Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category


Sunny Valley, Ore.

2000 King Mountain Trail

Southern Oregon has a rich history of lesbian and gay back-to-the-land projects. One lesbian separatist community, Rootworks, was established in the 1970s by Ruth and Jean Mountaingrove, when both women were in their 50s. “The philosophy was that we would live without men, separate from the patriarchal world,” Ruth told me in the late ’90s. “That is still pretty much the idea.” (The photo above was taken by Ruth at the commune in the 1970s.)

At Rootworks, there were originally only two houses – the Moonhouse and the Kitchen cabin. In the years that followed the founding, Ruth and Jean added the Sunhouse, a barn (called “Natalie Barney”), and the All Purpose crafts cabin. In the barn is a study and a feminist library. From 1974 to 1984, Ruth and Jean also published the magazine WomanSpirit from an office in the barn, and The Blatant Image, a feminist magazine about photography, was published there from 1981 to 1983; back issues of both are stored in the barn.

Ruth has credited WomanSpirit with bringing a lot of women to the southern Oregon region, by encouraging their creativity and spirituality. Though the magazine folded, Jean said, “the main elements of WomanSpirit are still being lived in the community – feminism, spirituality, all forms of creativity, sisterhood, nature, art, music, dance, literature, healing and personal development.”

Gardens that are nestled around some of the Rootworks buildings are filled with vegetables, beans, and berries. Solar energy provides heat and hot water and also powers the community’s lights. Ruth noted that it’s “not easy in the winter, and that’s when women usually leave.”

In 2008, Linda Long, Manuscripts Librarian for the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Oregon in Eugene, told Lambda Book Report:

Rootworks is a historical site that is a perfect exemplar of the feminist-lesbian dream. From the 1970s to today, the women’s back-to-the-land community in Oregon was, and is, a dynamic expression of the separatist dream. As part of that dream, women experimented with new ways to live and work together – and with all sorts of activities and rituals, from house-building projects and collective gardening to the sacred circle. Many of the women were aspiring artists of one kind or another – writers, painters, photographers—and they hoped to be able to combine life on the land with their creative work. All of this lesbian/feminist life and work is represented in Rootworks…The permanence of Rootworks and its status as a women-owned land trust in perpetuity makes it a perfect example of a historic site. I think a living museum would be an effective and dynamic way to preserve the lesbian land dream and the history of the lesbian community in Southern Oregon.”


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Portland, Ore.

Dr. J. Allen Gilbert office
610 SW Alder Street, 7th floor

In 1918, a young woman named Alberta Lucille Hart, who had graduated from Albany Colleg (now Lewis & Clark University) the University of Oregon Medical College, consulted a psychiatrist named Dr. J. Allen Gilbert in this office building about the possibility of surgery to become a man. She had already been presenting as a man and had pursued several affairs with women during her university career.

In 1920, Dr. Gilbert wrote a report of his treatment of “H” in a monograph in the Journal of Nervous and Medical Disease. After consultation with Gilbert, Hart underwent a hysterectomy, cut her hair, and began to live exclusively as a man. Amazingly, Gilbert concluded that “if society but leave her alone, she will find her niche in the world and leave it better for her bravery.”

Hart (1890-1962) was a pioneering transgender person, who not only assumed male garb and took on a male identity but legally married a woman “of decided physical attractions,” according to Gilbert. “Women of normal sex life,” wrote the psychiatrist, “felt themselves attracted to her because of her aggressive male characteristics.” Dr. Alan Hart became a leading physician in the field of tuberculosis detection, and practiced in Oregon, Idaho, and Connecticut. In addition, he also wrote three novels, the best known of which is Dr. Mallory (1935), set on the Oregon coast.

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Portland, Ore.

James Beard home
2223 SW Salmon Street (private)

Now an apartment building, this site was once the home of culinary great James Beard (1903-1985). His mother operated a boarding house at this location – she was, in Beard’s words, “a strong-headed, opinionated woman, addicted to theater and the art of entertaining.” She also ran a catering service for her wealthy friends, along with her business partner, Canton-born Jue Let. Beard recalled that his mother’s culinary colleague “taught me ‘taste memory,’ my trump card ability to recapture thousands of memories of eating, right back to my childhood.”

Beard studied locally at Reed College, but in 1922, was expelled from the school for homosexual liaisons with other students and with a professor. (Ironically, in 1974, he received an honorary degree from Reed, after he had become a celebrity.) After the scandal, Beard took voice lessons in London from Enrico Caruso’s coach and later returned to Portland, where he pursued a career as an actor.

Eventually, Beard relocated to New York City, where he achieved fame as the author of numerous best-selling cookbooks.


The well-known culinary institute, the James Beard Foundation, was named in his honor and is located at the site of the Greenwich Village home he shared with his lover, architect Gino Cofacci.

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A Passing Woman


Lebanon, Ore.

Ray Leonard grave
Lebanon Pioneer Cemetery
200 Dodge Street

Buried in this cemetery are the remains of Ray Leonard (1849-1921), an Oregon pioneer who was, in fact, a passing woman. Born “Rae,” Leonard was a cobbler who emigrated to Oregon with her father in 1889, and who, with his apparent approval, began wearing men’s clothing and passing as his son “Ray.” When the elder Leonard died in 1894, Ray took over his local boot and shoemaking business. According to residents of Lebanon, Ray “dressed in overalls, and was thought by most who knew her, including the census taker, to be a man.”

In 1911, Ray’s “secret” was discovered by a frontier doctor, Mary Canaga Rowlands, when Ray was committed to an asylum under Dr. Rowlands’ care. On Ray’s medical chart the doctor noted that the patient experienced “hallucinations and illusions of…hearing people trying to get into [the] room.” The medical records also listed him as a “widower” but gave no information about his wife.

Dr. Rowlands died in 1966, and her autobiography was published in 1995 by her grand-nephew. In it, she revealed how Ray Leonard’s birth gender was detected. “It is customary to strip each patient entering the hospital,” she wrote, “and give them a bath before they are given quarters. The hospital immediately discovered that Ray Leonard…was a woman. After her secret was out, Ray made a rapid recovery and came back to Lebanon to live the rest of her life.”

According to the doctor’s account, “the authorities made her [sic] wear dresses, but she confided to her friends that she wore pants below her dress because her legs got cold.” Ray clearly identified as male, asking the doctor, who continued to treat him when he was ill, “Look at me… do you think I have one feminine feature?” Finally, he died in 1921 – and his newspaper obituary referred to him as a woman.

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