Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ Patricia Kelly interview

Dublin Core


Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ Patricia Kelly interview


Lesbian, Tucson, activism, history, feminists, 1970s, collectives, media


Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ Patricia Kelly interview
This oral history interview highlights local feminist and lesbian feminist activists as part of the Southwest Feminists Reunite collection, which was started in spring 2013 during their 40th Anniversary celebration in Tucson, AZ. That powerful experience in March 1973 and the dynamic creativity and political action that followed sparked feminists and lesbian feminists to reinvent their lives and organize for change over the next four decades. This collection consists of oral histories and digital scans of photographs.


Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives


Recorded digitally on Sony HDR-CX580 digital video


Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives


16 March 2013


Southwest Feminists Reunite. Lavinia Tomer and Deborah Dobson


Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives


Southwest Feminists Reunite


H.264 300Kbps streaming QuickTime movie, 427 x 240




MovingImage and Oral History


Southwest Feminists Reunite

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Anastasia Freyermuth


Patricia Kelly


Q: Please state your name.
A: My name is Patricia Kelly.
Q: My first question is when did you first become aware of the feminist and lesbian feminist Movement?
A: I think probably in the late sixties. I don’t think I really thought about it before that so that’s the answer, late sixties.
Q: So how long have you lived in Tucson?
A: I lived in Tucson from 1960 until 1979 and I still owned Antigone when I left and then I sold Antigone in 1980 but I lived here from 1960 until 1979 and then I’ve come back, of course my family is here.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about your involvement in ownership of Antigone Books?
A: Sure. There was house called the Linden Street House where a lot of feminists lived and one of the women, Barbara Atwood, introduced me to a librarian named Johnnie Cunningham. Johnnie Cunningham and I and Barbara decided that what we wanted to do was open a bookstore which was, of course, kind of crazy but we did it anyway. I had two degrees one was in Business—Marketing--and one in Education. Johnnie was a librarian and Barbara was in law school. So we got in our car and we drove to Los Angeles to interview the women who owned A Woman’s Place, which was a bookstore, probably the first feminist and children’s bookstore in the United States which subsequently has closed. They told us everything that they had done and we pretty much learned a lot and we started the process.
Johnnie started making a catalog of all the books that we wanted to order and we started opening accounts and then we found the location on Fourth Avenue, 415 Fourth Avenue. One of the things that happened back then was that Johnnie was married and the landlord wanted her husband, George, to sign the lease and we said absolutely not, that we were responsible for the store, Johnnie and I and we were going to sign the lease. And it worked out. So we opened in 1973. I built all the shelves, had the help of other women, we built the back patio, we opened with every single book face out. There were so few books in the store, I have no idea what the number is but there was just so much space on the shelves that we could actually face them all out and of course by the time 1980 came around, there were very few face outs, it was completely full because it was this little tiny space at 415 Fourth which is next door to Antigone’s today.
Q: So how did your involvement with Antigone relate to your interest and involvement with the feminist Movement itself?
A: Well I was just one of the community that went to consciousness-raising, went to different types of meetings, we did little projects bringing books to women, books that weren’t available in other locations is critical and because I was a huge reader and because it was always my interest. It fit perfectly and as I said Johnnie was a librarian. It turned into sort of the hub of the community in a certain way it was like Antigone was where people went when they came to town. They wanted to know where to go, what bars to go to, where to eat, etcetera. They all came to Antigone and it was sort of the center at that time which I suspect it still is, I don’t know. It’s a great store now I love it but it was a long time ago.
Q: I’d like to speak a little bit more to the Women’s Movement that was occurring at the time that you opened Antigone and particularly how that Movement impacted or transformed your life and particularly your decision to open this bookstore.
A: I think it was just a natural progression from having finished college not wanting to go, because I was a business major and marketing major I didn’t want to go work for Ford or a major corporation I had no interest in being in corporate America. I wanted to be a small entrepreneur so that all worked and it just coincided with my beliefs and work in the feminist Movement and trying to make things equal for women it just seemed to merge all at the same time. Pam Hyde was in the House, Barbara Atwood was in the House. It was this fabulous house of feminist women and we had an awful lot of fun back then, a lot fun.
Q: How do you think that the Women’s Movement and the work that was happening at Antigone’s and it being kind of the center of the community, how do you think it impacted and transformed the Tucson community at large?
A: I think it was critical for people to have the literature to read, to get into books groups, to you know, discuss the different philosophies, to have a place to come. The University Women’s Studies department ordered books through us, Pima College Women’s Studies ordered books through us. When people like Gloria Steinem would come to town, they would come to Antigone, Adrianne Rich came to Antigone. Women who are no longer with us came to Antigone, people who are with us came. It was sort of a center. It was right across the street from the Food Conspiracy which didn’t hurt things because, of course, people had to eat and they would just pop over.
Q: Do you see yourself and your involvement with Antigone as a form of activism?
A: Sure. Johnnie was only there for about eighteen months and then it was my store from then on. She decided to go do other things. It was definitely a form of activism. I feel very good about providing a resource for a lot of young women at that time working with the teachers. I ended up in my career in going on into publishing working for major corporations but as a children’s specialist so I was the sales manager for McMillan Publishing for fifteen years for children’s books. I travelled all over the United States and I would say that my interest was in children’s literacy and children reading to become adult readers became the focal point after Antigone. But it was because of the great books that we were able to order and our reps would come, you know “Animals Definitely Don’t Wear Clothing,” and “Alexander the Horrible No Good Very Bad Day,” etcetera, you know, this all changed everything.
Q: With that, knowing your goal in mind, with Antigone and your own involvement in the Tucson community, what obstacles did you and the store experience?
A: The thing with the lease was just one thing I was thinking about this morning, that the husband needed to sign, which we got away from that. I don’t feel like we had a lot of obstacles. I know it seems odd, but it feels to me like the community embraced Antigone and welcomed Antigone there were no real protests or people being belligerent. Oddly enough, I think it fit into the community fine. Of course it was on Fourth Street and at the time Fourth Street was more alternative it was much more of a drug area than most of Tucson, I don’t know if that’s true, but it was more of an alternative so there were all kinds of stores that had alternative offerings. I don’t feel that were a lot of obstacles.
Q: What would you say in terms of more recent times what do you think is the larger impact that Antigone has had?
A: You know because I left in 1980 I think probably someone who is there now should speak to that because I probably don’t know.
Q: How about if we speak about a little to where you’re at right now in terms of how the Women’s Movement and feminism impacted you even now?
A: It’s how I live. It’s just totally my lifestyle. I live in the Bay Area, it’s very accepting. I live in communities where everybody is welcome where there is just very little discrimination if any so I feel that we are very lucky. One comment that I would like to make is that I think is that young women, often, don’t appreciate the changes that were made by all of us. I think that the sort of entitlement, it’s like they all started on third base instead of first base because of all the work that all of us had done. And I’m not sure that everybody recognizes that, at least the young women I work with, often I feel that about them. I don’t know, what do you think about that?
Q: Now I’ve become the interviewee? No, I think that is true, definitely true. Going off on that, what advice, message any messages would you like to give to young feminists?
A: For me, it’s critical to figure out what you want to do in life and to do it. It doesn’t matter what it is really because you can do anything you want to do. That is absolutely true. I think that sort of figuring out that it’s okay that you can do what you want to do. You can have a family and children if you want to go that way, you can have a career. You can have everything. You have to be committed to having everything because it’s not easy. But you can certainly do that and I don’t think that wasn’t always possible. I think that wasn’t always possible. I think that spending as much time as you can in reflection, spending as much time as you can in self-discovery Reading things like “What Color is Your Parachute?” Reading things that say “what is going to bring fulfillment and happiness and personal peace to me?” at a very young age, which is what a lot of us didn’t do. A lot of us just lived and hurried forward. Whereas as if we had been more reflective, we would have had an easier path.
Q: Going back to you, and to the questions that I asked earlier. Why did you want to open up Antigone, why did you become an activist?
A: I think for me it was a business decision and a personal decision that I knew that I was interested in business, economics, women, children. All of them could fit in one place and it could afford a living for me. I could do what I wanted to do, earn a living and contribute in society all at the same time.
Q: And how has your work and your involvement in the Tucson community and with Antigone, how has that affected what you’re doing now?
A: It was a great resource. I left Antigone and went to work for a major publisher and I had a tremendous background in children’s books and in Women’s Studies, and in how to sell books. So when I became a rep on the other side of the desk and represented books for a publisher I always was sympathetic to an independent bookstore I was always sympathetic to that point of view. I always tried to not sell them books but to try to figure out who their clientele was and what book was appropriate for that clientele. I was always successful in my work as a result of my attitude, I wanted to help them get the right books not the books, I never took the company’s position and that was pretty unusual so I had a great trust with all of my book sellers.
The industry has changed tremendously and there were less and less independents and I went into management and I became the vice president of marketing and publicity at Ten Speed which is a division of Random House. So I’ve gone full bore from driving fifty thousand miles a year in a car visiting with people to mainly being in an office working with people. I think it just gave me a perspective and a knowledge that was very unusual. People in publishing generally come from literature, they come from an English background and they don’t have as much experience as an all-round bookseller and they don’t generally have the commitment to children and literacy as I do which is huge for me. I have spent a lifetime giving books to people in other countries giving books to low income schools, I have friends in a variety of publishing houses and that’s what I do-I get books I give them to schools and I try and contribute that way.
Q: For my last question, what are you most proud of?
A: That’s an interesting question, that’s a good question-“what are you MOST proud of?” I think I’m most proud of that I felt able to work effectively in the world without compromising who I was. I think that I was known as somebody who would tell the truth and be honest about books and not sell them and that in my work I had a sense of humor and that I was straightforward, that I didn’t need to lose myself. That’s what I’m most proud of is figuring out that balance. Tricky. Tricky business.
Q: That made me think, what would you say to young women who want to start their own business?
A: I would say get as much information as you can. Go on informational interviews, ask everybody who knows anything about anything. Definitely do it from an economic point of view. Leave as much of the emotional interest as you can behind. You should be passionate but you should be practical. Figure out your resources, figure out where you can get the monies, go out with enough capital. We actually opened the store with three thousand dollars. This day and age, an independent bookstore I don’t know what they start with—tens and tens of thousands of dollars. But I would say try and be passionate and practical at the same time. Think about the economics and how, if it works quickly, how it will work for you and if takes five years, how you will survive—what you’ll do. Have a plan, have a business plan that goes out at least five years. Don’t open up a tattoo shop on a whim-whatever, whatever because you love tattoos. Find out how much the needles cost.
Q: Great, great so is there anything else you’d like to speak to about your time in Tucson? Your involvement?
A: I love Tucson. I love Tucson, I love the desert, I love hiking, I love the women. It’s a terrific community and very few communities have as good or as strong a women’s community as Tucson. It’s a fortunate place to be here to grow up here. It’s really good. Love it.
A: Thank you.
Q: Thank you for interviewing me. Bye!


Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives, “Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ Patricia Kelly interview,” Arizona Queer Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,