Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project


Betty Jane & banner

Blood on SOME

Betty, left (in shade) and Jane, right   
with their banner, before Pride   
March 1978, Freeway Park.   

Oral History:

Jane Meyerding

Interviewed on February 22, 1997
by Ruth Pettis
Transcribed by Renia Ehrenfeucht

"I think it would be good for a lot of people to spend a week in the jail in their town."

Jane: I was born in Chicago and took part in my first political demonstration when I was 9. My family were members of the Society of Friends and I have two older sisters who became politically aware, of course, before I did and indoctrinated me as we went along. My first demonstration was a peace walk in Chicago on Hiroshima Day. It would have been in 1959. ...

We lived in Chicago until I was 18 months old and then we moved to a suburb. My father was working for the American Civil Liberties Union. Then when I was five, we went to Vienna for two years with the American Friends Service Committee where my parents were working with refugees from the war and then with refugees from the Hungarian Revolution. And then we came back to the Chicago area, and then moved to White Plains, New York, when I was ten or eleven. ...

My older sisters were involved in Ban the Bomb type activities. My father worked for National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in New York and I used to go into the office and help stuff envelopes, and mail out things, whatnot. My sister Susie was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the early and middle ‘60s. I was active from seventh or eighth grade on, in going to anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. And then took part marginally with Resurrection City -- the Poor People’s Campaign right after Dr. King died -- he had been planning it. … I had been volunteering with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference office in Philadelphia and took part in a demonstration in Washington to support the Poor People’s Campaign after Resurrection City had been destroyed. But most of my political activity was anti-war. ...

The first time I was arrested was when I was 17. That was the march on the Pentagon in 1967. I find it hard now, looking back, to remember these little arrests. Because they were little arrests -- misdemeanor kind of things. The first felony I was charged with was in 1968 at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. … And then I was part of a group that destroyed draft files and tried to steal FBI files from the Federal Building in Rochester, New York, in 1970. And convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. I think it was within a year of when I got out that I moved to Seattle. ...

When I was in high school I had what, earlier this century, would have been called a “peculiar friendship” with one of my classmates that was extremely intimate, but not physical. She introduced me to a lot of books that I probably wouldn’t have come across for another few years without her, including Violette LaDuc, and Jean Genet, and the existentialists. And I was an existentialist for a couple of years in a rather sloppy, uneducated way. [laughing] And I had a tremendous crush on Gertrude Stein. I read everything I could find on Gertrude Stein. But the extent of my knowledge was that lesbians were dead, and European. If they were from the United States, they’d gone to Europe. So I didn’t think it was possible for me to actually or for anyone currently living to be a lesbian. ...

Ruth: We hadn’t talked about this before. The incident during Initiative 13 campaign.

Jane: Right. Betty [Johanna] and I destroyed some papers, initiative petitions and financial records in the office of the group that was sponsoring the anti-gay initiative. [Same Our Moral Ethics] So we were arrested and charged with destruction of property, I think, or malicious mischief, or something like that. We were in jail for ten, eleven days. Something minor. That was an interesting experience. I think it would be good for a lot of people to spend a week in the jail in their town. [laughing] And of course for me it was atypical in terms of all of my arrests in that – they weren’t looking at it from a political demonstration. We were lesbians who had poured blood, which was considered really gross, and we weren’t part of a group so we didn’t have that safety net aspect. Although we did get visitors and letters, which is always a safety net aspect. ...

When Betty and I were in jail, here in Seattle, some of the women were confused because the police who brought us to the jail made a big point of how they arrested us as lesbians. And people assumed we were a couple, which we weren’t. There were some women in the jail who had very old stereotyped notions of what lesbians were, and who were, I think, examining us to find out which was the butch and which was the femme, and that didn’t work very well with Betty and me.

But there was one woman there who was the kind of lesbian you meet in jail and prison a lot – who were lesbians who may or may not have been married, but probably have children, and probably have relationships with men sometimes because that is the way their world works. Who are also lesbians, but who may not identify primarily and publicly as lesbians for very sound reasons. Anyway, this woman had never read anything to do with lesbians, may have come across male pornography about lesbians but probably had never under any other circumstances even seen the word lesbian written out.

Well, Betty and I, being readers, had requested books sent in from the library. And one of them was Martin and Lyons, Lesbian Woman. Well, this woman found this book and read it and was so fascinated. It was so eye opening for her. She had probably been a lesbian all her life, but she had never had any access to anything that told her that it was okay, for one thing, and that there were women out there in the world who were lesbians all the time – that you can choose to do that. It was like the stone rolling away from the front of a tomb in a way. I don’t mean that she left the jail and she was no longer poor and black and a single mother, but – you could just see it. She told me that she had never seen anything like this before in her life. … She was the kind of person that I’m drawn to and I was just so happy that this coincidence could happen -- that Betty and I happened to be in the jail when she happened to be in the jail and we happened to get that book in. Because I felt like I could learn so much from her as a person. And I had no idea she could learn from me. And, of course, it was just the book she learned from, not from me. ...

There was a lot of anxiety among political lesbians [in the 1970s], I think. There was the feeling that some lesbians were under the gun. It wasn’t so much here. But back east there was all that grand jury stuff and the women who identified themselves openly as lesbians and were involved in political activities that were persecuted by the government. There was a feeling that it could spill over at any minute into anyone’s life.

Ruth: I remember coming here and seeing all the posters about what to do if the FBI comes knocking.

Jane: I felt I had an advantage there since the FBI had been around all my life [laughs] because they were interested in my father. So for me that wasn’t as unknown, wasn’t as new to me. One way in which women who had some contact with the New Left (which is now the Old Left) had an advantage, coming into lesbian feminism or Second Wave feminism -- we did have some idea of what law is like, and what the government can be like when it takes its mind to. In that way we had something in common with the older dykes who always knew that they weren’t safe.

A thing that I tried to bring out in Everywhere House [Jane’s novel] was the feeling of safety that some of the younger lesbian feminists had that I think was always an illusion. If you are ever going to be involved in political movement, you can’t really hang on to that safety because you are always going to wind up needing to identify with people who are not safe. Many of us realized we didn’t want to cut ourselves off from the older lesbians. We didn’t want to see them as bar dykes and us as Coffee Coven dykes. If we wanted to be in their community, we had to recognize that their community wasn’t a safe little haven the way we thought ours was, until this political stuff started happening and we started seeing the leaflets about the FBI, and we knew that we weren’t safe either.

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