Susan Jane Allen was born in Detroit in 1948. Her parents, Leo and Helen Allen, both worked in the space industry. In 1962, the family relocated to New Orleans, where Susan’s dad worked on the project that launched America’s first astronaut. Susan went to Louisiana State University, studied ceramics, and plunged into a life of activism. She also fell in love for the first time – with her professor.
Susan’s father and her grandfather, a Russian immigrant, were both liberal Democrats, and inspired Susan to be outspoken and take political action. At LSU, she was involved in issues from international policy and war to campus policies. She protested the invasion of Cambodia invasion and participated in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. At the same time, she peacefully fought the production of napalm at a local factory, pushed for gender equality on campus, and helped convince LSU to create the first student art galleries.
From 1970 to 1990, Susan worked off and on as a cartographer and graphics artist for oil and gas companies in the New Orleans area; but her primary energies went to women’s causes and issues. Susan served twice as the Chair for the New Orleans Women’s Festival, worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in Louisiana, and most intensely, battled incessantly and in high-profile ways for women’s reproductive freedom. She served as Louisiana state coordinator for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), and later on NARAL’s national board. In response to her efforts, Susan’s life was threatened and her home was trashed.
In 1990, Susan hit a wall in her activism. Her not-very-relaxing solution was to take a job as a child protection investigator for the Louisiana Department of Social Services. Over nearly two decades in that role, Susan continued to fight for women and children, focusing especially on cases with child fatalities or near fatalities.
Today, officially retired, Susan finally has time to hang out with her two rescue cats, Petee B. and Piper Jane, and to create sculpture and stained-glass artwork which she shows weekly at the New Orleans French Market. She also participated in the Women’s Marches in New Orleans in 2017 and 2018.
OUTWORDS interviewed Susan at her brother’s home in Slidell, Louisiana in July 2017. After we’d packed up the camera, Susan mentioned the heat she took from other lesbians back in the day, because of her commitment to women’s reproductive rights. We got the camera back out – because along with our victories, it’s important to remember the queer community’s internal battles of the past. We’re still working those out today, and we’re thankful to people like Susan, who never failed to stand up for what she saw as right.