Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Verasphere Archive

Love Parade, Little Girl, 2008
As Halloween approaches, we all start to think about what to wear and who to be. Might there be something around the house that I can re-purpose into a costume? If you need inspiration, take a look at the Verasphere Archive (GLC 59).

Cross the technicolor world of Willy Wonka with the Project Runway unconventional challenge, and you'll have some idea of the color and innovation that inform the Verasphere costumes and personae. Vibrant. Elaborate. Resourceful. Artistic.

David Faulk, Flower Power Hoop Skirt, 2008
The Verasphere Archive contains newspaper clippings, oral histories, video-recordings, and, most importantly, photographs that document the costumes, appearances, and makeup of San Francisco's own Mrs. Vera, a drag persona, and her circle of friends.

Verasphere, 2008
Mrs. Vera is the collaboration of gay artist and costume designer David Faulk and his partner, photographer Michael Johnstone. The characters Mrs. Vera (Faulk), Mr. Tina (Johnstone), and their friends are collectively known as the "Verasphere." Beginning in the early 1990s, Johnstone documented their appearances at San Francisco street fairs, clubs, and other events. This was the start of the Mrs. Vera Daybook photograph series.

Folsom 2008, City Hall
The Daybook series began as a light-hearted documentation, but with the losses due to AIDS, and the presence of HIV, it has become a vibrant response to the depradations of the disease on both the physical and emotional landscapes. With Johnstone's diagnosis of bilateral cytomegalovirus, the work began to change, taking on a more serious subtext.

Green Dandy Top Hat, 2008
The archive has three photo albums. One of them contains pictures of costume pieces, with notes on what materials were used in their fabrication and when and where they were worn. The Green Dandy Top Hat is made from crepe paper, wire, tape, an inflatable flotation device, fishnets, hairclips, featherboa, fake bird, plastic jewels and a velvet top hat. It's just one example of the brilliant use of color, pattern, and texture. Johnstone notes that the colors in the photographs are un-retouched.

The Verasphere Archive (GLC 59) is 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.

Glamarama opening, November 2007

If you can't make it to the library, be sure to check out the Verasphere website for the latest information and photographs on Mrs. Vera and her entourage.

Villa Parkmerced, 2006

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Archives: Jean Swallow Papers

Photo: Irene Young
Jean Swallow (1953-1995) was a lesbian writer and editor who lived in North Carolina and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work includes poetry, novels, essays, and newspaper editing. Her anthology Out From Under was published in 1983 and was the first book by and about lesbians in recovery from substance abuse. Its success led to a follow-up volume, The Next Step, in 1993. The publicity photo at right was taken by Irene Young for The Next Step.

Both books were welcome additions to the literature of lesbians in recovery, as one can see by Swallow's fan mail. Her contributions to recovery literature form a piece of the larger story recounted by Trysh Travis in her book The Language of the Heart: a Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey.

Jean's novel Leave a Light on for Me was published in 1986 and reissued in 1991. In 1995, Swallow completed a book-length draft of interviews with GLBT families. These interviews, and their accompanying photographs by Geoff Manasse, were published under the title Making Love Visible: In Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Families.

Throughout her life, Jean continued to write shorter pieces, poems and stories. She collected some of these in "How (Some of) It Works," "The Star Poems" and "Winter Poems." There are often several drafts for each poem, with changes to specific words and word order. Most edits were made by Swallow, with some by other writers whom she trusted.

Swallow was well-connected to the women's publishing community in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, she was on the organizing committee for the third Women in Print Conference that met in Berkeley in 1985. Her file for this event includes minutes and organizational material as well as her own notes on several sessions, including one on Barbara Grier's controversial approach to promoting the book Lesbian Nuns (Naiad Press).

Jean Swallow died of an apparent suicide on January 16, 1995 in Seattle, Washington. At the time of her death, she had been clean and sober for 14 years. Her Papers were donated to the San Francisco Public Library in 1998 by Betsy Walker and Marian Michener.

The Jean Swallow Papers contain correspondence with authors and publishers, drafts of books, poems, stories, and talks, copies of published pieces, and publicity materials. In addition, there is background research on various subjects, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that assist people in recovery from substance abuse, and the Green River Murders.

The Jean Swallow Papers (GLC 50) 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.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Archives: David Lourea and the Bisexual Center

The Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN) was founded in 1987 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary. So it seems a fitting time to highlight the David Lourea Papers which contains documentation of the bisexual community in San Francisco.

David Nachman Lourea (1945-1992) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was raised an orthodox Jew. He received a B.F.A. from Temple University in 1967 and moved with his family to San Francisco in 1973. He was active with San Francisco Sex Information, was one of the early members of the San Francisco Bisexual Center and was one of the founders of Bisexual Counseling Services. He earned a Ph.D from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and served on the board of Congregation Ahavat Shalom. He died in San Francisco in 1992 from kidney failure associated with AIDS.

The Lourea Papers contains correspondence, articles, magazines, newspaper clippings, newsletters, and other ephemera on bisexuality and on the San Francisco Bisexual Center.


The San Francisco Bisexual Center was founded in August 1976 by Maggi Rubinstein and Harriet Leve. The purpose was to "serve as a positive support base to facilitate communication, to teach each other by sharing...learning, and to explore the essence and potential of loving" for bisexuals. At its first meeting 22 attendees established a steering committee. By early 1977 the Bi Center sponsored about 15 events per month from rap groups to barbecues to dances. Its membership was about 140. The center held a press conference in June 1977 to speak out against Anita Bryant and Proposition 6 (aka the Briggs Initiative). As a result of the media exposure, membership rose to 435. Lourea was one of the early members and was an early co-director. The Bi Center closed in 1985.

The Lourea Papers also contains material on other organizations that provided information to San Francisco residents: San Francisco Sex Information hotline, BiPol, a political action group formed in the late 1970s, and the Bay Area Bisexual Network. Lourea was keenly interested in the subject of education in the areas of sexuality and sexual activity within the gay and bisexual communities. Several files contain pamphlets, flyers, and drafts for the same, for the promotion of safe sex during the early years of the AIDS crisis. The collection also includes statistics on AIDS cases in San Francisco.

The David Lourea Papers (GLC 55) 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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

International LGBTQI Archives Conference: Amsterdam August 2012

Last week I represented the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the International LGBTQI ALMS Conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. ALMS stands for "Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections".There were about 100 librarians, archivists, researchers and activists there from as close as France, Sweden and the UK, and from farther away Poland, Hungary, Finland, South Africa, Turkey, North America and Australia. The conference was held at Amsterdam Public Library (see photo left), and sponsored by IHLIA. IHLIA is a Dutch international LGBT Library and archive, and owns the largest such collection in Europe. Three Pride flags are waving in the front of the library. These same flags were hung all over Amsterdam, particularly on the bridges crossing the many canals, in anticipation of the Canal Pride event on Saturday August 4th.

There were too many interesting presentations to give a comprehensive overview of the conference. However, just to give a taste of this rare gathering of LGBTQI people, I will mention a few. Starting with eastern Europe:

Polish art and cultural historian Pawel Leszkowicz presented a keynote lecture "Queering the National Museum of Poland", a report on the curatorial strategy behind the exhibition Ars Homo Erotica (see catalog, right). The exhibition took place in the heart of Warsaw in 2010, and combined the discovery of homoerotic works from the Museum's historical collection from antiquity to the present, with contemporary art work from southeastern Europe. Dr. Leszkowicz emphasized the burgeoning eastern Euroopean queer art scene. You can read his talk by clicking here. His lecture was followed up by speakers from Hungary. Peter Hanzli spoke about the work of the Hatter Support Society for LGBT People, which includes legal aid services, a counseling and information hotline, HIV prevention programs and an archive which documents the history of the Hungarian LGBT movement. To learn more about Hatter click here. LABRISZ Lesbian Association is the first and only lesbian organization in Hungary, and aims to draw public attention to discrimination against female sexual miorities in Hungary. Activities include creating public dialogue through education: publishing a books series; participating in the Budapest Pride Festival; offering the Lesbian Identities Festival (LIFT) which is an annual gathering including film screenings, workshops, book readings and a lesbian herstory exhibition; Budapest Lesbian Film Committee (a network of lesbian filmmakers whose shorts, feature and documentaries have been shown in local and international film festivals); and development of an archive. A portion of the film, Secret Years (2009) was screened at the conference. The film contains interviews with Hungarian lesbians, most of whom are middle age or older. Here is a photo from Budapest Pride 2012, courtesy the LABRISZ website:

This is all I have time to report at the moment. I'll be back in a week or so to tell you about LGBT archives and activities in other countries represented at the ALMS Conference in Amsterdam.

Karen Sundheim

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Archives: AIDS @ 30--Part 1 Caregivers

Photo (c) Sibylla Herbrich (GLC 53 Annemarie Madison Papers)

The AIDS crisis has been part of our lives for 30 years. It often takes decades to comprehend fully the impact of such a crisis, both as it affects our daily lives and in terms of the longstanding cultural and political effects. Our understanding is based on a combination of personal experience, reflection, and research on how the politics and social concerns of the day addressed (or failed to address) the urgent needs of a community that seemed to increase in size daily.

There are several archival collections in the Hormel Center and in the San Francisco History Center that lend perspective to this important chapter in San Francisco and world history. In this blog post, we'll highlight some of the collections that focus on AIDS caregivers;  later posts will focus on collections about People with AIDS and on government records.

GLC 53 Madison Papers

The Annemarie Madison Papers, the San Francisco General Hospital Ward 5B/5A Records, and Regional Oral History Office's interview transcripts are important sources for examining the AIDS crisis through the eyes of its caregivers.

The Annemarie Madison Papers record the many lives touched by Madison in her work as an AIDS volunteer. When the AIDS epidemic began, Madison asked the Public Health director of San Francisco how she could help. He referred her to Shanti and Coming Home Hospice, where she applied to be a volunteer and was accepted by Coming Home. Gradually, more and more of her patients came as referrals through friends, rather than through hospice. Madison guided these men through the dying process, helping them to pass on with dignity and love.

She maintained files on each person, keeping notes on their cases and their needs, photos, and correspondence with them and their families. The photos often include images of these men before they became ill, and they occasionally include images of them during their hospitalization. Most files contain obituary notices or memorial service programs.

What is clear throughout the Madison collection is her respect for each person, her compassion, and her regret for each life taken too soon. The Madison Papers also contain a small amount of AIDS education materials for hospice volunteers; and audiovisual materials, including interviews with Madison, television news programs with AIDS "progress" reports, and songs produced to raise awareness.

Photo (c) Sibylla Herbrich (GLC 53 Madison Papers)

Madison and her work was profiled in several newspaper and magazine articles. In 1995, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany awarded Madison the Order of Merit, First Class, of the Federal Republic of Germany for her work in the AIDS crisis. In 1996, the Kuratorium for Immune Deficiency (Munich) created the Annemarie Madison Award to honor those who contribute to improving care for AIDS.

Another extraordinary resource is the San Francisco General Hospital AIDS Ward 5B/5A Records. San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 5B, the first dedicated AIDS hospital ward in the United States, opened with 12 beds on July 25, 1983 and included both AIDS and hospice patients. Cliff Morrison, a former Clinical Nurse Specialist in psychiatry, was the first nurse manager. Capacity quickly proved to be inadequate, so on Jan. 17, 1986, the ward was moved to the 20-bed Ward 5A.

In the mid-1990s, with the availability of new drugs called protease inhibitors, the number of AIDS patients decreased sufficiently that the ward began admitting non-AIDS-related oncology patients. With its interdisciplinary approach, Ward 5B/5A set a new standard in AIDS-related medical care.

GLC 53 Annemarie Madison Papers
The AIDS Ward collection contains scrapbooks, communication books, head nurses' files, correspondence, videotapes, publications, and memorabilia collected by the nursing staff of AIDS Ward 5B/5A. The collection documents daily life on the ward among patients, their families and friends, nurses, and volunteers. Of note are the photos of public events and celebrations, minutes of nursing staff meetings, and copies of the "Best Hospitals" issues of US News and World Report, 1991-1997. The collection also reflects the changing role of nursing, as 5B/5A nurses were critical to the development of the multidisciplinary model of AIDS care that came to be known as the "San Francisco model."

GLC 53 Annemarie Madison Papers
In addition to these two archival collections, the San Francisco History Center has transcripts of oral histories conducted by the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley. The subject is AIDS in San Francisco during the years 1981-1984. You can find the transcripts of these interviews listed in the library's online catalog. These include doctors' and nurses' views, as well as those of AIDS health educators. 

All of the materials listed above 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.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Archives May 2012

Yonkers Production Company

Scene from The Boy Friend
(GLC 61 Gregory Grosh Yonkers Production Company Slides)

In 2009, Gregory Grosh donated his collection of materials about the Yonkers Production Company. It was a San Francisco theater company in the 1970s that specialized in all-male productions of popular musicals such as Dames at Sea, The Boy Friend, and Hello, Dolly! Several performances took place at the Village Theatre.

Review in David (GLC 61 Gregory Grosh
Yonkers Production Company Slides)
Behind the scenes preparations for The Boy Friend
(GLC 61 Gregory Grosh Yonkers Production Company)
Yonkers was an off-shoot of SIR Productions and involved many of the same people. They included co-producers Perry George and John Kozak; Chuck Zinn, director; and Doug Marglin, choreographer. SIR, the Society for Individual Rights, was a homophile organization based in San Francisco.

Grosh was a neighbor of Kozak and Marglin's, and he became a member of the Yonkers Production Company at their invitation. He performed many behind the scenes tasks, such as taking photographs. His photographs of The Boy Friend appear in several reviews; he is credited as Fotografix and Photo-Graphix.

Scene from Dames at Sea (GLC 61 Gregory Grosh Yonkers Production Company Slides)

The Gregory Grosh Yonkers Production Company Slides collection contains slides of three Yonkers productions and the Golden Awards, plus a few reviews and one program. The program for the May 1972 Hello, Dolly! production includes the article "The Siege of the Palace of Fine Arts" by Perry George, in which he details the search for a performance venue.

The collection is open for research, with photographs available for viewing during Photo Desk hours: Tuesday: 1-5; Thursday: 1-5; Saturday: 10-12, 1-5. All archival collections are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Happy birthday, Harvey Milk!

GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives--Scott Smith Collection

Today Harvey Milk would have been 82!

If you're interested in learning more about Harvey Milk and his times, check out this post:


Monday, April 30, 2012

Archives April 2012


Bar Associations ...
lawyers, no ... lesbians, yes!

The library recently acquired the Grace Miller Papers. Grace was one of the owners of record for Tommy's Place and 12 Adler Place, two bars that operated from 1952-1954 and were frequented by lesbians. Grace is pictured at left, behind the bar.

The Grace Miller Papers include correspondence, subject files, photographs and a scrapbook. The subject files include flyers and announcements for a number of lesbian bars from the 1950s to the 1960s.

In September 1954, Grace Miller and co-owners Joyce van de Veer and Jean Sullivan became the subjects of intense public scrutiny as a result of charges against Tommy's Place for underage drinking, drug use, and perverted activity. Grace and Joyce were tending bar and were arrested for serving alcohol to minors. The collection contains a scrapbook with newspaper clippings from the time of the arrests, and Miller's trial and sentencing.

In Nan Boyd's book Wide Open Town, Reba Hudson describes the events surrounding the 1954 arrests and trial. "Tommy [Vasu] lost her license because of the arrests...but the person who actually serves the minor is the one who does the time. ... the two bartenders, they were the victims of this whole thing. Gracie went to trial right at the height of the publicity, that's really why she was convicted. ... Gracie was just a scapegoat because she went to trial when the anti-gay stuff was at its most hysterical peak." Jean was not arrested at all and Joyce got off with probation or a lighter sentence.

Boyd sets the Tommy's Place arrests and trial within the context of McCarthy era politics. She notes that the arrests happened immediately before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency's hearing in San Francisco in October 1954. The lurid headlines about the "thrill bar" served to link juvenile delinquency with sexual deviance, drug use, and prostitution. The San Francisco Examiner editorial shown here deftly (and frighteningly) sums up the thinking prevalent at that time. Although the writer misidentifies the bar as Tommy's Joint rather than Tommy's Place, it is clear that no evidence was really necessary to convict these individuals in the court of public opinion.

The Grace Miller Papers are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photographs desk.