By Sharon Cortelyou
April 12, 2016: One year ago, after consulting with the women who run the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project (OLOHP), we began an oral history project to document Betty Neeley's life story. OLOHP began in 1997 when Arden Eversmeyer started working with women she knew who were ill and dying in Houston, Texas. She then began collecting stories from friends in Texas and across the nation.
And now, she and others are working to collect the life stories from lesbians age 70 and older wherever they are found, and whenever they are willing to share them. The project provides digital recorders and over the course of the spring and summer of 2015, myself and others conducted multiple interviews with Betty.
Present for our four interviews with Betty were Carol Seithel, Carolyn Niethe, Donna Welling and Betty's partner, Cindy Walsh. Each interview was loaded on to a computer and sent to OLOHP. These digital recordings were then turned over to OLOHP's professional transcribers.
We received a copy of the transcript and reviewed for accuracy and errors. We also provided footnotes on several important memories. We digitally scanned a number of Betty's photos and memorabilia to send to the Project team.
The final product, a nicely bound book, was presented to Betty on April 3, 2016 at Lilly's Music and Social House during a special "Herstory Brunch." Copies will also go to the Archives at Smith College, OLOHP, and the St. Louis LGBT History Project. Thanks to everyone for making this happen. We are planning to conduct additional St. Louis lesbian oral histories in the near future. Stay tuned.
By Ian Darnell
April 8, 2016: The St. Louis LGBT History Project recently identified photographs of three early LGBTQ-oriented bars. Dating to the 1940s and 1950s, these are among the oldest images we have found of St. Louis-area LGBTQ drinking establishments. The images were discovered in the Missouri History Museum's collection of historical photographs of St. Louis streets scenes. The special significance of these photos seems to have previously gone unrecognized.
The first photo (above), dated 1941, is of the Market Tavern. It was located at 601 Market Street, now on the site of Kiener Plaza near the Old Courthouse. This nightclub was in business from mid-1930s (shortly after the repeal of Prohibition) to the early 1940s. While it was definitely a "queer space" (to use a modern phrase), Market Tavern might not have a "gay bar" in the sense that its clientele was predominantly LGBTQ. The Market Tavern hosted performances by "female impersonators"—what we would now normally call "drag queens." During the 1930s, a nationwide fad called the "Pansy Craze" briefly popularized "female impersonation" and other forms of risqué, gender-bending entertainment. In New York, Chicago, and other cities, many "normal" people visited nightclubs that specialized in these types of acts. The Market Tavern seems to have been a St. Louis-area example of the "Pansy Craze." St. Louis LGBT History Project researchers are in the process of accessing police and court records that might help us learn more about the Market Tavern and the "female impersonators" who worked there.
The second photograph (see arrow above), taken in about 1946, shows the exterior of Uncle John's tavern. On the right side of the photo, you can make out a sign reading "Uncle John's" beneath an advertisement for Budweiser beer.
Part of another bar, the Entre Nous tavern, can be seen in the far left of the third photograph (see arrow above). This photo appears to have been taken in the late 1950s. The entrance to the Entre Nous can be seen beneath an advertisement for Stag beer. The first floor of the building was occupied by the bar; the second floor was taken up by Busy Bee Billiards. In business for a number of years in the 1940s and 1950s, Uncle John's and the Entre Nous were located nearly across the street from each other on the 600 block of Pine Street in downtown St. Louis. The buildings where the bars were located have since been demolished and replaced with parking garages.
Uncle John's and the Entre Nous seem to have mostly attracted men who were sexually interested in other men. Because the two bars catered to this clientele of "degenerates," they both drew the attention of the St. Louis police, who sometimes raided the bars and arrested their customers and employees.
Last year, the St. Louis LGBT History Project uncovered police reports documenting one of these raids. The reports, which offer a fascinating glimpse at LGBTQ nightlife in St. Louis in the 1950s, were the subject of another article published on the Project's website. The Project is continuing its efforts to reconstruct the history of St. Louis's early LGBTQ-oriented bars which also include Dante's Inferno, Martin's, and Madame Touhy's. Look forward to future posts about these bars and their owners, customers, and troubled relationship with the police.
Images copyright Missouri History Museum, St. Louis
March 28, 2016: The Project thanks Steve DuLany for his treasure trove of donated items. Steve provided an amazing walk down memory lane with matchbooks, event invitations, and membership cards. The signed Herbies' and BC member cards are very rare, as is the Red Bull matchbook. Do you have history hiding in your house? Let us know.
By Ian Darnell
March 6, 2016: March is Women's History Month, and one of the ways that the St. Louis LGBT History Project is celebrating is by sorting through and enjoying a fabulous cache of women's, feminist, and lesbian periodicals. This photo shows just a small sampling of these materials. After the LGBT Center of St. Louis closed last year, the Project was entrusted with the Center's extensive library of periodicals. In addition to a particularly rich selection of women's, feminist, and lesbian titles, the library also contained a bounty of periodicals focused on gay men, HIV/AIDS, and general LGBTQ concerns, as well as special interest publications on issues as varied as LGBTQ spirituality, travel, sports, and parenting. Some of the periodicals date back as far as the 1970s. The Project has been working hard to inventory these materials and to find good homes for them, where they will be accessible to researchers and preserved for generations to come.
Most of the periodicals are being given to the Project’s local archival partners, i.e., the State Historical Society of Missouri (locally based at the University of Missouri-St. Louis), the Missouri History Museum, and Washington University Libraries. Additional materials have been donated to the Gerber/Hart Library in Chicago, one of the leading LGBTQ-focused archival repositories in the United States. Special thanks to Betty Neeley for storing most of the contents of the library in her garage for the past few months. Do you have old LGBTQ publications or historically significant documents or objects of your own? Make sure they don’t end up in the trash—consider donating them to the St. Louis LGBT History Project.