How Women Earned a Living

Recorded around the year 1975, this file was produced and directed by Leslie Carlson and is currently housed in the Arizona Queer Archives’ Southwest Feminists Reunite collection. The lesbians interviewed in the series of video postcards describe the challenges they confronted as they started their own businesses in addition to the reactions regarding the nontraditional gender roles they took on.

A running theme in the interviews is deviance: women whose choices and occupations, not to mention their sexuality, stray from what was expected of them or considered normal at the time on the social level by both heterosexual men and women alike. Growth and restructuring among women’s groups in Tucson during this time is another major theme that Carlson touched upon in the postcards.

Janet Ramey, the owner of a local establishment known as Unicorn Coffee House, was the first person interviewed. She renovated an old market and became the sole owner of a coffee shop with an alternative atmosphere, having to explain her decisions to others during the whole process. Ramey pointed out that many of the things she had been asked about her job choices would not normally have been asked of straight male business owners.

The second interview was conducted with a receptionist who described the social climate among women in the 1970s. She mentioned an incidence of workplace jealousy in her former bookkeeping position, where her excellence in mathematics made her female colleagues feel threatened. Her skills were not normal for women to possess in that decade and it was for her an eye-opening experience in corporate culture, but these led her to learn more about herself and the challenges facing lesbian communities of the era.

Dorothy Riddle, a clinical psychologist and feminist astrologer at Alternatives for Women, was interviewed next. Made up of three lesbian consultants, this organization connected female clients with resources and groups that for child care, the local women’s center, and other needs. Riddle used her skills as a psychologist in an unorthodox way by offering her own experience on the social level.

The next interviewees were four members of the feminist clinic known as Tucson Women’s Clinic, who described restructuring efforts that involved rededicating themselves to their feminist philosophy and aligning it with their services. Despite exciting progress in building new services for local women, the interviewees discussed how rumors and political barriers often impeded their progress.

These interviews convey what it was like in the 1970s for lesbians in the Old Pueblo to own businesses, support themselves, and establish important pillars of support for the lesbian community in the city. The determination of these local women to assume new roles, and to thrive in entirely new work environments, are crucial early developments that also stand as historic accomplishments for the Tucson lesbian community.

How Women Earned a Living