Archive for December, 2009

Newcastle, Maine

Frances Perkins home
“The Brick House”
River Road

Frances Perkins (1880-1965), FDR’s secretary of labor, was the first woman ever to hold a presidential Cabinet post. The primary architect of some of the New Deal’s greatest programs, including Social Security and unemployment insurance, she played a major role in helping to bring the country out of the Great Depression. This 1836 house (see photo) on the coast of Maine was her family home; she and her sister inherited the site, and Perkins used it as a special retreat. It is still standing, and plans are in the works to transform it into the Frances Perkins Center, a place for students and scholars to work on projects that mesh with Perkins’ vision.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University, Perkins was a lifelong social reformer and activist. Early in her career, she was part of the committee that investigated the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which killed 146 workers, mostly immigrant women, who were trapped in the burning building. Following a career as a settlement worker and factory inspector, Perkins eventually held the post of N.Y. State Commissioner of Labor under Gov. Franklin Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became president in 1932, he invited her to join him in Washington, and the rest is herstory. Perkins served in the Cabinet for the next 12 years. In her later life, she was guest professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Although she married economist Paul Wilson in 1913, a 2009 biography of Perkins by journalist Kirstin Downey reveals that she had a secret affair with Mary Harriman Rumsey, the sister of Averell Harriman. The book further examines how and why Perkins, surely one of the greatest Cabinet members and social reformers of all time, has slipped into oblivion.


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Los Angeles, Calif.

Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way

The Los Angeles Times carried an interesting story about queers in the Old West this week. It seems there’s a new series on the history of homosexuals and transgendered people at L.A.’s Autry National Center of the American West. The shirts worn by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain have been on exhibit at the Autry since July of this year (see above), but this is a broader exhibit, a milestone in the presentation and recognition of queer history – it’s the first exhibit of its kind at a western heritage museum.

Here’s the complete story from the LA Times. And just to remind you, I had already written about Charley/Charlotte Parkhurst on this blog, so take a look at that if you missed it the first time around.

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Bridgeport, Conn.

85 Ferris Street

The 1970s saw a flourishing of women-owned feminist and/or lesbian businesses, including bookstores, cafes, and publishing companies. Among the many ventures was Bloodroot, a “feminist restaurant/bookstore with a seasonal vegetarian menu,” which is, remarkably, still in operation after more than 30 years. The name derived from an Eastern wildflower. “We found something symbolic in its slow spreading rhizomatous root system and the way each piece of root throws up its own grey-green leaf furled protectively around the eight-petaled white flower,” say owners Selma Miriam, 74, and Noel Furie, 64.

At its waterfront site, Bloodroot consists of a large room furnished with mismatched tables and chairs, and one wall covered in herstoric photos of women (see photo). “People gave us pictures [for] the wall,” Miriam told The Connecticut Post; one person gave her a photo and said, “This is my sister. I want her here.”

Off the restaurant is a small bookstore crammed with books by women, where authors occasionally come to read. There is also an outdoor patio facing scenic Long Island Sound.  Meals are strictly self-service – from ordering to picking up food to bussing tables. The veggie menu – printed daily on a chalkboard – includes ethnic soups and salads, crusty breads, and rich desserts.

Bloodroot also published four cookbooks in its “Political Palate” series, which included not only recipes but the most appropriate seasons in which to make the various dishes. Although the older cookbooks are now out of print, two Best of Bloodroot volumes are available.

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Asheville, N.C.

Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center
56 Broadway

Fifteen miles east of Asheville was the location of Black Mountain College, an experimental school in existence from 1933 to 1956. According to gay historian Martin Duberman, who chronicled its history in his exhaustive group biography, Black Mountain College: An Exploration in Community, the college was “the forerunner and exemplar of much that is currently considered innovative in arts, education and life style.” At Black Mountain, there were no required courses, no exams, and no formal grades. Students were responsible for planning their own course of study, participating in classes that often had fewer than 10 students each.

Black Mountain was also the nurturing ground of numerous queer writers and artists, including Paul Goodman, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage. Other queer lecturers during its history included Thornton Wilder, Ted Shawn, and Robert Duncan. Artists Robert Rauschenberg was a student at Black Mountain. The college’s literary journal, Black Mountain Review, published the work of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, among many others. Though gay men taught and studied there, however, homosexuality was not openly tolerated. When Paul Goodman, a lecturer in “psychotherapy (his own), literature, history, community planning and sex,” according to Duberman, applied for a full-time teaching position, the faculty voted against him, fearing that he would prove to be a sexual predator.

The original site of the school consisted of church buildings constructed by the Blue Ridge Assembly as a summer conference center for its members. For most of the year, the buildings were vacant, and Black Mountain founder John Andrew Rice saw it as the perfect location for his school. The main building, called Lee Hall (the photo below is of the porch), included both common rooms and individual living and study spaces for students.

The rental agreement with the church stipulated that the buildings and grounds had to be cleared of all college equipment and furniture by the beginning of the summer. Because of this, Lee Hall had a “Shaker plainness” to it, and many students had to construct their own desks and furniture. After a few years, the college purchased a more stable site at Lake Eden, a former summer resort with cottages and lodges on a human-made lake.

The college suffered chronic financial problems, and lack of students and money forced it to close in 1956. The property was sold off piece by piece, and part was leased as a boys’ summer camp. This museum and arts center in nearby Asheville documents the history and mission of the innovative school.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.

818 Liberty Avenue

Pittsburgh’s longtime gay men’s bar, Pegasus, has closed in the location it occupied for the past 30 years; it has moved across the river to a new space. “If you ever saw Queer as Folk on TV, that’s what Pittsburgh was like back then [in the ’80s],” according to one bar-goer.

Read the complete story here.

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(photo by Dan Vera, Beltway Poetry Quarterly)


Washington, D.C.

Tim Dlugos apartment
1437 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.

Gay poet and activist Tim Dlugos (1950-1990) lived at this address as a young man, while working for Ralph Nader’s organization, Public Citizen. Raised Catholic in Arlington, Va., Dlugos joined the Christian Brothers as a teenager, but left the order and came out as gay in 1971.

While Dlugos was living in Washington, he was an active member of Mass Transit, a peer poetry workshop that convened weekly at the Community Book Shop in Dupont Circle. Mass Transit started a publishing venture called Some of Us Press, which published Dlugos’ first poetry collection, High There, in 1973.

In the late ’70s, Dlugos moved to New York City, where he edited the St. Mark’s Poetry Project newsletter and was a contributing editor of Christopher Street magazine. He published his own work widely, in magazines, anthologies, and chapbooks. His poem “G-9,” an account of his time in an AIDS ward, appeared posthumously in The Paris Review.

When he died in December 1990, Dlugos was enrolled in graduate studies at Yale Divinity School, with the intention of becoming an Episcopal priest. Poet David Trinidad is currently compiling Dlugos’ collected poems for publication.

My list of daily intercessions
is as long as a Russian
novel.  I pray about AIDS
last.  Last week I made a list
of all my friends who’ve died
or who are living and infected.
Every day since, I’ve remembered
someone I forgot to list.

–from “G-9,” by Tim Dlugos

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