Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Uncovering Carol Doda Ephemera

The death of Carol Doda last week left me with a sneaking suspicion that I had seen a few treasures in the Hormel Center's archives about her. Due to her fame as a straight topless entertainer at the Condor Club, it may seem surprising (as it was to me!) that there would be anything at all about her in the LGBT collections. But this is an example of how archives promote unexpected and revealing connections.

The Rise and Fall of the World poster, January 1972
Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79)

To address my curiosity, I checked the Online Archive of California under San Francisco Public Library and searched for "Doda." I found three collections with Doda material: the Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79), the Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78), and the San Francisco Biography Collection in the San Francisco History Center.

My first stop was the Ritz Papers where I discovered a poster for Arthur Meyer's film The Rise and Fall of the World (as Seen From a Sexual Position). Miss Carol Doda was the star and the poster advertised the film's "world sneak premiere" and live stage show in January 1972. The event took place at the Palace Theatre, the home of many Cockettes productions. And the poster by Todd Trexler exhibits the same characteristic style which one can see in his artwork for other Nocturnal Dream Shows productions.

A connection to the Cockettes seems likely.

Carol Doda rehearsal, January 1972
Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78)

I next checked the Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection and found a real treat...a photo labeled "Carol Doda rehearsal, 1/1972." Based on the date, it seems safe to assume that this was a rehearsal for the live show. Though uncredited, the photo was probably taken by Mintun who was a regular piano accompanist for the Cockettes at that time.

Hmm...another Cockettes connection...but nothing, ahem, explicit.

Press release, San Francisco Biography Collection
San Francisco History Center

My last stop was to look through the file on Doda in the San Francisco History Center's San Francisco Biography Collection. The file includes newspaper clippings and other ephemera--including a press release for the film's world premiere in June 1972! It's described as "an erotic satire that parodies the styles of Fellini, Busby Berkeley and Woody Allen." I'm intrigued. It was filmed in and around San Francisco. And the press release notes that the film features cameo roles by the Cockettes. Now the connection between Carol Doda and these Hormel Center archival collections is fully revealed.

San Francisco Examiner clippings
San Francisco History Center

Of course, the unasked and unanswered question for me was: how was the film received? So I checked the San Francisco Examiner newspaper clippings morgue and found a few reviews. The film was not award-winning and was very gently critiqued by Stanley Eichelbaum and Jeanne Miller. Regardless of what one thinks of the film, its star Carol Doda left a lasting impression on San Francisco history and was a cameo player in its LGBT history, too.

San Francisco Examiner clippings
San Francisco History Center
It was an easy task to find these items but it required a little detective work to piece together the whole story. Archival collections often contain a few critical parts of the larger picture. It's the job of the curious researcher to uncover additional facts and connections to complete the rough sketch.

The Kreemah Ritz Papers (GLC 79), the Peter Mintun Cockettes Collection (GLC 78), and the San Francisco Biography Collection are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

T-Shirts Put the Text in Textile

Workers Conference Against Briggs/Proposition 6, [1978]

Admit it.

You have a drawer full of T-shirts at home.

Maybe even more than one!

Don't sweat it.

You are not alone.

I have a few drawers of T-shirts and I can't bear to part with some because of their sentimental value. A few are as unsullied as the day I got them. While most are well loved, threadbare, and stained--but clean!

So why am I writing about T-shirts?

Gay Freedom Day, 1978
Well, it might surprise you to know that the Hormel Center archives contain more than just paper, photographs, and audio-visual recordings. We have clothing here, too. Most of it in the form of T-shirts!

Though often dismissed as less important than their paper counterparts, T-shirts document particular moments in time through a combination of text, graphic design, and fabric. They are the wearable version of banners, leaflets, broadsides, and posters.

Lesbians & Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action, undated

Rubys, undated
I've selected a handful of shirts from the Nancy Tucker T-Shirt Collection (GLC 25). Usually these were produced to celebrate an event or organization. Gay pride parades, film festivals, walk-a-thons, bars and dance clubs, rallies, marches, and political actions are a few of the subjects that T-shirts memorialize. You'll notice a few of the annual Pride parades, the bar Rubys, Pets Are Wonderful Support, LGADDA, Living Sober, and a rally against the Briggs Initiative.

PAWS, Pets Are Wonderful Support, San Francisco, undated

Living Sober, San Francisco, 1986
The Nancy Tucker T-shirt Collection is not the only collection with T-shirts. The Barbara Grier-Naiad Press Collection also has a large number of shirts for Naiad press books, lesbian bookstores, and events. Several smaller collections contain T-shirts as well. These pieces of memorabilia usually get worn to threads and then turned into rags for house cleaning. Fortunately, some folks have saved their T-shirts and given them to the library.

Gay Freedom Day, San Francisco, 1980

San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade & Celebration, 1994

Film historian Jenni Olson brought a great website to my attention. Wearing Gay History has a fantastic database with images of T-shirts and additional information on creators, dates, etc. I have had a wonderful time exploring the images there. It contains photos of shirts from several different libraries and archives.

Freedom '92 [San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day, 1992]
What's fun about shirts, and any other sort of memorabilia, is that they are produced for a specific event. Those memories bubble to the surface when we wear, hold or see these items again. It is a way to reminisce that engages our visual and tactile senses. And it's proof that a historical document can be written on fabric just as easily as on paper. I invite you to take a moment today to look through your T-shirt drawer. And remember.

The Nancy Tucker T-Shirt Collection (GLC 25) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Teach Your Children Well

Texas--Action Alerts (GLC 104 Box 8), [1994]
It's Banned Books Week. And I have a short story about censorship to share. It's tucked inside the folders of the Jessea Greenman P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records (GLC 104). So it might have escaped your notice.

In 1994 Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the school texbook Holt Health. The Texas Board of Education (BOE) considered it for adoption statewide. After examining the book, the Texas BOE submitted "corrections" to Holt for the book's references to homosexuality, the use of condoms, some anatomical drawings, etc. The BOE felt that the book advocated homosexuality, the use of condoms, etc. They did not agree that such references were simply factual information provided to educate youth. Holt refused to make the changes, refused to censor the book. As a result, Holt, Rinehart and Winston lost a great deal of revenue from the $7.5 million Texas textbook market.

Texas--Action Alerts (GLC 104 Box 8)
Naturally, there is more to this story than the final act. When I looked through the Texas files in the collection, I found clippings, letters and reports that throw additional light on the context of this story. There's a 1991 article about the Texas BOE that emphasizes the importance of accurate information in textbooks. It reminds us that textbooks and curricula lay the groundwork for the next generation. Then there's Robert Birle's letter in early 1992 that describes GLAAD's presentation to the Texas BOE, textbook publishers, and others. The letter captures the excitement of the moment. Taken all together, it is interesting, eye-opening, and well-documented activism.

This story demonstrates the positive effect that can be realized with diligence and hard work. It is just one example of the advocacy that was the hallmark of GLAAD's Project 21 and the P.E.R.S.O.N. Project.

Robert Birle letter to Jessea Greenman, January 16, 1992

The Jessea Greenman P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records (GLC 104) document the activity of the P.E.R.S.O.N. Project, and its predecessor GLAAD's Project 21. P.E.R.S.O.N. stands for Public Education Regarding Sexual Orientation Nationally. Both projects worked to ensure that the public schools in the United States would present fair, unbiased and accurate information regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and about the nature and diversity of sexual orientation. Jessea Greenman was a principal team member of both projects.

P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Manual, page 1
The P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records contain correspondence, reports, newspaper and magazine clippings, and information collected on textbook policies throughout the United States. In addition there are books, training manuals, and audio-visual materials on the subject of GLBT issues. The collection is strongest in its coverage of California, Texas, and the Mid-America Region.

The GLAAD Project 21 series appears to be a combination of Jessea Greenman's and Robert Birle's files. The most voluminous material documents the success of the lobbying and activism for health textbook reform in the State of Texas. In addition, there is research material on numerous subjects that directly relate to the GLBT community and youth. These subjects include AIDS and HIV, the Boy Scouts of America, gender issues, family life, sex education, hate violence, religion and religious opposition, students, and suicide. As I looked through the subject files, I was reminded of the furor caused by Bert and Ernie's cohabitation. It shows that nothing was too small to clip when it concerned youth and their awareness of LGBT issues.

There are additional materials on organizations, such as GLAAD and PFLAG, with a focus on youth and/or GLBT issues, and on the P.E.R.S.O.N. Project's volunteers and organizational manual.  The Jessea Greenman P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Records are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle

The James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center is excited to welcome Lillian Faderman to the Main Library on Wednesday, September 30th at 6pm for a talk about her new book, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle.

Lillian Faderman is a historian, educator and award-winning author.  Notable titles in her oeuvre include Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America and To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America--A History.   

In The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, Faderman documents the struggle for gay acceptance and equality in the United States, beginning with the time when all gay people where considered criminals, to the years of bold activism when gay people fought against oppression, and leading up to the recent court victories for gay rights.  Now is the perfect time to learn your gay history and celebrate the gay revolution!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Frederick Rolfe Collection

In December 2014, Barbara (Mrs. Rocco) Verrilli donated a small collection of letters, a book, and some manuscript pages written by English author Frederick Rolfe. Also known as Baron Corvo, Rolfe was a gay writer, artist, and photographer.

His name was initially unfamiliar to us. However, a quick catalog search revealed a number of books written about him and many works written by him. We were intrigued.

Rolfe was born in London on July 22, 1860. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1886 and felt himself called to the priesthood. Though he was never ordained a priest, the desire persisted throughout his life.

From 1895 to 1899 Rolfe lived in Holywell in North Wales, where he painted a number of processional banners for the church. He died in Venice, Italy on October 25, 1913. His life provided the basis for The Quest for Corvo (1934) by A. J. A. Symons.

The letters in the Rocco Verrilli Collection of Frederick Rolfe Correspondence and Manuscripts (GLC 97) address the publication and reception of his work, his financial difficulties, Catholics and Catholicism, photography, and the Order of Sanctissima Sophia. There are also a few letters from James Walsh to Rolfe biographer A. J. A. Symons.

Letter from Frederick William Rolfe, Hotel Victoria, Holywell
to the Rev. W. E. Scott-Hall, Staverton Fields, Oxford, Dec[ember] 28, 1898

Frederick Rolfe spent most of his life as a freelance writer and relied on benefactors for support. As we can see in the letter above, Rolfe declines an invitation from Scott-Hall to spend a week with him in Wales, due in part to Rolfe's impoverished state. He discusses his desire for literary fame and his feeling towards Catholicism. "I have no quarrel with the Catholic faith. It is that only which has kept me from slitting my gizzard in sheer despair of solitude." 

Tarcissus cover.
Other materials in the collection include a pamphlet-sized book Tarcissus: The Boy Martyr of Rome (Saffron Walden, Essex, 1880) and a few manuscripts. One manuscript is an autobiographical piece that details Rolfe's literary output and his often-contentious relationships with publishers and co-authors. In it Rolfe refers to Owen Thomas, Barnard and Taylor, the Reverend Robert Hugh Benson, C. H. C. Pirie-Gordon, and their efforts, or lack thereof, on Rolfe's behalf. Rolfe also gives a brief account of his life in Venice (1908-1910) and the writing of The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole.

Autobiographical manuscript, page 1, [circa 1910]

In a number of his stories and novels Rolfe himself is the thinly-disguised protagonist. His better known works include: Stories Toto Told Me (1898), later republished as In His Own Image (1901); Hadrian the Seventh (1904); and The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (written 1910-1913, published 1934). His other works include the Chronicles of the House of Borgia (1901), and two books in collaboration with Harry Pirie-Gordon. The library has some editions of Rolfe's books: The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole: a Romance of Modern VeniceHadrian the Seventh; and Stories Toto Told Me, among others.

Based on the letters in the collection and his biographers, Frederick Rolfe seems to be quite a colorful character. For the curious, check out The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons; Corvo: Saint or Madman? by Donald Weeks; A bibliography of Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo by Cecil Woolf; and Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo: a Biography by Miriam J. Benkovitz.

And for those who would like to peruse some of his original letters and manuscripts, the Rocco Verrilli Collection of Frederick Rolfe Correspondence and Manuscripts (GLC 97) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Postcards: Notes from Notables

With summer upon us, our thoughts turn to vacations. Beaches, perhaps. Points of interest. Ports of call. And where there's travel, there are often postcards--short notes to let our friends at home know that they are in our thoughts while we're having a fabulous time.
La Tour de la Porte au Prevot, Thouars.
Alice B. Toklas Correspondence
to Donald Frank (GLC 21)

Postcards fall under the general category of correspondence but they are their own enigmatic form of communication. Concise. Often fragmented. Occasionally cryptic.
They are scattered throughout the Hormel Center's archival collections. Here we've selected some examples that offer glimpses into the activities of Alice B. Toklas, Harvey Milk, and Christopher Isherwood.

Alice B. Toklas wrote a handful of postcards and short notes to Donald Frank, the nephew of a close childhood friend. In her characteristic spiky script, Toklas describes her vacation to Thouars, its proximity to the Atlantic and its "delicious" air, her dog Basket, and their dread of the train trip back to Paris.

 Postcard date September 9, 1948
Alice B. Toklas Correspondence to Donald Frank (GLC 21)
In a second postcard Alice describes her 1954 trip to Grasse and Cannes, the markets there, the weather, and cooking on a spit in the garden. She makes comparisons to Portland, San Francisco and New Orleans and notes that her cook book is to be published. I particularly enjoyed her remembrance: "I loved seeing the old Mark Hopkins Institute where I danced at innumerable Mardi Gras balls!"

Postcard date [month unknown] 13, 1954
Alice B. Toklas Correspondence to Donald Frank (GLC 21)

Two years later, in 1956, we have a few postcards from Harvey Milk to his friend Sue Davis. The first message simply says that Harvey has arrived in Miami Beach, Florida. But the front of the postcard has a beautiful color image of the Parada Hotel, complete with the yellowed marks left from when it was taped up on a wall or refrigerator.

Parada Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida
Harvey Milk Letters to Susan Davis Alch (GLC 19)
Postcard date March 19, 1956
Harvey Milk Letters to Susan Davis Alch (GLC 19)

In a later postcard Harvey notes that he had to return to New York and will probably stay there for the summer. He writes "New York is a wonderful town. No place like it." The front of the postcard features a snapshot of the Port Authority Bus Terminal and surrounding area from the mid-1950s and more yellowed tape marks.

Postcard date May 5, 1956
Harvey Milk Letters to Susan Davis Alch (GLC 19)
Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York City
Harvey Milk Letters to Susan Davis Alch (GLC 19)

And, finally, ten years later we have a postcard from Christopher Isherwood to Bill Upton. Isherwood was a British author known primarily for his autobiographical works and Upton was a friend who lived in San Francisco. In this chatty card, Isherwood mentions his own upcoming visit to Upton and the hope that they can rent a seaplane. Chris also describes a visit from the film director Tony Richardson and refers to his film The Charge of the Light Brigade, which would be released in 1968. We found these postcards and a letter inside a copy of Isherwood's Exhumations that was inscribed to Upton and which he donated to the Hormel Center.

Postcard dated [November 5, 1967]
Christopher Isherwood letters to William Upton (GLC 86)
Postcard dated [November 5, 1967]
Christopher Isherwood letters to William Upton (GLC 86)

The Hormel Center's archival collections contain many different formats of material: diaries, correspondence, audiotapes, videotapes and photographs, among others. The examples above are just a sample of one format.

The Alice B. Toklas Letters to Donald H. Frank, the Harvey Milk Letters to Susan Davis Alch, and the Christopher Isherwood letters to William Upton are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Marriage Equality

Yesterday's ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of same sex marriage provides the perfect opportunity to highlight a new collection in the Hormel Center Archives. In addition, there are two related collections in the San Francisco History Center that are worth mentioning.

Scrapbook 1 (inside front cover), June 1998,
Molly McKay and Davina Kotulski Marriage Scrapbooks (GLC 96),
San Francisco Public Library.

In October 2014, Molly McKay Williams donated the Molly McKay and Davina Kotulski Marriage Scrapbooks (GLC 96). These 22 scrapbooks document McKay's and Kotulski's joint and individual efforts to attain marriage equality in California from 1998-2012. The volumes contain clippings, correspondence and email, photographs, speeches, event programs, flyers, notes and ephemera. There is significant material on the organizations Equality California and Marriage Equality USA, and there are copies of legal documents relating to marriage equality.

Davina S. Kotulski, a clinical psychologist, and Molly B. McKay, an attorney, met in 1996. They decided to get married in September 1998 and, in June of that year, participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade, fully clad in wedding attire.

Scrapbook 1 (inside front cover), June 1998,
Molly McKay and Davina Kotulski Marriage Scrapbooks (GLC 96),
San Francisco Public Library.

A photograph of the couple appeared on the front page of the following day's San Francisco Examiner and would be featured on news outlets worldwide in the following fourteen years they spent together. Although both had been marriage equality activists since 1996, this feature marked the beginning of the pair's role as a "poster couple" for the fight for marriage equality in California in the 2000s. In February 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. McKay and Kotulski were the seventeenth same-sex couple to be married on February 12th.

The photo below was taken in February 2004 at San Francisco's City Hall. Although we do not know who the married couple is, the shot captures their joy as well as the bustle of media and other activity in the background.

San Francisco City Hall, February 2004,
Shades of LGBTQI, Shades of San Francisco,
San Francisco Public Library

The image was collected during the Shades of LGBTQI photo day at the Harvey Milk Eureka Valley Branch. On Shades photo days, held in different San Francisco neighborhoods, community members are invited to bring in historic photographs of their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods so that these photos can be copied and added to the San Francisco History Center's Photograph Collection. The Shades of LGBTQI albums are available to view in the San Francisco History Center and in the  Harvey Milk Eureka Valley Branch.

Nearly 4,000 applications and licenses were issued to same-sex couples from February-March 2004. The California Supreme Court halted the marriages on March 11, 2004, and invalidated the licenses on August 12. On August 28, 2013, Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu transferred these licenses to the library. The San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder Same-Sex Marriage Records (SFH 89) are available through the San Francisco History Center.

These three collections provide glimpses into the events of the past two decades. Together they broaden our understanding of the issues, challenges, and emotions that have affected the marriage equality movement.

The Molly McKay and Davina Kotulski Marriage Scrapbooks (GLC 96), the Shades of San Francisco photograph albums, and the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder Same-Sex Marriage Records (SFH 89) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Gay Freedom Day Parade on Montgomery Street, taken between 1972 and 1978 (GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection)

In anticipation of the Pride parade at the end of the month, we're highlighting some materials from years past. We've drawn from the ephemera collections in the library's Hormel and San Francisco History centers, and we've included some photos from the Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection.

1974 Gay Freedom Celebration (GLC Ephemera Collection: Parades)

The first thing you notice is that the event has been called by many names: Gay Freedom Day, Gay Liberation Day, San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration and Parade, and SF Pride are just a few of the variations.

1975 Gay Freedom Day Parade route (GLC Ephemera Collection: Parades)

The next thing you'll see is that the parade routes and final locations have changed over the years. Many of the early parades started in the Financial District, continued to Polk Street and ended at Civic Center. The SF Pride website has a nice history of Pride events in San Francisco with a link to additional information on the grand marshals, parade line up, maps, and photos.

1975 Gay Liberation Day program cover (GLC Ephemera Collection: Parades)

The programs usually include the parade route, a notice of the events and entertainment schedule, and, increasingly, advertising. The early programs are quite slender, often a single newspaper-sized sheet folded into fourths. By 1975 there are over 35 pages, and by 2000 the programs are hundreds of pages long.

1975 Gay Liberation Day program, p.35 (GLC Ephemera Collection: Parades)

The programs provide wonderful snapshots of the time and include notices for events, businesses, political races, and organizations. I particularly like the announcement of the Gay Liberation Rally on the same page as the Jockey Short contest.

1977 Gay Freedom Day Parade business suit flyer (GLC Ephemera Collection: Parades)

Later files include flyers as well. Mind you, what you wore to the parade in 1977 was just as important as it is today. What's in fashion may have changed, but being fashionable never goes out of style.

Gay Pride Postcard to Anita Bryant (GLC Ephemera Collection: Parades, 1977)

The 1977 parade was well attended and well photographed. This was largely in response to the attack on LGBT rights that took place in Dade County, Florida. Anita Bryant led the well publicized Save Our Children campaign which sought to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance. She proved to be a lightning rod for the LGBT community and its allies.

San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade on Market Street with signs of Fascists and Anita Bryant (GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection, June 1977)

We limited the scope of this post to pre-1982 events but there is a wealth of material from 1982 to the present. Let me leave you with a photo of the crowd filling Civic Center plaza with the old Main Library behind. Wishing you all a very happy Pride!

On Parade! August 1981 (SFHC Ephemera Collection: Homosexuals. Gay Freedom Day Parade)

The San Francisco History Center Ephemera Collection and the GLC Ephemera Collection are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.