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Gittings, Barbara (31 July 1932–18 Feb. 2007), lesbian and gay rights activist, was born in Vienna, Austria, the third child of Elizabeth and John Sterett Gittings. Her father’s service in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps meant that Gittings and her family traveled widely; as a child she was educated abroad and encouraged to pursue her interests in music, singing, and theater. She also was expected to embrace her father’s devout Catholicism. In ...

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Martin, Del (05 May 1921–27 August 2008), lesbian and women’s rights activist and writer, was born Dorothy Louise Taliaferro in San Francisco to Jones and Mary Taliaferro. Del (as she became known) attended public schools in the city and was named the salutatorian of the first graduating class at George Washington High School. She then attended the University of California at Berkeley and studied journalism. At nineteen, after transferring to San Francisco State College (now California State University at San Francisco), Del married James Martin in 1940; two years later, she gave birth to their daughter, Kendra. The marriage ended in divorce when her husband discovered love letters she had written to a female neighbor....

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Parker, Pat (20 Jan. 1944–17 June 1989), poet, performer, health care administrator, and lesbian-feminist activist, was born Patricia Ann Cooks in Houston, Texas, the youngest of five children of Marie Louise Anderson Cooks, a domestic worker, and Ernest Nathaniel Cooks, who worked as a roofer in the summer and retreaded tires in the winter. Later the family moved outside of Houston to a small, tin-roofed house with an outhouse. Pat recalled writing at an early age, particularly composing greeting cards for festive occasions. In high school, she joined the staff of the local black newspaper and became the first woman junior editor of her school newspaper. She also served as editor her senior year and graduated from Houston’s Evan E. Worthing Senior High School in ...

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Rich, Adrienne (16 May 1929–27 March 2012), poet, essayist, and lesbian-feminist activist, was born Adrienne Cecile Rich in Baltimore, Maryland, to Arnold Rice Rich and Helen Elizabeth Jones Rich, both southerners. Her father, a pathologist and highly regarded professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School, was renowned for his work ethic and brilliant lectures, but feared for his critical, exacting standards. Her mother was a gifted pianist, piano teacher, and composer. She married late because she pursues her musical career, but then gave it up, as housewives were expected to do, to care for her family. Until she was four Adrienne had an African American nanny, as was also common in her milieu. She and her younger sister, Cynthia, were home schooled until Adrienne was nine, which was less common, but fostered both an extraordinary ability for independent work and a need for community which became a central theme of Rich’s later writing. At home both girls read widely, especially in the classics. Their father particularly valued formal, traditional poetry which she began writing as a very young child, largely to satisfy him. In a household not given to playfulness, she indulged her zeal for storytelling privately. Rich’s parents urged their daughters to work hard, aim high, and see themselves as special. That message had to be squared, however, with the model of their mother’s sacrifice to their father’s success. Adrienne tried hard to please, but she was also quick-tempered, and even when young, stubbornly insistent on her own strong sense of right and wrong....

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Taylor, Valerie, (7 Sept. 1913–22 Oct. 1997), feminist novelist and radical activist, was born Velma Nacella Young in Aurora, Illinois, to Elsie M. Collins and Marshall J. Young in a family of independent Midwestern farmers and feminists. In addition to economic hardships, undiagnosed polio that resulted in curvature of the spine as well as her extreme nearsightedness were early challenges in her life. They did not keep her from excelling, and she graduated from the local high school in ...