and Lesbian movements at UMass. There is a clear trajectory in her published writing as a student at UMass. She moves from vague poems of abstracted angst signed by “Jackie” in a dormitory publication to coming out in 1971 as “Jacqueline,” lesbian, in the UMass student newspaper in order to point out some homophobic behavior.

JEL letter 1_edited-1Massachusetts Daily Collegian, student paper UMass Amherst, Oct. 1971

JEL letter2_edited-1

By 1973, it was “Jacqueline E.“ who was inadvertently starting her career as a journalist with frequent letters to the editor and articles in the student paper defending, explaining, and/or protesting the War, Women’s Liberation, and Gay Rights. She was living at Green Street  by then. In June, when she graduated, a group of us women caravaned from Northampton down to her folks’ backyard in Agawam to celebrate.

The next thing to come in the mail to me after the packet of her clippings were three files of documents. She explained in a cover letter that, after a year in Oakland, she had lived in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1975 to 1977. An envelope of clippings, flyers and mimeoed information attest to a period of activism with feminists there. Two additional folders, which were given to her by a Springfield lesbian and feminist, provided the material for the blog post on WAFs and antiwar protests by active duty service personnel at nearby Westover Air Force Base .

There is also a skinny file with yellowed paper dating from 1978. This is the laboriously typed (pre-word processor days) first draft of what became the Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology, 1968-1978.   Notes for correction and additions are penciled in for a final edition that had to be completely retyped. At some point, I will tell a more complete story of the publication, but Jacqueline took my idea and scattered notes and invented a format to hold all the bits of data. She ordered and fit it all together, twice.

Years later, when I thanked her again for this work she had done, she replied that the fact that I had given her that task had saved her life. Another decade went by before I asked her what she meant by that.

Eventually, she replied: “When I returned from California after my 1975 adventure…I was a survivor of a very intense Saturn cycle experience, feeling fragile, exhausted and terrified. I was a woman on the verge. With your assistance (including giving her the chronology task)… I could get my bearings and figure out what I needed to do to begin a healing journey and make closure with the first thirty years.”

One of Jacqueline’s former partners suggests that Jacqueline may also have quit drinking at this point, before there was any support for lesbians in 12-step programs.

Several months before her death in December of 2018, as I was drafting a piece about the early 80s, I came across a flyer for a reading from her work Babelogues at Annabelle’s in Northampton by, as she now called herself, “Jacqueline Elizabeth”.

jacqueine 1982 cwc_edited-1

She later sent me a copy of Babelogues, which she more informally referred to as her Bar Dyke poems, about her gay bar experiences in the Valley at the Girls’ Club, the Arbor, the Pub, the Cellar, and the Arbor II. Part of a larger collection of poems, some of them were published in the Fall of 1981 in the first issue of Common Lives/Lesbian Lives.

She also sent me a volume she published in 1982, Hostages: Underground Lies a Woman Buried. In the introduction, she called it a collage of the Women’s Movement: women’s experience with government terrorism 1974-75. Coming to awareness of these multiple violations was a large part of what hit her at the beginning of her Saturn return. On the West Coast she heard of the experiences of Inez Garcia, SLA women, Karen Silkwood, and Yvonne Wanrow. On her return to the East Coast, she was met by reports on the experiences of Joanne Little, the Watergate women, the women of the Weather Underground, and those lesbians called before the New Haven Grand Jury and jailed. What she saw was that, from coast to coast, being battered was the bottom line for women as a class.

She self-published these two volumes from Oakland in 1981 and 1982, with second and third editions in 1997 and 1999. They are stapled-together photocopied collections of poems. There was a long gap in our communications. It was not until 2001 that she sent me copies of the later editions.

JEL SF Pride, Dora Abrahams photo

Jacqueline after reading on the main stage at a San Francisco Pride. photo courtesy Dora Abrahams

Along with them came a slim binder of her first seven “KultureKlatch” monthly columns for the L-Word, 2001-02. I love the introduction: “The name of this column is an Herstorical reference to mothers coming together in a coffee klatch with other mothers in the neighborhood to talk about children, husbands, marriage, cooking, dreams; what they live, know.”

The very first column, August 2001, opens with: “Currently a timber company is spraying poisons along the Klamath River, near and on the Yurok reservation.”

JEL redwoods 1990 Abrahams photo

Jacqueline in the Redwoods c. 1990, photo by Dora Abrahams

JEL cut her hair c.99 being a reporter Dora Abrahams pix

Jacqueline cut her signature long hair about 1999. Here in a characteristic reporter pose, photo courtesy Dora Abrahams.

JEL KultureKlatch_edited-1

Another few years passed. I had started doing this blog and tried to find a current address for Jacqueline. Searching online, I found that she had a blog, for one intense year it appeared. It had come and gone in 2011, but there was a contact address for “jacqbear!” (I love this.), and a wonderful photo of her, (unattributed). I left a message.

j pix

unattributed photo from her 2011 blog

Four months later, she responded via email. “Sorry, I have a love/hate relationship with computers.” We reconnected one last time in 2016. That time, the batch of files came electronically. I printed out five years of KultureKlatch, Aug 2002-2007.

Rereading this more recent work now, I am struck by her occasional circling back around again to her/our experiences in the Valley in the 1970s. Each retelling gains depth of insight, candidness, and greater narrative skill. She illuminates areas of our lives that it takes a long time to see and understand before trying to share it with each other. She always keeps a radical perspective. Among the many issues she addresses, I note particularly her references to coming to know herself as a woman of color, the problems of drinking in the bar culture, and the violence lesbians do to each other in intimate relationships. The need for truth, for our stories to be told, writing as activism.

I read Jacqbear’s obituaries  with great interest. I recognized my old friend in the descriptions given of her stubbornness, magic, love of earth and cats, grumpy bear need for solitude. I very much want, as promised by California sisters, to hear, to at least read, the final cycle of her writing. Those are stories she became known for telling in Humboldt County “that take one on a journey of… the natural cycles of earth, wind and water, the heartbeats of women, and echoing sacred silences.”

 

Lost Coast Outpost Jan. 19, 2019

LoCO Staff / Saturday, Jan. 19 @ 6:45 a.m. / Obits

OBITUARY: Jacqueline Elizabeth Magdalene Letalien, 1947-2018

Jacqueline Elizabeth Magdalene Letalien
December 29, 1947 – December 28, 2018.

She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts to Lillian and Arthur Letalien and had one sister, Vicky. Her family were French Corsican, Miqmaq, Maliseet, Scottish and Jewish.

Jacqueline was a writer, activist, and poet. She considered herself a crone, an elder teacher, a dream manifester, a truth sayer “I am Ya’akova Elishiva de L’Etoile.”

Jacqueline attended the University of Massachusetts where she began a lifelong process of bearing witness, telling untold stories, and working to make a difference in the various communities in which she lived. Moving to the Bay Area in the 1980s, she wrote for the New Bernal Journal, the North Mission News, the Bay Area Reporter, and began Spoken Word.

Once she moved to Humboldt County  she worked for the College of the Redwoods library, then the Humboldt County library, specifically the Kim Yerton Memorial Library in Hoopa, organizing poetry readings in both locations. She wrote a monthly column for The L-Word and Humboldtgov.org described her as: “a spoken word artist known to Humboldt County audiences for her powerful, thoughtful retellings of Native American traditional tales, and her poetry, words from the deep springs of an individual human spirit. Her poems take you on a journey of world mythology, human history, natural cycles of earth, wind and water, the heartbeats of women, and echoing sacred silences.” She wrote poetry and prose for a wide variety of publications and two collections of her work are in the process of publication.

Jacqueline was “grateful to live in this beautiful valley and would like to thank the Hupa people for their warmth and friendship.” She appreciated both the beauty and isolation of this area and the community here, so much so, she stayed on after she retired. Jacqueline created many overlapping families for herself in the various places she lived, and she is missed by many of us. Her final request is for you to continue to enjoy the library and to live peacefully.

In Jacqueline’s honor, an open poetry reading is scheduled for January 19th 10:30 am at the Kim Yerton Memorial Library, all are welcome. Reception to follow at the Straight Arrow Café, 12651 CA-96, Hoopa, CA 95546 530-625-1083.

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The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Jacqueline Letalien’s family. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.

L-Word remembrances published in the Feb 2019 issue:

Dora: Jacqueline and I were partners for 6 years, beginning around 1994. We met in Oakland at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center where she was the office manager and I was a volunteer.   I was drawn to her immediately, from the first time I heard her talk. She was Butch, keys hanging out of her pocket, long hair, Native jewelry, grounded and solid. She had a presence/a way of speaking that made a room listen. We became friends, fell in love, and saved together to move to Humboldt.  I had gone to HSU and planned on moving back eventually. She had visited and hoped to move to Humboldt.

One of the first presents she got me was a tiny plastic deer, a reminder to be gentle with myself. She taught me how to organize my paperwork, encouraged me to get rid of things with difficult energy attached to them, taught me to reward myself after doing hard work, and believed in my strength far more than I did at the time. She was my first live-in relationship, and we were as married as two women at that time could have been. It wasn’t until my relationship with her that I was able to sleep without the covers over my head.

She was not easy. She was a bull-headed Capricorn; a self described “growly bear” at times.  She could come across as stoic and cranky but she was a pussycat inside.

She trusted me with her vulnerability and effortlessly told me she loved me very early on in our relationship. One day early in our friendship, a mean ex of mine came into the Resource Center. Jacqueline silently came over to me, put down a chair, and just sat down. She was protective and chivalrous.

She had powerful magic. She lit candles, set intentions, said silent prayers, and situations would shift. She told me about her “bar dyke” days, referring to herself as a “drunk” in those times. She had quit drinking completely on her own. She was a Witch, a Poet, and an Activist.  She left far, far too early.

Dora Abrahams 1-23-2019

Sue: Those of you who’ve been to my house know that it’s seldom heated, but most of you don’t know that the only reason there’s heat at all is because of Jacqueline.  She’d been to my house and I think realized the problem, so at one point when she was moving she told me she didn’t need her (very nice, new-looking) space heater and brought it over, with a long extension cord so it could go anywhere in the house. It’s made many L-word layouts warmer.

Lori: I met Jacqueline at the first LWord Poetry Reading, at the Expresso Bar in Fields Landing, in the summer of 2010. We submitted and read our poetry, published in the LWord’s “Voices From the Edge of the Continent” (Vols I-IV). Whereas Iwas new to submitting and reading my poems, Jacqueline had been a writer and poet for decades. When Iwas organizing our last LWord poetry reading, Jacqueline emailed back, “I will come anywhere, any time, to read poetry.” It was just a couple of weeks later, in April 2018, that I joined Jacqueline to read our poems at the Eureka Public Library as part of their Poetry Series. Jacqueline was there when I arrived, having come all the way from Hoopa. Her poems and her style were different from mine, often epic in length and mythic in content. Jacqueline read with ease, which I greatly admired and hope to emulate. I looked forward to seeing her at an LWord poetry reading I am organizing this spring. I was saddened and shocked to hear of her passing, so soon after the loss of our fellow poet and writer, Suzanne Moore, as well as the loss of Montanna Jones, whom I always enjoyed seeing at the LWord brunches and song circle.

As announced in the January LWord, please email Sue (suejh@humboldt1.com) if you are a poet, a lover of poetry, and/or would like to read your own or one by Suzanne or Jacqueline. They and Montanna will be missed, and we will remember them through their words and how they touched our lives. I will always be grateful to Jacqueline and Suzanne for their kind words and as role models.

May they all be resting in peace. Lori Cole

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https://fromwickedtowedded.com/2017/04/14/mafia-bars-and-the-male-gaze/ https://fromwickedtowedded.com/2016/01/30/bar-dykes/

www.lword.mamajudy.com

the Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology, 1968-1978.   http://www.vwhc.org/timeline.html

http://www.lword.mamajudy.com/kulture_klatch.html

http://jacqbear.blogspot.com/

Obituary written by friends in the Lost Coast Outpost: https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2019/jan/19/obituary-jacqueline-elizabeth-magdalene-letalien-1/

Obituary and remembrances in Feb. 2019 issue of the L-word.  www.lword.mamajudy.com

 

The Lesbian Separatist War


1976 conference, poster by co-coordinator Kaymarion [Raymond]

In May 1976, I went to a workshop on Horizontal Hostility at the Women and Violence conference held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. When the facilitator Carol Drexler attempted to open the workshop, one lesbian requested a lesbian-only session. This came in spite of there being a lesbian-only lesbian and violence workshop convened by Jacqueline Letalien earlier in the day. I agreed to facilitate a session and, after locating an empty room, we reconvened with only lesbians in the room.

As we tried to procede again, she began haranguing me, starting with why she had to ask for a separate session. She was speaking with such vehemence that spit flew out of her mouth. She went on for the entire scheduled time. There was no way to respond to her or stop her from verbally attacking me and other lesbians for political incorrectness. I wound up sitting on the floor next to my best friend and weeping. This kind of aggressive barrage became so frequent in the 1970s within feminist and lesbian communities that it came be referred to as trashing someone. This was a national phenomenon.

from the conference program schedule

That workshop was one of the last attempts to negotiate a ceasefire in what we came to call Northampton’s [Lesbian] Sep’ War. Instead of continuing to try to work together, some lesbians left town in disgusted disillusionment; others stopped speaking to each other; while small groups continued to gather around shared interests regardless of criticism.

It was not a phenomena unique to Northampton Lesbians. Black feminist Florence Kennedy used the term “horizontal hostility” in an essay published in 1970 to describe how oppressed people turn on each other in oppressive ways. The destructive divisiveness within New York City’s Radical Feminists from the early seventies is also well documented .

The series of linked occurrences in the Northampton area over roughly a two year period was large, loud, and painful enough for me to think of it as a war, even though it was actually confined, to begin with, to more politicized Lesbians. The vehemence of some of that conflict reverberated outward and caused lesbians to take sides against each other. It caused many lesbians to think less fondly of the new ideal of Lesbian community.  I have to come to think of the mid-seventies as the time when concept of “the Community” as “they,” made up of something or someone other than oneself, was added to our local lesbian vocabulary. The idea of political correctness came to us during this time, as well. “P.C.” had nothing to do with, as yet unknown, personal computers.

The idea of Lesbian Separatism had been introduced to the Valley primarily via the CLIT papers in early 1974. The fact that many local lesbians had adopted these ideas led to the establishment of Lesbian Gardens in the third floor space rented by the Valley Women’s Union on Main St. in Northampton. Separatism was not a totally new idea. Amherst Women’s Liberation, which established the Valley Women’s Center at 200 Main St. in 1970, had earlier debated and decided against male membership. Gay women, as well, had organized separately from gay men in the first Valley group the Student Homophile League at UMass/Amherst in 1971.

A major contributing factor to the conflicts in 1975 was the rapidly increasing number of lesbians willing to come out and meet some place other than the bars in Springfield and Chicopee. The Old South St. Study Group, described below, estimated that Northampton’s political lesbian community grew from twenty to two hundred over a short six month period, with another two hundred lesbians associated with its more social aspects. Those original twenty (estimated) lesbians had struggled together as feminists in the Valley Women’s Center and/or Union. They knew each other, and had learned to speak across differences with an assumption of good will. The same could not be said of all of the newcomers.

A group of Northampton Lesbians who were part of or witness to these struggles later gathered to try to make sense of what happened. Calling themselves the #13 Old South Street Study Group they identified and analyzed a series of conflicts in 1975-76 in the Valley. They wrote a paper which was published in the Lesbian Connection in 1977.LC had a national circulation and was published in Michigan. It concluded, ”Though we share a common oppression as dykes, our solutions are different, and we often engage in power struggles over what the community should look like.”

Many of the arguments among Lesbians in the Valley during this period were about where to draw the line in defining Lesbian space, and also about how Lesbians should focus their organizing energy. The Study Group started its analysis with the differences evident within what came to be called the Dyke Patrol in Northampton. Formed during the summer of 1975 in reaction to male threats of violence to lesbians going to the Gala bar, the group provided presence and escort to those at the Gala, Zelda’s, Lesbian Gardens, and occasional women’s dances. Some within the group objected to protecting male-owned businesses and straight women, wanting to only put energy into protecting Lesbian space. Others thought the group should be teaching self-defense in the bars. The group disbanded after five months when street threats appeared to end.

the Gala Cafe. Handtinted photo by Sandra Leigh Russell, used by permission of the photographer.

The next event identified by the Study Group was the unilateral decision at the end of 1975 by a small number of Lesbians to make the third floor space of the Women’s Center used by Lesbian Gardens into a 24-hour Lesbian space. This prevented the original, though occasional, use of the space for large meetings of the Valley Women’s Union membership and women’s events. According to the Study Group, other lesbians objected to the decision and the way it was made, both at the time and later. Still, the decision was never rescinded. I infer from this that the radical norm of consensual decision-making was ignored by a few. That created a breach in common trust that the group found no way to correct. It was, as well, an increase in the ideological distance between lesbians who perceived straight women to be the enemy and those who didn’t.

Over the winter of 1975-76, a larger group of Lesbian Separatists confronted the Amherst Feminist Repertory Company (AFRC) to demand change. The lesbian-led theatre company had formed at the beginning of 1975 to present original plays about women’s lives. They were rehearsing their second production, “Women On My Mind,” in a large UMass dormitory lounge when Separatists walked in and demanded to speak to the AFRC lesbians. After the straight women left the room, the Separatists criticized the company for putting on a production that shared content about lesbian lives with men and for allowing a straight woman to act the part of a lesbian coming out. They demanded that AFARC change this. What would happen if they didn’t was left hanging in the air as the Separatists marched out of the room.

I was an accidental witness to this confrontation, having gone to the rehearsal after working late at Everywoman’s Center on the UMass campus in hopes of getting a ride home. AFARC’s sound person lived at Green Street . So too did one of the lesbians in the group of Separatists, which included several former tenants, as well. I rode home with the sound tech. It wasn’t long before word spread of this action.  There were many arguments. Lesbians began taking increasingly rigid sides as rumors grew that the Separatists were going to picket the play performance and a counter group would block them.

The play was scheduled to be staged in mid-May 1976 at Bowker Auditorium at UMass. It was not legal to have women-only, let alone lesbian-only, events in that space. The work-around that AFARC had invented was to schedule a one night first performance for women-only that was labeled a “dress rehearsal.”  AFARC was not going to cancel the production or replace the straight actress playing the role of a lesbian coming out.

benefit became a default community meeting about the disagreements

VWU’s Susan Saxe Defense Committee had planned an April benefit to raise legal funds but, because of the increasing distress, turned it into a lesbian community meeting instead.  The meeting was held, according to the recollection of the Old South Street Study Group, “in order that the hostilities, tensions, and rumors which had been growing around many issues and events be aired.” I heard that this meeting was of limited value however because many of those directly involved didn’t attend.

The Horizontal Hostility workshop I organized at the beginning of May was the next attempt to figure out how to deal with internal dissension. Again, a Separatist demanded lesbian-only space during the workshop, and, as I described in the first paragraph of this account, I got targeted by someone’s “rage masquerading as radicalism,” as happened among feminists elsewhere.

The AFRC production went on stage two weeks later as scheduled without any protesting pickets. I was there. As I recall it played to a full and enthusiastic house full of mostly feminists who enjoyed the humorous account of running a women’s center.

One more attempt at dialogue between lesbians was hosted the next month. In June, the Susan Saxe Committee planned lesbian-only small group discussions of various issues. As this agenda was being initially presented by the Committee, however, heated argument broke out. The focus of the meeting got lost, and according to the article by the Study Group, people “literally stopped hearing each other, and past dynamics took over—screaming at each other, assuming sides, not wanting to appear disloyal to friends, etc.”

The Study Group went on to conclude that lack of experience in power dynamics and leadership let a few lesbians take power over others and that many lesbians let them. Their “ harshly critical and absolutist” behavior did not take into consideration the range and complexity of applying Separatism in lesbians’ individual lives; and some Separatists’ “impatient and simplistic” dismissal of other issues further increased  alienation of lesbians from each other.

part one of the study groups report in Lesbian Connection

The fallout from this intense period of conflict was a very active period of Lesbians (and lesbians) voting with their feet. The growth of Lesbian activities did not falter because of this failure to unite around a common vision. Rather, the budding of Lesbian community was pushed into multiple new forms in 1976-77 as Lesbians simply went toward what they wanted. In spite of a few additional sniping attacks from the more rabid, the blossoming of Lesbian culture in the Valley was to become vigorous.

Years later, walking across the Smith college campus after an Adrienne Rich reading, I saw two women holding hands. I was somewhat bemused to recognize the (former) leader of the Separatist group that confronted the theater group now partnered with the (at one time) straight actress who played the role of a lesbian coming out.    

SOURCES:

__Kennedy, Florynce. “Institutionalized Oppression vs. the female.” Sisterhood is Powerful anthology. Robin Morgan editor. 1970.

__Old South Street Study Group. ”Analysis of a Lesbian Community.” Lesbian Connection. East Lansing, Michigan. Part one, July 1977. Part two, Sep. 1977.

__Faludi, Susan. ”Death of a Revolutionary: Shulamith Firestone helped to create a new society. But she couldn’t live in it.” The New Yorker. April 15,2013. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/04/15/death-of-a-revolutionary

__Joreem.  “Trashing: the Dark Side of Sisterhood.” Originally published in Ms. Magazine April 1976, prompting a record number of letters in response, most sharing similar experiences. In which she quotes Anselma Dell’Olio “…rage masquerading as a pseudo-egalitarian radicalism.”  https://www.cwluherstory.org/classic-feminist-writings-articles/trashing-the-dark-side-of-sisterhood

further reference on horizontal hostility and feminism;

__Joreen. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” the Second Wave. 1972.

https://fromwickedtowedded.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/6bb41-tyrannystructureless.pdf

Mysterious Hanging in 1676


Thomas Cole, the Oxbow

I only had the vaguest sense of the Puritan origins of Massachusetts when I moved here from out of state. In my search for Northampton’s queer past, I have become more and more astounded that from a foundation of severe social constraint this Commonwealth has moved to become a national leader in gay rights and same-sex marriage. It’s as though, even as Puritanism and capitalism seems to still prevail, the state’s rebellious radical roots surface from time to time as well.

Among the colonies of Europeans trying to plant themselves on the east coast of this continent, the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a reputation for extreme intolerance. While chartered by the King of England and under that law, the settlers were secretly religious radical separatists intent on establishing a new Eden, separate from the English Anglican Church, in which everyone belonged to a congregation based on the same ideologically “pure” Christian covenant.

Throughout much of Massachusetts, one sees remnants of this past in the frequent presence of the white spires of Congregational Churches, whose founding dates back to the origins of those towns, when the towns were not distinguished from religious congregations. The colonizers went beyond English law to form this new society by requiring every new plantation (as towns were often called) to be strictly organized around Church, State and Family. The church mandated attendance by all, whether townspeople were admitted members or not. Initially, only those men who were full Church members and property owners constituted town government, with a vote and the ability to serve in offices both in the town and in the government of the colony. Everyone had to live within extended family households headed by such patriarchs.

This congregational social form was reflected in the regulated development of each new plantation as specified in detail by the Colony’s government. The meeting house was built first in what would be the center of the community. It was used for both church and government meetings. All dwellings, in early Nonotuck/Northampton on four acre lots, were built within a half-mile walking distance of the meeting house. The commonly held land of woods, pasture and field surrounded this center.

From James Trumbull, History of Northampton. Historic Northampton’s digital map collection. The Meeting house was at the intersection of Main and King Streets. Its common was probably where punishment stocks were located and where this hanging may have taken place.

It’s hard to imagine how small, closed, and conformist early Nonotuck, as it was first called, would have been. While the founding fathers may have been as interested in establishing their own estates as in creating a religious community, they did follow the Puritan blueprint dictated by the colony. The settlers were a single congregation that literally built the town around the church.

Within it, individual behavior came under constant, but often unsuccessful, regulation. No one could settle or even visit for more than ten days without permission. From the beginning, no single persons were allowed to live alone, but had to be part of an established household monitored by a patriarch for “disorderly living.” As the plantation grew, tithingmen were appointed to regularly inspect ten to twelve neighboring households to enforce the Sabbath and the 9pm curfew. They were also on the alert for idleness and drinking.

Amongst such constraint and near constant oversight, the existence of people who we would today call gay, lesbian, queer, or transgressive in some way would have been severely challenged. Research in queer history, summarized in a recent post , demonstrates that same-sex eroticism and gender crossing existed from the very founding of the Massachusetts colonies. It is likely to have existed in Northampton as well, yet is still hidden history.

A standard source on the history of the early settlement is James Trumbull’s History of Northampton (1898), the first and largest published town history. There is only one major entry suggestive of queerness in this entire two-volume work: a mysterious hanging in 1676 in which neither the man nor his crime are named. Under the heading “First Capital Punishment in Northampton,” Trumbull quotes from the journal of Rev. Simon Bradstreet of New Haven:

“July 1676. A souldier in ye Garrison at Northampton in ye Collony, was hanged. * * *    He was condemned by a councll of warre. He was about 25 or 26. He was but a stranger in this county, prest out against the Indians.”

Trumbull found no other reference to this hanging and remarks on the lack of facts, noting that “the crime must have been of a more than usually reprehensible character.”

from James Trumbull History of Northampton

I am left to wonder if this man was hung for sodomy, one of the Colony’s capital crimes. Although only one such execution has been discovered so far in Massachusetts, historians have suggested from records for all the eastern Colonies that sodomy was disproportionately punished by death. Such executions most  often occurred during early colonization, within communities struggling to survive.

We do not know what form the execution took beyond it was a hanging. Here is an artist’s later interpretation of a hanging that took place that same year (1656) in Boston on the Commons of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Hibbins#/media/File:ExecutionAnnHibbins1.jpg

Northampton had been established for barely twenty years and consisted of eighty households at the time of the hanging. It had also recently suffered both internal dissension and external threats. In the past year, the settlement had undergone witchcraft and sumptuary law trials. The conflict between displaced Indigenous people and settlers had been raging throughout New England. Just four months previous to the hanging the plantation had been attacked by five hundred Native Americans who had broken through the recently erected palisade, killing five settlers and burning ten buildings. The attack on Northampton was one of the last of the southern campaign of “King Phillip’s War,” and the reason militia from outside the area had been garrisoned in the settlement.


 

Although the judgement was reached by a “councll of warre,” it is very likely that Northampton militia officers, other settlement officials, and its minister Rev. Stoddard were part of the council. It is quite possible that Stoddard may have read a sermon published and widely circulated two years before on the sins of Sodom. Attributed to Boston’s Rev. Danforth, it urged the death penalty for sodomy and bestiality as a way to set an example for youth and avoid God’s vengeance on the community. Was the extreme measure a way for a settlement feeling under siege to placate a deity? The very lack of facts about the hanging suggests active censorship. Was this because the capital crime committed was “filth…not fit to be known in a public way, so as to prevent further spread of the idea as a pathogen? We are left to wonder if Rev. Bradstreet simply didn’t know any more about this case or if he was one of those ministers who literally applied the injunction that it was “wickedness not to be named.”

If any early court records for Northampton exist, they still remain to be examined for similar obscuring language. Although Jonathan Edwards scholars have made a start, search needs to be done for the entire colonial period for any local examples of lesser offenses known to have prosecuted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that covered same-sex eroticism or gender crossing such as: “unchaste or lewd behavior, unseemly practices, uncleane carriage one with another, uncivell living together, licentiousness, lascivious speech, disorderly living” and improper dress.


SOURCES:] 

 

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History. Meridian, 1992.

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. Harper & Row, 1983; reprint NY: Carroll & Graf, 1994.

__[Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998.

__ Haskins, G. L. Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts – A Study in Tradition and Design. Macdonald & Co.1960.

__Trumbull, James Russell. History of Northampton Massachusetts from its Settlement in 1654. Press of Gazette Printing Co. Northampton, Mass. Volume I, 1898. Volume II, 1902.

Available online: Volume one: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000004746782;view=1up;seq=11 

Volume two: https://books.google.com/books/about/History_of_Northampton_Massachusetts.html?id=PrkWAAAAYAAJ

Further reading:

__new perspective; Our Beloved Kin: Remapping a New History of the King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks, an interactive website. https://ourbelovedkin.com/awikhigan/index

__ McLain, Guy A. Pioneer Valley: a pictorial history. Virginia Beach, Va. Donning Co. 1991. By the Director of Wood Museum of Springfield History, it has an excellent essay on the largely exploitive economic relationship of the European settlers and the local indigenous people. Readily available in local libraries.