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Arden Eversmeyer was born on April 4, 1931, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. She moved with her parents and younger sister to Dallas, Texas in 1943. After high school, she attended Texas State College for Women, earning a B.S. in Health and Physical Education. In 1964, she received her Master’s in Education from Sam Houston State University. 

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Arden became a public school teacher. She worked in schools for 30 years, teaching Health and Physical Education and serving as a Secondary Counselor. In her early 20s, she met her first partner, Tommie. They were together for 33 years. Beginning in the 1960s, Arden joined a local Civic Club and became involved in community activism. When Tommie died of cancer in 1985, Arden openly devoted herself to promoting lesbian rights.  

For over thirty years, Arden has built community and developed resources for elderly lesbians. She served six years as a Mayoral appointee to the Area Agency on Aging. In 1987, she founded Lesbians Over Age Fifty (LOAF). LOAF provides safe spaces to meet and socialize with other lesbians. Arden soon realized many of her friends were aging and dying. She started collecting their life stories, hoping to preserve their wisdom and experiences. She soon expanded her efforts, gathering stories from lesbians across Houston. In 1998 she founded the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project (OLOHP). Since then, she has interviewed over 650 lesbians 70 years or older and published two books chronicling their tales. 

Before starting the oral herstory project, Arden was involved with Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC). OLOC is a national organization that brings together older lesbian activists to work for social justice and equality for elderly lesbians. Arden was on the steering committee for 14 years and, in 2000, they agreed to support OLOHP. As a sponsor, OLOC helps Arden’s herstory project raise money and find more women willing to share their stories.

In 1987 Arden met Charlotte, whom she married in 2008. Partners for over 30 years, the two travelled and collected interviews together. Charlotte passed away in April, 2018. The Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project and its archives are now housed at Smith College, where new stories continue to be added. 
Amy Bench: [00:00:00] Okay. I'm speeding.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you for having us. Please do me a favor. Start off by telling me your first and last name, and spell it out for me.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, my first name is Jean. I go by Arden, my middle name, A-R-D-E-N, and my last name is Eversmeyer. E-V-E-R-S-M-E-Y-E-R.
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell me, please, when, on what date, and where you were born.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:00:30] I was born the 4th of April 1931 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. A little Polish community in Northern Wisconsin.
Mason Funk: Okay. Just briefly, how had your family ended up in Stevens Point?
Arden Eversmeyer: End up in Stevens Point? My father was with Hardware Mutual Insurance Company, he was an insurance underwriter,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:01:00] and the home office for Hardware Mutual was in Stevens Point. My parents were married in 1928 and they moved to Stevens Point before I was born in '31. The year I was born and the year before that,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:01:30] they had built a home there. It was called a Cape Cod cottage at that time. It was a two-story house, which is still there. It was because he was with the home office and they had other needs that we wound up in Texas. It was a transfer.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay. How old were you when that happened?
Arden Eversmeyer: That was in '43, I was 12.
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] You mentioned in your questionnaire that your dad was an important role model or mentor.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yes.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that, please.
Arden Eversmeyer: He was a gentle giant-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Start by saying "My father."
Arden Eversmeyer: My father. Yeah. My father was a gentle giant. He was a great, big man. 6'2" and a very gentle nature.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:02:30] I was a rebellious youngster. I didn't fit my mom's needs to have curls, frills, and things like this. I wanted to be outside and I would, with intent, ruin a nice dress so I didn't have to wear it again.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:03:00] I think very early my father knew his daughter and he really became my nurturer. I had one sister who is not living now and she was 11 months younger than me. She filled my mother's needs to a T, so, it worked well. I didn't have a closeness with my mother ever growing up,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:03:30] but I had a real fine relationship, closeness with my father who encouraged me in my interests and everything, but also assured me that if I couldn't go out and play baseball and still act like a nice, little young lady, then that was the end of it for me.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:04:00] He had that kind of a rein on me, 'cause I knew he was good for his word, so, that's the way we grew up. It was a good family. It's just that it was different in the kind of nurturing growing up than most households have, but I was very fortunate. He died young. He died in 1955. I was just 24.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:04:30] It's probably one of the two greatest losses in my life.
Mason Funk: Between you and your dad, what were the places where you connected? What were the things you would talk about? The topics or the areas of interest? Were there specific areas or was it more just a general?
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:05:00] Just in general. Always. Growing up, if I was distressed about something, he would know. My parents' bedroom was a great big room and it had two big easy chairs in it, as well as a desk. His lap was always available if I was upset about something. There never was a time that I felt there was something that I couldn't talk to him about.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:05:30] I always felt comfortable doing that. All those growing up years, mom would maybe have had to fuss at me about something, which certainly was deserved, and I'd still be kind of fretful, and he'd pop me up on his lap, and we'd sit there and talk. He always reassured me that mom loved me.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:06:00] Always. I was just really lucky. Really, really lucky there.
Mason Funk: That's interesting, because one of the questions I had about mine was whether this sympatico that you had with your father, and lack of that with your mother whether that became a kind of a point of tension between them.
Arden Eversmeyer: No.
Mason Funk: But, it sounds like your father made sure to keep the family unit initially.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:06:30] Right, right. It wasn't until after his death, several years, that she and I really got to know each other. We never, ever had what would be classified as a mother-daughter relationship, but we did develop a respect for each other and a friendship, and I was grateful for that.
Amy Bench: [inaudible] happened on the monitor.
Mason Funk: Bear with us one second.
Amy Bench: Okay.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:07:00] Actually, it was quite a while after my father died. We were around each other a lot, but after my first long term partner died, she was having a very difficult time, because they were really good friends.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry. You haven't mentioned your mother, yet.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh. Well, it's just how I came to be a friend with my mother.
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] Sure, so, go and maybe restart the story. "My relationship with my mother changed," maybe, something like that. So that we know that .. , because in the pickup you hadn't mentioned your mother.
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay. My relationship with my mother changed somewhat a good number of years later after my long-term partner died. It was
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:08:00] because of the efforts that my partner had made to try and help the relationship between the two of us, because I would have been pretty satisfied not to have spent a lot of time with her. My partner was the one that expedited the friendship that I ultimately had with my mother. We developed a respect for each other
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:08:30] and we became pretty good friends. We never had a typical mother-daughter relationship, which was okay, because I was glad to have what we had, and we had mended whatever had been going on between us most of my life. So, that was a long time coming and I was grateful to have that happen, too.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] You said a few minutes ago, you said your father knew his daughter, what do you mean by that?
Arden Eversmeyer: Again. After I had come out to my mother and we had some of these absolutely profound discussions, of course my father entered into all of this talk, and my mother was absolutely satisfied, and not resentful,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:09:30] but she was absolutely satisfied that my father was a non-practicing gay man. That instinctively, he saw in me what he thought and ultimately came to pass. I'm really sorry I never took the opportunity to come out to him. It just never occurred to me. Back in those years, it was so important to protect one's self.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:10:00] It was so easy to lose family and I never would have run that risk with him. Mom and I talked about it several times and she was satisfied. She said there were just all kinds of, in retrospect, there were all kinds of clues, so, we're pretty sure. I've got some good genes in my family, I guess.
Mason Funk: [00:10:30] We have good genes in my family, too. Two points there. One is, have you ever speculated that if your father had lived long, he might have come out later?
Arden Eversmeyer: I seriously doubt it. He was almost a [Inaudible] , he was very spiritual. I was raised in the Christian Science church.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:11:00] He was first reader in the church and he was a practitioner. Some of his counseling was with some young men, so, some of those were some of the clues that mother was putting together. I don't think so. I don't think he'd have actively come out.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] The other thing I wanted to follow up on was you gave a really interesting note in passing, which is that it never occurred to you to come out in those early years. Not only because one had to be very careful for oneself, but one had to be very careful for one's family. I wonder if you can just expand on that for those eventual listeners of yours for whom that's a really foreign concept.
Arden Eversmeyer: Keep in mind, I came out in 1948. I was in public schoolwork.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:12:00] The chance of being discovered could have been the end of ever being involved with kids again.
Mason Funk: Can I interrupt for a second? You were born in '30?
Arden Eversmeyer: 31.
Mason Funk: And, you came out in '48?
Arden Eversmeyer: Right. I was 17 years old, I was a freshman in college.
Mason Funk: Okay. Carry on. I just wanted to be sure we had that right. I figured we did, but ...
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:12:30] For me, I graduated from college in 1951. My father died in 1955. It never for me was that I was afraid to come out, it just never occurred to me to do it. All the years from 1955 when my father died, to 1985 when my partner died,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:13:00] all of those years in there, my mother spent in this big lesbian group of friends. All of her activities wound up being with all of us. Again, it just never occurred to me to say the words. When I told her, she never blinked. I'm sure had
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:13:30] I thought about coming out to my father, it would've been the same thing. I'm just as sure as I could be. There never was anything but acceptance.
Mason Funk: What was your coming out? You came out at a very young age, by today's standards.
Arden Eversmeyer: By today's standards?
Mason Funk: Pretty much.
Arden Eversmeyer: I was in college, I went to college when I was 17.
Mason Funk: [00:14:00] Do me a favor. Tell me where that was. Just start over and say "I went to college at..."
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay. Actually, I graduated from high school at Highland Park in Dallas, in the Highland Park district. When we moved from Wisconsin to Texas, I even have to digress a little before that. My sister and I attended what was then called a Demonstration school.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:14:30] It was grades one through eight, one classroom at each grade level, with a master teacher, and it was connected to a teacher's college right there. We came all up through the grades in this demonstration school. When we got to Texas, they did a little bit of testing or checking on our grades or whatever, my sister got promoted a full year.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:15:00] She had finished 5th grade and she was promoted to 7th. I had finished 6th grade and I was promoted to what they called high seven. We were on a semester system then. Low and high. She got promoted a full year, I got promoted a semester, because I hadn't had Texas history and thou shalt have Texas history.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:15:30] I subsequently made up that semester by going to summer school through high school. Technically, I finished high school in three years. That put me in college right after my 17th birthday. I went to school, my college of choice again,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:16:00] I wasn't interested in going to college. My father kept saying to me, "Arden, you need to go just one year. If you go one year, then you have the right to say that you're a college woman. You don't have to have a degree." I guess he knew me well enough if he ever got me off the stump and got me there, I would probably finish, which exactly is what happened. I went and there was no ... Again, I'll digress.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:16:30] As a student, I had always been a plodder. Just an average student. It wasn't until I was in graduate school that we discovered that I'm dyslexic. That's what the plodding was all about. My senior counselor in high school would call me in out of an academic class no less to discourage me from going to college,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:17:00] because I would not succeed, which was probably the biggest motivator I've ever had. When my dad and I were talking, "What is it you want to study?" Well, there wasn't anything really I wanted to study, but the one thing I really loved was sports and being outside, so, we did a little bit of exploring
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:17:30] and the top three colleges in the United States for women for degrees in physical education were Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cornell College in Iowa, and Texas State College for Women in Denton. We lived 30 miles from Denton and there was no question about the difference in tuition staying at home
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:18:00] and going to college there. That's what we did. Got me enrolled and we had rules. I couldn't come home on the weekends. It was a residence school, still is a residence school. I couldn't come home on weekends, I had to write them ... Those years, we had what we called a penny postcard. I had to drop them a postcard every week.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:18:30] I didn't have to write a long, detailed story. Just "Hi, doing fine. Love," and put it in the mail. If they didn't get it, they'd call me collect on the telephone in the dorm to see if I was all right. "We haven't heard from you." So, that established some discipline right there. I was given so much a month to put in the college bank.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:19:00] Anything I did, buy a gift, go out of town, anything I had to spend money on had to come out of that monthly allowance, and that included my Christmas shopping. I had to save it. That established, again, a discipline for me early.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:19:30] Again, there wasn't anything I wanted to do in the summertime. There wasn't any kind of work I wanted to do. I sure didn't want to go home and sit around, so, I went to school. I did college in three years, because I was going summer and winter. I graduated a month after my 20th birthday, because I had subsequently skipped one year in high school,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:20:00] and one calendar year in college, not the work. I was mighty young, really, mighty immature to be a college graduate and about to get out in the work world.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt you there for a second. I want to go back and pick up a couple pieces. One is, why were your parents adamant that you would not come home on weekends?
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:20:30] Because, they fully believed that going to college was more than book learning. I was going to a residence school and there were activities always on campus, always all kinds of activities. That was part of my growing up. I was going to college, starting another phase of my life, and I needed to experience and grow up with the experiences I got there,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:21:00] and I sure wasn't going to get it coming home every weekend. I went home Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Once a month they would come up. It's only 30 miles. They'd bring a tin of cookies for the dorm and then we'd go out to the Juicy Pig and have lunch. We would see each other once a month, but three times a year was all I got to go home.
Mason Funk: [00:21:30] How was that for you?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, I did a lot of growing up.
Mason Funk: But were you happy about that?
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, sure. Sure. I understood what it was and they were always there for me if ever was needed. Once I had gotten some kind of a real bad bug of some kind and I wound up in Hygeia, the college hospital.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:22:00] Because I was Christian Scientist and I didn't want meds, my parents came up and got me, took me home, and I was back on campus in two days. I had to check in through Hygeia and they were amazed, 'cause I had been really, really sick when I went home.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:22:30] But, other than that, I was not home except for holidays.
Mason Funk: It sounds like your family functioned so well as a unit, but I'm always tempted to ask if there were any wrinkles, were there any ... Was there friction? Were there ... I don't know, of any sort within the family unit. The way you're describing it sounds so high functioning.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:23:00] If there ever was anything going on, it was taken care of privately. My father never hollered. Like I said, he was a big man, he spoke quietly, and you listened. My momma sometimes would whip out a little bit, you know? But, if they had disagreements, it was taken care of in their bedroom with a closed door.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:23:30] There was never hollering with the home. Another thing my father urged me to do. When I was a senior in college, we sat and talked, "What are you going to do when you graduate?" "I don't know." "I would just ask one thing of you Arden, whatever you do, don't come back to Dallas to do it,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:24:00] because if you do, your mother's going to expect you to live at home, and you have spent three years away. You've done a lot of growing up. There are a lot of things. You still have more to do, but do not take a job in Dallas." And, I didn't. That also was, in retrospect, a wonderful thing that he did that for me.
Mason Funk: [00:24:30] Now, we have to circle back, because the original question was about your coming out. We've covered a lot of territory in there-
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay, about-
Mason Funk: Yeah, well, you said you came out at the age of 17, that sounds very progressive for the-
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, I was a freshman, and I was having a marvelous time. I was right smack in the middle of a mess of lesbians. All grade levels, all degree levels in college.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:25:00] I was participating in extracurricular things, I was playing field hockey. Shoot, every person ... The team was all levels, freshman through senior, and every woman on the team was a lesbian. I just was saying "Uh-huh", you know? 'Cause,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:25:30] all of this all my life being out of sync with people, you know. I was in sync with these people without the words being said. It just was a totally different feeling. It was my freshman year that ... Let me see. I was on the field hockey team,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:26:00] I was on the badminton team, and I was in synchronized swimming. I was exposed to lots of folk doing lots of things. I met the woman who would become my first lover. She was a senior and I was a freshman. That was a no-no.
Mason Funk: Just one sec.
Mason Funk: [00:26:30] Okay. I'm so sorry. So, your first lover. Just start there again.
Arden Eversmeyer: She was a senior and I was a freshman. They definitely frowned on fraternizing between that level. We managed and in turn ... We didn't even live in the same dorm. Everybody lived in dorms then.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:27:00] In turn, I met and acknowledged with other students that I knew who were lesbians, and I didn't take, once I got a little more comfortable with myself and who I was, it's a wonder they didn't throw me out. I was like a kid in a candy store, I was so happy.
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] At this women's college, thankfully, there was a bunch of lesbians, but there were probably a fair number of straight women as well. How was all of that navigated, negotiated, talked about, or not talked about among the students? Just give us a picture again, because this is going to be a foreign country for a lot of our listeners.
Arden Eversmeyer: We had to be very, very careful.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Let me ask you to tell me where, since we haven't heard for a while, where were you in school? At the Texas-
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:28:00] I'm a freshman at what was then Texas State College for Women. Now, it is Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas. The students were aware you had to be really, really careful. We had a dean at the time whose mission, I think, was to discover everybody.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:28:30] Right before Christmas my freshman year, of course, a good percentage of the students went home wherever they lived for the Christmas holidays, but then a whole bunch of them didn't come back. Somebody subsequently would come, and pack their belongings, and take them.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:29:00] That's what's known as a purge. We had the first purge when I was a freshman and that's when it really, really came home to me, how careful you really had to be. There was evidence that you didn't even have to be caught in a compromising situations, because students would get called into the dean's office
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:29:30] and they would be asked about people. It would be kind of "We won't bother you, if you will help us" kind of thing. They had a line out there with students who were terrified if they didn't cooperate. It could be really, really difficult. The second purge was when I was a senior.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:30:00] We're talking about a lot of students, all the same weekend. Go home for a holiday, not come back. That would be a little easier on the student than having somebody march into their room and haul them out, you know?
Mason Funk: That's very McCarthy-
Arden Eversmeyer: That's how I came out. I came out in that kind of an environment. Keep in mind, it's 1948.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:30:30] I have not heard of anything similar to that happening in big coed universities, but I know some things similar to that was happening in the women's colleges around the country. Just keeping all that bad stuff out of there, you know?
Mason Funk: Did you lose friends in this way?
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:31:00] Did I lose friends? One. It was a Dallas girl and she's still there. She's still alive. I knew some of them, but I had that one friend. She was a PE major. They weren't all PE people either.
Mason Funk: Do you remember what she got called out for? Did someone rat her out?
Arden Eversmeyer: I don't have any idea. I don't have any idea.
Amy Bench: [00:31:30] I should switch cards, I didn't format this one.
Mason Funk: Oh okay. Sorry, we're going to just ... Again, it's such a world that it's hard to really conceive of today, because many things have changed-
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: [Crosstalk]this purge. In fact ... Are we speeding?
Amy Bench: Yeah.
Mason Funk: One question I want to ask is it just sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque, the idea of we won't harass you-
Arden Eversmeyer: If you will ...
Mason Funk: Tell us about that. Remind us that we're in the era, we're in the McCarthy era.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:32:00] Well, yeah, 'cause I graduated in '51. The word got out after the women didn't show up, come back after the holiday. Then, the word got out that somebody had been put in a position of being afraid
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:32:30] and had talked about somebody. The sad part about it was that there were a couple of those girls who left, got out, and were sent away in that purge that didn't have a clue. They were not gay, they were not lesbians, they were not involved with one. They didn't know what they were talking about, But somebody was mad at somebody else
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:33:00] and that's how you got even. So they wound up going home so their lives were shattered. So, you know, we were a pretty tight knit campus as a rule. Everybody had everybody's back. And it was a lot of fun.
Arden Eversmeyer: We had lots of good times.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] The other thing that occurs to me is, through these purges, not only did they have the effect of sending home the women they sent home, but of course that sends a chilling effect.
Arden Eversmeyer: Which is another very effective tool for telling people to mind their business.
Mason Funk: You are extra special careful.
Mason Funk: So when you say you came out, what I hear you saying is you began to experiment and have relationships with other women there. What did coming out mean to you? What did coming out mean to you at that time? You probably didn't even think of that phrase.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:34:00] Oh, no. I don't know when that phrase came into being, you know. Well we didn't have vocabulary back then. There was no vocabulary. There was nothing in print, no periodicals, no organizations. You know, so finding
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:34:30] that kind of a group to come out in was a miracle because those were the years when basically the only way people would connect was at a bar. And so of course that's changed. And the information freeway we have today, my word. So with none of that at hand,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:35:00] I was really very, very lucky to be involved with the kind of women that I was going to school with there. And in that environment. So it was different than most of the people that I know and talk to now. So I'm grateful. I've been lucky all my life.
Mason Funk: Wonderful. Well that gives a really vivid picture of those years. So you mention that you went to graduate school, that's when somebody figured out you were dyslexic. So take us through that part of your life.
Amy Bench: [00:35:30] Uh oh.
Amy Bench: They won't bite.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, I know. I just wanted to catch it.
Amy Bench: Yeah. I know.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well first I have to tell you, my senior year, when people, principals, superintendents and everybody were coming on campus to recruit teachers for the following school year,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:36:00] I had taken as, I think, a junior I had taken a course in driver education. It was brand new in the state of Texas. I mean, this was coming in on the ground and it was taught by two sergeants from the safety section of the department of public safety.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:36:30] And I had taken that class and enjoyed it so when I was a senior, I was called in for an interview with the superintendent of schools from Pampa, Texas, up in the Panhandle. And he was looking for someone to set up from scratch, the first driver education and driver training program for the Pampa Public School District.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:37:00] And I took that job. So the summer after I graduated, I went on over to North Texas and took an advanced course in driver education, the same two sergeants were involved with that class. I told them of what I was going to be doing and they said, "Good. We'll keep in touch with you." So my first year,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:37:30] that's what I did. I went out to west Texas, the sky was the limit. There wasn't anything I wanted that I couldn't have, money was not a problem. The two men came twice, once in the Fall semester, one in the Spring semester to see how things were going, see what I'd done, offer help where needed. They made me acquainted with the chief of police,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:38:00] who was an ex-FBI agent and he was at my beck and call anytime I needed help also. The program set up beautifully. It was a real challenge, but it was great. The problem for me was the isolation. One time, I had just
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:38:30] because I needed something to do, I'd gone to the roller rink to roller skate and the next morning the whole town knew that the teacher had been at the roller rink. And not only that, but I had a nice little visit with the chief of police and, "Now Arden, you know, it's not that it's not a good place, it's just not the place that a teacher needs to be." So I didn't go roller skating. Two movie houses, how many movies can you see?
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:39:00] You know? And I was the youngest teacher in the school district and there were not a whole lot of single people. So it was a dream job and it was just hard. So when I left there, I came to Houston to visit a college chum and that summer,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:39:30] I put out applications in three or four of the school districts around here, but I also met the person who would become my first long-term partner. So I stayed. And my first eight or nine years, eight years I guess, here I was in health and physical education.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:40:00] And then my principal where I was teaching wanted me to be a counselor. He needed another counselor and I had been doing some work with his existing counselor, we were good friends. Bottom line: I went into the counselor's office, where I stayed until I retired. And in order to get me into that job,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:40:30] my principal ... Well, the supervisor had said, "But she isn't certified. She can't be your counselor." He said, "Well, she can either work for me until she gets her certification or I will do without a counselor until she does get her certification." And I thought, "Well that's kind of throwing down the gauntlet, you know." So I did. I had to go back to school and I had been out of school 11 years.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:41:00] And I went with much fear and trepidation because school never had been easy for me and at the graduate level, you have to maintain an AB average. So I was doing this in summers. I was going to school up there in summer. I would stay the week in a graduate house so I didn't have to commute.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:41:30] I was going to Sam Houston, it's about 75 miles so I didn't want to commute on a daily thing, so I stayed in a graduate house during the week and went home on the weekends. Also during that first summer I was there, all incoming students had to take the graduate IQ test and it was the Miller's Analogies. So because I knew I had to,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:42:00] I stayed away from all the graduate students who said, "Did you study this or do you think this?" Because it just, the mental confusion just sets in. So I went and the thing that saved me was that I worked the daily crossword puzzles and I had built a substantial crossword vocabulary. And it came to play with the analogies test.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:42:30] So I was pretty sure that I probably would have to leave graduate school because I wasn't smart enough to do it, you know. And went in to get the scores, see how I went, and he says, "Oh, well you did fine. You scored in the 98th percentile." And I said, "And what does that mean?" He said, "It means
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:43:00] that you did as well as or better than 98% of the people who have ever taken this test." And I said, "Then why is it I have never been a better student?" Well we talked about all the possibilities. "Maybe you're a late bloomer." I said, "I don't know. I studied hard, you know." And he said, "Well, would you be willing to take some tests?" And there it was. So it not only lifted a burden off my shoulders ...
Mason Funk: [00:43:30] Do me a favor. Tell me there what was?
Arden Eversmeyer: Huh?
Mason Funk: Tell there what was. When you say, "There it was," what are you talking about? Tell me what they ...
Arden Eversmeyer: We finally knew. I finally knew a reason other than I wasn't as bright as Suzy and Joe, you know. There was a reason why I hadn't done any better academically than I had.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:44:00] And that was it. But in the meantime. I was dyslexic, but I didn't find out until I was in my 30s. We didn't have these kinds of tests and we didn't have these kinds of identification of learning disabilities when I was a kid. It just wasn't there then. But it just lifted a burden off my shoulders and it just did wonders for my self-esteem
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:44:30] that I wasn't dumb. And in the course of all my years in school, I had without anybody telling me, I had developed patterns for learning. And for instance, when I would study for a test, well even before that, I'd leave class, I would go home, and rewrite all of my notes.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:45:00] So I had it twice now in my head there. And then I never ever studied with another person. If I was studying for a test, I would take my notes, I'd go to the living room or some place, and I'd walk and talk. I would walk and talk. So, the verbal thing was supporting the multiple times of writing it.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:45:30] So because I had worked this out for myself, a method of learning and retaining information, I had learned how to study and I had ... I was doing exactly what they were teaching kids to do in school. So I did a lot better in graduate school than I had done, I think because my self esteem had gone up.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:46:00] So I did fine in graduate school and it has certainly entered into the way I work with kids. I had a senior counselor that told me I wouldn't succeed, then I had my senior year in practice teaching,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:46:30] the instructor that I adored as an instructor really didn't think I ought to go into teaching, that maybe I would not succeed. And so, I had an answer for all of that. It helped. So I went on and did my thing.
Mason Funk: I wonder. You know, you mention in your questionnaire this feeling you had a lot when you were younger, like a young person growing up, of being out of sync.
Mason Funk: And so there were, I guess you could say there were two very strong factors at play. One was you're a lesbian and the other one was you were dyslexic.
Arden Eversmeyer: There you go.
Mason Funk: And I wonder if you can just kind of knit that together for us. I don't know what the question is exactly, but ... I don't know. Can you just talk about that a bit more? What those ... I guess the feeling of being out of sync
Mason Funk: [00:47:30] and how you coped during those times when you did feel. You had your father very firmly in your corner, but you were still really struggling with the sense of just not fitting in.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah. And I talked to him about that in high school.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Say, "I talked to my dad."
Arden Eversmeyer: Yes. My father. My dad.
Arden Eversmeyer: We had what are today called "sleepovers." We had pajama parties.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:48:00] And a bunch of girls get together, you know, and I can remember sitting there and I never could participate because I wasn't in their shoes. My shoes were different and I did not understand what they thought was worth giggling and all of this thing and the topic always was the boys. Well I was the proper age for it, too. But it did not resonate with me.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:48:30] And I dated. I even got myself engaged, but fortunately got out of that before I screwed up a couple of lives. But I would go home after this pajama party thing where all these girls were having such a fine time and I was sitting over there listening to it and wondered what was going on, you know. And I shared that with my dad
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:49:00] and he said, "Well, the right thing will happen at the right time for you." And I've dutifully dated and didn't like it. And so I became kind of introverted because like square peg in a round hole all the time, you know. So anyway, it really helped getting my aha,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:49:30] you know, having all these things kind of settle in for each other. Yeah. It's a lonely existence out there sometimes.
Mason Funk: Huh. So by the time you finished graduate school and you figured out the dyslexia piece and your self esteem takes a big boost, gets a big boost. But I'm wondering, say during your 20s now and into your 30s, you're living in Houston, is that correct?
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:50:00] Oh yeah. I was 21 when I came here. I taught a full year of school before I turned 21.
Mason Funk: And what was your life like socially? You met your partner, your first long-term partner.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh well.
Mason Funk: What kinds of things were guys into? Just paint me a picture.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well first, the big major thing was I came out in the heat of the fast pitch softball
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:50:30] and there were teams from all over the country come here for a huge tournament. It was a big four day tournament, we'd have 30 teams and my partner was a pitcher. She's in the softball hall of fame in Oklahoma City. So she knew everybody, everybody knew her and everybody idolized her.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:51:00] So I came bursting into this big social network that is fast pitch softball and it was something else. Most of those women are gone now. And we still have fast pitch softball, but it's different. It's intercollegiate now and there's pro, which there was not.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:51:30] There was pro women's baseball, then. And a couple of my friends were involved in that. So my social network always was sound and there was a big group of us and back then, we referred to that as friendship groups and my friendship group consisted ...
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:52:00] We knew a lot, a lot of people outside of our friendship group, but my friendship group was about seven couples. And some of them had been together oh ten, 15 years before I even arrived on the scene. And we lived in each other's hip pockets. We were all homeowners. We did things together.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:52:30] Every Friday night, we'd have a steak fry in the park. Sometimes we traveled together. We helped each other maintain our homes. We painted and repaired and we did all of our own tree pruning. We did all of our own yard work. So we were busy, we had a good social network. We did not do the bars,
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:53:00] couldn't. I knew very little about the gay community. I knew there was a gay community. I knew there were bars and my partner, in her earlier, she was eight years older than me and in her earlier years, I think had sowed a lot of oats in the bars and stuff like that. And so she was really not interested in
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:53:30] that and I couldn't, so it didn't make any difference to me, even though I was younger.
Mason Funk: Why couldn't you?
Arden Eversmeyer: I was in public school work. If I'd have been caught, I'd have lost my job and never had another. So I wasn't interested enough to run the risk. Just couldn't. This was the years of raids. People would get ...
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:54:00] Be a private party and police would come and they'd round up everybody and take them in and book them. Sometimes names would be in the newspaper. So if they could raid a private residence, you just didn't dare do the bars.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:54:30] So because of that, and of course we didn't have bookstores and things like that back in those years, we didn't have anything. So we depended on our friendship groups and of course the tournaments. Whew it was fun. We traveled to play games and we hosted other teams coming here. So that was truly, truly an amazing time, really.
Mason Funk: [00:55:00] So thank you for clarifying. I guessed as much that you couldn't take any risks as a public school teacher.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, no.
Mason Funk: Did you ever have to ... Did questions ever arise? Did people ever say, "Well, why aren't you married?" I mean, was there ever a sense that they, at your professional place of work, were going to begin to wonder, question why you weren't doing the things that all the other female teachers did?
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:55:30] Well, more often than not, I would be kind of flippant with my answer and I'd say, "I never found anybody I couldn't live without." But truth be told, there were a lot of people who knew. My boss was my friend and a lesbian and of course there was also one or two PE teachers who were.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:56:00] And so our knowledge would spread district-wide because of meetings that we would attend. So we knew this one and that one all around. So you always knew people and always remember, we had an English, as an example, there are those who know without you ever talking about it.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:56:30] I mean, it's ... And my partner and I had been together so long that a lot of people knew her. In fact, they'd say, "Be sure to bring her to the picnic or whatever it is." So she would come to school. I also had a gay male friend that we'd go to school dances together and stuff like that. So those who might wonder knew I had a boyfriend on the side out here.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:57:00] And that always helped. So I think I lost my train of thought, but anyway ...
Mason Funk: It's just so ... It's just such an interesting way of life.
Arden Eversmeyer: You really took a lot of care to cover yourself and still have a life. I always called it a "schizophrenic life".
Mason Funk: Even that era?
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: So you were really aware that you were ... On one hand, you didn't feel crumby about yourself for being lesbian, but you were really aware you have this secret life.
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:57:30] That's right.
Mason Funk: That's inescapable.
Arden Eversmeyer: One life for you and one life for them. And you got to where you're pretty good at it.
Mason Funk: What toll do you think that takes on people?
Arden Eversmeyer: It does. That accounts for a lot of the drinking. It accounts for a lot of the drugging. It accounts for a whole lot of emotional problems.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] Like what, for example?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well the fact that we had to live the way we lived started creating problems. It would create problems for relationships. It would create ... There was so much guilt and shame in general in the gay community
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:58:30] and that in turn created all these social problems, the drinking and the drugging, and the emotional problems that went along with it. So we were lucky in our friendship group to have a kind of a support system. So most of us got through it pretty good. Pretty good.
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] Did you see ... Yeah. When you said pretty good, are you thinking of some of you who suffered more than others or some who didn't do so well? Do you remember?
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah. Well, me for one. And it was back in the early seventies, a ninth grade boy came floating in my office one day
Arden Eversmeyer: [00:59:30] and sat and just visited and he left and then he appeared again and it didn't take too long to figure out that we had a young gay boy and he was in some real stress. He was having trouble. Well, I couldn't out myself. I couldn't refer him to any place. There was no place to refer him to. I sure couldn't tell my boss, who was my friend and a lesbian, because she'd have gone to his folks in a heartbeat
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:00:00] and I couldn't betray him. So we spent his whole ninth grade year, him floating in and out occasionally and finally got to where we talked about it, not just alluded to it. And he had not shared it with his parents. And I told him well, there might come a time when he would be comfortable in doing that,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:00:30] but he was always welcome, of course to come in and visit. And he went on to high school. He was a fine student. There were two children. He was the oldest and then there was a sister. His father was a state senator. So he went to high school, he graduated with honors, and he went to University of Texas at Austin
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:01:00] for his freshman year. And he took his life. And that was ... It just was the final straw with a whole bunch of things that had been happening in my life and I started into an emotional meltdown. So at least I had enough snap to know what was happening. And I was pretty sure why.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:01:30] I didn't assume guilt. I just always, even now, wondered if there might have been one little something I could have said that would have made a difference for him in that final decision. So anyway, I went in, I got me a good psychiatrist and I went into therapy. And I was in therapy two years
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:02:00] and never missed a days work. And my coworkers all knew what was happening. I mean we talked about it. All knew what was happening and they covered me good those two years. They were right there for me. Anyway, the bottom line was the decision was made that a transfer to another school would not make any difference,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:02:30] another kind of job would not make any difference, what we needed was for me to be away from the public school environment. So my doctor submitted an application for disability retirement to the Texas Teacher Retirement System and it was approved. And I went out on 100% disability with 30 years in public school work
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:03:00] and I was only 50 years old. So here I am again, young, for what I'm facing. So it started a whole new life for me.
Mason Funk: That is one powerful story. Huh.
Arden Eversmeyer: So that began my years of activism.
Mason Funk: [01:03:30] May I interrupt for one second? I don't want to move on yet.
Mason Funk: I'm just partly doing the math and I'm thinking that boy was probably about my age. So I'm just sort of taking that in. Needless to say, well not needless to say, I didn't have anybody that I talked to in high school like you, for example, on the other hand I didn't take my own life. So it's just like a wow.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, yeah.
Mason Funk: Phew. Wow.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:04:00] That young man's father, to this day, is a sitting judge here. They put him in aversion therapy. And I can't even imagine what that must have been like going through back in those years because it obviously didn't do the trick for him. And got to be hard.
Mason Funk: Was that ... You early on said the two greatest losses that you ever sustained. Was that the second one?
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:04:30] No. My partner.
Mason Funk: Okay. I knew you lost a partner as well so.
Mason Funk: Okay. So before we move on to your activist years, I wonder if there's anything more that we should talk about prior to your retirement.
Mason Funk: [01:05:00] I mean, like I said, that was a whopper of a story you just told us there and I just want to see if there's anything that you think of that we should talk about from those years up to you retired.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well ...
Mason Funk: Whoops.
Amy Bench: I'm sorry.
Arden Eversmeyer: I put my foot up here and jiggled it. The years following my retirement,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:05:30] you know the old saying "everything happens for a purpose"? Well, my partner was diagnosed with cancer on our 30th anniversary and so I was already retired and it gave me the opportunity to spend some ....
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:06:00] The opportunity to spend some really quality time, her journey was three and a half years then. Those years were well spent, those first years after I retired. Also, I had made up my mind I wasn't going to be a couch potato, and found an article in the newspaper talking about
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:06:30] docent work for the Houston Zoo. I thought, "Well, that would be a pretty good fit." I mean that's education work, and I love being outside, and I sure liked animals, so I did that. I went and took the training that first year after I retired. Took the training to be a docent for the Houston Zoological Gardens, and I was with them 23 years.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:07:00] That sustained me also through those three years plus that my partner was so ill. That was a big ... My docent work was an important big thing in my life too, I really loved doing that out there. I'd probably still be there, but the zoo privatized in 2004,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:07:30] and they disbanded the docent counsel. It was great, I had a lot of fun.
Mason Funk: What kinds of things would you do as a docent?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, I principally worked out of the children's zoo, that's where they housed all the animals that were used in the education program.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:08:00] I went out and helped clean silvers, I just loved being out there, and because I did do some of the grunt work with the keepers out there, I learned a whole lot more about animals, which was an advantage. I worked on the zoo grounds, I would take an animal out on the zoo grounds sometimes and work.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:08:30] I spent a couple of years in the reptile house helping those fellas get their filing up to date, because it was all men and none of them liked paperwork, so they were a century behind on what they were supposed to be doing. I spent a couple of years helping them over there do that. I did a lot of stuff, I did programs.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:09:00] We had a hospital program, and we once a month would take animals and go to the big rehab hospital here, TIRR. I did that, and it was just fun, and it was a people job, and a lot of it was outdoors. I got struck by lightning out there,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:09:30] Lord, I almost forgot that. We had a huge program on the zoo grounds one day, and I mean we were spread all over with stands and animals and docents, it was big. There was a huge storm coming in from the west, and we got the word that we were to break down and get the animals and get everything back over to the barn.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:10:00] I was about to go into the barn, and lightning struck a tree coming right down beside the barn. The shockwave of it put all of us that were in the area on the ground. I mean it knocked us out, and nobody was fatally injured out of it,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:10:30] but I carried a hum inside my body from the shock off of that tree for oh a year, yeah, so that was exciting.
Mason Funk: You say you carried a hum, what did that feel like?
Arden Eversmeyer: It just felt like my body was always ... There was something inside that was humming. It was active.
Mason Funk: [01:11:00] Did it just gradually fade away, or ...
Arden Eversmeyer: It finally went away, but I carried it a long time, everybody did. A couple of docents quit, they didn't want to have to do that again, yeah.
Mason Funk: Did anybody ... This is the part, I come from a world, my husband's a psychotherapist, did anybody have any long-term PTSD, or anything like that?
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:11:30] I don't know, I don't know, I never looked into anything like that, but we sure talked about it a lot.
Mason Funk: What was it, are you able to say what was it that was most ... It just sounds immensely gratifying to you, this zoo work.
Mason Funk: What was it that made it so gratifying?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, first of all it was education, and that's what I'd been in. It was a people job,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:12:00] and that's what I'd been doing, and there was variety in it. I could be outside sometimes, or inside sometimes, and I loved the hospital part of it, we had a good time over there. I always carried a reptile, I loved it. You could empty the halls quick walking down the halls with a nice boa constrictor or something. We always asked them
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:12:30] when we were there, "What is it you would like us to bring next month?" Without fail there would always be a reptile, they were fascinated with them, afraid of them and fascinated with them. It was a very satisfying type of volunteer work.
Mason Funk: What was it like getting used to life without your partner?
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:13:00] Well, we'd been together 33 years, and I had just been 21 when we met. Here I was a midlife woman, and I had been partnered all my adult life. I did a lot of growing up, I learned to do a lot of things
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:13:30] that I had not done. One of the things she was a bookkeeper, so one of the things that she had always done, was just take care of the checking accounts, and anything that involved numbers. It was just a given, so I had to learn to become a one rather than a one half.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:14:00] There was a lot of stuff that came up that I learned to do, and numbers was one of it. The first month that the bank statement came, I looked at it and I just laid it on the desk and didn't open it. Then the second month one came, and I thought, "I'll get to that later," and I put it on the desk and didn't open it.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:14:30] By the time the third one came, I knew I was going to have to do something besides put it on the desk. That was a big one for me, that was a really big one. Then I was the first one in our friendship group to lose a partner, and it wasn't a case of they didn't love me,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:15:00] they did, but I knew that I was going to have to also do something to create a new extension to my life, rather than just rely on them. One of the first things I did was to see if I could travel alone, because we traveled a lot. We camped, we had a camping rig since 1970,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:15:30] and so I got business taken care of with her affairs. She died in October, and the following spring I got in the camper and I took off, and I made a loop trip up through the Midwest all the way into Wisconsin. I visited Zoos along the way, and then there were a couple of family stops.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:16:00] I just set out to see if I could do it, because I was not particularly interested in having somebody in the camper with me just to have somebody in the camper with me. It was a marvelous trip, and one of my stops was up in Wisconsin, it's my home country up there with my step grandmother.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:16:30] She was always the light of our life, she was just the most wonderful human being ever blessed upon us. We had breakfast one morning, she said to me she said, "Honey, now I'm going to ask you something, and you don't have to answer me." I told her, "Okay." Then she said, " Are you looking for another Tommy?"
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:17:00] Well, so I told her I said, "No, because there's not another one out there." I said, "I promise you one thing, if there ever is anybody in my life again that is important enough that I would make a home with her, I will bring her to you." "Good," she says. Subsequently, down the line after the fact,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:17:30] I did indeed take my new long-term partner to her. We went to Wisconsin, and it was an instant love affair. It was just wonderful, we had the opportunity to visit with her I think three times before she died. The two years between the death of my first partner
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:18:00] and meeting my current partner was a lot of growing up, lots of learning, they were good, good years.
Mason Funk: It must be interesting to contemplate that if your partner hadn't died young, that you never would have had that experience.
Arden Eversmeyer: That's right, that's right, and one couple in my friendship group was exactly like that.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:18:30] They met when they were in high school, they both graduated high school, both worked for Shell Oil. At their 50th anniversary celebration they were so closeted, that the party became a gathering of a Sunday school class. There was nothing to indicate at the party
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:19:00] that it was an anniversary celebration, but all this great group of people who attended all were in these long-term relationships, most of them closeted. They were together 60, about 60 years when the first one died. They'd never been with anybody else, and there were a lot of those kinds of relationships back then.
Mason Funk: [01:19:30] You traded, you got along, and you got this long-term stability, but in a way it sounds like by you losing a partner and then getting a new partner, you got the chance to reset your life in maybe a more modern era way.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah, because I was retired, I didn't have to worry about losing my job. My house was paid for, didn't have to worry about that.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:20:00] I could venture out a little bit, and in those couple of years I discovered, I did, I was stepping out a little bit. I found a bookstore, never had seen one, and he had a small section of lesbian books. That was my first introduction to that. Then I discovered in one,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:20:30] maybe Ms. Magazine, I'm not sure, of a bookstore, mail-order bookstore. I got their catalog and couldn't believe my eyes with all the books that were in there. Then I picked up the phone and called them and I made an order, and I got three or four books. Well it didn't take me long to put those away, read them out. I called them back,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:21:00] bottom line I was calling frequently enough that I set up a long-term friendship with the women who owned it, and it was in New York City. It got to where they were recommending books, "Do you like this non-fiction ?" "Yes," so they would start recommending books to me. I'd order a dozen at a time, which was the beginning of that library. I was learning,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:21:30] I had never been to a function that was a lesbian function. A woman who had been a teacher in my school, now had left school teaching and had established this neat little store, still has it.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:22:00] I went over to the store to look at the books, and in the meantime she had changed her name from Lucy to Lucia. I went to Lucia's Garden to see what it was, and there was my old friend. She's a straight English woman, English teacher, and of course
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:22:30] we got beyond the hugs, and she asked about my partner. I said, "Oh, she died." "Oh Arden, you're a widow." Here's a straight woman who knew without us ever speaking the words. Working for her at that time was a young woman quite a bit younger than me. She was in her 20s then, and I was in my 50s.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:23:00] Anyway, after a period of time she said to me one day, she said, "Are you doing anything Saturday night?" I said, "No." "Well, we're going to have a concert here, why don't you come to the concert?" I said, "Well, that sounds like fun." She told me it was a lesbian entertainer, a musician, and it was in a public place. I got myself cleaned up
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:23:30] and dressed and drove in, and I couldn't go in there alone. I had never done, in all my adult life, I had never done something like that alone. I turned around and went home, so then something else was coming up, and she asked me again if I was busy, I told her no, I did the same thing. I couldn't get out of the car and go in,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:24:00] and she figured out what was going on. The third time came around, and she asked if I was busy, no, well why don't you come and pick me up, and let's go. The performer was Deidre McCalla, a wonderful musician, who is still on the music tour. We went and I don't know how much music I heard that night, because I was in a state of shock being in this huge gathering of lesbians.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:24:30] That was, here I was in my late 50s doing all these new coming out things. Those two years, there was a lot of growth, a lot of growth. Then out of that came, I started wondering if there was a group in Houston that was essentially midlife and older lesbians.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:25:00] It didn't take long to determine that there was not. Along with this young woman that was getting me out of the closet, and some other young women, we started brainstorming a new group.
Mason Funk: I want to pause there for a second, because still before we get there, I wonder if we can ... First of all, how are we doing for time on this ...
Amy Bench: You've got thirty minutes.
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] Thirty minutes left? Okay, and we'll just talk a bit more, and we'll take maybe a little bit of a break, and then we'll do the L.O.A.F ... I've been holding onto these three big organizations as maybe the last ...
Mason Funk: The thing I want to ask you about going from here narrow to here wide, is during these years, let's call them the 60s and the 70s, a lot was happening in the world.
Arden Eversmeyer: I was blind, I didn't know it.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] Okay so tell me about that. Just tell me about what ... Just give me an overview of those two decades in terms of the women's movement, the anti war movement.
Arden Eversmeyer: I know.
Mason Funk: Just explain that it was just not your world.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, I was ...
Mason Funk: ... To set up the fascinating later chapter.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah, well all the years that I was working, I had to be discreet. We had such a big close friendship group,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:26:30] and it's not like we were sitting at home, we were not. We did things within our group, and we traveled, so I was not aware. I didn't know about Stonewall, we had that huge women's conference here in the 70s, I did not know about that. If I had, I don't know if I'd been brave enough to go.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:27:00] All of this that was happening, this coming-of-age and the women's movement that started in the 70s, I was totally unaware of all of this. It wasn't until 1985 when my partner died that
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:27:30] I started on my learning expedition, and I started exploring. I was finding out about literature and organizations and my goodness all that had passed me by. I safely got through those years, I survived so to speak, but oh my, I did a lot of catching up.
Mason Funk: [01:28:00] That's great, that was great, so let's take a little pause.
Mason Funk: I'm going to dump ... Okay, so two quick questions before we move on. One is ... It's just a romantic fantasy in my mind, but when you took that trip in the ... When you set off on your trip by yourself camping, I wonder if that was an important part also of the grieving process?
Mason Funk: Can you tell me about that? I picture you just setting off, you're driving I'm sure on these byways and beautiful places, and you're by yourself, and can I do this? You've just sustained this enormous loss.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, travel has been a part of my life all my life. My parents were of a mind that they didn't know what the situation would be
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:29:00] when my sister and I were old enough to think about college. As long as they could afford it, travel was educational. We always had a trip, so I started in diapers I guess, because it's been a major thing. My partner and I, we used to laugh and say, the only reason we worked, was so we could eat and travel.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:29:30] We always planned a nice trip, so I didn't want to stop. I mean it was just essential for me, but I needed to know if I could do it alone. We never did stupid things when we were together, so I wasn't about to start doing risky stupid things if I was alone.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:30:00] I'll always remember all these naysayers, "Oh Arden, aren't you afraid? Oh Arden, do you have a gun?" A couple of them leaned on me enough that I carried a gun in a van with me when I left on that trip. I could hardly wait to get it out when I got home, and I've never carried a weapon since. I'm just not going to do it,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:30:30] so anyway it worked fine. I visited some nice Zoos and it's nice because if you're in a docent program, you get to a Zoo, and they open the doors to you, and you get to go behind the scenes. It's a lot of fun, so I did maybe half a dozen Zoo's on that trip. I saw family in Iowa and family in Wisconsin,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:31:00] and it was highly successful. I knew I could do it, and then the second trip I made the following year, was to the West Coast, and that was when I was looking to find information about organizations for midlife and old lesbians. I did that alone, I started in San Diego, and I drove the coast all the way to San Francisco.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:31:30] I stopped and met people and found a couple of bookstores, and visited a couple of friends, I was gone almost a month.
Mason Funk: How had this idea occurred to you, or come to you to research organizations for older lesbians, where did that come from?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, I found out about SAGE, and it was ...
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] What's SAGE?
Arden Eversmeyer: New York.
Mason Funk: What is it?
Arden Eversmeyer: I think they've changed the words, but the acronym at that time was Senior Action in a Gay Environment. It was big in New York City, big program. Subsequently, it's all over the country those SAGE chapters now.
Mason Funk: Oopsy.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:32:30] Get it. She doesn't answer the phone much anymore.
Speaker: I'm fine, how are you?
Arden Eversmeyer: At least it's somebody she knows.
Speaker: No, she's here, she's being interviewed.
Mason Funk: Probably the person says, "Again?"
Speaker: [01:33:00] Oh Margaret, you want her to call you when she gets through? Are you home? That's Margaret.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, okay.
Mason Funk: That's the famous Margaret? Margaret Purcell?
Arden Eversmeyer: Thibodeau or Purcell?
Speaker: Thibodeau.
Mason Funk: Oh, a different Margaret, okay.
Arden Eversmeyer: Good Cajun gal.
Mason Funk: Okay, so maybe let's go back to the beginning of SAGE. You said you learned about SAGE.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] Do me a favor, when you mention SAGE for the first time, just say what it stood for at the time. What impact did that have on you?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, when I determined that there was nothing here in Houston at that time, in some of the reading I read about a group in New York, SAGE, Senior Action in a Gay Environment.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:34:00] It was an organization for senior men and women, and I even wrote to them and got some information back. Then I decided maybe what I needed to do ... That was the only one I knew about, or could find out about. I decided to go to the West Coast, where I was pretty sure there was going to be some action.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:34:30] I did, got my camper and hit the road and started in San Diego, stopped in the Los Angeles area. Wound up, up in San Francisco, talked to people. Found a couple of bookstores, which made me most happy, but one of the things that I found out in talking to these people, I actually attended a meeting in the Los Angeles area of a senior group.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:35:00] It was a sizable group of men and one woman, and I'm visiting with her, she's about the only woman that ever attended. It started off with some, and I asked her, "Why? What had happened?" Then I had the same thing told me again in San Francisco,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:35:30] if you want your group to succeed, start and keep it all women, women only. I asked, "Why?" They said, "The men tend to override the women, and the women are not heard, so if they're not heard they leave." I said, "Okay," so when I got back
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:36:00] and ultimately we started brainstorming here, that's exactly what I told them, and that's what we've done. Anyway ...
Mason Funk: What did you come up with? That was the beginnings of L.O.A.F.
Arden Eversmeyer: That was the beginnings of L.O.A.F.
Mason Funk: Tell us what's L.O.A.F? What does that stand for?
Arden Eversmeyer: Lesbians Over Age Fifty. Currently we are celebrating our 30th year this year,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:36:30] this summer, and currently we have a membership of about 175 lesbians between 50 and 91. We started off the first meeting was the third Sunday of October 1987, and there were six people there
Speaker: I was one of them.
Arden Eversmeyer: She was one of them, my current partner ... It was not a lonely hearts group,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:37:00] but she was at the first meeting. It's been an effort, we set some guidelines. The first thing was that there were not going to be a bunch of rules. That the survival of the group would depend on it meeting the needs of the women, and we needed to know what it was the women wanted and needed.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:37:30] It had to be on a Sunday, because a lot of women still work. It had to be in daytime, because a lot of women don't drive at night anymore. It had to be in a place, now keep in mind it's 30 years ago, but it had to be in a place that could not be identified as a gay place,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:38:00] because many of these women that we were looking for had been in closeted relationships. That we let them decide for us what it is we wanted to do. That's what we did, and some of the young women that I'd been working with brainstorming this thing were connected in the community. They could get the word out,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:38:30] and we created a little flyer, and we got it out. We knew we weren't looking for the bar dykes, but we were ... It's not that they weren't welcome, it's just that we probably wouldn't meet their needs. That first meeting we brainstormed with the six women that were there. ... And I had made up some little pages, interest sheets.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:39:00] Poker players, or theater, or camping, or fishing. And then you could sign all of them if all were of interest. But to try and create within that group something that would bring them together. Out of that I was already involved with a bunch of my group,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:39:30] we were going to go to west Texas to the Davis Mountains, camping. And I laid it open for them, if any of you want to come, your welcome, this is not a closed group. You're more than welcome. Well, my partner decided she wanted to come, so that started the beginning of my second long term relationship, was that camping trip to west Texas. And we're going back there again this fall.
Charlotte: [01:40:00] Chasing you all over west Texas.
Mason Funk: So let me ask you this, how did Charlotte and you both end up at that meeting? How did Charlotte end up there? You were the organizer.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:40:30] Well I was the organizer and she was one of the six who came to that first meeting.
Mason Funk: But how did she know about it?
Arden Eversmeyer: I'm not real sure if she heard it by word of mouth or if ... I don't know how she heard about the meeting to come to it because the women had put the flyers out. Beats me.
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] But that was the first time you laid eyes on Charlotte?
Arden Eversmeyer: I had seen her once before. We had started a group and we called it Second Tuesday Dancing. And it was at Marian Coleman's club, Kindred Spirits. A women's bar. Fine place.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:41:30] And Second Tuesday of the month. And we even made some cassettes of our kind of dance music and the DJ would play our music for us. So anyway, the first time I ever saw her, she was coming to Second Tuesday dancing and I saw her walking across the floor, and I was there with a mutual friend of ours.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:42:00] And I said, "Who on earth is that?" And she told me, she looked, she said, "Oh, that's Bump." I said, "Bump?" "Yeah", and then she told me her name. She said, "We call her Bump because she's so quiet that we call her a Bump on a log." So the Bump nickname had stuck with her for a long time evidently.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:42:30] So that's how we met. As a result of forming LOAF and the Second Tuesday dancing thing.
Mason Funk: I have to wonder if you had fun coming up with the acronym LOAF?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, we worked on it. Actually when we first started it was LOAFF, Lesbians Over Age Fifty-Five. And then we decided, we talked about it with the group,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:43:00] four, five, six months. And said, "Well, if you can join AARP when you're 50, why can't we join LOAF when we're 50?" So, we shortened it. That's what it's been, it's always been LOAF. We're incorporated. It's LOAFERS Incorporated. We've been incorporated about 27 or 28 years now.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:43:30] We are challenged nowadays to meet the needs because of the wide ... We have two generations in LOAF now. From 50 to 91. So the 91 year old isn't going to go dancing over here at Neon Boots, you know. But then the 50 year old may not wanna sit and be in a book club,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:44:00] so meeting the needs, we have a standing third Sunday of the month for 30 years. A standing third Sunday of the month meeting. We call it, Meet and Greet. A lot of newcomers show up there. We have over the years had women who were just like me, they couldn't do it by themselves,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:44:30] come to the meetings, so we'll go get 'em or we'll meet 'em and then bring them to the meeting. We have a lot of women who are brand new widows. Have lost their partner. Had been closeted and didn't have a community of women. We're trying to provide a connection for them for social activities and for support.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:45:00] Cause a lot of these women, we have a pretty sizeable list now of women.
Mason Funk: Just one sec. Are you hearing the crinkling in the background?
Amy Bench: Oh.
Mason Funk: Could you ask Charlotte ...
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh. I know ...
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] doing. Careful of your little, of the ...
Arden Eversmeyer: Charlotte.
Charlotte: What?
Arden Eversmeyer: We can hear your crinkling your sack.
Charlotte: Oh, I'm sorry.
Arden Eversmeyer: Couldn't figure out what it was.
Charlotte: [01:45:30] Cheetos.
Mason Funk: Well at least it's Cheetos. Alright.
Mason Funk: If there's a way to maybe just, I don't know.
Amy Bench: Put them in a bowl.
Mason Funk: Put 'em in a bowl. I don't want to come between you and your Cheetos.
Charlotte: I'm not gonna eat anymore.
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay. Her current addiction.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Have you over the years seen an influx of women who are coming out of heterosexual marriages?
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:46:00] Oh yes.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Arden Eversmeyer: We get them referred, sometimes by therapists. We've put the word out about who we are. Most of the success of the organization is due to word of mouth. The counselors and therapists all know about LOAF and we have a nice rack card
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:46:30] and we've been around a long time. So, yeah, we get newbies. Yeah.
Mason Funk: How about trans-gender women?
Arden Eversmeyer: Hmm?
Arden Eversmeyer: We've had one that came briefly. We had, of course, a big discussion around that with the women. We have a picnic in the park once a year and we had a big discussion here a couple years ago.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:47:00] Of course, you have those who want it women born women only space, you know. And I said, "Well, that's not the way we're incorporated." Well, you know then. So I let them kind of rant on and then they'll say, "Now what do you think, Arden?" So I'll tell 'em. And I said, " It may be that everybody here has issues with the trans-genders group."
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:47:30] I said, "There's two things that jump to my mind first. If we ever wanted to apply for a grant and we have to have a statement about our inclusiveness, and we have in it that it's women born women only, we will never ever qualify for a grant." I said,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:48:00] "Now, that's just a dollar and cents approach." I said, "But basic for me is that from the beginning of time we have been almost at the bottom of the pecking order for people who are oppressed and I in my heart cannot find it in my heart to become the oppressor." Well, it has never been discussed since.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:48:30] If they come, we welcome 'em. It's the only thing I know to do.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's a part of the women's movement that you didn't live through because you weren't out there, but I've been so fascinated to track the women's separatism.
Arden Eversmeyer: The separatists. I have several friends who are separatists.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:49:00] And there's been a lot of upheaval and discussion in OLOC over this and I'm not real sure down the line it might not split the organization. But that's just part of the times. But that is supposed to be an inclusive organization also.
Mason Funk: So tell me about OLOC. That was a very natural transition. What's OLOC? How did it come about?
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:49:30] Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. It's a national organization. And it started in 1989, it came out of the second west coast conference, by and for, old lesbians. Age being 60 years of age and older.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:50:00] Out of that conference came this, the organization, the ad hoc committee that started that organization in 1989. Charlotte and I went to a Texas lesbian conference in the spring of 1990.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:50:30] There was a person there who wanted to call a meeting of old lesbians. And we got recruited on the spot. She was talking the kind of thing that we were really interested in. So Charlotte and I went on the steering committee of this brand new organization in December of 1990.
Charlotte: [01:51:00] We got on there and we weren't even at that meeting. They put us ...
Arden Eversmeyer: No, no, no, that's something else.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, okay. We started on the steering committee in December of 1990 and we served in that organization for 14 years. And the last seven of those years I was co-director with Vera Martin,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:51:30] an African American woman from Apache Junction, Arizona. And it was quite a ride, it's quite an organization. We produced conferences and we did a lot of educational work. The organization is basically one who fights ageism. Essentially,
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:52:00] well against women is what we were really concerned with. And not just lesbians, but for the population as a whole. Because we live in a very ageist culture. We're the only so-called modern culture who doesn't revere old women. Anyway, we were 14 years with that organization. We had the home office here.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:52:30] We traveled. We had two steering committee meetings a year, one in April and one in October. They were always held in a city where there was a lesbian community. Because we interacted with them as part of our work. We did workshops at conferences and music festivals. It was a lot of work involved in it. It was fun.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:53:00] And we retired from that. We produced the 2004 conference here in Huston for OLOC. And we retired, after that conference we were through. But I was 14 years there.
Mason Funk: And what were some of the things you feel good about that you were able to work for, advocate for, accomplish, during those 14 years?
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:53:30] Well we worked with some of the national organizations helping them confront their ageism. Supposedly ... I've lost my vocabulary here. The organization ...
Mason Funk: [01:54:00] Like other, I'm guessing like an ACLU?
Arden Eversmeyer: No, no. GLBT organizations.
Mason Funk: Oh okay. Like SAGE?
Mason Funk: No. Okay.
Arden Eversmeyer: I'll sit up in the middle of the night, I know what it is.
Mason Funk: Yeah, but that's okay.
Arden Eversmeyer: But anyway, they're big, they do the big annual conference.
Mason Funk: I should know what ... Creating Change?
Arden Eversmeyer: They are ageist beyond belief. A national organization is totally staffed and run by young people who are telling us old folks how it is we are supposed to feel and what it is we are supposed to do. And we have done workshops with them
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:55:00] on ageism to try and get the message and they don't get it. It's a big fight. It's a big battle, so we do a lot of that kind of work.
Amy Bench: Can we have you say that part again because you leaned into the mic.
Mason Funk: We had a mic shadow on your face. I'm gonna move this mic a little bit this way.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh, I was making my point.
Mason Funk: This mic here. You were good. You got fired up, and I don't wanna not have that.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:55:30] Oh well, I still get ...
Amy Bench: And we can hear it, it's just the shadows on her face.
Mason Funk: Well, I know, but I figured if I moved it this way we would have less ... because I think we were having a bit of shadowing anyway.
Arden Eversmeyer: I still get exercised over it.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I can tell. I leaned back in my chair.
Arden Eversmeyer: And it's been a while since I've been on the steering committee.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay, so let me just ask you this, almost like a ... hold on one second. I'm just gonna raise it a little bit as well. Sorry.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Okie dokie. Talk about ageism, in particular, with groups that are supposed to be more enlightened, like Creating Change.
Arden Eversmeyer: Right. Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's the whole point.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah. You know, an example, somebody will be talking and "How old you are?" "Well I'm 86."
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:56:30] "Well you don't look your age." And I'll say, "And what is 86 supposed to look like?" Well it all goes back to your old, your decrepit, you're tottering, you're using a cain, you're quivering in your voice. All of this is the picture, not the person. To fight this all the time and the fact that, well because I'm old then I'm getting sent out.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:57:00] And because I'm old I'm not physically able to do something. Our culture categorizes and as we reach a certain age, women particularly, the only thing left that we're worth anything for is caregiving, taking care of the grandkids and the great grand kids. Doing caregiving. And that's what our role is supposed to be.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:57:30] So fighting this conception of what age is about. And as a man gets older he gets portly and he gets bald, but he's dignified.
Charlotte: And he's gained weight.
Arden Eversmeyer: See, the concept of a male at the same age that I'm at is totally different. And so it falls down into
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:58:00] all kinds of discriminatory practices against old women. So that's what OLOC is all about. And I was old enough to get onboard and I was one of the younger ones, so that was quite a ride.
Mason Funk: Tell me how the conversation between OLOC, and say for example, Creating Change, has gone.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:58:30] No place. They're done working for Creating Change, with the staff. They've done ageism workshops. They don't even try anymore. It's, you know. I don't know if they don't wanna hear it. I don't know if they want to change. I don't know if they think that they know better than we know. But there isn't any 30 or 40 year old gonna tell me
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:59:00] how it is I'm supposed to feel. See? I've done pretty good on my own without that.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Arden Eversmeyer: So anyway.
Mason Funk: Okay. So that's ...
Arden Eversmeyer: It is a purely political organization. OLOC is a political organization. LOAF is a social organization. K.
Mason Funk: Now the third major project, old lesbians, wait a minute. Old Lesbians Oral Herstory project.
Arden Eversmeyer: [01:59:30] Right. Thing of the heart.
Mason Funk: Introduce me to it by name, tell me what it stands for and how it came about.
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay, early on in LOAF, one of the women who was herself not well, suggested that we have all the women in LOAF
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:00:00] write a little mini bio and that we put a picture with it and we'd make a scrapbook of the membership of the women with a bio and a picture. Well, it didn't happen. At one of the OLOC gatherings in Minneapolis there was a woman there who was one of the volunteer archivists at the June Mazer Lesbian Archive in west Hollywood.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:00:30] I had met her once before, so I knew who she was. And we had occasion to sit and talk and I told her about my frustration in not being able to get this thing off, this bio, this project. And we got talking about oral history work.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:01:00] When she got back from the conference and she got back home, she sent me some material on oral history work. And then, subsequently I got more off the internet and that was the groundwork for me getting my first stories for what today is the Old Lesbian Oral Hestory project.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:01:30] And I was starting, we had three or four women in LOAF who were already experiencing life ending situations, so my first interview, I was still pretty unsure of everything that I wanted to do. But my first interview was with a woman who was a nurse,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:02:00] had been significant in developing programs here at Methodist Hospital. She'd also been in the military during Korea. And she was a mountain woman out of Idaho. When I got ... Oh, and at that time we were using cassette recorders. When I got
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:02:30] through with the interview and sent it to the transcriber, but I listened to the interview and read what was there and it sounded more like an Arden than a Marie interview. Every time she said something I'd interjected, "Oh yeah I'd do that, or I kind of relate to that, or I remember this." And I thought, oh my word. So I got my first big lesson on my first interview.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:03:00] I've still sometimes have to watch myself, so I keep a pencil and a pad, you know, to try and jolt my memory a little bit. So anyway, it started with that. And then we were, like I say, we were on a steering committee for OLOC and we were,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:03:30] twice a year, we were making trips someplace else. Well because we had the national office here, I had access to the database. So I started looking, we'd create a route, and if we were going to Eugene, Oregon for one meeting. Okay. I'd create a route going out one way and route coming back another and I'd look on the route and I'd check the database and I'd find somebody that was 70 or older,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:04:00] because that's the age criteria for our oral history project. And I'd get in touch with them. And so we were both retired, we had a motorhome. And we'd start off and we'd have maybe one or two interviews on the way out and do our meeting there. Maybe have an interview there. And then come back another route. So that expanded that into being more of a national thing than a local project.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:04:30] So what started off to be something for LOAF, ended up something so far afield, it just kind of snuck up behind us and bit us. And as we went along, it expanded and our vision for it expanded. And so what it is today is nothing like
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:05:00] how it started. But we've got over 750 interviews now in the project.
Mason Funk: How do you say, when you say what you've got now is nothing like what you started? Obviously, you don't interject yourself as much into the interviews, but how else has it changed and morphed?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:05:30] Well, course we've had two books out of it, and a conference out of it. But we kept getting feedback about how can we find out more? Or how can we read more stories? Or how can we find out more about certain people? And is there anything I can do to be involved?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:06:00] The last three or four years I have taught several classes, training classes for interviewers, because it's very specific how we want things done. We've developed a ... Margaret has developed this beautiful training manual. Now we have interviewers located all over the United States.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:06:30] So if we get the name of somebody, we probably can match 'em. Like we have in Connecticut and we have one in North Carolina and we have three in Florida. And we've got four women who's home base is Iowa, who are full-time RV'ers who are all over the country traveling.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:07:00] And they winter as a rule in Arizona. So we've got this moving group and so we are getting wonderful stories from all over the country which is of course exploded the work to be done behind it. So my role, well I did the whole thing for maybe the first 10 years. I did all the interviewing. I have probably 300 of those interviews.
Amy Bench: [02:07:30] The AC just came on.
Mason Funk: The AC just kicked on.
Mason Funk: Can we keep it from kicking on for just a little while longer?
Arden Eversmeyer: We can turn it off.
Mason Funk: Turn it off. Tell me, you wanna point me.
Amy Bench: Okay, this is room tone with the air conditioner on.
Arden Eversmeyer: It's cutting off.
Mason Funk: Or not.
Amy Bench: Well we can keep [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Okay, so we're gonna do 30 seconds of what we call room tone, which is just a thing we have to do anyway.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:08:00] Are you ready to go?
Mason Funk: No, we have to do 30 seconds of silence. I'm sorry.
Amy Bench: I'll let you know, we're recording the sound so that if we need to bridge.
Mason Funk: It's a little audio editing trick.
Okay, I think that's enough.
Mason Funk: Okay. I forgot the last thing you said.
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay. The first 10 years I did all the interviewing. And then I started training one on one,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:09:00] occasionally somebody who really wanted to do it, I'd work with them. And then I've done some classes, training classes. Basically, what I do now, Margaret Purcell does all the work.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:09:30] I have the fun, she does the work. And it's a good deal if you can get it, you know? But she is handicapped. She is a post-polio. She has full leg braces on both legs. So it's not as easy for her to do some of the things that I do. So I have basically done most of the travel for the project. I do workshops and seminars and one year we had 10 trips.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:10:00] Two years ago we had 10 trips. This year, well we've cut back a little bit. Age and health is kinda slowing us a little bit. But one trip of three weeks duration in January entailed five interviews, two workshops, and training one new interviewer.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:10:30] Besides spending some time with friends and we were in Florida for this trip. That's what I like to do. I like doing programs and seminars. I like teaching the classes. I love doing the interviews, I've got five of 'em lined up for this summer here. If we're gonna be home,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:11:00] I'm gonna work here too. Basically, that's what I do. So the bulk of all the processing falls on Margaret Purcell out in Washington. She trains the transcribers and takes care of getting all these interviews out. The interviews go by drop box to her. We use digital recorders now,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:11:30] we come up in the world. She receives everything. And then she keeps it coordinated with the transcribing and we have to send it. And one thing we do that most oral history people do not, we have found, ... We let the interviewee have first edit on the interview.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:12:00] We have found that because of their age and the circumstances of the times in which they lived that they're more relaxed if they know that if they mention a name, that they can take out, or they may have second thoughts about talking about an incident. So we give the interviewee first edit, and then when that comes back to us,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:12:30] hopefully, they've been able to process documentation, pictures and stuff. So Margaret does all of the layout work. She pulls all of this together and makes the final, we call it a book, and there's one copy for the interviewee and one copy for Smith. They all come through me before they go to Smith. This is the final look at and take a look at.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:13:00] So there's lots of time involved, besides which she's, also writing the newsletter. They have a very active OLOC group in Puget Sound, and they all are involved in our project. So they also were the ones that dreamt up and got off the ground,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:13:30] and with a heart behind making our DVD that we use for educational purposes. It has really expanded beyond anything I would have ever dreamed of, when I was trying to get all those little mini bows.
Mason Funk: And how long ago was it that you started?
Arden Eversmeyer: This is 20 years old.
Mason Funk: [02:14:00] 20 years, okay. Wow. When you say the book, you mean a literal printed book, that gets produced out of each interview?
Arden Eversmeyer: It is eight and a half by eleven size. It's comb bound. All of the pictures that are in color are in color. All of them have a beautiful title page, with all kinds of information,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:14:30] and pictures, sometimes a young and an old picture of that person. I always told them when I was doing it, I said "it's my option what picture goes on the title page." I will look through it and there'd be one that'd jump at me. It's been a child's picture sometimes.
Mason Funk: How did you find Margaret Purcell?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:15:00] We had the first ... Okay, we had the first OLOC conference in Minneapolis. Three years later, we had one in San Francisco, and three year after that, we went back to Minneapolis. By then, we were doing a lot more with the Oral Hertory Project.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:15:30] She and Mary were living in Minneapolis at the time. They originally were in Kentucky, and then they went to Minneapolis, and then Margaret has a lot of family up in that area, and the cold winters were really hard on Margaret. They weren't the only ones in her family, there's more of them now, but they wound up out in the Tacoma area,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:16:00] and they've been out there, I think ten years now. They were at the second conference we had in Minneapolis. We had a lot of stuff there about the Oral History Conference, and Margaret was reading, and reading, and Mary was, at that time,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:16:30] I think she went on to the Steering committee in OLOC. So she was getting involved with OLOC, and Margaret was really interested in the Oral History Project. Then we retired from the Steering Committee in '04, I was bailing out a whole lot of the national office here, 'cause I wasn't gonna have the office here and me not be on the Steering Committee.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:17:00] Mary and Margaret offered to take some of these records and things, off our hands. So I boxed all that stuff up, and we got in our motorhome, and we headed for Minneapolis. We sat in their backyard in our motorhome, and out of that came a commitment for the project. Like I say,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:17:30] she has such vision. Some of the ideas that she came up with were so logical, and so timely, and I probably never would have come close to it. So it's been a wonderful combination of effort. She's twenty years younger than I am. We've already talked about is there an end to the project, and we're both in agreement.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:18:00] We're into a whole different generation of women. The oldest woman in the project, was a woman here born in 1916. We're still finding lots of women, born in the thirties, and some back as far as the teens. We're interviewing ninety, ninety one year old lesbians.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:18:30] We haven't said that the project will end and such and such a time. That's not where we're at. Our feeling is, the project will have an ending sometime, but it'll be an ending of it's own. In the mean time, if she keeps thinking up things we need to do, I don't know what we're gonna do, but in the meantime, it's very busy, very busy.
Mason Funk: What did you call it a little while ago, I think you called it her oh by the way moment.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yep.
Mason Funk: [02:19:00] Tell me about that again, 'cause we weren't recording at that time.
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh. Well, she's always been.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say Margaret, my collaborator.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah. Margaret Purcell, ideas woman. My collaborator for sure, anyway. We had been going to Washington almost every summer, and they'd come down here almost every winter. So those are the two times we know we can be together to kind of brainstorm, and do things.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:19:30] So on one of our early trips, out to Washington, we were sitting at a table, doing some work, and she said "oh by the way Arden", she said "I been thinking maybe it's time we thought about doing a book." I said "oh." So, one of her many skills is she is a writer. She actually writes stuff for periodicals.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:20:00] So out of that, came our first book "A Gift of Age", which came out in 2009. Then the next time we were out there, she says "oh by the way Arden, don't you think it's time we did a newsletter, maybe do it bimonthly, or something?" So that started that, and I didn't have to do any part of it except an article for the first page.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:20:30] It came to be known as Arden's Musings. So, that was the second one, and the third time we were out there, the next oh by the way was the second book. And then the next oh by the way Arden, was a conference that we produced here in 2013.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:21:00] Which was a roaring success, and which everybody said "when's the next one?" And I said "not in my lifetime." So anyways, the oh by the ways, are a little softer now, but we're doing a lot of prep work before we send, well not even before because the prep work that we're doing now for the stories
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:21:30] that are at Smith College already, amount to work that they would do after they got the material anyway. But we are sending them now. We're doing abstracts for each of them, and sending them in. And we're doing finder aides, she's calling it just for convenience, she's calling it indexing. There's a whole bunch of us volunteers
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:22:00] that we've already got a group that are working on abstracts. There's another group of us now that are working on the indexing, so that's the most recent oh by the way. But if we didn't have that, I don't know where we'd be, 'cause she has such vision, and she does such nice work.
Mason Funk: Right on.
Mason Funk: Well this all for me, obviously, is fascinating because I'm just at the literally in the first year, year and a half of your twenty year journey, so I'm very curious.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:22:30] Oh, lots of changes, lots of things have changed. Yeah. And I am part kicking and screaming, I got dragged into the digital age. So it's been a real challenge for me. Things that come naturally to somebody like that, you know?
Mason Funk: Right, right.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:23:00] And then the group ... The Washington Puget Sound OLOC group, is responsible for producing the DVD. That was done through the University of Washington, Tacoma campus. I worked with them, and then I flew out to do the filming, I'm the narrator, and so that's been available about a year now.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:23:30] The third book is still in the hopper. It's just too much. We need, somehow to find a way to have a paid person to take some of this off of Margaret so that she can turn loose and do some of this creative stuff that she does so well.
Mason Funk: Right.
Arden Eversmeyer: So, it keeps on.
Mason Funk: [02:24:00] And I'm curious, how did you settle on the Old Lesbian's Oral Herstory project?
Arden Eversmeyer: Herstory?
Mason Funk: Yeah, I mean I've heard the term before, but you made a decision-
Arden Eversmeyer: Well it's not his story, it's her story. We got lots of his stories. So that's why we did it. That's why we opted to do that.
Mason Funk: Uh- huh. That's amazing, very inspirational. I'm sure you've heard that before.
Mason Funk: [02:24:30] I want to give Amy a chance 'cause she sits here and questions start bubbling up in her mind. So she may have a couple of questions, but please respond to me as if I had come up.
Amy Bench: I was wondering if you have ... you talked about ageism, how do you see opportunities for change, or thinking about women differently? 'Cause you said we're the only country that doesn't[crosstalk]
Arden Eversmeyer: Revere.
Amy Bench: [02:25:00] Revere our older women, so what are ideas you have to change that?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well let me tell you[crosstalk]
Mason Funk: You have to make her invisible.
Amy Bench: Talk to him. Pretend like I'm not here.
Arden Eversmeyer: Okay. With current political structure we've got going, I think it's going to go backwards, and not forwards. Because we have a
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:25:30] severely misogynist group of leaders, and they are doing everything in their power to cut back aid and benefit for women and children. So I think we're going to lose maybe thirty, forty years of work that we've been doing through the seventies women movement,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:26:00] and when women found their voice. So I think we're going to lose major ground. I don't see that the ageism issue is going to ever be any better because ageism isn't even the issue for them, it's just pure misogyny. So that's just my feeling, and I'm glad I'm as old as I am because I would hate to see us go back to where I started.
Amy Bench: [02:26:30] Do you think things like your project help that?
Arden Eversmeyer: Do I think what?
Amy Bench: Like the project that you're working on, your Oral Herstory project, do you think that ... is that work totally in vain or do you think that that's actually gonna help?
Arden Eversmeyer: Oh I don't think anything is ever in vain. I really
Mason Funk: Stop talking.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:27:00] I really don't because the information is there, and unless they go in and raid libraries and burn stuff, heaven forbid, the information is still there. So no, the project's not in vain. I think they've got bigger fish to fry than the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project. It's a broader scope for them.
Amy Bench: So this is kind of related to that. I'm curious with your experience, how did we get to this point? How did these men get into power, and have this objective of revoking women's rights? Do you have any ideas?
Arden Eversmeyer: Well we've always had, we've always had it.
Mason Funk: Turn your head.
Mason Funk: Sorry, I know it's awkward.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:28:00] We've always had, what we called right wing, the radical right. It's always been there, they've always been vocal, but they have been, even though they were smaller in numbers, they were louder. The little guys, who make up the biggest percentage of our population, are more timid and more afraid of retribution,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:28:30] if they speak out, because the small minority has the power. You know, with like our current person, who's occupying the White House, it's been said, it's not just supposing. If you didn't agree with him,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:29:00] and you were verbal about it, you lost your job. I mean, he had the power to do it, so you didn't disagree with him. And that kind of power has spread with his businesses, and things, and I'm not saying all rich men are that way, they are not, they are certainly not. But with the current situation that we're in right now,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:29:30] he doesn't like something, we'll change the rules. He doesn't like someone, we'll get rid of him. And it's that kind of power that keeps us little guys from getting too vocal for fear there'd be some kind of retribution. And you can bet with the minority groups that are under fire, they have really pulled in their necks here in town.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:30:00] The construction industry has slowed because most of the crews are made up of undocumented men. They raid on the construction sites, they go and pick them up. So you're keeping a huge percentage of the population from fighting back, and these women sit-ins and marches have been absolutely amazing to me,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:30:30] to see the results. He has been absolutely furious over those. But so far he hasn't kept them quiet. I hope the women don't lose their voice again. I really do. I just loved watching it. Yeah. Politics.
Amy Bench: [02:31:00] Is there one thing you're most proud of, either a deed, or a service, or organization you started, or philosophy that you've come up with?
Arden Eversmeyer: I don't guess, because they're different.
Mason Funk: Sorry, over here.
Arden Eversmeyer: OLOC was a national organization. LOAF is a local thing, and it's a social thing. The Oral Herstory Project is
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:31:30] actually international. We have stories, Australia, and Japan, and Costa Rica. But each one of them is different. The LOAF met a personal need at a time in my life when I needed a change. It's been successful, and I'm still benefiting from it.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:32:00] Some wonderful friendships. So it in a way it was self serving, but it's helped others too, so that was what it was all about. And I've had a ball with the Oral Herstory Project. I really have. I still do, and I have made some wonderful friendships.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:32:30] Absolutely incredible. So I don't know one is more important than the other. Each had its place in my life, still does.
Mason Funk: They're like your kids.
Arden Eversmeyer: Yeah, really. It's fun.
Mason Funk: Do you have more questions? Okay, so then I have a final four ... well first of all, do you feel like we have not talked about anything important?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:33:00] Well like I tell those I interview, I'll probably think of it after you're gone.
Mason Funk: You just accept it, right?
Arden Eversmeyer: I know it's probably gonna happen.
Mason Funk: Yeah, that's a good philosophy too. Otherwise I get so like ahhh!
Mason Funk: And some people like, God bless him, Ray Hill, he'll take one story, and it will last for forty five minutes.
Arden Eversmeyer: Uh-huh.
Mason Funk: So you know at that point that you're not gonna get to ask other questions.
Mason Funk: Just got to live with it.
Mason Funk: There's not a mention of the 2006 case that um ... what was the Supreme Court, Texas versus-
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:33:30] Um, um, yep.
Mason Funk: That, there's not a mention.
Arden Eversmeyer: The sodomy case.
Mason Funk: Yeah, and I mean that's huge, but anyway. So I have a final four, these are like short, just quick wrap up questions. The first one is if somebody comes to you, and says I'm thinking about coming out, whatever that means to that person, what's like the pearl of wisdom or two that you offer that person?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:34:00] Well to make a statement before that. I would help. I would do whatever I could to help because after the incident where that young man took his life, and I went out on a disability retirement. I swore I would never again turn away from somebody who needed some kind of help. No matter what the age. So yeah,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:34:30] I would talk with them. See what it was. I can't tell them what to do, for heaven's sakes, but help them maybe come to some realization of what they can do realistically. 'Cause that's a big job. That's fearful work, coming out.
Mason Funk: [02:35:00] I have to ask, because you said ... the way you told the story, it didn't sound like you turned away, but you just said "I will never again", you made a pledge "I will never again."
Arden Eversmeyer: Well see, I didn't come out to him. I didn't identify myself as a part of helping him. 'Cause he came all that school year, he came in, floated in and out of my office. I talked to him a lot. And of course again,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:35:30] in the years It was in the early seventies, and we didn't have organizations. We have a wonderful organization for youth here called HATCH, and they do amazing work. We have clubs in high school now for GLBT persons and allies. Amazing, you know, to have had something like that.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:36:00] And I'd have been the sponsor too. I mean I'd have offered that. And there's been occasional people who have needed to talk, and we sit and visit. Don't mind a bit, love doing it, I just can't imagine going through what he went through with nobody,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:36:30] no ally of any kind to help him. So that really affected my life.
Mason Funk: It's interesting, we last summer interviewed a woman named Betsy Parsons in Maine, in Portland, Maine. It was the first public school teacher to come out publicly in Maine. She also carried a significant amount of regret that she didn't come out sooner.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:37:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Mason Funk: Because she had students come back and say it would've made such a difference to me if you had been open.
Arden Eversmeyer: Sure.
Mason Funk: That's important.
Mason Funk: We just talked about what's not hoped for regarding our country, but my question is what is your hope? What do you hope to see in the future?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:37:30] Oh. Well what I've already seen is way beyond anything I would have ever dreamed about. Being married, I didn't think I'd ever be married. Yeah, we've been married nine years now. Under current circumstances, I don't see too much more dramatic changes.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:38:00] I'm not so much for being assimilated into the population. Because I think we are different, and I would like to see those kinds of ties maintained in the future.
Mason Funk: What do you mean by those kinds of ties?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:38:30] That as GLBT people we can still have meetings, and social groups, and things where we can share. Because it is different growing up GLBT, you know, and the fact that the population accepts us,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:39:00] doesn't necessarily like us, or want us, or anything, but that they accept us, and we can live peacefully, doesn't mean that's a fulfilling way to live with them. I think we need our kin. I really do, and I think we need organizations like HATCH, to help the kids that are coming up.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:39:30] So that they don't suffer the guilt and shame kind of stuff that two generations ago did, or still do.
Arden Eversmeyer: It's still pretty, pretty hard out there. I don't know.
Mason Funk: Yeah, that's great. Why as a collector of other people's stories, why is it important to you to tell your story?
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:40:00] Because I'm old, and because I come out of an era for which there was no history. Practically nothing. Even today, when I tell my story, there's disbelief on faces. They really, really don't think that some of my experiences are real.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:40:30] I'll give you a what if. My first partner and I decided we wanted to buy a home. It was in the fifties, nineteen fifties, and we couldn't qualify for a home loan. Single women could not qualify for a home loan, period. If you had cash money, you could outright buy cash, I'm sure you could,
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:41:00] but anyway. So what we did, after world war two, there were benefits for the returning GIs. One of the benefits was help with education, going to college, and another benefit was home loans for them buying homes. So what we did was buy the equity
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:41:30] of one of these GI loans and paid out the rest of the mortgage. Now we could do that, but we couldn't get a loan. So we bought an equity, and finished paying for the mortgage. We paid that house off. July the 4th, we had a mortgage burning party 1976. We paid that off in twenty years, our first home.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:42:00] We couldn't qualify for a car loan unless we had a man signing on it. My father signed on my first car loan, my first mortgage. He paid for it, I paid him back. I couldn't get a credit card in my name. I could get one in my husband's name.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:42:30] So all of these things you see, were obstacles there that are not there anymore. Not there. Lots of change.
Mason Funk: Yeah, and that's why, I mean, I was writing a grant proposal on the way down here, and it is so important for younger people to realize how difficult things were so they don't get lazy.
Amy Bench: Lazy.
Mason Funk: So they don't[inaudible]
Arden Eversmeyer: Well and not to say things aren't hard now.
Arden Eversmeyer: And I certainly think it's not safe. Not with the temperament we got going on now.
Arden Eversmeyer: And that's too bad.
Mason Funk: So last, but not least, regarding this project OUTWORDS, what do you see is the value or the importance of this project, and if you wouldn't mind mentioning OUTWORDS in your title, in your answer.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:43:30] Okay. Well I think this kind of project, OUTWORDS, any kind of project that is recording our history, I think is great. I think it's needed so that we don't get written out of history. So go do, I think it's great. It's ambitious. You'll get hooked on it.
Mason Funk: [02:44:00] I think I'm a lot like you in the regard that I'm a bit ... I like road trips.
Mason Funk: I never thought of getting a motorhome to do it, but I'm loving that idea right now.
Arden Eversmeyer: Well, it just gets you around.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Well especially it's so fun ... yeah, uh we'll talk about that more when we're not rolling, but we are done, I think. We already recorded room tone, so I think it's a wrap.
Amy Bench: Alright, thank you.
Arden Eversmeyer: [02:44:30] Thank you.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Amy Bench
Date: June 03, 2017
Location: Home of Arden Eversmeyer, Houston, TX