James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Monday, April 30, 2012

Archives April 2012


Bar Associations ...
lawyers, no ... lesbians, yes!

The library recently acquired the Grace Miller Papers. Grace was one of the owners of record for Tommy's Place and 12 Adler Place, two bars that operated from 1952-1954 and were frequented by lesbians. Grace is pictured at left, behind the bar.

The Grace Miller Papers include correspondence, subject files, photographs and a scrapbook. The subject files include flyers and announcements for a number of lesbian bars from the 1950s to the 1960s.

In September 1954, Grace Miller and co-owners Joyce van de Veer and Jean Sullivan became the subjects of intense public scrutiny as a result of charges against Tommy's Place for underage drinking, drug use, and perverted activity. Grace and Joyce were tending bar and were arrested for serving alcohol to minors. The collection contains a scrapbook with newspaper clippings from the time of the arrests, and Miller's trial and sentencing.

In Nan Boyd's book Wide Open Town, Reba Hudson describes the events surrounding the 1954 arrests and trial. "Tommy [Vasu] lost her license because of the arrests...but the person who actually serves the minor is the one who does the time. ... the two bartenders, they were the victims of this whole thing. Gracie went to trial right at the height of the publicity, that's really why she was convicted. ... Gracie was just a scapegoat because she went to trial when the anti-gay stuff was at its most hysterical peak." Jean was not arrested at all and Joyce got off with probation or a lighter sentence.

Boyd sets the Tommy's Place arrests and trial within the context of McCarthy era politics. She notes that the arrests happened immediately before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency's hearing in San Francisco in October 1954. The lurid headlines about the "thrill bar" served to link juvenile delinquency with sexual deviance, drug use, and prostitution. The San Francisco Examiner editorial shown here deftly (and frighteningly) sums up the thinking prevalent at that time. Although the writer misidentifies the bar as Tommy's Joint rather than Tommy's Place, it is clear that no evidence was really necessary to convict these individuals in the court of public opinion.

The Grace Miller Papers are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photographs desk.

1 comment:

Bukworm said...

Chilling to read that editorial! It's important to remember how important our current political movement is today. Visibility is the key to protecting LGBT rights to live a life safely, out in the open, whether one believes in marriage or not.That stellar piece of "journalism" from the Chronicle reads like something out of Berlin in the 30's.