Read an Excerpt from the New Barbara Grier Biography, ‘Indomitable: The Life of Barbara Grier’
Author: Edit Team
December 11, 2016
Last month, Bella Books released Indomitable:The Life of Barbara Grier by Joanne Passet, an incisive biography of revolutionary lesbian publisher and activist Barbara Grier. The book maps Grier’s unconventional, and often controversial, life of social and political action.
From the publisher:
Barbara Grier—feminist, activist, publisher, and archivist—was many things to different people. Perhaps most well known as one of the founders of Naiad Press, Barbara’s unapologetic drive to make sure that lesbians everywhere had access to books with stories that reflected their lives in positive ways was legendary. Barbara changed the lives of thousands of women in her lifetime.
For the first time, historian Joanne Passet uncovers the controversial and often polarizing life of this firebrand editor and publisher with new and never before published letters, interviews, and other personal material from Grier’s own papers.
“I’ve always considered myself a garden variety lesbian, resistant to blight and guaranteed to grow.”
When readers opened the July 1958 issue of The Ladder, they found an essay titled “My Daughter Is a Lesbian,” by one Mrs. Dorothy Lyles. Allegedly written by Barbara Grier’s mother, Dorothy Grier, the essay portrayed a highly perceptive woman who recognized her precocious and strong-willed girl was “a little different from the average child.” After learning of her daughter’s lesbianism, Mrs. Lyles wisely responded with “love, appreciation and understanding…not censure, shame or withdrawal.” Whether apocryphal or authentic, this is the experience Barbara wished for every young lesbian. When she came of age in the late 1940s and early 1950s, being a lesbian entailed fear, doubt and even danger. At a time when an increasingly pervasive popular culture reinforced images of lesbians as deviant and self-destructive, few women possessed courage to admit their lesbianism to parents, husbands, teachers or employers. The repercussions were too risky: one might be committed to a mental hospital, expelled from school or evicted from an apartment. Government agencies fired suspected homosexuals and teachers lost their jobs. Mothers faced the prospect of losing custody of their children in cases of divorce.
Dorothy Grier’s matter-of-fact acceptance of lesbianism, unusual in 1940s America, was one of the greatest gifts she could have given her daughter. She also endowed her with several important life skills, including a positive self-image, a flair for the dramatic and techniques for coping with adversity. Years later Barbara tended to romanticize her childhood, omitting her father Philip Grier’s philandering nature, episodes of poverty and the teenage angst that had contributed to her drive to succeed. Recasting reality into a more acceptable narrative, she emphasized her mother’s love and the stable relationship she had with lover Helen Bennett for two decades. If pressed for additional details, Barbara mentioned having a physician father (untrue) and lesbian sister, but generally gave the impression that her childhood had been quite unremarkable. Nothing was further from the truth.
Somewhat ironically, Barbara’s happiest memories of childhood date to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 4, 1933, she spent much of her first decade in Detroit, a city ravaged by industrial unemployment and labor unrest. On the surface, her father, Philip Strang Grier, appeared sophisticated, well-educated and successful. A short man with an ego as big as Napoleon’s, he earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Ferris Institute (today Ferris State University) in 1924 and had risen to a management position at the Detroit-based Shapiro’s Drug Store by the time he married Dorothy Vernon Black in the early 1930s.
Raised by a single mother, Dorothy grew up in a female-centered household headed by her grandmother, Barbaretta Niven Brown. Known as Retta, she emigrated from Canada to Hornellsville, New York, after the Civil War, married briefly, and gave birth to a daughter, Mabel, in 1878. In the late 1890s, the extended Niven family moved to New York City so Retta’s sisters, Della and Anabel, could pursue acting careers. In addition to appearances in Broadway musicals, they spent the summers as part of a traveling theatrical troupe. Accompanied by their niece Mabel, they billed themselves as The Niven Sisters and toured throughout the Midwest and South. While on the road, Mabel reportedly married William Lyles Black long enough to become pregnant with Dorothy, born in 1902. Coming of age in the extended Niven family, Dorothy acquired a love of popular show tunes, a bawdy sense of humor and an openness to the homosexuals she encountered in the theatrical world. Her love of New York City endured long after the family moved to Detroit in the mid-1910s.
With the growth of the auto industry and the meteoric rise of Christian Science in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Detroit was an ideal location for the enterprising Retta Niven Brown, by then a widow, to flourish. Embracing one of the few respectable occupations open to an uneducated woman, she opened a boardinghouse and established herself as a Christian Science practitioner. The large house at 47 Smith Avenue accommodated her extended family, which included her sisters Della and Annabel, daughter Mabel and granddaughter Dorothy.
Strong-willed like her mother, Mabel Brown Black governed her daughter’s every move, leaving Dorothy unprepared to think independently. In the 1920s, the pleasingly plump Dorothy became a stenographer in one of the city’s many steel plants, and by her late twenties had concluded that marriage was not in her future. One day, however, a girlfriend introduced her to a divorced pharmaceutical salesman named Philip Grier. The sheltered young woman impulsively said yes when her smooth-talking suitor proposed after a short courtship.
Once the initial excitement of their marriage faded, Dorothy knew she had made a foolish mistake. Philip was more of a confidence man than a family man. In fact, his personality and behavior bore an uncanny resemblance to that of his great-grandfather, James Jesse Strang, founder of the Strangite faction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Born in upstate New York in 1813, Strang moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, in the early 1840s to join Joseph Smith and his followers. After Smith’s assassination in 1844, Strang claimed to be his chosen successor. When the majority of believers chose to follow Brigham Young, Strang led a breakaway group north to Wisconsin, where he claimed to have a divine vision sealing his fate as their leader. In 1850, Strang and more than two hundred Strangites moved to Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. As the self-proclaimed “King of the Kingdom of God on Earth,” Strang published a newspaper, books and pamphlets advocating his beliefs. His suppression of the local liquor trade, embrace of polygamy and requirement that women wear bloomers fed local opposition to Strang’s dictatorial ways.
Arrested for violating several federal laws, Strang successfully defended himself in court and upon his release launched a successful campaign for a seat, as a Democrat, in the Michigan House of Representatives. By 1856, however, the original inhabitants of Beaver Island had tired of his controlling ways, and in June an assassin shot him in the back. He died several weeks later. Strang’s five wives and nearly one dozen children quickly dispersed. Three months pregnant, his first polygamous wife, Elvira Eliza Field, placed James, the son born after his father’s death, with the David Grier family near Charlotte, Michigan. Thinking it wise to sever all ties to his notorious father, the family changed his name to Charles J. Grier.
Charlie Grier, as he became known, grew up to become an attorney and practiced law in St. Paul, Minnesota. By the 1920s, he and his wife, Glycine Tower, had returned to the family farm in Michigan with their two sons, Philip and Paul. The older boy, Philip (Barbara’s father), apparently inherited some of his illustrious and egocentric ancestor’s hunger for power and women. While a student at Ferris Institute, he married Iva Schneckenberger in 1922, earned a B.S. degree in pharmacy two years later and passed the Michigan State Board exam for pharmacists. By the time Iva filed for divorce eight years later on the grounds of cruelty, Philip had fathered two sons, William and Brewster, but felt no obligation to provide for them after he married Dorothy Black. Upon learning that his sons had resorted to shooting crows to keep food on the table, Dorothy secretly slipped their mother small amounts of money and food.
It did not take Dorothy long to realize Philip was a pathological liar who liked to impress women by passing himself off as a physician during his travels as a pharmaceutical company salesman. He had a penchant for women in uniform, especially nurses and waitresses. Determined to avoid the short-lived relationships of her mother and grandmother, the hopelessly romantic Dorothy forgave his womanizing and kept her marriage together by keeping her temper and “not digging too deeply in the barrel.” The couple moved frequently to accommodate Philip’s perpetual quest for advancement. In the fall of 1933 they were living in Cincinnati, Ohio, when Dorothy gave birth to the first of their three children, named Barbara Glycine after her maternal great-grandmother Barbaretta and paternal grandmother Glycine.
Oblivious to her father’s philandering and scheming, Barbara relished being an only child for the first six years of her life. She delighted in the times when Philip took “Daddy’s girl” to museums or taught her to ride a bicycle. The loss of her two front teeth during a childhood accident left her with a permanent partial plate and a reluctance to smile for the camera, but did not dampen her sense of adventure. She listened for hours as her father told colorful stories about their family, and she later chose many of her pen names from both sides of her family tree. Unfortunately, her chain-smoking, heavy-drinking, womanizing father preferred dressing well and driving nice cars to taking responsibility for his wife and daughters. When they moved from one town to the next, as they frequently did, he routinely left unpaid rent, store accounts and utility bills.
After Dorothy gave birth to a second daughter, Diane, in 1939, Philip became an intermittent presence in the home. Determined to keep the girls close to their father and to pressure him into providing for them, Dorothy followed him from Detroit to Chicago to several small communities in Colorado. Philip returned home just often enough to get her pregnant a third time, but by the time she gave birth to Barbara’s youngest sister, Penelope (Penni), in October 1943, Philip had abandoned his family for good. After witnessing her father’s treatment of her mother, Barbara reflected years later that he could “charm anyone into anything—any sex, any age, and then literally skin them inside and out. I don’t think my father noticed anyone at all except himself. He wasn’t cruel, but he suffered from a permanent erection.”
Disillusioned and disappointed with her father, Barbara struggled to navigate the emotional chaos wrought by her parents’ failed relationship. Their experience did not match what she had seen in movies or read about in novels. In her anger, she lashed out at her mother: “You let my father make you into a mewling puking idiot. I can understand why you had me, but why did you have the other two mistakes?” Unable to rely on her father, disappointed by her mother’s behavior and separated by nearly six years from her next youngest sister, Barbara sought refuge in books. Her favorites quickly became stories about unrequited love, noble heroines and unattainable women.
In the years to come, the Grier family’s failure to put down roots in any one community affected all of the girls by positioning them as perpetual outsiders. It was especially difficult for the adolescent Barbara. In addition to being the product of a broken home, she was precocious, and other children resented her eagerness to answer her teacher’s questions. They taunted her by twisting her middle name, Glycine (the botanical name for wisteria), into glycerin and Lysol. One of the short stories she wrote later in life was set in the Colorado of her pre-teenage years and recounted how seventh-graders stoned an unpopular girl as she walked home from school. Whether the stones were real or fictional, Barbara’s lack of social skills had their origins in childhood.
Dorothy Grier struggled to cope in wartime Colorado Springs. Philip, true to form, could not be relied upon to provide financial support. Meanwhile, economic opportunities for women had shrunk as veterans returned home from World War II to reclaim their jobs. By 1946, the now-divorced Dorothy had become so overwhelmed by the difficulty of feeding, clothing and housing her daughters that she returned home to Detroit after placing eight-year-old Diane and three-year-old Penni in a Catholic orphanage in Oklahoma City. Separated because of their age difference, they could not even console one another about the abrupt change in their lives or the abandonment they felt. Barbara, who balked at the prospect of life in an orphanage, remained briefly with her father, who had remarried, but made herself so intentionally disagreeable that he soon consented to let her join her mother.
For the next year, Dorothy and Barbara lived with nonjudgmental, outgoing and positive Aunt Anabel (Nana), who provided a supportive atmosphere while Dorothy re-composed her life. Barbara flourished in the artistic, female-centered house at 50 Webb Avenue, where her mother and aunt would spontaneously break into songs from operas and Broadway musicals. Barbara remembered her mother singing “every opera, every operetta number” to the point that her childhood became a series of musical numbers. She also absorbed valuable lessons passed down from her great-grandmother, the Christian Science practitioner Retta Brown. From Retta’s legacy, Barbara learned “that I was the master of my body…I also learned that you don’t have to feel pain if you don’t want to and the way you surmount difficulty was to work twice as hard.”17 A quick study, Barbara learned to deal with difficulties by experiencing them and then moving on, seemingly without regret. She may have fretted about upcoming events, but she refused to linger on past flaws or missteps. While this trait led some to regard Barbara as insensitive, it was a survival tactic that served her well throughout her life.
Barbara made the earth-shattering discovery of her lesbianism shortly before her thirteenth birthday. In retrospect, she remembered developing crushes on slightly older girls beginning in her eighth year, when she fell “madly in love with my babysitter.” She also routinely fell in love with “lady gym teachers” and was devastated when her family’s frequent moves forced her to leave them behind. Childhood, she reflected, was “wrapped in a memory of sitting silently in the right hand [sic] corner of the back seat of cars travelling away from this city or that, weeping.” In 1946, at age thirteen, Barbara informed her friend, Barbara Shier, that she was crazy about her. Aware such feelings ran counter to most societal practice, they decided to research the subject. After taking the Woodward Avenue streetcar to the Detroit Public Library, Barbara marched up to the reference librarian with Shier in tow and requested books about homosexuals, a term she had discovered in her father’s medical dictionary. Returning home after a day of research, Barbara matter-of-factly informed her mother: “I am a homosexual.”
Unlike many parents of the era, Dorothy Grier was remarkably nonjudgmental about her daughter’s sexuality. As a young woman she had encountered gays and lesbians in the New York City theatre scene, and she was untroubled by religious condemnations of homosexuality, in part because she grew away from her mother’s faith and became an agnostic. Thus, when there were momentary upsets during Barbara’s teen years because of her lesbianism, her mother never acted “as if there was anything shameful or degrading.” Upon hearing her daughter’s news, Dorothy matter-of-factly informed Barbara that the correct term for female homosexuals was “lesbian” and explained that her feelings for girls could be a phase, but either way, she should just “play as honest a game always as possible.” Her mother further explained that some people would disapprove but most would judge her as a person, not a type. She also planted the seed for Barbara’s later interest in biography by naming several “fine people in history” who were homosexuals yet “still honored and successful.”
Since the Griers were a reading family, Dorothy knew her daughter would want titles of books about lesbians. She recommended two: Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), which she had read while Barbara was still in the womb, and a novel about an operatic diva. Her ability to recall plot but not title provided Barbara with her first opportunity for lesbian literary detection, and in time she identified the second book as Marcia Davenport’s Of Lena Geyer (1936). Through reading and further conversation with her understanding mother, Barbara accepted the feelings she had for babysitters, classmates, family friends and even relatives as something positive.
Barbara’s self-esteem flourished because of her mother’s sensitive treatment of her sexuality, and also because her teachers recognized her academic potential and encouraged her intellectual curiosity. During Barbara’s freshman year in high school she was chosen, along with other gifted students, to take a battery of tests at the University of Michigan. At their conclusion she learned she was eligible for a four-year scholarship to the university. Since this achievement coincided with her coming out as a lesbian, Barbara concluded lesbians must be superior individuals. Her aspirations thus fueled, she dreamed of studying psychiatric medicine and becoming a physician.
By mid-1948 Dorothy had recovered enough to resume her responsibilities as a mother to three daughters. While it might have been easier for Dorothy to remain with her family in Detroit, an environment she loved second only to the New York City of her childhood, she chose to live in close proximity to Philip Grier, the womanizer she hopelessly continued to love. Accompanied by Barbara, Dorothy retrieved Diane and Penni from the orphanage and rented a home in Colorado Springs, less than three hours’ drive from Leadville, Colorado, where Philip was living with his third wife, a nurse named Marie Upp.
As the lesbian daughter of an agnostic, Barbara certainly did not conform to Saturday Evening Post images of post-World War II era teenagers. Classmates in Colorado Springs viewed her as a city slicker and know-it-all because she never hesitated to respond when teachers asked questions. Dorothy, preoccupied with providing food and shelter for her daughters, was not a disciplinarian. As a result, Barbara “was already doing pretty much what I pleased.” She later recalled: “I was as wild as the law allows from thirteen on. I fell in love in every town and tried to go to bed with each of them.” Her pattern was to choose women who were just beyond her reach because of their age or social class, and on occasion they returned just enough attention to encourage her advances.
Unabashedly proud of her lesbian identity, Barbara found it difficult to comprehend why some members of the community regarded her as a threat. During the social and political upheavals following the Great Depression and World War II, however, Americans became increasingly concerned about what they deemed aberrant sexual behavior. The much publicized release of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) heightened general awareness of homosexuality. Selling more than 200,000 copies, the book revealed that a significant percentage of people had at least one same-sex experience, and that ten percent of males in Kinsey’s sample were “predominantly homosexual between the ages of 16 and 55.” At the same time, politicians like senators Kenneth Wherry (R-Nebraska) and Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) incorporated fear of sexual perversion into their attacks on Communists and liberals. Magazine articles warned readers of the inherent danger of gender inversion, urging citizens to be on their guard against effeminate men and lesbian wives. In this context, police, psychologists, school counselors and others who worked with teenagers sought to curb the homosexual behaviors they associated with delinquency.
Barbara’s open interest in women greatly distressed her Colorado Springs high school counselor, who wrung his hands and lamented, “Whatever are we going to do with you?” Once, the parents of a young woman Barbara wanted to bed objected to her walking their daughter back and forth to practice at the Broadmoor Hotel’s ice-skating arena. Another time, Barbara was called to the counselor’s office and confronted by two police officers who took her to the station and grilled and badgered her for several hours because she had spoken to a woman at a bus stop. Before releasing Barbara, they issued a strict injunction that she should never again use the bus stop or go near this woman’s workplace. Unfortunately, it was the Peak Theatre, one of Barbara’s favorite places to while away the hours. The encounter merely strengthened her resolve, and as her counselor observed, Barbara was not afraid of people and it was virtually impossible to intimidate her.
The public library often provided Barbara with a safe haven during the chaos of her teen years, and books became her steadfast friends. As long as she had the printed word, there was nothing from which she could not escape, mentally or otherwise. “Books are things to read, to hold to the light, to put on shelves sometimes so that the sun strikes them with amber tones, to hold to your chest for comfort.”Alienated from mainstream peers and emotionally detached from her younger sisters, Barbara followed a path similar to many other pre-Stonewall era gays and lesbians who searched books to find validation of their identity and a sense of connectedness to the gay and lesbian past. Books with gay and lesbian content, however minimal it might be, validated their existence by offering assurance that they were not aberrations, and provided the language needed for discussing their sexuality.
Barbara’s book-collecting habit began at sixteen when she stole her local library’s only copy of The Well of Loneliness. Her desire to own lesbian books intensified in 1950 when a deeply closeted older woman named “Peggy” furtively shared several treasured items she kept hidden in the trunk of her car: Diana by Diana Fredericks, Loveliest of Friends by G. Sheila Donisthorpe, and We Too Are Drifting by Gale Wilhelm. Inspired, Barbara searched the shelves of Cramer’s bookstore in Kansas City, Missouri, for a used copy of the Wilhelm book, and by the end of the year had discovered nearly a dozen lesbian titles that became the foundation of her collection. Over the years, as her library grew into the thousands, the cheap, stained 1938 reprint of We Too Are Drifting occupied a special place in her heart. “I shared it,” she explained, “indeed, took good advantage of it during the courtship of my first serious lover.”
In addition to novels, Barbara developed a love for poetry and an obsession with the poets who created it. Because of her conviction that many of the world’s creative and powerful women were lesbians, she spent many hours trying to confirm that her favorite poets were lesbians. In her teens she was “madly in love” with American lyric poet Sara Teasdale, read all of her works, and sensed that Teasdale’s emotional connections were with women, not men. She put Teasdale aside after laying out her evidence to lesbian bibliographer Jeannette Howard Foster, who told her the poet was not “pertinent.” Years later, in the 1970s, when feminist literary scholars explored the poet’s intense female friendships, Barbara felt vindicated because her earlier suspicion had been confirmed.
Barbara’s coming of age as a lesbian coincided with the proliferation of fiction with gay and lesbian characters in the late 1940s. According to literary historian Ray Lewis White, World War II led Americans “to write seriously and to read understandingly” about homosexual life, in part because the military prompted recruits to define their sexuality. In the postwar years authors became increasingly frank in their discussion of gay and lesbian themes and characters. Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (1948), a gay coming-of-age story, is significant as one of the first novels to challenge stereotypes by featuring an athletic and masculine gay protagonist. More typically, novelists portrayed gay characters in a negative light. Richard Brooks’s The Brick Foxhole (1945), for instance, recounted the murder of a gay interior decorator who picked up soldiers. In another instance, Mary B. Miller, who wrote The Christmas Tree (1949) under the pseudonym Isabel Bolton, told the story of a gay man who killed his lover by pushing him over a balcony to illustrate “part of the monstrous, wholesale and unspeakable melodrama that was afflicting the world today.” In contrast, fictional lesbians of the 1940s appeared less dangerous than their male counterparts. In Dorothy Cowlin’s Winter Solstice (1943), a same-sex romantic attachment cured a woman after eight years of invalidism, but the relationship was brief and ended when both women married. Meanwhile, most of the devoted readers who devoured Ladies’ Home Journal columnist Gladys Taber’s charming tales of two women’s life together at Stillmeadow Farm remained unaware of its mild-mannered presentation of lesbian companionship.
Readers who sought franker portrayals of homosexuality had to look elsewhere, and beginning in the 1950s they found it in the emerging paperback book market readily available at newsstands. The publication of Women’s Barracks (1950), by Tereska Torrès, opened the floodgates with its tale of the passionate attachments formed between experienced older women and young innocents living and working together in an urban military barracks. In order to be published, such books had to conform to societal proscriptions requiring authors to depict lesbians as depraved and self-destructive. As the 1950s progressed, readers could select from many books written by male authors, as well as novels by Ann Bannon, Valerie Taylor, and Marijane Meaker, whose pseudonyms included Ann Aldrich and Vin Packer. In addition to popularizing the word “lesbian,” argues historian Yvonne Keller, pulp novels ensured that images of lesbian life, no matter how tawdry, reached a mass audience. Many pulps also presented lesbians as normal working-class or low-level professional women, a significant departure from earlier literary works portraying lesbians as wealthy women.
Initially, Barbara felt satisfied just to find gays and lesbians portrayed in novels, but the more she read, the more she became aware of the disconnect between her mother’s calm acceptance of lesbianism and the negative stigma permeating printed portrayals of lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s. She lacked the vocabulary to articulate her feelings, but instinctively knew that the pulp fiction market and the small handful of lesbian titles in the press played a major role in shaping how lesbians viewed themselves. As much as Barbara loved dramatic stories about tortured souls, she yearned for the existence of positive lesbian fiction, even if she had to create it herself.
During that time, Barbara took refuge in darkened movie theaters, where she watched Bette Davis in Dark Victory (1939), and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944) and Key Largo (1948). She especially admired Davis and Katharine Hepburn for their “wonderful figures” and the boyish roles they so often played. When movie theaters closed for the night, Barbara lounged in hotel lobbies reading newsstand magazines or walked in local parks, all the while dreaming of a time when films featured heroines falling in love with one another.
Growing up without close adult supervision, Barbara had no one to discourage her association with local “toughs.” After the Griers settled in Kansas City, Kansas, during her senior year in high school, she hung out with a young man named Zedick Braden, who taught her lessons about street smarts and survival skills that informed her behavior later in life. When he took her cruising in his car, he had a wooden plate attached to the bumper and used it to push aside cars that got in his way. Years later, when Barbara found herself in difficult situations, she jokingly wished it were possible to summon him and his car to the rescue.
Barbara attended three high schools during her senior year: one in Colorado Springs; another in Dodge City, Kansas; and the third in Kansas City, Kansas. According to Barbara, the move from Dodge City to Kansas City occurred because she was caught making out with another girl in the teachers’ lounge. When Barbara graduated from Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, in the spring of 1951, she knew there was no money for college, so she searched for and found the first of many clerical-level jobs she would hold in her lifetime.
Once in Kansas City, Dorothy Grier had settled into a stable secretarial position and at long last was able to provide Diane and Penni, then thirteen and nine, with the stability that had eluded Barbara’s childhood. Dorothy made household chores enjoyable by telling funny stories and singing show tunes. Diane and Penni recall other children flocking to their home because Dorothy was “every child’s friend,” someone “who had nothing to offer but understanding, kindness and friendship.” On Friday afternoons, the two girls took the bus downtown to meet their mother at the end of the work week. After rushing to the bank to deposit her pay so checks written earlier in the week would not bounce, Dorothy treated the girls to a restaurant meal and a movie, her six hours of heaven each week.
Meanwhile, Barbara spent so little time at home that her younger sisters regarded her as a stranger. Once, when she came home ill, they took great delight in tormenting the relative stranger lying in the bedroom. In a tearful moment years later, Penni (ten years younger than her oldest sister) confessed that she had no memories of times spent with Barbara, not even holidays or birthdays. Barbara, on the other hand, had fond memories of taking Penni to the movies. “I had, I thought, been very close to her. It was something of a shock to discover years later that I had deserted her.”
* * *
By her early twenties, Barbara Grier had rough edges in need of smoothing. The lack of parental nurturing, the hand-to-mouth existence after her tenth year, and exposure to the wild side of life whether real or vicarious, imbued her with a “cur instinct” that was never far from the surface. Economic realities killed Barbara’s dream of a college education, but also fueled her determination to succeed. Later in life, she described herself as a “garden variety lesbian, resistant to blight and guaranteed to grow.” Steeped in the Horatio Alger novels she had read as a young girl, Barbara emerged from childhood convinced that anyone who tried could rise from rags to riches with hard work and determination. Setting out to find the stability and material comfort that had eluded her as a young girl, Barbara found both in a part-time job at the Kansas City Public Library in Missouri, where she met a woman who would change her life.