Tag Archives: Carolyn Anderson

A Woman’s Place Bookstore

Social worker Carolyn Anderson started what became a feminist community hub in Calgary in the early 80s called: A Woman’s Place Bookstore. At that time, alternative feminist and lesbian spaces, shops, and music festivals were cropping up across North America. An informal network between them was forged by women’s publications such as the still widely circulated newsletter Lesbian Connection.

After a trip to California, Carolyn discovered a lesbian bookshop that inspired her. Yet her bookstore evolved almost by accident. As a social worker, her area of expertise was in sexual abuse and its recovery, yet Carolyn found a dearth of books on the topic locally. So at professional conferences, she started buying multiple copies of the books she was interested in. She would then sell them to colleagues and clients out of the trunk of her car.

In fact, she amusingly started calling her car, “A Woman’s Place Bookstore,” but then women started requesting other reading materials and even feminist music. The car’s trunk quickly became too full. She found a business partner in Jacquie Stutt, talking one night over a curling game, and they opened a storefront in 1983.

Located in the Beltline at 1412 Centre Street, one entered a lavender door into feminist bibliophilic bliss. At any time you might be greeted by a fluffy dog, goddess jewelry, friendly staff and other shoppers when you entered: plus lots and lots of books.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.23.48 PM

A Woman’s Place Bookstore Owner Jacquie Stutt with Buddy

Carolyn remembers: “The back room was where we had all of the lesbian stuff, all of the lesbian music, so people could go back there and, lots of times, people didn’t even know there was a back room! It looked like, maybe it was a business office or a storage room, but if you were gay you knew what it was, and we would make sure you knew what it was. People didn’t even really get what the gay stuff was if they weren’t gay.”

In the first years of the store, it was well known that Canada Customs officials would seize books with gay or lesbian content. So, Carolyn would have her shipments sent to friends in Montana and then drive down to get them – smuggling the books into Calgary.

Many customers who were too nervous to go into gay bars found a gentler entry point to the community through shopping for books and reading the community bulletin board/information centre. Any activities of interest to women were posted there; you could drop off event posters or call the store and relay event information to staff. For shoppers, the store had non-sexist children’s books, fiction, poetry, self-help tapes and books, calendars, recovery books, jewelry, t-shirts, women’s music, and – if you were still undecided – gift certificates!

By the late 90s, Jacquie had become the sole owner of the bookstore but it began to suffer from the movement of the “b-list” female prostitution stroll into the area (as defined by Calgary Police). Sometimes bookstore staff had to chase away cruising johns and customers began to stay away. The store was sold to a new owner in 2003 and moved to Marda Loop where it existed for a few more years before the business finally closed its doors.

Throughout its existence, the store was an anchor for Calgary’s lesbian community. On multiple occasions, the Calgary Gay History Project has heard from women who told us that this store saved their lives by ending their isolation.


The Ladder

The Ladder was a monthly publication from 1956-1972 of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first Lesbian civil rights organization in the United States.


Calgary’s Dr. Carolyn Anderson in 2001 did her PhD social work thesis on The Voices of Older Lesbian Women: An Oral History (you can find it online at Library and Archives Canada: here).

Sue, one of the local lesbian voices featured in the thesis, recalls the publication:

“I did find out about the Ladder and subscribed to it. The Ladder was a lesbian newsletter that originated out of San Francisco and it came in a brown paper wrapper. When it came I devoured it and then hid it cause you know it was a lesbian magazine and you couldn’t just leave it lying out. I don’t know how I found about the Ladder but it became my lifeline. It meant that there were lesbians out there.”

In the 1950s and 1960s publications like The Ladder created the early foundations for gay liberation, through the development of a network of LGBTQ people who had previously been isolated.

The DOB was founded in San Francisco in 1955, by lovers Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, they initially started the organization as a social group to meet more lesbian couples.  It grew quickly, became more political over time, and developed chapters in many cities.  The Ladders’s very secret membership list had 3800 subscribers by 1970.

phyllis and del.jpg

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in the 1950s


Every issue of The Ladder stated the DOB Mission Statement in its inside cover:

  1. Education of the variant…to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society…this to be accomplished by establishing…a library…on the sex deviant theme; by sponsoring public discussions…to be conducted by leading members of the legal psychiatric, religious and other professions; by advocating a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society.
  2. Education of the public…leading to an eventual breakdown of erroneous taboos and prejudices…
  3. Participation in research projects by duly authorized and responsible psychologists, sociologists, and other such experts directed towards further knowledge of the homosexual.
  4. Investigation of the penal code as it pertain to the homosexual, proposal of changes,…and promotion of these changes through the due process of law in the state legislatures.

This past Sunday, The GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco marked the 60th anniversary of the DOB with a private reception.  The guest of honour was 91-year-old Phyllis Lyon, the surviving cofounder of the organization.  The Society’s Facebook page has posted some heartwarming photos of the celebration.