Dink Dykes Return to Douglass

“We weren’t speaking to the world. We were speaking to one another. The kind of collectivity that emerged at Douglass – a thriving lesbian community that gave a tremendous amount of cultural vitality and social vitality to the women who were part of it, but also to the world that it went out into. We did remarkable things.” – Kay Turner

Douglass student wearing a “dink,” the neon green hat all Douglass students were required to wear during orientation, in the 1971 Douglass Yearbook

A reunion of sorts was held on October 25, 2018 for the “dink dykes” of Douglass College (DC). In “Dink Dykes: Lesbian Culture at Douglass College, 1967-1977,” Kay Turner (DC Class of 1971) facilitated a roundtable discussion with Douglass graduates to reflect on the lesbian culture that emerged at and around the women’s college in the 1960s and 1970s. The panelists were Adria Evans (DC ’71), Barbara Lee (DC ’72), Gail Walker (DC ’73), Paula Schorr (DC ’74), Joanne Fuccello (DC ’75), and Rue Watson (DC ’77). Their former classmates at Douglass College, faculty and staff members, and current Rutgers students made up the audience.

Kay posed questions to Adria, Barbara, and Paula about their experiences at Douglass and Joanne, Gail, and Rue responded to these stories. The topics Kay presented to the women on the panel were cultural creativity driven by lesbians on-campus and off, Douglass campus politics, sex and love, faculty and staff allies, connections to evolving gay culture and political activism, local businesses, and post-college social bonding. The discussion began with discussions of each woman’s unique coming out process and the role the Douglass College played in understanding their sexuality. Barbara described her early moments at Douglass as “this time of change that everyone was going through” and many of the other women shared this sentiment.

Speakers invited to campus seemed particularly important to the lesbian culture of Douglass College in the 1960s and 1970s. Joanne described the importance of Adrienne Rich on staff at Douglass College. Visits to campus by Rita Mae Brown and Anne Sexton were particularly important to Ruth’s time at Douglass. Kay remembered a talk with Margaret Mead. Carol Sanchez was the woman behind many of these influential events. Ruth described Carol Sanchez as “the patron saint of Douglass lesbians.” Carol directed the Voorhees Assembly Board and worked with Douglass students to bring in many of the speakers and artists the women described as important to their own development and the lesbian culture of Douglass College. Gail stressed not only the importance of bonds with each other as lesbians at Douglass College, but also supportive relationships with faculty and staff. Geoffrey Hendricks from the Art Department and Gordon Clanton, Christine Downing, and William Doty from the Religion Department were named as especially supportive faculty members. Janet Yocum and Joan Hayward, in attendance at the event, were also highlighted as important Douglass administrators who supported the panelists during this time. Janet described the dissonance faced by herself and other administrators who wanted to support and accept the lesbians of Douglass College but did not want outside students to think Douglass was a “lesbian school.” “The lesbian community contributed way more to the college than the population at large” according to Joan and this declaration was met with a round of applause.

Music and the arts scene at Douglass College played an important role in the lives of the women during their time at the college. Paula discussed the importance of the New Haven Women’s Rock Band, where she saw a same sex couple kissing publicly for the first time, and Lavender Jane Loves Women. A show for the latter group was particularly important when a male attendee disrupted the performance and in response Kay shouted, “I’m a lesbian.” Paula and Kay both saw this as a turning point where the gay women of Douglass began to use and embrace the term on campus. Barbara discussed the founding of their own all-lesbian band, Slip of the Tongue, at Douglass College and their first performance outside of Gramercy Books on Church Street in New Brunswick. Paula described the bands, the Oral Tradition and the Lesbosonic Funk Force, and the power she felt when singing openly about gay love with the band. Many of the women contributed to Watermark, the Douglass literary magazine, and Kay’s journal Lady Unique: Inclination of the Night. The labor that the women put into writing, publishing, and distributing Lady Unique was an important bonding activity remembered by both panelists and some audience members.

The “Dink Dykes” discussion ended with audience members discussing the impact of the panelists and the lesbian culture that emerged and flourished between 1967 and 1977.

A full recording of the event can be viewed here.

An accompanying digital photo album for this blog post and the panel discussion can be found here.

Please contact Rutgers University Libraries if you would like to discuss donating materials related to lesbian culture at Douglass College.

This post was written by Dan Delmonaco, Graduate Specialist with the Margery Somers Foster Center.

The Story of Rue

Who needs an intro when I can simply say one word: Lesbian. Yes, I said it. This is about Rue Watson, a lesbian student who graduated Douglass College in 1977.  Her experience at Douglass from the point of view of a lesbian student is important and critical to the identity development of the modern day lesbian students at Rutgers. This interview, which was condensed and edited, was conducted by Camille DuBois (RU ’19), as a component of the Public History Internship during summer 2018. The interview took place at a house in New Brunswick.

Camille DuBois (left) and Rue Watson (July 2018).

Could you tell us where we are now and where are you from?

I owned and lived in this house since 1982. This house was home and social place for many of the New Brunswick Gay and Lesbian community members, and over the years, lots of people lived here. I was a DJ and in that role with music and dancing being a MAJOR social aspect of the Lesbian and Gay Community in that era. Dance parties and dance clubs were the primary places people relied upon for socializing, networking, along with the dissemination of pertinent information. My role promoting and throwing events for dances and parties is why I had the privilege to know so many people and to be involved in so much of the community activities.

My family was from Washington DC where I lived until I was twelve years old. My parents were looking for a summer home in Wildwood, New Jersey near Cape May. But during the sixties nobody would sell a house in Wildwood to Blacks. My parents learned from the realtor that many Blacks lived in McKee City, and they could buy a house there. We gave up on Wildwood and headed to McKee City, which is fifteen miles inland from Atlantic City. Many Blacks lived on the other side of the train tracks, but my mother refused to join them. After purchasing a bungalow on the right side of the train tracks, my father bought the chicken farm across the street, where I lived before attending Douglass.

What was your major at Douglass College?

Prof. Burrows (top row, upper right), Rue Watson (top row, second from right) and other students in his Photo Essay course.

My major was American Studies and I sort of minored in art, with a focus on photography. I was really into photography and enjoyed taking pictures all the time. I thought it was wonderful. I also thought American Studies was a great major. Professor David Burrows, from English Department, was great and open to students of all sexualities. Professor Burrows taught a Photo Essay course in which the students in pairs took photos of each other and wrote an essay or a poem about each other. I loved it!  He had a professional photo studio in Princeton. With his encouragement and guidance, I took many pictures of campus events and people. His class was certainly a safe place for lesbians.

Were you aware of the Student Homophile League at Rutgers?

Yes, once I was at Douglass, I was affiliated with the Gay Alliance, which later became Gay and Lesbian Alliance. If something good and fun in terms of social event was happening organized by the Alliance, everyone would attend the event. In addition to social events, the Alliance did outreach to different communities to increase understanding and to end discrimination of gays and lesbians. I did volunteer for a few sessions. I got the courage to participate in the outreach to the State Troopers. We lesbian students wore dresses and tried to look feminine just like your next-door neighbor girl. We felt that it was important to show the troopers that we were  ordinary and not threatening. My dad was a policeman, and I was comfortable with law enforcement officers. I wanted to help them understand that we were pretty normal people.

What effect did Stonewall have on you?

I think it was major impact for me because I found my community at the university. Coming to Rutgers not long after Stonewall, people were energized from it and established the Homophile League. I came to Douglass just by luck. The girl I was in love with in high school was coming to Douglass, which prompted me to apply. No one in my family had gone to college, so I knew nothing about college. If this girl had gone to a typing school, I would have followed her there. It was just the luck of the draw. I was following her around like a little puppy when I first came to Douglass. After the first three months at Douglass we grew apart and didn’t see much of each other. I found “my people.” She was into fraternities and was looking for a boyfriend.

How did your family take it when you came out to them?

I came out in high school during “The Supremes” concert at Chez Paree on New York Avenue in Atlantic City. My friend R had invited me to go with him to the concert. I was impressed and excited about this! The show started and these women who looked like “The Supremes” were singing. There was something quite different about this Supremes group…as it turns out, they were drag queens and they were incredible! I had never seen anything like that! R looks at me and goes” I’m gay” and I look at him and I go “me too.”  That is when I came out. R and I are still friends to this day.

When I came out, it was hard at first with my family. My mother said “you’ll be better off dead” and we didn’t talk for a while, maybe almost a year. But the reason why I have this house is because after they accepted my sexuality, they said “you are never going to have a husband and we need to get you a house so that you have a roof over your head.”

What kind of LGBTQ reading material was out there at the time you were in college?

I can’t explain it and don’t know how exactly it happened, but I was reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir in high school. It might have been a suggestion from my high school English teacher Ms. M, and she might have given it to me. Otherwise I am not sure how an African-American girl living in the countryside on a farm came by this book, but I read it and it was so informative. It helped me understand the fact that I was a woman, gay and Black, and I had to form my own identity.  There were so many negative opinions about Black people and most likely many people held negative opinions about gay people. I knew I was not a bad person and the gay people I knew were not bad either, so I pulled all that together. And reflecting on that book, I carved out an ideology that the powers that be, men in power especially, want to have you think negatively about women, and anyone who they deem to be different a threat. I was a good person, and as a woman, and Black and now a gay person. I was not going to be oppressed by or buy into the negative stereotypes that were being framed for me to take on. The book had a great impact on me.

Rue Watson photographed by Professor David Burrows.

I came to Rutgers in the summer of 1973, before college, as an EOF student to take classes in math. I lived in one of the river dorms on College Avenue Campus before moving to Douglass Campus. I went to Alexander Library and searched for “homosexuality” in the card catalog and found the name of Rita Mae Brown. I also learned of a place called “Village” in New York with many gays and lesbians.  I got on a bus and I went by myself to find the “Village.” Just by chance, I saw in front of a firehouse a sign that Rita Mae Brown along with now famous lesbian couple and activists Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon were doing a reading.

As it turns out the firehouse was a gay center in the Village. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were the founders of the organization Daughters of Bilitis and its magazine The Ladder. They also wrote the book Lesbian/Woman which was a staple of every lesbian library. This book provides useful tips for people who came out as a lesbian, on how to host a pot luck dinner for networking and how to receive a copy of Lesbian/woman. It was an amazing day. I had no idea what Rita Mae Brown looked like and had my breath taken away as she did not look like any of the drag queens down on New York Ave in Atlantic City. Rita Mae Brown was quite beautiful! Poised and well dressed. She was also very down to earth and earnest. I introduced myself and we kept in touch.

In the fall, Rita Mae Brown invited me for other events in New York City.  She sent me an invitation to the launch of her book Rubyfruit jungle, which was in a loft in the “Village.” I went there with two friends. It was an exciting loft party with distinguished lesbians and cool people that made us feel less isolated and alone. And then Rita Mae gave us a copy of the book and signed it. What an amazing evening to get invited! I look back now and see it as a pivotal literary event—the publishing of one of the most iconic lesbian novels of all time, which became an overnight success with women everywhere of all persuasions. In 1977, Rita Mae Brown came to Douglass as a speaker thanks to the Vorhees Assembly Board [the Douglass Student Organization].

Douglass Timeline

Scroll over image to see it fully.

Oral History Project

Saskia Kusnecov is Research and Metadata Librarian at Fairleigh Dickinson University. 

This is a post by Saskia Kusnecov, who worked at the Margery Somers Foster Center while an undergraduate student at Rutgers University.

I learned of the opportunity to work on the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project in my sophomore year in Douglass Residential College. At the first call for part-time transcribers, I leapt. As a history major and a lover of stories, I relished the opportunity to listen and document the narratives of Douglass alumnae.

From a technical perspective, the goal of this project was to digitize the cassette tape interviews with Douglass alumnae, so that they could be archived online and made accessible to the public. Part of this endeavor is creating written transcriptions for the interviews, which was my charge. I would listen along to the interviews, most of them hours long, and transcribe their conversations. While monotonous to most, I rejoiced in being able to listen along to the life stories of the incredible women who came before me.

These stories, housed on cassette tape, were of women who were some of the first in their families to attend college; women who had lived through the great wars, and saw society transform around them, in real time. I learned of the traditions that were kept at my very dormitory, in its earliest days, and was rocked by stories of discrimination in a building just twenty paces from mine. I was afforded the opportunity to present on my experience working with these interviews at the Women’s History in the Digital World Conference at Bryn Mawr College in 2014, and speak about my newfound belief that one of the most powerful tools we have for social change and cultivating a sense of common humanity is our own personal narratives.

After leaving the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project, I carried this conviction with me into everything I did. I recorded an oral history interview with my grandmother, a World War II survivor, and facilitated an interview for the Rutgers Oral History Archives (ROHA) with Ana Soto-Canino, a local artist and business owner. I wrote and presented on the intersections of storytelling and identity for the Institute for Women’s Leadership, and digitized dozens of Rutgers alumni interviews for the ROHA before deciding, ultimately, to pursue a Masters in Library and Information Science, so that I could devote my life to making these materials available to the public.

I am now in my first full-time position at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, where I serve as the Research and Metadata Librarian, managing the university’s digital projects and teaching information literacy skills to students. Working on the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project was not only my first exposure to the library profession, but it was also the seed of my lifelong interest in public history, the power of storytelling, and the importance of making information freely available to the public. I will always to grateful to the Margery Somers Foster Center and the women who gave their stories, for giving mine.

Working at Douglass Library, Rutgers University

This is a post by Claire Marcil, Rutgers Class of 2018, and a student worker at Margery Somers Foster Center, Douglass Library.

Claire stands in front of panels from the UN Women and Slavery exhibition.
Claire stands in front of panels from the UN Women and Slavery exhibition.

I began working at the Margery Somers Foster Center in the fall 2015 with the expectation of sitting at the front desk playing Solitaire all day.

Surprisingly, it has been the exact opposite of that.

On my first day of work, I was asked if I would be willing to help with the transcription of video and oral interviews with Rutgers alumni. The project sounded interesting (and much more fun than sitting listlessly at a desk for hours on end), so of course I agreed. I didn’t come in with any expectations for the project, or for what I would get out of it. To me, it was just something that I was getting paid to do. But as soon as I started transcribing, I was hooked. The interviews are absolutely fascinating. Listening to the life stories of students who graduated long ago (some nearly 90 years ago!) and the obstacles that they had surpassed is incredible. Hearing them speak with such positivity, no matter the discrimination or hardships they faced, is so inspiring and is one of my favorite parts of transcribing. However, what I enjoy most of all is hearing about their lives after college. One of the earlier graduates, after working as a teacher for 30 years, decided to spend her retirement traveling around the world, and at the time of her interview had visited every single country, save a handful. Another alumnae worked as a dietician until World War II began, then joined the military and was sent over to Europe, where she was made head of her outfit’s hospital unit (and given two assistants!). These stories are perhaps even more important than those about life at Rutgers because of their historical significance. A woman in charge of a military unit in the 1940s! Who would’ve guessed? Without these interviews, the rich history that these students lived through would be lost, and our ideas about the past much more inaccurate. Transcribing the interviews has been such a rewarding experience, and I’m so thankful to be a part of recording history.

Working at Douglass,  I have also had the opportunity to both design the layout of and help install a museum exhibit. As an student of anthropology, the opportunity to get a bit of experience with the process of showcasing a an exhibit has been invaluable. We received over a dozen panels for an exhibit on Women and Slavery from the United Natons and chose to hang them in the rotunda at the front of the library, which was no easy feat. The first method we tried to hang the panels did not work, so we had to think outside the box – and ask for some expert advice – in order to display them. Though frustrating, the experience taught me that sometimes, you might have to employ some extra creativity to get the job done, and that it’s ok to ask for outside help. It was a really cool learning experience and has sparked my interest in museum exhibit design and curation (I plan on volunteering at the Rutgers Geology Museum next semester!). Overall, working at the Douglass Library has given me some extraordinary opportunities that I am forever grateful for. I truly love coming to work each day.

Transcribing Oral Interviews from the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project

It might be funny that I am making my first post about creating written documents when I’ve stated that I am working on a oral project. Yes, this is the Douglas Alumnae Oral History Project and yes, the primary documents that are to be highlighted in my work will be the multimedia interviews themselves; however, transcription, or the act of transferring audio information into its written form, is required.

Continue reading “Transcribing Oral Interviews from the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project”

Fall 2015 Intern for the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project

My name is Karen Loder and I am pleased to introduce myself as one of two new interns beginning this fall semester at the Douglass Library!

IMG_6018
Not very good at smiling in pictures but at least I’m patriotic!

As two graduate students working towards our Master of Library and Information Science degree here in the SC&I building on College Ave, my partner Ally and I are working under the supervision of Kayo Denda, who has already proven to be a wonderful help and motivator, to provide access to valuable Douglass College records that perhaps you didn’t know existed and that you’ll hopefully find useful and easily by the end of this semester. This is my last semester at Rutgers before I receive my MLIS and I am very glad that I found an internship that suits my personal interests and encourages the development of my professional experiences!

My main project for this semester is to create an accessible and appealing web portal for the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project, an audio project comprised of rich exchanges between past graduates of the New Jersey College for Women and Douglass Alumnae. Memories of college life, social and academic, and the inextricable larger political landscape of Rutgers, New Jersey, and the United States are shared by participating alumnae for the strengthening of Douglass College’s history through the students that lived through, shaped, and prospered from it. One of the most fascinating characteristics of this project to me is the perspective of the college that these interviews illuminate. Often we are able to trace the policies and attitudes of deans and professors who acted as figureheads of the institution, but little are we aware of how these actions influenced those who were the subjects of them. While I am personally interested in seeing what I could learn from these women, as an aspiring librarian, I am essentially devoted to seeing what the public can learn from these recorded interviews.

Maybe this perspective interests me so much because it is the one from which I have primarily experienced the world. I graduated from Fordham University with a degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing in 2014 so I love to read and write, though I’ve been finding myself a much more avid reader than writer recently. Much of my life has been spent in a book like how much of my life has been spent as student which, though I’m trying to change that now, is not something I would change about myself since I think I’ve collected quite a bit of material with which I act with tact and fact. To intake people’s thoughts–what they consider important, right, or reality–through their verbal instruction or from a written (or digital) record may never provide the most objective account, but will always reveal some piece of the truth that can illuminate the whole. I may truly have found the best project for me as a supporter for this oral history project since I am a great listener!

Throughout this semester I am going to keep you updating on my progress and the process of creating a web portal that should ultimately provide you with not only access to these oral histories but also with a site that contextualizes this project within the larger history of Douglass College and thus pronounces its importance. I will also try to provide some information regarding how to do what I’m doing in case you have a valuable oral history collection yourself that you want to make accessible and visible on the web. Stay tuned!

Margery Somers Foster Center- Fall 2015 Internship

My name is Alexandra Steiger and I will be participating in an internship at the Margery Somers Foster Center this fall! I am currently working on my Masters Degree in Library and Information Science from the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University.  I also received my Bachelor’s Degree in English from Rutgers.

Allie Steiger

My interest was certainly peaked when I heard about the project that was being conducted here at the Margery Somers Foster Center.

They have been conducting a project that will capture, restore, and preserve oral histories from women who graduated from the New Jersey College for Women.

IMG_3720

The New Jersey College for Women became known as Douglass College in 1955 after Mabel Smith Douglass, the college’s founder.

In keeping with Rutgers’ mission of diversity, these women who were interviewed are from many different backgrounds and each have a unique perspective on life at the New Jersey College for Women.

I will be specifically looking into scrapbooks from students and graduates in order to provide visual representations of life at Rutgers. The team has found that Dean’s papers as well as yearbooks do not go far enough in creating a rich understanding of what life was like at the New Jersey College for Women.

Personally, I have made many scrapbooks of my family and friends in the past. Scrapbooking has become more commercial in recent years as stores like Michael’s and A.C. Moore have entire sections devoted to tools for scrapbooking. I understand the care it takes to insert and position memorabilia into a book that will hopefully be preserved for many years. Creating scrapbooks, as well as viewing them, produces a very strong emotional and nostalgic reaction for me. Throughout this internship, I would like to the see how the history of scrapbooking has shaped its current popularity.

Kayo Denda, head of the Margery Somers Foster Center, has already obtained one scrapbook from a woman named Florence Marshall who later became Florence Nash. Florence graduated from the New Jersey College for Women in 1929.

Florence Marshall Scrapbook Cover
New Jersey College for Women class of 1929 graduate, Florence Marhsall’s Scrapbook Cover

I will strive to find other depictions of life in that time period. I will be unearthing scrapbooks throughout my internship and I will share my findings as I move through the semester.

Congratulations to Aresty Students Aya Sakar and Kelly Jin

At the Aresty Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday April 24, 2015 Aya Sakar ’15 and Kelly Jin ’17 presented 2 projects they have worked since September 2014. Both projects explore different aspects of the history of Douglass College.

Aya’ project Perspectives on Diversity and Multiculturalism on Douglass Campus, from the 1920s to the 1950s identifies women of color from Quair yearbooks and track their post-Douglass years with the archival material from the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College and other sources. The majority of women became teachers and librarians. Although most women were from from New Jersey, there were international students from Japan, Egypt, India, China, and Iran. This project received one of the three honorable mention awards in the Humanities Category.
IMG_4496

Kelly’s project Mapping Douglass Campus, 1920s to 1950s, consists of an interactive historical map (ThingLink)  embedded with images of buildings and quotes about the buildings by the founding Dean Mabel Smith Douglass, passages from Alumnae Bulletin, and quotes from Douglass alumnae from the Douglass Alumnae Oral History Project interviews.  Kelly hopes this interactive map can introduce incoming Douglass Residential College students more accessible information on college history.

IMG_4499

5th Annual Undergraduate Multimedia Award Winners

This is a guest post by Peregrine MacDonald, a Rutgers MLIS student and information assistant at Douglass Library.

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 Margery Somers Foster Undergraduate Multimedia Award. We invite all members of the Rutgers Community to attend the fifth Annual Celebrating Creativity event, where the awards will be presented. The event will be held on Thursday April 16, 3-5PM, in the Mabel Smith Douglass Library on the Douglass campus.

The undergraduate multimedia award acknowledges the creative use of university library collections in the production of a multimedia-based research project focused on women’s or gender issues. The Libraries are pleased to recognize five projects, including two award winners, an honorable mention, and two finalists. The two award recipients are:

 

Becoming Syd

Lauren Caputo, a senior majoring in communications, won the award for her project “Becoming Syd” a short documentary about a transgender-queer relationship that explores how these relationships can help shape identities. It was created in the course Directing the Documentary (spring 2014) taught by Ross Kauffman, an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker.

 

It Gets Better

Several students taking the Rutgers-Camden courses Gender and Sexuality in Literature, taught by Ellen Malenas Ledoux, and New Queer Cinema, taught by Dawn Walsh, won the award for their project “It Gets Better.” The project was conceived as a grass-roots version of the Internet-based social activism with the same name. It offers specific suggestions for how LGBTQ+ rights can be furthered on both interpersonal and policy levels.

 

The Role of Local Action: Birthing Kits and Maternal Mortality

Michelle Muska, a senior majoring in Environmental Policy, Institutions & Behavior, and Antoinette Gingerelli, a sophomore majoring in Political Science & Women’s Studies, will be recognized with an Honorable Mention for their project “The Role of Local Action: Birthing Kits and Maternal Mortality.” The project proposes local action to reduce maternal mortality and unsafe birth in conflict and crisis areas. This was a social action project for 2015 Douglass Global Summit and the Douglass Friends of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) advised by Margot Baruch.

We would also like to recognize the two other finalists. Dara Harvey, majoring in public health, submitted the project “The Role of Women in Fairytale: Happily Ever After?” created for the Creating Writing course. Amy Ho, majoring in cell biology and neuroscience, submitted the project “Police Brutality Against People of Color,” created for the Introduction to Multimedia Composition course. Chris Rzigalinski is teaching both courses this semester (spring 2015).

This year’s awards were made possible in part through the support of Dr. Irene Gnarra.

More photos from the event are available here.