Herstories

The Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project seeks to continue the Lesbian Herstory Archives’ commitment to collecting and sharing Lesbian stories.  These oral histories of Lesbian Elders offer experiential insight into the history of Lesbian culture and activism, complementing LHA’s already rich collections. For a unifying theme we have asked our participants to share their experiences with LHA as part of their life history. For the purposes of this project, Elders includes those ages 60 and up. The oral histories that have already been collected are available either online here or on-site only at the Archives.

We are thankful to the interviewees for sharing their stories and for their interviewers for providing the space for them to do so! These interviews may contain sensitive content, so please take care of yourself while listening.


Interviewee: Anne Charles
Interviewer: Miranda Perez
Date: 08/21/2021

Anne Charles begins the interview discussing her experience growing up with her mother and grandmother outside of Buffalo, NY, and notes feeling like an “outsider” among many Catholic nuclear families. She talks about attending Barnard College in New York City and growing politicized through exposure to more feminism. After college, she comes out and is faced with homophobic backlash within her family so she distances herself from them. She chronicles her relationships including with her long-term partner Linda, who she currently lives with and co-produces a news show titled “All Things LGBT.” Across her life, Anne has been involved with Lesbian and feminist publication communities like the historic The Second Wave collective. She taught at University of Wisconsin, Madison as a Ph.D. student; the first Lesbian Literature course in Louisiana at the University of New Orleans; and at Champlain College in Vermont. She currently lives in Vermont with Linda after leaving Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Anne is energized by this project, the Archives, and ongoing feminist and anti-racist consciousness raising efforts.
 
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Interviewee: Barbara DiBernard
Interviewer: Miriam Harrow
Date: 11/22/2021

In this interview, Barbara DiBernard discusses growing up in an Italian-American family in New Jersey. She reveals her foundational roots born from attending a girls’ summer camp and Wilson, a private women’s college, as a first generation college student in the 1960s. She traces her teaching career from the University of Minnesota to her long-time position at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She outlines her journey from a traditional education and career as an English Ph.D and it’s evolution into partnering with the Women’s Studies department where—among other activist activities—she helped build the LGBT studies minor and taught a 21st century Lesbian Literature course until she retired. She names writers that awakened her worldview and “spoke right to [her] heart.”  Barbara also speaks to platforms that nourished local, national, and international lesbian communities in her life, including the Michigans Womyn’s Festival and the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Barbara and her wife were the first same sex couple in Lancaster Country, Nebraska to get married. 


Interviewee: Beth Levine
Interviewer: Jessica Pruett
Date: 08/16/2021

In this life herstory, Beth Levine outlines her childhood growing up in a social justice-oriented Jewish family in United States South in the 1960’s. She recounts her journey through higher education, forging her career path, and her formative experiences in consciousness raising groups. She discusses her involvement in social activism including w.o.m.e.n (Women’s Oppression Must End Now) and the Feminist Federal Credit Union. Beth recounts her long history with LHA since its inception and its impact on her life. Throughout the interview, Beth interweaves reflections about her interpersonal relationships as well as her connections to: place, the women’s movement, and sites of lesbian socialization.  As she journeys through these moments of her life, she also invites the listener to share in holding an underlying belief in the possibility for change and the importance of the “ordinary lesbian.”

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Interviewee: Deb Silberberg
Interviewer: Rebekah Aycock
Date: 08/20/2021

In this interview, Deb Silberberg takes us on a journey through coming out, a process she describes as akin to teenage years. She talks about going to marches in the 1980’s and experiencing the warmth of the LHA community and its people. Deb elaborates about the difficulties of being out when she was young and how it differs to be out now. She reminisces about the “outlaw” feeling of being out then while also acknowledging the suffering that accompanied the experience for many in the past up until today. She shares her perspective on the role of lesbian caretaking during the AIDS epidemic and how much that time affected the ways we think about illness and activism. She acknowledges the grief she still carries about that time, as well as the importance of remembering it. She wraps up the interview by pondering about time passing, legacy, and the role the Archives has played in allowing her to feel seen; a human experience which she asserts we all need and desire.

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Interviewee: Jane Kennedy
Interviewer: Elise Tosatti 
Date: 12/03/2021

Jane Kennedy, in this interview, centers her journey as a lesbian mother across the last three decades– harnessing the past as an offering for the future. Raised in an Irish Catholic family in the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1950’s, in 1977 Jane eventually moves to Asheville, North Carolina where she makes a home within a lively lesbian community. Along with her participation in local chapter of Women Against Violence Against Women and starting the first Women Take Back the Night March in 1979, “living in a woman’s nation was really kind of [her] ideal and… goal” of this period of life.  Jane discusses an internal shift that took place around age 33, when her intention to be a mother clarified. Jane reflects on her path to motherhood during a time where using a known sperm donor was still “sort of off the grid.” Jane discusses the insemination process, her approach to motherhood, and negotiating custody both interpersonally with her ex-partner and legally with the sperm donor. She reflects on the effects these experiences as a lesbian mother had on her daughter and how she has navigated society’s growth towards affirming gay and lesbian family building. She concludes the interview stating, “my hope is that lesbian women know that having a child and family is absolutely possible.” 

Interviewee: Kathleen Wakeham
Interviewer: Emerald Rutledge 
Date: 12/02/2021

In this interview, Kathy and Emerald co-create a space to reflect on coming of age in New York, the meaning of lesbian social spaces, and weaving through various partnerships and travels. Kathy Wakeham describes growing up in a working class family in Yonkers.  She discusses getting tracked into secretarial classes in high school and reckons with the racism and classism in her neighborhood, and the idea that “zip code is destiny.”  After leaving Yonkers and eventually moving to the East Village—where she has lived for the past 48 years— she gets a job in the Columbia Libraries and is able to attend the University, tuition free. At Columbia, she comes out and becomes politicized. She gets involved with gay life through lovers, political groups, and the lesbian bar scene. She joins the Student Homophile League as one of the few female members, as well as the Gay Liberation Front. She takes part in the historic Lavender Menace demonstration adovacating for the placement of lesbian liberation in the women’s movement. Kathy highlights travels, both alone and with partners, to various parts of Europe and Asia. Journeying through her life across place and partnership, Kathy shares passions like becoming a Buddhist, developing a creative practice, and snorkeling for the first time. She reflects on LHA, another important site of lesbian life and activism and describes it as “a bridge [between] the so called bar dykes and the political lesbians… a space where you could be yourself.”


Interviewee: Linda Quinlan
Interviewer: Soula Harisiadis
Date: 09/27/2021

In this interview, Linda Quinlan talks about growing up in a small working class town just north of Boston, Massachusetts. She shares her experience of dropping out of high school and creating a life influenced by the Beatnik generation. She discusses getting into college through a program for disadvantaged youth, as well as her experience navigating: dyslexia, classism, and single motherhood. Alongside the experience of building relationships with classmates in her program and nourishing her love for writing poetry, Linda participated in organizing efforts which culminated in the opening of the first Daycare Center at UMass Boston. She talks about moving to San Francisco after coming out and eventually moving back to Boston where she meets her long-term partner, Anne, through the feminist writing community. Together, Linda and Anne move to Madison, a place where Linda dives deeper into her work and is named Wisconsin Poet of the Year. As she chronicles her organizing and creative projects across place and time, she describes her relationship with creative discipline and how it conflicts with her urge to be interpersonal. Through her current news and interview show, “All Things LGBT,” she has created a space where her desires to both create and be with people can coexist.

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Interviewee: Sharon Deevey
Interviewer: Cait McKinney
Date: 07/25/2021

In this interview, Sharon Deevey outlines themes of activism and connecting across differences throughout her career, interpersonal relationships, and her connection to her own body. She recounts growing up in a conservative family and meeting people from various backgrounds in boarding school and at Swarthmore College. She describes her shifting relationships and thoughts about various relationships structures. After coming out, she talks about getting involved in a historic Lesbian Separatist group called The Furies and reckoning with her own privilege; a lens through which she discusses some class struggles within the Women’s Movement in 1960’s America. In this discussion Sharon talks about her work as both a nurse and a librarian, and her dedication to the jobs delegated to women in that era, despite her sense that they weren’t always celebrated. She shares her journey around a pursuit for a health diagnosis and discusses various forms of agency that she leveraged within that process. The conversation concludes with a reflection on the need for archiving and the choice to archive her writing both at LHA and at an archive in Ohio (the state in which she has lived for much of her life.)

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Interviewee: Susa Silvermarie
Interviewer: Nayiree Roubinian  
Date: 08/01/2021

In this interview, Susa Silvermarie discusses growing up in a large Catholic family in the 1950’s midwest United States. She talks about her role as a single lesbian mother and traces her varied career trajectory, including being the first female letter carrier in Wisconsin. Alongside her paid work, she lives a life dedicated to her writing. At times, Susa uses her poetry as answers, illustrating her practice of channeling writing as a tool for: constructing her own identity, building intentional community, and placing herself within a herstory of activism and change. Susa maintains a connection to LHA—where she set up her own collection 15 year ago. She states that “a couple times a year I make up a package [for LHA]. I send a personal journal, or news clippings, whatever I got to the Archives. And every time that I prepare that package, I just once again feel immensely grateful that LHA is there to receive it, to receive me, to gather me up, you know, like a mother.”

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Interviewee: Zelda aka Judith Miller
Interviewer: Alicia Mountain
Date: 08/25/2021

In this exchange, Zelda aka Judith Miller chronicles her life through a conversation guided by her performance piece “Que Será, Será: a Life’s Journey of Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression.”  She unpacks the inspiration to create; tracing their personal journey as an artist by examining her experience in theater, creating a theatre company, living in an artist community, and working within movement spaces. She also explores what art is capable of unlocking for audiences. Zelda bravely makes the case that art unleashes authenticity for both artist and audience. Her performance and visual art explore themes around: gender, sexuality, spirituality, and freedom.

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