Lesbian Herstory Archives AudioVisual Collections

Rose Jordan, May 23, 1993




Rose Jordan, May 23, 1993


social life, women, demonstrations, women's political organizations


Rose Jordan discusses her involvement with women’s political organizations and feminist groups and the schism that existed between 2 generations of lesbian women.

Date Created



Pratt Institute, School of Information and Library Science, LIS 668 Moving Image and Sound Archiving students. Edited by Lauren Allshouse, Kim Loconto, Rachel Smiley, and Sara White.


Video Recording, Oral History



Rights Holder

Lesbian Herstory Archives, Contact Designation: Maxine Wolfe, Contact Address: 484 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215, Phone Number: 718-768-3953


Rose Jordan Transcription: May 23rd. 1993

00:00:22 - Title card reads, “LHA, DOB Video Project, Tape # M- 66, Rose Jordan, New York City, May 23, 1993”

00:00:30 - Second title card reads “LHA/DOB Video Project – Morgan Gwenwald, Manuela Soares, Sara Yager”

00:00:33 - Audio begins with RJ speaking, video starts on RJ

00:00:33 - 00:01:01- Pre-interview chatting out of context

00:01:03 - (Interview Begins) RJ: Uh, alright, ask me a question.

00:01:07 - Interviewer: So how did you, how did you, um, come to DOB? How did you discover it?

00:01:11 - RJ: I think it was purely by accident. Uh, around 1968 my lover and I went to Chicago because I quit a job that I couldn’t stand anymore. I was being harassed and-and I just couldn’t take it. So I decided, and we discussed it, and I said, we’re, we’re leaving town. So we packed up in a van and we went to Chicago because I knew someone in, uh, Carbondale and she had said to me, “Oh you come to Carbondale, you’ll be able to get a job!” and none of it was true. Ok (laughs) so we got a little screwed about that.

00:01:40 - RJ (cont.): Anyway, um, we were there about 9 months, or 10 months, so we came back around ‘69…I don’t remember the month, but I know it was the time when…I read in the paper about the Stonewall riots. And I said, “My god look what they’re doing!” I mean I was horrified. “How could they do this?” And then I remembered that the Stonewall bar--I had been in that place in the–’63 or ‘6–I forget the date. And when someone described the place and I passed by, I said. “Oh I was in there, I remember that place. It was very large, had a big bar...” whatever.

00:02:18 - RJ (cont.): So then I heard that there was a group forming, but I had never belonged to a group before in my life. I was very shy, I-I couldn’t even talk. It was really very interesting. And I joined this GLF, Gay Liberation Front, uh, Lois Hart and a few other-- some men were involved with it. And I went to this huge meeting. And I forget where the devil it was. It was in a church on 28th street somewhere? Church of the Holy Apostle, or something? So there we were and-and it was huge. There must’ve been 200 people jammed into that room. So I sat in the back because I wasn’t about to talk. And I listened. And a lot of the people there were, I guess their affiliation was either socialist or communist or I don’t know…something of that sort. Which I didn’t know much about then. A lot of them had gone to Cuba. And they were giving a-a kind of-of symposium on the things they found there. A lot of them were suddenly going against Castro because they saw how they were treating homosexuals. And so that was the discussion.

00:03:15 - RJ (cont.): Then I remember going back a second and third time. And finally, I got up the courage to ask a question. Because I thought that was--and I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget--and I raised my hand (video skips) but he stopped and they turned and looked at me. I almost fell into a hole in the floor– I was so nervous--my hand was shaking. I asked-asked this question, I don’t remember what I asked! (laughs) And it was answered, and from that point on I was able to speak out at meetings. It was interesting.

00:03:45 - RJ (cont.): Then, um I don’t know if it was my lover or myself, that heard about this, this, this, these initials D.O.B., and we didn’t quite know what it was, and then we found out what it was. And it was either on 38th Street or 27th Street. I, uh, think it was 38th Street. We went to this building, I took an elevator I think. Second floor? Third floor? And I went into this room and it was just a long table and it must have been 10 or 11 women. There weren’t that many. And at the end of this table this woman sat who was, I think, the president. Shirley...Shirley Willar...W-Willar, yeah, that’s it. And so she was like presiding over this meeting, the workshop and I got involved asking a couple of questions and stuff. And that was that.

00:04:31 - RJ (cont.): I don’t think I went back to a second meeting. Then I heard that a loft would have been gotten…a-a big place where lesbians were at, y’know, I was amazed, you know I was really surprised and intrigued. So we went to this place. It was on Prince Street. And when I got there, um, there was no meeting, but there were a few women around fixing things, or painting, or something of that sort. And we looked around and I ran into two people that I knew! Ellen Povell and what was the other woman’s name? I can’t remember...another E...Elaine, something. And I had met those two women a few years before when I was with a different lover. So we renewed old acquaintances–we talked and stuff and I think I met Ruth Simpson at that time. And that was that.

00:05:14 - RJ (cont.): Then I heard there was going to be a big meeting and there was a problem. I don’t know where I heard these things from but you know how you listen...we was going to bars and we heard things. So I went. And um, my lover and I went. And I remember, I can see it in my mind’s eye, the room was dark and there was lights or something in the--it wasn’t like a stage-- but it was a certain area of the room and then there was seats this way and I was in the back. And I heard this argument. (video skips) There were four women up there including Ruth Simpson and Ti-Grace Atkinson and (video skips) boudoirs and these women were fighting and arguing and debating in front of this big crowd about how Ruth should step down because there was gonna be a revolution or there was gonna be some changes made (laughs) of some sort. And since I didn’t know what the devil this was all about, I just listened.

00:06:04 - RJ (cont.): All of a sudden there was a fight broke out and some woman who I met later, Dani Covello (sp?), she picked up a chair and she threw it at someone because they had hit her. There was this melee going on--this fight (laughs) And I said to my lover “let us go home because I don’t wanna get involved in this!” (laughs) So we left. And that was that for a while.

00:06:24- RJ (cont.): And then I heard there was a dance there and stuff so we went. And it was very pleasant, it was nice, it was nice to see a lot of women there, y’know. Let me backtrack a minute because I forgot to tell you something about Alternate U when I mentioned the dance. There was a place called Alternate U that GLF was involved in. That was the first time there was a dance for women. And, uh, my lover and I went and it was just wonderful to see all these women together dancing! I had never seen that before except in bars, and this was so open, that it was kind of frightening in a way. And that night, three or four men came up there claiming they were police and they showed us guns. They were not police. And we stared them down and fought with them. Again, I was in the back of the room, I didn’t do much of anything. And some women jumped out the fire escape and tried to get away. And we discovered later that they were from the bars. They were trying to close us down. They didn’t like the idea that women were not going to frequent the bars, that they were going to this alternate place to be with each other, without giving money to the mafia. Cause all those bars were mafia run, especially Kooky’s. I don’t know if you remember Kooky’s on 14th street, 7th and 8th avenues.

00:07:34- RJ (cont.): Anyway to get back to DOB--when I went back, I started to get involved in it. We went to meetings and we sat and listened. And, um, we were social with some of the women, I got to know who they were, y’know things like that. Just on the fringes. After a while–and I can’t remember the date–I think it was ‘70 or ‘71, I don’t remember. Someone nominated me for co-chair--I almost fell through the floor–I didn’t know anything about chairing an organization! I didn’t know why they did that, y’know! But my lover said “I’m so proud of you! Do it!” or whatever she said. I said “well alright” because I didn’t expect to be elected, but I was! And again I was shocked because I had never been involved in anything like that before and I didn’t know what to do.

00:08:21- RJ (cont.): After about 2 weeks I knew what to do. I learned very fast (laughs). And, so we had this structure and then there was like a school. One of the women was a therapist, um, I forgot her name. I can’t remember her name (laughs). Uh, she started a little school on Sundays, y’know. Uh, about what lesbianism is, and y’know trying to kind of workshop with people, because there was nothing like that around. Certainly NOW didn’t do it because they were really against lesbianism as destroying the movement, so we had it there.

00:08:52- RJ (cont.): And as the months and years went on, I learned more and more and I noticed that there was something strange going on, because there were people coming to the meetings who seemed to disrupt them. To not, to want to have the business go forward…not to want the discussions to happen. Um, we knew that some of them were from the Socialist Worker’s Party, but we didn’t know who the others were. And, um, we all talked with each other about the fact that maybe they were cops or something, y’know. But there was no proof of it. But it got worse and worse and worse. And I think at the time, all of us involved in DOB, at the organizational stage of it, were a little too quick to be judgmental, to be angry, to work against each other when we should’ve been working with each other, to point a finger at each other when it was other outside influences that were doing things. We were kind of, I don’t know what it was b--blind to the fact that it wasn’t coming from our ranks but we were being influenced by it. And a lot of women picked that influence up and used it against each other. Started to accuse–(laughs) they accused me of being for the FBI (laughs). I mean it was very horrible.

00:10:16- RJ (cont.): So when I said early on before we started the talk, you know it was the best of times and it was the worst of times, at the same time. Because the best of times was the outpouring of togetherness that we had. It was like sisterhood, the dances were like circle dances, I mean, Kate Millet was there, Jill Johnston, y’know we danced with our tops off. Y’know it was like, a lot of freedom. But there was also a lot of--a feeling of trying to restrict at the same time. Y’know it was like going out and then pulling back. A, a very strange combination.

00:10:49- RJ (cont.): But I was involved in doing that too, because this is what the climate was of the times themselves. Because it was the women’s movement, there was a lot of upheaval, women wanted their rights, lesbians wanted their rights, y’know it was a whole upheaval. And I think that what was going on behind the scenes was an early backlash…not so much a backlash but a stoppage. The people who were in power–whoever they were–saw us as a threat, which we are, to their position, patriarchal position, and they wanted to make sure that we weren’t about to blow up the White House (laughs), which we weren’t! I mean my phone was tapped--it was obvious,people’s phones were tapped. At marches, I recall there were these undercover cops, we got to know their faces after a while... I started taking photographs of them which they didn’t like. We had a roster of these people. We used to pass it around and say, “Watch out for this fellow…watch out for that guy”, (laughs) things like that….

00:11:47- RJ (cont.): A lot of it was done, y’know, with humor. A lot of it was done with paranoia. Some of our paranoia was correct. Some of it was not…So there was a mixture of things going on. So it was difficult, even now, to kind of sort out who are the bad guys, who are the good guys, who are the people who were scapegoated. It’s very hard. I was scapegoated but a lot of other women were, too. And uh, it’s-it’s-it’s sad that when–although it’s not always true–when a group of women take over their own movement, only women, people really work against you. The reason why NOW is so successful is they allow men in. And they use certain kinds of agendas that-that will benefit men. We didn’t do that. All our agenda was benefitting women. And there were certain factions in the city, uh, that, uh, that didn’t want us to be separatists.

00:12:47- Interviewer: Like what factions?

00:12:49 - RJ: Well, uh, Gay Activists Alliance, there were other women who wanted to start a different, uh, a different group…and didn’t want to compete with our group. There was many different things underlying the reasons why DOB across the country, I think, was systematically being undermined. I don’t know about the word destroy but I know it was being undermined. Very heavily. I know the Ladder went out of business…there was stuff going on there…it’s almost as if the outside influences sort of programmed the women in the movement to act a certain way. And we did, and it was wrong of us, but we didn’t know any better.

00:13:35 - Interviewer: Act a certain way in what ways (inaudible)…?

00:13:37 - RJ: In undermining ourselves! It’s almost like, uh, internalized homophobia would be. It’s like that type of thing. If the environment says a certain thing, it sets up a-a kind of agenda for us. We swallowed it whole and then attacked each other. All movements do this… splinter movements.

00:13:37 - Interviewer: How would you characterize DOB when you were a member, when you were co-chair...Was it separatist? Was it lesbian? Was it feminist?

00:13:39 - RJ: No it wasn’t quite separatist–it-it was always separatist in the fact that, uh, we wanted that space for women. And the constitution said, no men allowed. And being the co-chair, I was intent upon upholding the constitution. And when I had an argument with, um, Alma and a few other women, and they said “we want our brothers from GAA to come here”, and I said “no you can’t do that--if you wanna do that then we have to call a constitutional convention, have all the members agree, vote on it, and whatever they say, I’ll uphold”. Okay, whatever they say. But in the meantime, men are not permitted in this space. And I was told by someone….I’ll mention her name–Alma Routsong–said to me—we were walking to the subway–she said, “We’re gonna do this over your dead body, whether you like it or not”. I said, “No you're not”. We had a big fight. And they did anyway.

00:14:58- RJ (cont.): So this, this kind of friction, pulling kind of thing, where I was trying to do one thing, which I thought was right…they were trying to do another, which they probably thought was right (laughs)...I don’t know if they thought it was right, but that’s what they wanted. And this whole, this whole thing was happening which split us apart. And I was very distressed about it, but there was, it just seemed like there was nothing I could do. The more I tried to do and the more angry I became, which was the wrong thing to do, the worse it became. And I didn’t know how to handle it. I mean if it happened today, I would know how to handle it, but then, we were so new at all of this that I didn’t know how to handle it.

00:15:35 - Interviewer: So what happened?

00:15:36 - RJ: So I was accused of being from the FBI, the CIA and the mafia, (laughs) and I was, it was, it was, uh, spread around town that I was the reason why DOB was destroyed. I did it. I don’t know how I did that, but I did it, all alone. It was amazing that I could’ve done that. I said to myself, “how much power do I have?” y’know, I didn’t know how exactly I-I did that alone. But that was the rumor. And I remember one evening–after this fight, this thing–I went to Bonnie & Clyde’s, which was a kind of movement hangout, and some of my friends were there and as I walked in the door I said “hi” and four of them looked me up and down, folded their arms like this, and turned their backs on me. I was bad news…it was spread around that I was bad news. I didn’t know why (laughs) I was bad news. Here I thought I was trying to uphold the DOB concepts or whatever and here it was being said that I was bad news. So that-that was very distressing for a long time.

00:16:34- RJ (cont.): Now during the interim that I was in DOB, I also was in New York Radical Feminists. And we were doing some things, y’know, education and uh demonstrations. And um, all kinds of, y’know…we were the first ones to do, uh, rape, uh, kindof…it wasn’t a symposium but it was like a speakout about rape and it was the first people who ever did that. Uh, things like that we were doing. So I belonged to both factions.

00:17:03- Interviewer: What kinds of things was,uh, was DOB doing? Were they less active? How did they differ from…

00:17:07- RJ: Well, they would--I don’t know what they wou...originally, DOB was a social organization. And most of the members–there were a lot of members–most of the members either never came to the dances…they just contributed, they, y’know, got the newsletters, and stuff like that…most of them were in the closet. And at that time we were all screaming about how everyone’s gotta come out. Y’know, I don’t believe that anymore because I think it’s circumstantial. But in those days, everybody was, y’know, revolutionary, everybody has to come out…it would be nice, but it’s not always feasible.

00:17:40 - RJ (cont.): So the thing, the thing was that when the takeover happened from Ruth Simpson, y’know it’s Ruth Simpson over to this group that I joined because that was the only group there at the time…they were speaking of revolutionary things like, uh, consensus instead of votes, uh-uh, y’know, cells o-or groups. It was very patterned, I think, after–-I didn’t know it then–but after the communist kind of thing where they had separate cells. Then we used to have things like critiques, certain evenings in the group, to critique ourselves or criticize each other, which I thought was really tacky (laughs). But doing, doing things like that–putting up, uh, uh sort of schools run by women, uh, how to print, how to, y’know, it was-it was very good, it wasn’t a bad thing. It’s just that, I think, I think their attitudes about other people were very intolerant. I was also intolerant! I’m more tolerant now. It, its, it was so new that we wanted to have our agenda there because we felt that was the way it should go. Ok?

00:18:47 - RJ (cont.): And, um, I think doing that kind of blind-sided thing can destroy something, it can do that, because people are gonna fight you. And so you’re gonna use all your energy being fought against. That all the dynamic and the aura–if you wanna get psychic about it–is, is very negative and what it does is, is boomerangs toward the people doing it. So I think a lot of it was people conspiring, maybe not, in a, in a kinda legal sense, but conspiring, planning to do this this and that…cause we all did it, uh, to put our own agenda forward. Y’know that was what was happening, without cooperating with each other. And, um, I think that was, that’s what destroys people. When you don’t cooperate with each other, you know? Because everybody wants their way, and there’s gotta be, maybe there has to be a middle ground. I don’t, I don’t know exactly. But right now I’m not involved in any group, I just belong to NOW, sort of, on the fringes (laughs), I’m not even in-involved in much of anything.

00:19:51 - Interviewer: What happened at the end of DOB after, um, the um, accusations with Alma back and forth? I mean what happened to the membership? How did that…how did that…how did DOB end? Was it lack of membership? Lack of money? What…tell us a little bit about the, about final..

00:20:04 - RJ: Well, uh, I tried, I tried with Judy and Ingrid and a couple of other people to kind of resurrect it in a way. And we were trying to do it--my, my idea of doing it was in writing, and uh, I put together a, a kind of--I still have them at home--a kind of book, booklet or magazine, a small magazine kind of thing done by women about lesbians with writings in it and stuff, and uh, I thought that if we could have something like that, that we would, um, kind of draw women into the group again. Into a different kind of group, maybe. Something that the women who were drawn into it could sit down and have by consensus say what they wanted the group to be.

00:20:49 - RJ (cont.): The other women didn’t want to do that. They were fighting me all the way, believe me. They, they wanted to do something different, which…a group of us felt that, that wasn’t the way to start. But, you don’t, you don’t, you don’t put an organization together by just putting an organization together. We had no money, we had no place to go, (laughs) we had no place to be, so our contention was that if you start a, a, uh letter, or a newsletter, or a magazine, you don’t need a space. The movement could be done through mailings, and-and kind of a, um, from time to time renting a place for meetings, and things like that where you didn’t have to have a space. Until such time if we could get money to do that. And they didn’t want to do that. So it sort of fizzled out…it just did.

00:21:35 - Interviewer: What happened to the space? Cause from the loft you went...what happened with the spaces?

00:21:40 - RJ: We had to get out of the Prince Street place because we couldn’t afford the rent, there was no, uh–membership was falling off, there was no donations, there was no grants, it was...y’know. Nothing. And, um, since I was the only chair left--Alma quit, the other one quit, and they all said they quit because of me. Maybe they did, because I was trying to uphold the constitution the way I felt it should be, and I was adamant about it, which I shouldn’t have been perhaps. Maybe I should've been a little softer, I don’t know. But at the time that’s what I was doing.


“Rose Jordan, May 23, 1993,” Lesbian Herstory Archives AudioVisual Collections, accessed July 17, 2024, http://herstories.prattinfoschool.nyc/omeka/items/show/401.