Significant Contemporary American Feminists: A Biographical Sourcebook

By Jennifer Scanlon | Go to book overview

RITA MAE BROWN
(1944-)

Julie A. Davies

As a writer, Rita Mae Brown prefers to be considered without the obvious modifiers "lesbian," "feminist," "activist." In the context of the second wave of feminism, however, she plays a complex, critical, and often controversial role. Abbott and Love, the writers of the pivotal 1972 text, Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, dedicated their work to Rita Mae Brown "for starting it all." In retrospect and in many ways, it appears they were right.

Rita Mae Brown was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania, on November 28, 1944, to eighteen-year-old Juliann Young. After a brief stay at a Catholic orphanage, she was adopted by Ralph and Julia Ellen Brown of York, Pennsylvania. She was a bright child who later became an excellent student. Even in primary school, though, her working-class background and values would come up sharply against those of the middle and upper classes. When Brown was eleven, she moved with her family to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

She was an excellent and popular student, but disclosure of her lesbianism in her final year of high school resulted in harassment by classmates, parents, and teachers and the loss of many friendships. On scholarship to the University of Florida, Brown excelled academically and was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority. Again, as in high school, her penchant to be outspoken had dramatic results. In 1964, she became active in the civil rights movement and also disclosed her lesbianism. What followed was far more dramatic than the earlier shunning. She lost her scholarship and was forced into daily therapy with the university's psychiatrist.

Without her scholarship, she could not afford to stay. In the summer of 1964, Brown left Florida and went to New York City. She found work waitressing and won a scholarship to study English at New York University (NYU). She earned a B.A. in 1968 and went on to study filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts.

Her outspoken nature and activist leanings found ready, though not always permanent, homes amid the politically and socially conscious New York climate.

-28-

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Significant Contemporary American Feminists: A Biographical Sourcebook
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editorial Board ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Bella Abzug (1920-1998) 1
  • Paula Gunn Allen (1939-) 8
  • Gloria AnzaldÚa (1942-) 14
  • Frances Beale (1940-) 22
  • Rita Mae Brown (1944-) 28
  • Charlotte Bunch (1944-) 36
  • Pat Califia (1954-) 44
  • Judy Chicago (1939-) 51
  • Shirley Chisholm (1924-) 55
  • Esther Ngan-Ling Chow (1943-) 60
  • Pearl Cleage (1948-) 66
  • Kate Clinton (1945- ) 73
  • Mary Daly (1928- ) 79
  • Angela Davis (1944-) 86
  • Shulamith Firestone (1945-) 98
  • Jo Freeman (1945-) 104
  • Betty Friedan (1921-) 111
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-) 118
  • Bell Hooks (1952- ) 125
  • Dolores Huerta (1930-) 133
  • June Jordan (1936-) 138
  • Evelyn Fox Keller (1936-) 145
  • Florynce Kennedy (1916-) 150
  • Audre Lorde (1934-1992) 156
  • Catharine Mackinnon (1946-) 163
  • Olga Madar (1915-1996) 174
  • Wilma Mankiller (1945-) 181
  • Del Martin (1921-) 188
  • Kate Millett (1934- ) 194
  • CherrÍe Moraga (1952- ) 201
  • Robin Morgan (1941-) 206
  • Pauli Murray (1910-1985) 213
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton (1937-) 218
  • Alice Paul (1885-1977) 223
  • Anna Quindlen (1952-) 231
  • Adrienne Rich (1929-) 238
  • Faith Ringgold (1930-) 245
  • Rosemary Ruether (1936-) 251
  • Joanna Russ (1937-) 257
  • Patricia Schroeder (1940-) 264
  • Eleanor Smeal (1939-) 271
  • Barbara Smith (1946-) 279
  • Gloria Steinem (1934-) 283
  • Margo St. James (1937-) 290
  • Alice Walker (1944- ) 297
  • Rebecca Walker (1969-) 305
  • Michele Wallace (1952-) 311
  • Sarah Weddington (1945-) 317
  • Ellen Willis (1941-) 327
  • Selected Bibliography 335
  • Index 341
  • About the Editor and Contributors 355
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