Sally Tatnall (b.1937), a radical feminist and community activist, speaks about her childhood in Buffalo, New York, and what it was like coming of age in the 1940s and 1950s. She describes her marriage to her husband, her civil rights activism and feminist activism with him, and her eventual divorce and introduction to lesbianism. Sally describes life in the lesbian-feminist collective in her Cleveland Heights home, Hag House or Berkshire House, and describes the work of radical feminist Clevelanders including Cleveland Women’s Counseling, the Land Project, the bar the Three of Cups, Oven Productions, the Ohio-Chicago Art Project, and the Women’s Building in Cleveland Heights. The interview gives insight into feminist activism in the 1970s and 1980s in Cleveland, Ohio and details the life and work of Sally Tatnall.
Tatnall, Sally (interviewee)
Swaim-Fox, Callan (interviewer)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:00:00] And you can look at me, you don’t have to look at the camera (laughs).
SALLY TATNALL [00:00:04] That seems a little better (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:00:06] Yeah. Cameras are not always the funnest to look at. So this is Callie Swaim-Fox interviewing Sally Tatnall in her home in Lyndhurst, Ohio on June 5, 2019. So let’s start. Tell me about where you grew up.
SALLY TATNALL [00:00:20] I grew up in Buffalo, New York. And I had three sisters and we all have been very close my whole life. A few years ago I lost the sister closest to me and that was very difficult. I still miss her.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:00:37] Yeah.
SALLY TATNALL [00:00:38] Being all women [was interesting for my dad.] When my mother was pregnant for the 4th time someone asked him if he wanted a boy and he said, no, I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with him.] My Dad passed when I was seventeen and I was the oldest of the four girls. So it was us and my mom and then my grandmother on my mother’s side came to live with us so I think having just women in the household made a difference.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:00:57] For sure.
SALLY TATNALL [00:00:58] We weren’t subjected to what I hear from other women who’ve had older brothers or younger brothers. So that wasn’t an awareness when I was growing up.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:01:13] Yeah. Do you think there’s any other ways that just having just the women shaped you as a young person?
SALLY TATNALL [00:01:24] My mother went to Elmira College and she became a school teacher and so even though [we were well educated we] grew up poor, I mean this, I’m very tuned into class stuff, but because I think she was educated, she knew that men made more money than women. That really annoyed her. But there was never any real analysis of sexism that I was aware of. There was of racism. My parents were very progressive for that time. And I think that helped.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:02:19] Was Buffalo racially integrated or segregated at that time?
SALLY TATNALL [00:02:24] Well, it’s like any city. The Black people lived here, the Italian people lived here, the Polish people lived there. I mean, there were enclaves of different ethnicities, but I suppose you call that integrated.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:02:45] And were you aware of those dynamics growing up?
SALLY TATNALL [00:02:49] I knew that we lived in the Italian neighborhood. That was pretty clear. But I don’t think it mattered. I wasn’t aware that other than it being the Italian neighborhood that there was anything else to think about.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:03:07] Right, right. So you said your mom was a schoolteacher. And what did your dad do?
SALLY TATNALL [00:03:15] He did odds and ends, he was a painter for a while, he was a short-order cook for a while, he was sort of an original hippie, I guess. [He was a very] bright guy. He and I used to debate stuff much to my mother’s chagrin. So, I mean teachers have never been paid well and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that we really didn’t have much. Plus my father was a gambler and so he’d go and blow a wad and then he’d bring home a wad. It was just that was something I was very aware of. That we didn’t have what other kids had. And I became particularly aware of it. Because my mother was a schoolteacher, I had the opportunity to go to the primary school called the State Teacher’s Practice School and it was part of the college and teachers would come and practice, I mean we’d have regular teachers but there was all these other students who were learning to be teachers who would come to the class so I think it was a very elevated educational experience. Because I remember in eighth grade—I’ve had asthma all my life and I’ve missed a lot of school. So in eighth grade, they were concerned about passing me on to high school. So [I took the eighth grade twice.] I left there and went to the eighth grade public school and, I mean, I had A’s in everything because most of it I’d learned a long time ago. So, it was sort of a comparative awareness of “wow I learned that two years ago.”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:05:35] You mean the differences in the schools?
SALLY TATNALL [00:05:37] Yeah, yeah.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:05:38] Right, Right. Were the schools racially different?
SALLY TATNALL [00:05:50] I don’t remember any people of color going to the State School. It was a private school.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:05:58] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [00:05:59] And the girls there—I remember going to a pajama party at one of the houses and it was like “Oh my God!” I mean, they always had so much. And they traveled a lot and they did this and that and even though it was six, seventh, and eighth grade, there still was a lot of [awareness.] I didn’t feel ostracized by anyone but you know when you can’t keep up.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:06:29] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [00:06:32] And the school that I went to was a neighborhood [school]. One of my best friends growing up was a Black girl—or actually we called them negroes in that day, or colored. And we’d go to the downtown Y and play sports and stuff like that, go around, but I don’t remember integration being an issue in schools. You know?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:07:12] Yeah. How was school socially for you, in middle school and beyond?
SALLY TATNALL [00:07:18] Well because I was sick a lot. My family [were Christian Scientists so] I grew up as a Christian Scientist. So that’s partly why I think I was sick so much because medicine was not something that you routinely turned to. It annoys me though [that people only know that about Christian Science] I’ll tell you the philosophical training that I got as a Christian Scientist, I give credit to every day. And the things I learned in that religion, [were awesome. It is based on the reality that] every single person is God’s perfect child. Well if that’s what you grow up with, that’s your life, that’s how you see the world. And I’ve been that way my whole life. So when I hear people only talking about the lack of medical care, it kind of annoys me because there was so much more, and I know that Mrs. Eddy, our leader—her position was if your mind is not free enough to have to know what you know, than you should take something, but you know how the peons (laughs) of any religion set up very cultish behaviors and so, I think that has a lot to do with how Christian Science is [viewed]. But it’s true I was sick a lot and so, we had this little girl gang (laughs). It was Nancy, Juliette, Barbara, my sister Dorothy, and me. And we just [hung out and did stuff], that was it. And we didn’t all go to the same school, we went to actually four different schools, my sister and I went to the same school but Barbara, Juliet, and Nancy they went—oh and Sylvia, they went to other schools. So, we had a pretty tight bond through all of that. Primary and high school. [And it is still true today.]
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:10:00] How was school for you academically?
SALLY TATNALL [00:10:04] Fine. I mean, (laughs) I was never what you’d call a “good student.”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:10:14] (Laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [00:10:15] I had so many other things that I wanted to do (laughs) And I missed a lot of school. But I got good marks. I mean, apparently, I have a decent IQ so I got by. I barely got by in college but I got by, I graduated. And I think that’s when my education began in terms of social justice.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:10:43] And you mentioned outside of school you were doing a lot of things, what were those things—what were you involved in outside of school in high school and middle school?
SALLY TATNALL [00:10:52] We were just a gang of girls, you know? We played [we ran around loose. You can’t do that today.] I don’t know. I’ll tell you one incident. My friend Juliet and I, we worked at a Neisner’s [lunch] counter, which would be like—I don’t know what you have today, are there any department stores that have like a food counter in them?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:11:13] I don’t think so anymore that I can think of.
SALLY TATNALL [00:11:15] Yeah well, we worked at this food counter and we were told we couldn’t keep our tips; they had to go [in] the cash register. And so we used to put them in our shoes. And one day, the boss came in and made us pour the money in our shoes into the cash drawer and then the next day my girlfriend and I—full of indignation—went in and quit (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:11:46] (Laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [00:11:47] Like he cared.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:11:48] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [00:11:49] But we were so [outraged] (makes noise). Nobody was going to do that. Who did he think he was? I always remember that story because (laughs) we were so incensed.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:12:03] Right, Right. Do you remember growing up any lessons from school or your home about sex or sexuality?
SALLY TATNALL [00:12:14] Not really. You know, boy and girl stuff. In those days, it was very different. You had information; you knew how people—women got pregnant. That was pretty clear, and my mother had explained it all to us and, we understood. And so, the connection between sex and getting pregnant was very clear and nobody wanted to get pregnant, so we didn’t have sex. I remember Juliet teaching us all how to kiss (laughs). We all were supposed to kiss our hand, and she’d tell us how to move our lips and it was hysterical when I think back that we were teaching each other how to kiss, but not kissing each other, kissing the boys. And all of this, when I think back—I mean, I’m eighty-one now—it was such a different time. I’m not sure it’s that much better, but it was a very different time. And so, I didn’t even know the word lesbian. It just wasn’t there. There was something about if you were “queer,” you wore green on Thursday. So, that was the extent of [awareness.] And in terms of race, I remember I must have been eleven or so— twelve, asking my father what he would think if I married a black man—or a colored man we’d say—and all he said was he would always support me but he would want me to know it would be very difficult, and I think of that sometimes. I mean, my family, they lived that “everybody’s God’s perfect child” to a degree. And that was how it was. And I also think that I moved through the world not knowing much. I don’t know how young people are today. They seem to know so much more in terms of their environment, but we just sort of—we were who we were and we just went along. Yeah.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:15:05] It’s different (laughs).
SALLY TATNALL [00:15:07] Very, very different.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:15:09] And you said you didn’t know the word lesbian, did you have any sense of—were there anybody in your community that you—that had rumors about that they might have been lesbian or gay, nothing like that?
SALLY TATNALL [00:15:19] Nothing. In my later life, I began to wonder about a couple but, nope. It just didn’t come up. At least in my sector. You know, I am in awe of the women my age and older who knew [they were Lesbian] and never got married and never had kids. It’s just like “How did you do that?” How the hell did [you know?] How did you even meet other women? I am in awe of what they had to deal with.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:15:56] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [00:15:58] Because they were invisible in so many ways. And I think that’s a terrible thing. To have anybody feel invisible. It’s unfortunately how it is.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:16:17] Do you remember any crushes when you were little, of any gender?
SALLY TATNALL [00:16:31] I don’t know that I would have known what a crush was. I had a boyfriend in my junior year. And he was okay and he tried to kiss me once and I avoided it. And then in my senior year I had a boyfriend that I liked and the other thing was that he was a good dancer. I love to dance. And I’m pretty good at it and so he was a good dancer and so I really liked him, and we got along pretty well. We went to prom, stuff like that. But then I went to college, so that was kind of over.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:17:20] But you did, you liked him, and you had a good time with him?
SALLY TATNALL [00:17:23] Yeah. But making out was nothing like what people talk about today. Not even close.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:17:32] What was different about it?
SALLY TATNALL [00:17:34] It was kissing. That was it. Just different. I don’t know how the boys felt. I mean you hear people say that they get all hot and bothered and they got to do it and it’s like, “well if they did, I didn’t know about it.” (laughs) Because it never translated to me. I think when I look at today—and there are some things about today about the sexual freedom that I don’t think is good for women—I feel very sheltered in a way for how I grew up. And it gave me an opportunity to just say “Okay, what is this relationship stuff about?”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:18:32] Right. So then after high school you said you went to college? Tell me about where you went and how you made that decision.
SALLY TATNALL [00:18:40] I went to Alfred University. Actually, I had applied to Duke and the reason I applied to Duke was because I read a lot of stuff. I was a big reader, and when you’re sick a lot you get to read a lot. I had read this stuff about Bridey Murphy. Now, I’m sure that’s an unknown thing to you, but at Duke university they were investigating and researching past lives. And this was a woman who had this past life in which she was Bridey Murphey. I was just fascinated by that. And so I applied to Duke. And I was probationally accepted but then—and I don’t know how it is today, I think it’s probably still the same—but then somebody they call a legatee took the place because their parents had gone to Duke, and that, So, I didn’t have that opportunity. And actually, that’s why my papers are at Duke because I just have this fondness for that. But anyway, I went to Alfred University who is just a couple hours south of Buffalo. Alfred was a private university but the New York State School of Ceramics was at Alfred and so we had both of those things going on. And the man that became my husband was a ceramic engineer. In fact we met like the first week I was there.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:20:31] Wow. So what did you study while you were there?
SALLY TATNALL [00:20:35] Whatever I could—(laughs). Like I say, I wasn’t a good student although I was smart. It’s a weird thing. I think I just started out in general, you have all your stuff you got to do. And then my first thing was political science. Well, I didn’t do so well on that so then I decided I’d be a math major, because I was always good at math. Well, I didn’t do so well at that, so I wound up creating—finishing the requirements for an English major. So that’s how I graduated. But I have to say one thing. The first time I took physics I flunked it. Again, I was playing bridge. I was playing a lot of bridge. And so I had to take physics in summer school to get rid of that F. And so here I am in this physics lab and there’s another girl in the class and she and I are lab partners and the rest of them are boys. This is probably the first time that I really had a sense of bullshit going on. We were in lab one day and we had to conduct this experiment, so she and I put together the experiment, did it carefully the way we were supposed to. And the teacher because our answer was so close to the real answer, he told us we’d cheated. And that man was on my Uzi list for a long time. I just thought if I ever know I’m terminally ill, I’m getting a Uzi and I’m clearing the world of some of these people that have been assholes. So anyway and then the next thing particular to my beginning feminism I suppose but which I wasn’t aware of is that my senior year I joined women’s student government in college and was very active in that. And I was also on probation. Now this is my senior year; I have to do it all in this year or I won’t graduate. So there was only one person running for women’s student government president. I was outraged. I thought that was terrible that there was only one person. So I convinced my advisor that I should run just so there’d be a choice. And that as soon as it was over, I would quit. Well I happened to win the election.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:23:39] (Laughs) Of course, I knew it was coming.
SALLY TATNALL [00:23:40] Which was unfortunate, but, I couldn’t do it because I was on probation. But anyway it was that kind of thing. Little bitty things through my life have certainly brought me to where I am. There’s no question—I have no curiosity about how I got here. And it feels very authentic I guess is the word they use today? (laughs) There is a lot of word usage that I think is silly. But.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:24:19] And then you said that you met your husband. Did you start—or who would be your husband—like tell me about the beginnings of that relationship and how that—
SALLY TATNALL [00:24:29] Well we were—we went everywhere together. And in fact, I heard from one of his fraternity brothers that he came home from this meeting and told them “Stay away from Shirley.” That was my name in school, it’s my legal name. “Stay away from Shirley, she’s my girl” (Laughs). Which, at the time I was flattered, it was like, “Oh whatever.” So we just went out, I mean you know. I didn’t start sleeping with him until I was like a junior in college. And we still didn’t have intercourse. It was like “Oh no, I’m not getting pregnant.”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:25:13] And he was okay with that?
SALLY TATNALL [00:25:15] Yeah. Well he had to be (laughs). He was a good man. He really was. He passed a couple of years ago. He supported me in a lot of ways. I always said I wanted to have a big family. Actually, there was a separation. In my junior year— he was two classes ahead of me so—in my junior year he wasn’t there and he had decided that we should break up. So we did. And I was going out with other guys and I have to tell you, I’ve never been head-over-heels in love with any of the men. Even my husband was my best friend, we had great sex, but I never felt what people talk about in terms of “love.” I also have questions about that too. Not in terms of myself but how we identify love and what it really means. Because there was a lot of love between me and my husband because we were partners in a very real way. But anyway, so we separated. And so then in my senior year, I was just going along. I was going to graduate, go home, be a teacher like my mother, help send my younger kids—there were two of us and there was seven years and two more—when I think about birth control I wonder “How did my mother do that?” but any case, so anyway where was I?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:27:17] After like senior year—
SALLY TATNALL [00:27:19] Oh yeah, I was floating. And all of the sudden, over Christmas vacation of my senior year, up pops this man again. This Fran— R. Francis Tatnall. And he called me and wanted to see me. And at that point he proposed.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:27:42] Wow.
SALLY TATNALL [00:27:43] And so he had been around and I was the one. So, I said “yes,” and we got married in August after my senior year and we went to Darlington PA and I started teaching fifth grade. Loved fifth grade. In the fifth grade in those days, kids didn’t know about boys and girls. They were just who they were. Loved them. I was such a city kid that here we are in this country town—very small town—and the girls decide I should become a girl scout leader (laughs). And so, I’m being a girl scout leader but they’re taking me on the tracks, they’re taking me camping, they’re telling me what I need to do.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:28:36] (Laughs) Right.
SALLY TATNALL [00:28:36] We had a blast actually. But—okay here’s an incidence when I was teaching in Darlington. I’ve never been one for policies that didn’t make sense. So, the first time I got in trouble is I parked my car in another teacher’s spot. Now it wasn’t marked or anything, I had no idea, but I got called into the principal’s office and told I couldn’t park there. No problem, I don’t care. Another incidence I was out on the playground monitoring the kids and a couple kids come running [up] to me “Ms. Tatnall, Ms. Tatnall, you have to come, you have to come” and in those days teachers paddled students. And so here’s this great big huge guy who’s got Kenny Fleishman who’s this fifth grader and a smaller fifth grader but tough, he’s going to paddle him. I was nervous but I said ,“No you don’t” Absolutely not, you don’t have a right to do that. I mean I just faced him head on, “don’t you touch this kid” and he didn’t and that was the end of that. And shortly after that they did stop the paddling but I was outraged, I mean things like that that happened in my life just put me into motion. That was all there was to it.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:30:16] And where do you think—you had a strong feeling when you saw that—like where do you think those feelings that you had came from?
SALLY TATNALL [00:30:22] You don’t hurt—you don’t get to hurt somebody. I mean, come on. You’re six feet. Must weigh 250 and here’s this little runt. No, no, you don’t get to do that.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:30:36] So you think it was more that you just felt it innately?
SALLY TATNALL [00:30:40] It wasn’t fair. Things that aren’t fair have driven me my entire life. Even when I was small. Yeah. Not going to participate (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:30:58] So your husband, what was he doing while you were a teacher?
SALLY TATNALL [00:31:02] He was being a ceramic engineer.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:31:03] Oh. What does a ceramic engineer do (laughs)?
SALLY TATNALL [00:31:05] Well, they do ceramics. Like they build brick, they build nose cones for rockets—anything. It’s the high temperature treatment of inorganic properties and glass—any of that stuff, that’s all about ceramics. So he worked at a factory in Darlington that made brick, and all different kind of brick and different kinds of colors of bricks so he did that. That’s what his job was while I was teaching.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:31:46] And then, how did you guys end up in Cleveland? You went to Cleveland after that?
SALLY TATNALL [00:31:51] No. Well first I had a baby—
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:31:55] Oh wow. How long after you’d been married?
SALLY TATNALL [00:32:01] Two years. I had a baby, a son, and while I was pregnant, he got a job in Cleveland. And so, I stayed there to stay with my doctor. I was terrified of being pregnant. Absolutely terrified. And I went to my doctor [and he] said “Get the book ‘Childbirth without Fear by [Grantly Dick-Reed] and so I go to the library and I ask for this book and the librarian says “Oh, that’s in our restricted area.”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:32:50] (Laughs) Oh my goodness.
SALLY TATNALL [00:32:52] I mean, aren’t you proud of us that we came from there and got to here? Anyway, so okay so I got the book from the restricted area and went home and read it. It didn’t do a whole lot. My doctor did home delivery so he used to take [me on these occasions] I worked as sort of a secretary for him because when I was pregnant I wasn’t teaching. And so he used to take me on home deliveries so I had a lot of experience that I’m sure helped me. And it turned out that having babies was not difficult for me. So that was a good thing. But anyway so Fran is working in Cleveland, I’m having a baby and just staying there for a while, and then (laughs) okay here’s another story. So my sister is helping me. She came to stay with me. And at some point in this process—I don’t know where it came from but I’m sitting in bed nursing the baby and a bat flies through the room. Well, to say I freaked doesn’t even begin to say it. I never went back to that house. I went to my mother’s because I knew we were going to be moving. My sister and I—we went to our mothers. I stayed there until we got to Cleveland.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:34:31] Back in Buffalo?
SALLY TATNALL [00:34:32] Yep.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:34:33] Wow. And so you weren’t working anymore after you’d had the kid?
SALLY TATNALL [00:34:35] Right. I wasn’t working.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:34:36] So you just left.
SALLY TATNALL [00:34:39] But it was a trip and a half.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:34:43] And did you—you said you didn’t want to be pregnant, but did you want children? You knew you wanted children?
SALLY TATNALL [00:34:47] Oh yes, I knew I wanted children. I wanted to have three of my own and I wanted to adopt three. So, six kids. Now, my husband thought one kid would be good.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:34:58] (Laughs) Do you have a sense of why you wanted so many children?
SALLY TATNALL [00:35:06] Because there were kids that needed to be taken care of. And I don’t know, it just seemed like a good thing to do. And I did have three children and adopted one biracial child. But it was different it was—if I knew then what I knew today, I wouldn’t have done any of it. But that information was not available.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:35:36] Like what information?
SALLY TATNALL [00:35:40] (sighs) All of it. All of the stuff about women being empowered, about women having more choices, about—I don’t know that I would have gotten married, I don’t believe in the institution and I don’t—if I had known then what I know now, I don’t think I’d have gotten married. You know, it’s funny that gay people have fought so hard to be married it’s like “why?” It’s ridiculous. But in any case.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:36:24] When you were married and having your children did you feel like you were limited in any ways or were you happy with where you were at the point?
SALLY TATNALL [00:36:32] I was happy. And I didn’t feel limited because I did whatever I wanted to do. If I wanted to visit, I would just haul the kids into the car and then go visit. And my husband was very supportive of me. I lived a fairly independent existence in a way. We got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I’d always have somebody come over to the house. I was a socialist there for a while. And there was always somebody staying at the house. Now this is not something my husband signed up for at all. He wanted just how it is—mom and dad and kids doing what they’re supposed to do. So we got involved in a youth thing, an organization oh what was it called—I don’t remember but there was this building. It was a big big house called The Well and all the hippie kids play guitar and a lot of integration was happening and so we were very—I was very involved in that and Fran did somewhat. We were involved in book groups, very integrated, very integrated circumstances. And I can remember reading a book, I don’t remember the name of it. See, I don’t know where this came from. Because it certainly wasn’t something that I was taught. But somehow in this book it was all about how animals come together and how they breed—all I know is that there was this statement that the male lion chooses the female lion or the male of the species does all of this in order to attract the female, so they were putting forth this male-dominant position. And I can remember thinking clearly, "Well wait a minute. Isn’t it the woman who says, ‘do you think you can do enough to get me?’” I mean, it just was in me that no, you don’t just say that. So there’s always been that in me. And I would challenge stuff that came up that didn’t fit that, you know.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:39:40] You were talking about The Well and this like kind of racial justice work. Was that in [Cleveland] Heights or—
SALLY TATNALL [00:39:46] No, it was in Cleveland.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:39:48] Which neighborhood?
SALLY TATNALL [00:39:50] Probably in East Cleveland actually.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:39:51] Okay. So is that where—where did your kids grow up? When you had your kids, what neighborhood—
SALLY TATNALL [00:39:58] We lived in East Cleveland.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:40:00] East Cleveland, Okay.
SALLY TATNALL [00:40:01] Yeah. On Stanwood right next to Shaw High School.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:40:06] And what was East Cleveland—what years would that have been—what was East Cleveland like at that point?
SALLY TATNALL [00:40:11] It would have been in the sixties. Very integrated.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:40:17] Really?
SALLY TATNALL [00:40:19] I can remember going to [the zoning board. We] wanted to protest something that had to do with zoning and this Well place and I remember we all gathered, black and white mothers, and we changed kids so that all the white mothers had the black kids and all the black mothers had the white kids. And we just went down to city hall and said, “This is bullshit” So, we were always doing stuff like that. I would say from ‘65 on. I don’t remember when—were you even born then?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:41:04] Me?
SALLY TATNALL [00:41:05] Yeah, ‘65?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:41:06] Oh no, I was born in the nineteen nineties.
SALLY TATNALL [00:41:10] Okay. So it was a lot. I will say about my life, I have been able to experience some of the greatest movements there have been in my opinion. Socialism, communism, civil rights, women’s rights. And I have to say quite frankly that the LGBT crew doesn’t have a single leg to stand on in terms of what they have been up against. I’m sorry, you know. All of this paved a way for you to just step on some platform and now everybody thinks you’re great. I get annoyed about that sometimes.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:42:06] So I know that at that time in downtown Cleveland was when the integration happened in the schools and stuff so it was definitely a very active time for that.
SALLY TATNALL [00:42:16] Oh yes.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:42:18] And so it was mostly you, and Fran supported that?
SALLY TATNALL [00:42:21] Yeah, he really did. Fran hung in there, like I say, he was a good man. So anyways so we’re coming up to one day there’s going to be this conference at Case on women’s liberation and so this friend of mine and— But wait how—somewhere in there we moved to New Jersey. He takes some other kind of job and so we move to New Jersey and that was during the time that we were adopting this kid and we had to shift from Cleveland to Trenton, New Jersey, so that’s really where the adoption happened. We were only in New Jersey for I’d say two years at the most. Were we there two years? Anyway we came back to Cleveland and all of it was Fran’s job. You know it was a good thing I wasn’t working because I just had to pick up and move. And so that was not even something that I even thought was odd. Always got another job or going somewhere else. So it was after that period that I contacted this friend because now we’re not in East Cleveland anymore now we’re in Cleveland Heights. So I called up my friend and I said, “Do you want to go to this meeting?” and she said “yes,” so we went to this meeting, this conference. And there were workshops. And there was this workshop called “consciousness raising” and we’d never heard of anything like that so we decided to go. Well I’ll tell you, that was a marker. I mean, everything had led me to that point but that was a marker that pulled an awful lot together and so we started a consciousness raising group. There was a women’s building sort of in East Cleveland and they had all the books, you know we read all the books. My husband read all the books. He was as much into feminism as anybody could be. He started a men’s group, so feminism just fit. It was like, “Oh my gosh, this is about me.” Everything else had been about other people who were not treated right, but this was about me. And while I never felt oppressed consciously—you know I’d look back on things. Like I remember once having this argument with my husband about music appreciation. See some of the discussions we would get into were amazing (laughs). And I had my definition, he had his definition. And they were not the same. And later he came to me and said that his brother had sided with me so he guessed I was right. His brother? I mean.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:46:32] You said it!
SALLY TATNALL [00:46:33] Exactly, so stuff like that, but I felt as though I personally had escaped a lot of punishment and pain in my life up to that point.
(Takes a break)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:48:17] Okay, so you talked a little bit about how you kind of came into feminism and what that meant for you and your family. How did you come into lesbianism? How did that fit into your feminism or how did that come in for you?
SALLY TATNALL [00:48:32] Well the first person to call me a lesbian was my husband. He called me a political lesbian. There was a book called Lesbian Nation by Jill Johnston. Have you read it?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:48:47] I’ve read parts of it.
SALLY TATNALL [00:48:48] And she talks about all this stuff and he read it—he was reading what I was reading and he said “You know what? You’re a political lesbian.” And I was just reading everything. This was when my real education began. So now I have a PhD in feminism but they don’t care about that.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:49:18] (Laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [00:49:22] I would go to the meetings we started something called—okay there’s this other series of things. A very good friend of mine—close friend from East Cleveland—was starting the Free Clinic. And so I would go down there and be one of these intake people and there were these abortion counselors at the Free Clinic who would talk with the women who came in to get information. And at that time the Free Clinic was male anger, dominant, everything, it was disgusting. And so we talked and I said, “They shouldn’t have to come here” They did but so what we did was we set up a phone—my phone number and I would talk to the women and then refer them to one of the counselors so they would just go and really meet with the counselor they didn’t have to go through the rest of the crap.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:50:41] So you’re saying women that were looking for an abortion?
SALLY TATNALL [00:50:43] Yeah.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:50:43] And is this pre-Roe? Or this is—
SALLY TATNALL [00:50:45] Oh yeah, yes. This is Pre-Roe. And so this group was called Cleveland Women’s Counseling. And we would meet and—those were such wonderful days. I’m so sorry that that isn’t available today. I really am because they were wonderful days. We talked about everything. One of the things that Cleveland Women’s Counseling did, we had a group, there were five of us who put together this four-page questionnaire. We traveled to New York, we traveled to D.C., and we interviewed these abortion clinics that we were referring to and then we came back. It was the Free Clinic, Planned Parenthood, Clergy Consultation and us who did all the abortion referral in Cleveland. So we had these documents we gave to all the other people—I’ll tell you, smart women. That’s it. That is where it's at. And we did all that. I was a rabid feminist. I really was.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:52:08] And this is all while you’re married?
SALLY TATNALL [00:52:10] Yeah. We were more involved with the group of people who were like-minded. In fact, a girlfriend—a friend lived in our house for awhile and I remember going to my first lesbian party. She was bi, and she had a lesbian girlfriend. And I went to a party with her. I was freaked out. And I had all these feelings it was like “Oh my god, Oh my god what am I doing?” You know? It was like, I didn’t know how to handle anything really. Because I was this staunch feminist—Ti-Grace Atkinson, is that a name you know well? Another – sorry because she’s brilliant. Had said feminism is the theory lesbianism is the practice. So that was there. In any case, so I go to that party and so I’m involved in this women’s center, I’m involved in Cleveland Women’s Counseling. They’re all intermeshed and there’s this woman who she’s sort of started to be there. She was always showing up and I wasn’t aware of anything because I had in my clear eyes and so she’s there and this is very active in the abortion rights movement. Still am. (I was at a radical feminist meeting conference meeting in the spring and there I was so bold as to say “We got you abortion and you lost it” because what have you been doing? And I blame a lot on the academic women’s studies stuff. What were they doing, you know? So you were reading what we wrote but they weren’t turning out activists at a radical feminist level. At least not in terms of what I’ve seen. So here we are, still fighting for abortion.) But anyway so we’re putting together this project and everybody’s involved. The Planned Parenthood, the Salvation Army the—name all these social service organizations. We’re all going to come together to talk about what we do about this issue of abortion and we’re going to have a conference and we’re going to have speakers and everything so that we know so that we have a sense of what’s going on. The Catholic Church said “No” and we never had it. But what happened at that conference is that this guy came. [Harry Levin. He helped us get Preterm started.] So I go to this party. This New Year’s Eve party. And so here’s this girl that I’d hung out with, always was there and somehow she came home with me and slept with me and all of a sudden she was kissing me and it was like something shifted. It was a big shift. And I told my husband. And he was devastated. I don’t feel sorry for him, but I think he always thought we would grow old together. But anyway, so back to the abortion thing, so this guy is there with two women who are looking to start a clinic and they put together Preterm. I was still doing the abortion referral service in my bedroom so that was still going on so we moved that all of that stuff and information to the Preterm clinic and there were a lot of doctors that helped us... I don’t know, I look back and I miss some of those days because we were so active and we were doing such good work. At least we felt we were doing good work and I think we were. I don’t know.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:58:01] How many women were in Cleveland Women’s Counseling, like how many women were—
SALLY TATNALL [00:58:06] There were probably—actively there were about ten of us.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:58:09] And you were all receiving the calls and referring people?
SALLY TATNALL [00:58:13] We were taking turns but the information was in my bedroom. It was set up like an office and then we’d rotate. We’d take time shifts.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:58:25] Was it a twenty-four-hour thing or was it during the day?
SALLY TATNALL [00:58:27] No, no it was during the day.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:58:28] During the day.
SALLY TATNALL [00:58:30] And like I said we did this investigation of the clinics that we were referring to so we referred to doctors in the town that were more—it really was about birth control. And in those days, all of us we looked at our cervix, we had our speculums, we learned a lot. That was when Our Bodies, Ourselves was coming out. Women wanted to know. And you can thank Women’s Liberation for advocacy in healthcare because we said, “No, you shouldn’t have to go alone.” Because when we’d talk in these CR sessions, doctors were laying bullshit on us and we said, “No no, that’s not fair, we’re not doing that” and again, if it wasn’t fair, I was against it (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:59:36] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [00:59:36] And that’s really how it layed out. So, by this time, so we start so somewhere around there is when Roe v. Wade passed so that we could set up this clinic.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:59:51] Because it was—what you were doing was legal but it was—
SALLY TATNALL [00:59:54] Oh, yeah.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:59:55] Going along the lines of legality—I mean you had to go along the lines of—
SALLY TATNALL [00:59:58] Right.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [00:59:59] What was legal and where.
SALLY TATNALL [01:00:01] But when Roe v. Wade came out then Preterm established itself and we were on our way.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:00:09] What role did you play in getting Preterm established?
SALLY TATNALL [01:00:13] Well I was part of Cleveland Women’s Counseling, the women who ran Preterm were Cleveland Women’s Counseling, so I was a founder. I was working at the time so I couldn’t go and work there but as soon as they had a job which was pretty fast actually, I went in and was in charge of the phone referral system at Preterm.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:00:38] Oh wow.
SALLY TATNALL [01:00:39] The whole, just abortion referral, birth control. We did so much around women’s health. It wasn’t just abortion, it all was about feminism and empowering women. So that was all going on and I worked there for ten years, so that was all going on while I was living this sort of lesbian lifestyle.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:01:09] When you were—when it was just women’s counseling, how did you get the word out, like how did women know to call this number to talk to you?
SALLY TATNALL [01:01:15] Women just knew. (Laughs)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:01:17] Yeah? You didn’t do work to try to get it out? They just knew to come to you?
SALLY TATNALL [01:01:25] Yeah. I don’t remember any PR campaign or anything. We were with Planned Parenthood, the Free Clinic, Clergy Consultation, and we knew a lot of doctors. I remember once going to the hospital. One of the doctors was doing a second trimester abortion and the woman needed to have somebody with her and so I went and in those days they did it differently. They injected something into the uterus that essentially killed the fetus and then she delivered it and she was on the maternity floor and so the nurses were not [all that supportive.] that’s why we went, because this woman needed support for what she was doing and the nurses at that time were not especially grateful that we were there.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:02:29] Right, right.
SALLY TATNALL [01:02:33] But in any case—Again though, feminism is where I’m at. Yes, now I am living as a lesbian but feminism is where I’m at. When I left my husband I went to live [with 2 other Lesbians.] But we got divorced and I got the house in Cleveland Heights, because we had another house in New Jersey that we hadn’t sold and he took that house and I took it was a big house, so women lived there and you know, women who were feminists and lesbians lived there. You know, you just met them. I remember—it was a shock to me to find out that not all lesbians are feminists. I can remember being at the bar and sitting at the bar next to this woman and starting to talk about feminism and oppression and she looked at me and said, “What are you talking about? I’ve never been oppressed. I always played baseball as a kid.” I was stunned. It was like “Wow, Wow” (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:03:46] (Laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [01:03:48] So, anyway, so the house became a referral place. Like a friend of mine—in fact we were just talking about a month ago. She said, “I remember” —she lived in Painesville and there were like four or five of them looking for lesbians and so they got involved at the Center but they knew it wasn’t what they were looking for and finally someone at the center said, “Well you have to go to Sally’s on Friday night.”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:04:21] (Laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [01:04:22] And they came. And that’s how—it’s like “Yes, this is what we’re looking for” So, the house became very infamous. Everybody knew—well anybody who paid attention knew. We’d have gigantic parties there. And we started a lot of stuff. It wasn’t just Cleveland Women’s Counseling or abortion or Rape Crisis or Battered Women, it was everything, it was just whatever women needed, we were bound and determined that that was going to happen. We had empowerment groups, we eventually got a women’s building together and we had—the thing at my house was the feminist forum. And so we’d read—it was like a reading group. We read Mary Daley, we read all of the radical work at the time. There was a—well if you saw JEB’s book, you know there was a fitness center there. We had all kinds of classes, we had a feminist library, lending library, we had the Women’s Variety Show, which has been going on—this is the first year we haven’t had it, and I guess we’re not going to, but it went for forty-three years.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:05:59] Right. What time is it? I want to make sure—its 32.
SALLY TATNALL [01:06:02] Okay, yes we have let’s say five minutes.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:06:05] Five minutes, okay. There’s so many places we can go (laughs). I want to go back a little bit and talk about—was it just that one time with that one woman when you decided you needed to leave or—
SALLY TATNALL [01:06:15] Oh no. We started a relationship and I did not leave the house.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:06:21] Really?
SALLY TATNALL [01:06:22] Which was not good. I think it was very painful for my husband. I was in such a different space. That I didn’t know. And so he finally asked me to leave. He said, “You have to leave” and there was no—he was going to keep the kids. I knew that he had a professional job. I knew that I’d never be able to work and have four kids and do what I felt I needed to do. So, before that though we had separated. I had said to him—we weren’t sleeping together there for a bit because I couldn’t be in the institution of marriage. That was where I was coming from, that it was bad for women. Well it’s immaterial what would have happened, but I was so clear about what was needed that I would just take these steps. And Fran went along with it. He was a good man caught in a spiral that he could not have anticipated.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:07:56] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [01:07:57] So. And I have some sadness about that for him. He since got remarried, and all that.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:08:10] Was it hard having the children go with him?
SALLY TATNALL [01:08:13] No.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:08:14] No?
SALLY TATNALL [01:08:16] And they’re still with me, in many ways, you know?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:08:21] Were you, did you visit them and such like that?
SALLY TATNALL [01:08:23] Oh yeah, yeah. I had weekend duties and yeah. I was still a part but not like a mother would be. I was very busy doing a lot of stuff.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:08:51] You sure was.
SALLY TATNALL [01:08:52] We started so many organizations that had to do with anything that was troubling to women. We would start something—in fact, I was thinking about I should find that list on my computer of the organizations that we stared because—
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:09:13] Right, there’s so many of them.
SALLY TATNALL [01:09:15] Huge, huge. Yeah.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:09:18] Well why don’t we pause this here for today.
SALLY TATNALL [01:09:21] Sounds good.
END OF DAY ONE
DAY TWO, JUNE 7, 2019
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:09:31] Okay. So I want to kind of—we were talking last time about how you got involved in feminism and how you got involved in lesbianism and I just kind of want to back up a little bit and I want you to help me understand how that shift happened. You were, you said a raging feminist, and you were married and how—like that time you went to that party and you were with that woman, what changed in your mind, what was that shift to go into being a lesbian and what changed there for you?
SALLY TATNALL [01:10:12] I think I fell in love. You know? I don’t know except that all of the sudden I felt something I hadn’t felt before. And it wasn’t the sex. Really. But it was so much of who we were together. We had been doing a lot together. And different protests—there was a newspaper, a women’s newspaper in Cleveland for many years, What She Wants—and the Cleveland State Archives has the full [set of these issues.]
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:11:07] Oh wonderful.
SALLY TATNALL [01:11:08] A friend of mine had all of them and she recently gave them to Roberta for the Cleveland State Archives. So that’s something. And I just know I felt different. You know, it’s hard to explain. I think it was a combination of feminism, of feeling like I was in love, and also with this very heady experience of being a woman and realizing how amazing that was. So they all went together. And of course, I spent years being really pissed off at the condition of women. Still am pissed off at that. I think you really have to call me a radical feminist before anything else. I will identify as a lesbian but that says so little of who I am. It’s really minimal. Because I know a lot of lesbians who don’t agree with anything I have to say. And so it’s like, well, okay. I certainly, for my whole life, I have supported fairness and that’s never going to change. But then I choose people that agree with me or have the same world view that I do to support, so I think that really. Gosh, I right now as I’m sitting here I can remember the morning after. Just going out and walking around the block a few times thinking “Now what? Now that I’ve done this, now what?” and just walking and also feeling like I was on cloud nine. You know? Just yeah.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:13:44] And you hadn’t experienced that with Men before that?
SALLY TATNALL [01:13:51] Not in the same way. Like I said, I did love my husband. He was a good person. He supported me, and I thought we had great sex. So it was—you can’t just say it’s the sex. There’s so much more. There’s this feeling of being real in yourself and a level I had not felt with men. Well, I only had one lover—my husband—in those days, you didn’t mess around (laughs). Because if you messed around you were doomed to get pregnant. So it was very clear to us.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:14:48] Right. And you use this term Radical Lesbian. And I know there’s a lot of different kind of definitions of what that means but what does that mean for you?
SALLY TATNALL [01:14:56] Well, the preference though is Radical Feminist lesbian. So what does it mean to me? Well, I’m very conservative in my definitions. Radical means getting to the root, what is at the bottom of all this, and I think feminist in the late '60s, '70s, and '80s did an amazing job of getting to the root. Exactly what is going on here and how does it impact the social fabric. And my focus is women. Has been for a very long time and now always will be. I didn’t know when I was growing up but as I said, being in a family of women, and just having this respect for that, you don’t know these things, you don’t know these concepts and words when you’re fifteen, you know when you’re twenty. It’s just who you are. It’s where you are. It’s who you are involved with. And at various points in my life, there’ve been these things about “are you a real lesbian or did you have boyfriends and get married, were you a lesbian from birth?” All I have to say is, the importance of women in my life has been from birth and that hasn’t changed and isn’t going to. And that’s not true for all lesbians. It’s not even close to being true for all lesbians. I think that feminism is a marker and getting to the root of oppression of women has to do with understanding the power of men and how they exert that power, how they define institutions. I’m going to say a little bit more now about this book I’m writing. I don’t think—I think that particularly white feminists have to let go of thinking of patriarchy as the end-all-be-all. Patriarchy does not—whether or not you think white men defined everything, patriarchy does not define racism. Patriarchy does not define classism. Those are two very big issues and so what I’m trying to—patriarchy is very important. It’s important in all cultures—women around the world are using that phrase because they are looking at the men and how women specifically are oppressed. So—to further the feminist view I think it’s very important for us to look at hierarchy and once we really understand, because we participate in hierarchy. I can say, “well I don’t participate in patriarchy” but I sure as hell participate in hierarchy. So like when I’m speaking with you, how does hierarchy inform our conversation so that it separates us? That’s something we have to think about. And I don’t think we do. Especially in this day and age of this sort of individual identity politics. It doesn’t say much about racism and classism and having grown up without enough, I’m very very aware. I’ll tell you a little story. Is this okay?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:19:22] Of course.
SALLY TATNALL [01:19:23] Okay. There were five of us OLOC women riding in the car. We were going to go to dinner I guess and it was at one of our steering committee meetings and one of the women—I don’t know. I was driving so in the back seat they were talking about eating out. And this one woman said, “I don’t think I eat in more than three days a week” and I heard that, and that very simple sentence separated her from me by miles. And we don’t think of that. But until we acknowledge hierarchy and how that influences us and how we participate in it— it’s interesting to me that black people can stick together, Jewish people can stick together, women can’t. That’s a problem. You know? What’s going on here? I think that hopefully—that’s the underpinning of the book but I have lifelong examples of words and phrases that we all lived by that we believe in that are just not true and not going to get us where we need to go. So.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:20:51] That sounds exciting!
SALLY TATNALL [01:20:52] (Laughs)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:20:54] Describe to me a little bit, when you first became a lesbian or came into that, what was the culture of lesbianism like in Cleveland? Where did you go, who were you with, how did you learn about those things?
SALLY TATNALL [01:21:08] We went to the bars. And we met lots of other lesbians so it was pretty clear that all of us in Cleveland Heights—because this was a Cleveland Heights thing—that we had to build something for ourselves. And so the bars were fun, we danced, we drank. So anyway, the Variety Show I think was in there, we were doing the political stuff for all women, but as a lesbian, we started to create stuff too. And we did the Variety Show, we created so many organizations. It was the lesbian feminists that did the newspaper. We just started that and we just did stuff. You know?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:22:16] Were you finding that some of the women’s spaces weren’t open to the lesbian spaces or weren’t what you were looking for in terms of lesbian spaces?
SALLY TATNALL [01:22:23] The bars—that was it. There weren’t lesbian spaces. We had to create them. And a lot of lesbians did come. They said, “Oh those Cleveland Heights Girls” (laughs). I think back, and we were pretty (laughs) pretty arrogant.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:22:49] In what ways?
SALLY TATNALL [01:22:51] We thought we knew it all! We thought “oh we’re going to get this together and wipe out patriarchy.” You know? And if women didn’t agree with us? They were wrong. They just were wrong. So we had high times. (laughs). I think about it, and it was glorious. Absolutely glorious. It was glorious (laughs). We had parties, we had book clubs, we had the women’s building project, we had our own coffee houses, we had our own bookstore, the bookstore Gifts of Athena was fabulous. And all kinds of meetings too. We had our own bar, the Three of Cups. A friend of mine and I started the Three of Cups. And we even did the bar differently. We had a hospitality committee. If you were new to the bar, you’d be introduced, and we had feedback. We had stuff that happened that was not nice at all. But we felt nothing is impossible. Failure is impossible. And am I answering your questions okay?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:24:44] Yeah, for sure.
SALLY TATNALL [01:24:46] You know I know I have a lot to say but sometimes I wander off.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:24:53] I have questions and I’ll get to the ones that I think are important, but this is also your chance to tell your story and what’s important to you, so I definitely—
SALLY TATNALL [01:25:01] Well that was important. The '70s and '80s. Nothing like it.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:25:05] (laughs) yeah.
SALLY TATNALL [01:25:08] And I’m sure that there have been other movements similar, in fact I know that people joined these movements and they’d become your community, they’d become your family, and you’d do everything with them. The hard work and the partying and it’s fabulous. It’s just fabulous to be somewhere where you are recognized. And that’s seldom. So.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:25:42] Describe what the parties were like. What would people do?
SALLY TATNALL [01:25:45] Dance. Oh my gosh! Dance and drink. A lot of them were held at my home, because it was such a big house. And as a matter of fact, after the Variety Show we’d always have the party at my house. So okay, there’d be a hundred women there. So after one Variety Show, we’d figured there must have been about 150 women in the house and we say, “It can’t hold everything we have to do” so that’s when we went toward getting the Women’s Building. It’s like “we really need to have something bigger here” So we contracted with the Civic. You know the Civic on Mayfield? So that whole wing, we took over and that—that’s where we had the fitness center, the library. We had all the variety shows there at the Civic, and dances. We danced and danced and in those days I was never one who’d rip off my shirt, but a lot of the women would just take off their shirts and dance and dance and dance and—
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:27:17] Was it sexually charged or was it more politically charged or both? What was that like?
SALLY TATNALL [01:27:25] Boy, I think all. We’re dancing. As time wore on, and other people would come to the house, I’d be standing there and somebody saying, “I met my girlfriend, right there on that window seat.” They didn’t know who I was so I’d hear all these stories about who met whom and all that kind of stuff. It was very popular among the lesbian people and I think it gave younger lesbians—I was forty then—so it gave twenty-year-olds a better place to be than just the bars. But, yeah, I’m sure there were tons of meetups. And there was a—there’s a library in this house that on top of the—there was bookshelves and then a flat place and that was the only place where we could put the DJ stuff because it was solid. Because the house would shake. You get eighty women dancing and that’s where we had to put the DJ stuff. It was a time.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:28:55] I have more questions about lesbian culture but I do want to go a little bit into the House and what how it came to be what it was for lesbians. So it was after—that was the house that you lived in with your husband and children right?
SALLY TATNALL [01:29:08] Yes.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:29:09] And so then after they left, did you make a kind of conscious decision to make it a lesbian space? Or did it kind of happen naturally?
SALLY TATNALL [01:29:17] No, it—well what’s consciousness? You do what you have in your mind to do. I really wonder sometimes. People talk about planning and planning. An awful lot happens not by planning. And so, I needed women to live there. I couldn’t take it on myself, so I said, “Well if we’re going do this, who was going to live there with me?” So there were five of us, we moved in and it went from there, “Okay let’s have the feminist forum.” Okay so women come and we’d read and we’d discuss or whatever. I’ll tell you: Cleveland had—New York, San Francisco, they had nothing on Cleveland. We were doing it. And we’re not recognized for what we did. But it was just as big, just as—one of the things that we did was to bring Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party here as an exhibit. We did conferences. The Oven Productions was the production company that was started that put on the Variety Show but we also brought on all of the singers, all of the lesbian singers to town and as a result—because we’d already developed that, our sound people went to Michigan the first few years to help do the sound there. So, we were very connected. Yeah. So what was the question?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:31:16] Well I’m trying to understand some of the dynamics of the house. So did the five women that originally lived there did you all have really similar political ideology or were there big tensions of differences in the ways you thought?
SALLY TATNALL [01:31:30] We were all busy, so that was not who made up the collective though.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:31:36] No?
SALLY TATNALL [01:31:37] No. I’m trying to think of who all—there were so many women who lived in that house. I had always always been interested in the collective process. Because to me, that is what women were about. I don’t think women are about the individuality that men have put on us. We’re relation based. And so we would have all these events, but I always felt like a living collective was the structure that would really that was sustainable. Every woman doesn’t need her own washing machine, simple stuff that I think is—I’ll drive down Fairmount or Shaker and I look at those big homes and I think “What do you have, two people in that house?” So you have five, but you have twelve bedrooms. What are you doing with that space? And so, I think we were there at the house for, let me think. I don’t know.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:33:08] You said it started around ’79 right?
SALLY TATNALL [01:33:12] No, it was before that. The house—my husband and the kids left in ’74 or ’73. Susan was my first lover. Susan and I had moved to a house, a flat, a half a house in Cleveland Heights and there were other women who were interested in sharing so, we lived there. So then, the decision to move into the Berkshire House, which is also called Hag House out of Mary Daly’s famous Hag Routine. They weren’t the same women that were in the half house. people shifted. Got in relationships. Relationships are the doom of collective process (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:34:16] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [01:34:17] I mean seriously. Sex so defines us and it’s wrong. It just is. Women would never have invented the idea that sex determined everything else you did in your life—who your friends are, what you did, who you—that’s not who we are. And I’m clear about who we are. See I can get very arrogant about what I think (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:34:44] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [01:34:46] And so the five of us got to the house, women stayed there, but then with others some of whom lived in the house, I started talking about a Collective living situation. And so that came about probably by ’78. As I said to a friend—we were talking about collective living and I said, “Well we met for about a year.” And she said, “A year?” and I said, “Well, we had to iron out everything.” Feminists were very careful about looking at everything and process which is not a bad thing it’s just some people can really mess it up. And they have to be called on it. Women don’t want to correct each other unless they are constantly correcting each other. There’s this dichotomy of—women tell each other what they think all the time—a lot of it not nice. And then when it comes to holding each other accountable, we don’t do that. So it’s really unfortunate. I’m making some very bold and brash statements here. It’s not everybody but it’s pretty much holds true.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:36:18] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [01:36:20] You’re saying right because you’ve experienced—you have this experience, right?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:36:27] How was—What were some of the things you decided with all of this talking? Like how was labor divided? Did you all live in different rooms? Were there relationships amongst yourselves? Tell me about some of those dynamics.
SALLY TATNALL [01:36:39] Okay there were relationships. Each woman had her own room. There were five women. Labor was divided by—you signed up first off. I have a whole thing; I should find it and send it to you about collective living. Because of course we took copious notes. We had house meetings. We designed a holiday called “Oseea” and it was in the wintertime. We figured out that we had to have our own holidays because we weren’t just going to go with the Goddess routine. That was another thing that was happening at that time and then there was the whole cultural feminism stuff happening and so we thought “Well we’re going to design our own holiday.” So we designed this five-day holiday that happened in December called “Oseea” and there were five days and each day was something else that we would celebrate. We were very mindful and so that’s what we did and out of that house came a lot of stuff. A lot of organizations, groups, the women’s building, it all came out of that house. Or that’s where it started. And other things happened too. I don’t want it to sound like it all came out of that house because it didn’t. But we did put forth a lot of energy and just gosh, we were busy (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:38:50] It sounds like it. And was it the same five women the whole time was it or did different people come in or—
SALLY TATNALL [01:38:56] Well it was the same five women for about I’d say maybe eight or nine years, yeah. And then, yes, then—personally I think that it was coupledom that (laughs). One of the women was interested in another one of the women who was in a different relationship. So that relationship sort of split, these two women got together and the one woman who was more the kind of dominant in the pair moved her out to an apartment and then shortly after followed. So then I just started renting rooms to a lot of different women. And I think—I’m still very close to all of those women. The original—who still live here some of them moved away. But the primary relationship is a very strong form in our culture. Whether it’s good or bad it’s still very strong, it’s like that’s what you have to do. And so that is a threat to collectivity of any kind. And unless someone is aware enough, couples—people speak for each other. Especially if one is more talkative than the other, you’re constantly having one opinion and you don’t know really what’s going on sometimes and it’s not good.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:41:01] Was there a culture of monogamy at that time?
SALLY TATNALL [01:41:03] Yes. There was. I did not believe in monogamy but I was monogamous for a period of time and then I said, “No, this”—I don’t believe that women would ever have designed monogamy. It’s like going out to dinner, would you really go out to dinner with the same one person every day of your life? No, we don’t do that. I have a lot to say about sex (laughs). In fact I wrote a whole paper about how hierarchy has taken over our sexual expression and I’m not sure how natural it is. But in any case, oh what was I going to say?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:42:01] I had asked about monogamy in the house and like—
SALLY TATNALL [01:42:03] Thank you. So then I decided I was not going to be monogamous. Because I just didn’t think that’s how it should be. So then I entered into what I called triple monogamy. It was exhausting. The relationships are responses. I had this paper called the “Woofer-tweeter Theory of Sexual Stimulus and Response” and that’s going to be in the book. And (laughs) it’s like, we’re so in that space that became three relationships and I just— It was exhausting. I couldn’t get myself in a place where I wasn’t in the old relationship, take care of them, pay attention to them, do all this. I can remember when a woman I was with in my monogamy place, we’d go to a party and the parties those days were always huge, minimum a hundred women and often many more. So I was busy (laughs). And so my girlfriend would come and say, “Aren’t you going to pay attention to me?” It’s like, I pay attention to you all the time. I’m here to work the room. As a political person, which I now see I have always been, you want to make sure that people are comfortable, feel welcome, so I did a lot of just connecting with people, which was good. So, that’s what made me start and this is in the late eighties, that’s what made me start looking at the nature of relationship and I started talking to straight couples, gay men, lesbians, about their sexual relationships and how they manage them and what I felt was—People say butch-femme—we didn’t call it butch-femme because we knew people would be “mehh,” so it was just looking at the dominant-subordinate hookups and relationships and I can remember when I started presenting this theory, talking to women and saying, “Well all sex really is S and M” Woah, that really freaked everybody out and “No not me” and then the butches would all say “Well I’m not dominant” and it was fascinating. You go to Michigan and we hold these workshops and the women from the S and M group would come over and they’d talk and they’d say, “Over there they’re not talking power dynamics like how we were talking about it” and women would talk and they would say—I love those little groups because women would talk about feelings that they would have in their relationships that they would never admit to and so I thought it was great. Because any time women—for me—any time women will say what they believe is the most wonderful experience I can have. And that’s what I’m about. And sure I’ll get pissed at them— (laughs)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:46:35] (Laughs) But still great.
SALLY TATNALL [01:46:37] If they’re saying something stupid. Well I don’t want to sound like some “No I don’t accept everything from everybody” but it is, It’s an amazing thing for women to tell their truth.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:46:55] What was your relationship to gay men at the time? Like I know it was very rooted—
SALLY TATNALL [01:46:59] None.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:47:00] You didn’t have any relationship to gay men? So any of the gay magazines and stuff—
SALLY TATNALL [01:47:03] They didn’t have any relationship to us!
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:47:05] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [01:47:07] Regular lesbians had a lot of gay men friends. No. Gay men are fun, they’re who they are. I think our culture owes a lot to gay men. But (sighs) they’re irrelevant to me. Men are irrelevant to me. That’s not who I think about, that’s not what I’m about. I don’t hate men. I have sons, I have grandsons. I cared about my husband. I thought he was a good man. It’s not about that. It’s about what I’m focused on and so at that time, there was nothing for lesbians. There really wasn’t and as I think I told you earlier, there were some women from Painesville who came in and were looking for something and they go to the bars and they go to the center and they say “well where are the lesbians. This isn’t quite what we were thinking about.” and they were told to come to my house to the different events that we had there. So we built a place for lesbian feminists to come and be there and be heard. Because there wasn’t one. And women-only spaces are threatened again and it’s too bad. Women—however the language goes now—should be able to meet together to talk about what’s inside them and this idea that we can’t even use our own language for our own body parts, there is something really deeply wrong with that. And I still think every single person has a right to be who they are. Absolutely and that should not be frowned on. Everybody should be able to present who they are and that’s always been how we’ve been. I think that was—the butch-femme culture was alive and well in the lesbian feminist community. Don’t let them tell you that it wasn’t. But we valued each other and who we were. And however we wanted to be.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:50:12] Tell me a little bit about what the butch-femme culture looked like because I think there is this narrative that it didn’t exist in lesbian feminism and lesbian feminism was above that so describe what your experience of butch-femme was during that time.
SALLY TATNALL [01:50:24] I’m sure they thought we were above it. I mean I didn’t. Well we all sort of looked alike. The femmes and the butches in lesbian feminist culture looked alike. So, I guess you’d say like I said, the butches didn’t want to admit to any—I used to say the femme sets the stage onto which the butch walks. And people would get “Hmphh” any time—but no, we were not above it. We were not above it. if you lined up the butches on one side and the femmes on another, the coupling would go this way, (gestures across lines) it would not go this way (gestures between lines). Let’s be real here. So, who’s narrative ever said that? It’s interesting how people describe those times. Because we were about social change. Absolutely. We talked about racism, we talked about class, we talked about how all these structures in society how they were managed and how they were built and what was wrong with them and how we could infiltrate, or did we have to do something else. I belong to another group called the Daughters of Great Promise and we were really about figuring out how to really get information or degrees so that we could move into the systems as part of the system to affect change. So, we were operating on so many levels. And we were also having sex. So, to look at the one and say the other wasn’t happening is sort of silly. Because it always has and always will, probably, until we figure out that hierarchy absolutely is in our bones and what do we want to do about it. So.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:53:07] And describe some of the racial and class dynamics of the house and of that community at that time.
SALLY TATNALL [01:53:15] In the very beginning because we met in the bars and because we had our own bar, it was very racially mixed. But as we moved on it became less so. I don’t— (sighs). I think I’m just talking about Cleveland. There were several women of color who were feminists and who were in this group. As we progressed— now okay, abortion, rape crisis and battered women, that’s taken care of that’s—We’re very involved in what was going on in communities. We started a group called the something Defense Fund. What was it—the Gold something defense fund and that was to help support women who had killed their abusive husbands. And so we were involved in that a little bit. I think as we went along we developed—whiteness is so there. Whether you’re aware of it or not, it moves you in the direction of whiteness and I think that that’s what happened, we started these groups. We started doing stuff we thought was important and it was white (laughs) you know? Still we had women of color but we weren’t organized around that. We were more looking at the lesbian of color or not just the women of color population and what did we need to do. Very arrogant. We didn’t—what was wrong and how could we help alleviate that. So it was no different, unfortunately, but we were very—I think we were much more aware of things. And Black women started doing their own thing too, I they weren’t going to wait around for us. So I think when feminists especially white feminists talk about the lack of black feminist organizing—no they are so wrong because it was very prolific.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:56:37] Do you—were you aware of much of that happening in Cleveland? Like black feminist organizing?
SALLY TATNALL [01:56:44] No. Actually I wasn’t—well [there was] a group of Black women who I was close to and I sort of knew some of what they were doing. I know they—let me think back. They organized Califia. I did not know as much though as I—I was aware they were doing stuff but that’s—I was busy (laughs). You know what I mean, it’s like you can only hold so many thoughts in your head at the same time. But we were always very—okay so here’s an example— in the eighties we decided to do this conference called “Radical Thought for Women.” And we made sure that we had white people—women, black women, socialist women in organizing groups. And that’s what brought that conference together. And it was an amazing conference and we did a lot of different things. I met women up to ten years ago that said “Oh I was at that conference, that was fabulous”. We had about three hundred women come to that conference. Went deeply in debt (laughs). Had to raise money to get out of it. But it was at the Civic. And we strung the table paper at your gynecologist exam or whatever, we strung this table paper up and women just wrote stuff. And we had this thing called the cluster. We were trying to redo the workshop image and so it was like “okay, here’s the cluster” and someone would speak and then in response, people would say how what they heard related to them or made them feel. And of course, women, you got to love ‘em, they did what they wanted to do.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:59:25] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [01:59:25] It was a blast. (laughs)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:59:27] How did you fund all of these, like it sounds like you had so many—
SALLY TATNALL [01:59:30] We raised money.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [01:59:32] In what ways, how did you raise money?
SALLY TATNALL [01:59:34] Constantly raising money. Mickey Stern—my heart. She was—Mickey and I we were together in the feminism stuff, so then I became a lesbian, and she stayed with her husband. She’s a little bit older than me. I’m the [oldest person in the Lesbian feminist gatherings in Cleveland.] You know? I was getting involved in all this when I was thirty-five. And the other women were in their twenties so I’ve always been an older person. Here’s Mickey Stern, she’s a little bit older than me and we’re both in Cleveland Women’s Counseling. So she takes on this fundraising stuff. And she and I, we used to travel all over the town with our little speech that we’d make talking about feminism is what we were talking about and why she had stayed with her husband and I had [become a Lesbian]. We wanted to present both sides. And we’d speak wherever anybody wanted to listen. And we had a great time. But anyway Mickey just started with the fundraising and every year there’d be something we had to raise funds for. I know Jane Fonda came one time because Mickey sort of knew her. We would raise money when we’d have speakers come and we’d try and raise money. We were always raising money. We’d raise them for abortion, we’d raise them for conferences, we’d raise them for—we did three or four conferences here but the Radical Thought was the only national one that we had really ever done. So, raising money. The Dinner Party ended that, sort of. We’d been doing all kinds of little things to raise money and the Dinner Party came and that exhibit brought in for us over $100,000. So we said, “Well this is something” (laughs). And so, there was a group in Akron that was also part of the Ohio-Chicago Art Project and so they took $25,000 and we used the $75,000 to start the women’s community foundation and so that was another event that raised money and we gave money only to women and girls and lesbians So, yeah. Always raising money. You know who’s in power when you have to raise money. It’s the truth.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:02:59] Yeah. What were the class dynamics in the House or like education levels? How were those hierarchies playing out?
SALLY TATNALL [02:03:07] Okay in the Collective House we all were college graduates. Class, I was the one who most likely—like here’s an example. At one meeting, I owned the house, okay? So I had come from poor to middle class being married. And so there was a discussion once about how the house should become the property of all of us. And my response to that was—one of the women had a lot of inherited wealth and I said, “Well will your inherited wealth become for all of us” and that was a no. So, it’s like “okay how does that work out?” How is it my property that becomes the collective property and not anything else? So, it’s not that it didn’t happen it's just that when it did we had to fess up to how is this really working. The class dynamics in the house. In my experience, how things look matter a lot more to middle class and upper class people than to—I’m not saying that we don’t care about being clean or neat or anything like that but I think that working class and poor people sometimes put up with stuff that middle and upper class don’t put up with. Like a TV that doesn’t exactly work right. “Oh I’ll get another one.” You know I think this consumer culture of obsolescence is very much middle class.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:05:22] Were there any children that came into the house I know you had children like what were the dynamics of children and specifically boy children?
SALLY TATNALL [02:05:29] We had a boy child. One of the collective members, she had separated from her husband and the boy was with him. But for some reason, the boy was going to be with us—I don’t know if it was through the summer or through the year. That was tricky. Because—and she was my partner, the woman who had the son. So, there were some. Nothing smashed everything but there were discussions about how’s the parenting going to be done, who gets to discipline, that sort of thing in terms of so that the rest of us knew how we needed to operate with the two of them.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:06:26] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:06:27] So, we did what we had to do. And I think that says a lot because we didn’t kill each other. And we actually liked each other, and still do forty years later. So I think we must have done something right (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:06:50] What are some of your favorite memories of the Collective?
SALLY TATNALL [02:06:59] I thought the holiday thing was exquisite.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:07:02] Tell me a little more about that. What was... like what were you celebrating, what were the different days for?
SALLY TATNALL [02:07:09] I do not remember.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:09:10] (Laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [02:09:11] I remember one of them was for community. One of the days was community. And I remember having this party where we invited people. The four days were specific things. I wish I could remember really because it was wonderful. But the community day we invited everybody in. And we went to this thing, we made all of these fortunes. And we stuck them on apples and we hung apples from the ceiling in the dining room. There must have been seventy or eighty apples up there with these fortunes and people came and took the apple with the fortune. We did so many things. I loved the Variety Shows. That wasn’t specifically the house but, the house, it was wonderful. We just thought a lot, we talked a lot, we really wanted things to be different. Favorite memories, there are so many. Women from out of town would come in and or if we had speakers or would stay at the house. We had a lot of events at the house for women, not just parties, but discussions or books or it was a very open thing and so whoever showed up showed up and that was the very important piece because we didn’t want—we didn’t do invitation things. Because it just wasn’t what we believed in, you know?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:09:38] What role did religion play if at all in the house? Were there different religions in the house or no religion?
SALLY TATNALL [02:09:45] There was me, there was me Jewish, there was protestant, there was former Catholic, recovering Catholic as she would say. It didn’t really. Spirituality—oh we had a coven.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:10:00] Did you?
SALLY TATNALL [02:10:01] Oh yeah, we did magic. You betcha. And I can remember one time we were doing this circle, it wasn’t just the women in the house though. It was a few other people. We were doing this circle and a woman was going to be going to court to get custody for her kids. And so we did this ritual. There were several experiences around this stuff so we did this ritual and for some reason we used nails as part of the ritual. And what we heard later was she got her kids and somebody referred to her lawyer as “hard as nails.” It was like, “Of Course!” We knew that.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:10:57] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [02:11:03] You have to take this stuff seriously. Either you’re going to do it or you don’t, you don’t want to play at it because I do believe that there’s energy that operates and you have to figure out how it’s going to operate for you. Some people call it God some people call it Goddess, whatever. So I remember this one time—there’s a very particular way that we had learned of raising energy and grounding it. And so one day, I don’t know what happened but we stopped. So the next day, there’s no power in the house. There’s no power, nothing is working, it’s just our house, it’s not in the street, other houses. We go down, we work at the breaker box, we do all that stuff—no power in the house. So it’s like “ugh’ we’re going to have to call somebody” And of course we’re bright women, we can figure out a lot.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:12:08] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:12:09] So we’re going to have to call somebody and we called somebody and they went down and messed with the breaker box and the power was back and so we all sort of thought about that. It’s like, okay, we must not have grounded our power when we met, because it was just the night or day or so before. We must not have really finished and grounded what we needed to ground because why did this happen? Coincidence? I don’t know about coincidence. We were without power, we could not access our power, no matter how we tried, and we tried everything, so here comes this guy who goes down in the basement, does the same thing we did and the power’s back on. So it was very symbolic for us. Yeah, we did, we had regular little ritual stuff that we did. Ritual became a very important part of how we operated and not just in that way but knowing that there were certain ways that we wanted to do things. And that those were very important. And that honoring women was above all, no matter who they were. I can remember. (laughs) I can remember women getting really pissed off that Phyllis Schlafly—Do you even know who that is?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:13:38] Hmm-mm.
SALLY TATNALL [02:13:39] Phyllis Schlafly stepped in where feminists had stepped out and got all the working housewives with her, you know telling the feminists how wrong they were—we were, we were wrong! You can’t look at housewives and tell them [they are] stupid and expect them to support you, which is a lot of what democrats do unfortunately. So people would get all upset about Phyllis Schlafly and I’d say, “You know, she’s laughing all the way to the bank” because come on folks. Women are going to do what they are going to do and we left that one wide open for her to just walk in and take over. And of course, she was a lawyer and all the stuff but it didn’t matter. She had the housewives. And we didn’t. And we didn’t have them on purpose. Gosh, this really brings back a lot of stuff. Good times.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:14:47] Yeah, it sounds like it. Were your neighbors kind of aware? Were there any ever conflicts because you’re having these big parties and everything? Do they know what was going on?
SALLY TATNALL [02:14:56] We always gave them notes. We would always send notes and say we were going to have a big party, if the noise bothers you please come over and let us know and we would—we tried to keep it relatively not too bad. We only had the police come maybe a couple times ever and the woman across the street just thought it was—she thought I was taking in poor women. Just taking in these poor women who have nowhere to go (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:15:35] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [02:15:37] A lot of people knew about that house, not just the neighbors. A lot of young women, young lesbians knew that house.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:15:46] Like in high school still or college or—
SALLY TATNALL [02:15:49] Oh, I don’t know. Well a couple in high school because they wound up at the parties.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:15:54] Yeah?
SALLY TATNALL [02:15:55] Yeah. I mean there were all ages.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:15:58] Did you feel kind of alone in being the older generation or were there other women of your age as well?
SALLY TATNALL [02:16:05] Not too many. I never felt alone. Hmm-mmm. No, I just—nope, I never felt alone. Still don’t. It’s magical.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:16:25] Yeah.
SALLY TATNALL [02:16:26] It just is. There’s—we had a good time.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:16:33] In another minute we’ll take a break—
SALLY TATNALL [02:16:35] Okay.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:16:36] But I just—before we do that, what ended—did you sell the house or how did that kind of end?
SALLY TATNALL [02:16:41] The bank took it.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:16:42] Yeah?
SALLY TATNALL [02:16:43] I declared bankruptcy because this house had been valued at $300,000 and I was constantly taking out loans to finance—that’s another thing I did with the house. I was doing this to finance whatever we had to do. And so, I had financed the house. It was financed up to around $200,000 and I though “well, it’s worth $300,000.” Well, in 2015, I go to—fifteen? This is nineteen. No, 2008, 9, 10, in that period when the housing thing happened, I went to put it on the market and she said it was worth 160. Well I was like “What?”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:17:37] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:17:38] So I spent another year devastating my own retirement account just trying to keep up with the insurance, with the taxes. The taxes on the property were $10,000 a year. They weren’t saying the house was only $160,000. So anyway, we were at some place and, okay, remember the two women I said that had moved out that she had moved the one out and she’d followed?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:18:08] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:18:09] Okay so we were still friends. And we were sitting there talking and she looks at me and says, “Don’t pay it. Just stop paying it.” The house bill. And I said, “Why?” I said, “I could?” and she said “Yeah, just don’t. It’ll take them a couple of years to even get around to you.” And it did. I did, I stopped paying—my daughter was living there at that point and so we lived there for about a year then I had some money from the sale of other land that a whole big collective of women had owned and so each person got a certain amount. So I said, “Well I’m going use this money to buy a house that we can all live in and you should move out first” and so we bought this house. She and my granddaughter moved in here. I moved a lot of the furniture and then I started to fix up the house, like I cleaned—that house was an amazing house. As many homes in Cleveland Heights are. The woodwork, everything. Amazing. So I started just polishing everything, cleaning everything, making sure that it just shined. So finally the real estate person came and that was messed up. I’m not sure what happened there. And she was going to sell the house and there was a bidder—somebody who bid 160 so they were going to buy the house and something about—to this day I don’t really know what happened. Something about there was—we were all supposed to sit down and I was supposed to come with money but I hadn’t really understood what was supposed to happen. So I get this phone call with her saying, “where are you?” and “you have to bring the money,” some kind of difference. And I don’t know what she was talking about but in my mind I had the difference between 160,000 and 200,000 as the money I was supposed to bring and I said, “well, I don’t have that money” and so the deal fell through. Now, later on I heard, and it probably was a good thing it fell through because the husband of the woman who was buying the house got very ill and so it probably was a good idea that they had this brand-new house. But with that, I just moved out. I just left it. The bank took it and woman came in. Bought it to flip, painted all of the woodwork white. Painted this wonderful red brick, natural brick fireplace, beautiful huge fireplace white. Everything was grey and white, we looked at pictures on the—but I don’t miss the house at all. It had become a burden and I was tired of trying to fill it up with women and it was just getting to be too much so.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:04] That makes sense.
SALLY TATNALL [02:22:05] It went the way it whatever.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:07] It had many, many good years.
SALLY TATNALL [02:22:09] Oh my gosh, yes. Many many many.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:12] Do you want to take a quick break—
SALLY TATNALL [02:22:13] Sure.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:13] —and then we can come back. Sounds good.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:25] Okay. I didn’t say this on the last one, but this is Callie Swaim-Fox recording Sally Tatnall in her home in Lyndhurst, Ohio on June—
SALLY TATNALL [02:22:37] Seventh (Laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:37] Seventh, 2019. Okay so I want to talk about—we kind of mentioned some of these organizations and some of the offshoots of some of the work you do but I kind of want to ask more specific questions.
SALLY TATNALL [02:22:51] Okay.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:52] So let’s talk about the Three of Cups.
SALLY TATNALL [02:22:54] Oh, the Three of Cups.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:22:56] Tell me about how that started and just a little bit about it and your experience with it.
SALLY TATNALL [02:23:02] We wanted our own bar. That was it. We wanted something that was just for us.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:23:08] By “us” do you mean women or radical lesbians or who do you mean?
SALLY TATNALL [02:23:13] Women slash lesbians. Feminists. That—of course men came in but that was our focus. And so, I don’t know. We talked about it. A friend of mind had a friend in another state who had interest in investing in this property and so we bought it and the downstairs—it was apartments up above but it was downstairs the bar. And so we opened this bar. And we would have special celebrations on Susan B. Anthony’s birthday and International Women’s Day and the Right to Vote Day. We focused on holidays we would make holidays out of things that women had done and as I said, we had a hospitality committee. We also, it morphed into a restaurant also. So that we had—it was sort of a soup and salad kind of restaurant. Or sandwiches, not that was it that was the focus. Great soups, great sandwiches. I mean, the food was perfect. I don’t know, what do you want to know? People came. They, it was very popular. And I was only there for about a year and a half because I also had a full-time job and so this was like two full-time jobs. And so there was a woman who was sort of like the manager of the restaurant part and so when I left she sort of took over running everything and it was a great place. We had a juke box, we played, we danced, danced, danced. We had a pool table. My kids would come to the bar when I had them and hang out. It was great. The police would come—there was a—I remember this time when the police came. No, a detective came. And I’m not sure what he was getting at, if he wanted us to—he just was checking in and his manner was not hostile, but it was not welcoming either. So he was just there a couple of times. Checking it out, and he always came in the daytime so there wasn’t really that much going on in the daytime. We opened the bar in 1977 and on Susan B. Anthony’s birthday. Was that when we opened or was that another time? No, it was when we opened. I’ve never been a good person with dates.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:26:57] That’s okay.
SALLY TATNALL [02:26:58] Don’t know them (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:26:59] (laughs).
SALLY TATNALL [02:27:03] It was great.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:27:07] Were there regulars or were there different people all the time?
SALLY TATNALL [02:27:10] A lot of regulars. And we had volunteer bartenders.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:27:13] Oh nice.
SALLY TATNALL [02:27:14] A lot—one of the things that I notice what emerged in the lesbian community after a while were AA groups. And a lot of the women that I knew in the bars sort of disappeared and went into the AA groups and so that was very much happening in those days.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:27:35] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:27:36] Lots and lots of women getting sober. I do think that was through feminism. And the idea that you had a right to be here, you were recognized, you were valued. Yeah. I was a great bartender. We all were. And I’ll tell you something. Bartenders—all you have to do is stand behind a bar and somebody’s going to tell you their life story. It’s fascinating how open—well of course they’ve had a few drinks but still. That was another thing that I incorporated into my learning in terms of the relationship stuff and the woofer-tweeter theory. It’s like “wow this is a font of information here” and yeah. It was grand. We had a couple one-time—one time this couple came in, a heterosexual came in and started dancing very sexually on the floor on the little dance floor, it wasn’t really that big. And we put up with that. Stuff like that would happen. You know, stupid stuff. I remember one time this guy came in and he had—he was just drinking. He had a friend, the two of them were there. Men don’t go into dangerous situations alone. They’re not all their hyped up to be. So they were there and all of a sudden well he had to go the bathroom. And he was gone for a while. And he’d been drinking a lot. I really didn’t think too much about it until he left. He came out of the bathroom and the two of them went right out of the bar, and it was like, “Now what.” So I went into the bar, into the bathroom and he’d thrown up all over. So we cleaned it up. People are—can be disgusting. But I liked my time there. It was really a—it was a very unique time. We named it the Three of Cups because the tarot card. I was also into doing a lot of tarot readings. So the tarot card of the Three of Cups show these three women with cups sort of dancing. It’s a very nice card. So that’s what we did.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:31:04] And what did people come there to—was it to meet people or to drink or was it a little bit of everything or—
SALLY TATNALL [02:31:11] A little bit of everything.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:31:13] Yeah? Did it depend on the time of day?
SALLY TATNALL [02:31:15] Oh yeah, the restaurant part was not particularly lesbian. A lot of different people came through the afternoon. At night is when the lesbians came. Drink and dance, play around, play pool, meet up. Whatever they were going to do. So I wanted to go back to something else about feminism being responsible for a lot of lesbians getting sober. Another thing that we were definitely responsible for—I don’t know if I said this earlier—was the advocacy in medicine in doctor’s offices. Because before that, you were sort of at the will of the doctor who could say anything. And very quickly, we realized it was very important to have somebody with you to understand what was really going on and to cut down on any inappropriate remarks that might be said.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:32:25] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:32:26] And the other thing that you can certainly blame feminists for is sign language at meetings. Nobody was doing that before we did it. You see, accessibility was a big thing for us. Accessibility of all women. So we did what we could.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:32:51] I know Heights has a lot of ASL in the school and stuff and I wonder if that is an influence of some of the lesbian culture.
SALLY TATNALL [02:32:58] I’m sure it is.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:32:59] Yeah. (Moves microphone). Let me—I forgot to bring this back closer to you to make sure it catches it all.
SALLY TATNALL [02:33:04] Oh okay.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:33:06] Let’s see. Let’s talk about the Land Project. You mentioned that you had that land that you got. What spurred that? What were the goals for that and tell me a little bit about how that came to be.
SALLY TATNALL [02:33:22] We decided that we needed land. And how it would work is we would—people would contribute according to their ability. Absolutely there was no pressure on anything that you should contribute. And we would buy this land and it would be accessible to all women whether they payed something or not. And that was very important that a woman could come onto this land and say, “This is mine” that she had full access, no questions asked. And so we had the land and we had gatherings there, we had parties there, we had work details there, we had more work details there. One year the house burned down so we had to figure out how to sort of spruce up the barn a little bit and then on a piece of property adjacent to our property but on another road, there was a house so we bought that. It was one of those things that just—it was ours. And any woman who came could say, “This is my land.” That was my sense of it anyways, but certainly it was for all women. Then we started doing the feminist girls camp. Also on the land we did a lot of ritual. Another partner of mine and I built a medicine wheel and we used that a few times. Not everybody in the land project was into this kind of stuff because this is a much broader base of women—there probably at one time were maybe forty women involved one way or another. So then, we developed the feminist girls camp which still goes on today. The couple that I have mentioned—Jamie and Deborah, I’ll just say their names—they now live across the road from where this land is. And so they’re very involved. I am not. But they are still very involved in the Land Project and the feminist girls camp. So, we did that. Just land—having land was an important thing. And I, as we evolved—I was there for many years. But as it evolved, I sort of felt I wanted us to be doing more. And I’m not sure I was even sure what more was, but I wanted more than just coming to the land, camping, and working. We really were out as an accessible land community. Nobody lived there, there were other land groups that was a huge national movement that people knew about but nobody knew about the Land Project, so I was conflicted about what am I doing here. What’s my role, what’s happening and I was also—this wasn’t a big piece but during that time I was sort of recognizing the roles that were being honored in the Land Project. And the roles that weren’t being honored. And the roles that were being honored were what men do: chopping, running a machine, doing this doing that, that was what was honored but like me putting a curtain around the toilet which was just sitting there in an open room, things that traditionally have been thought of as women’s work was not honored. So I just—we are who we are. And that doesn’t go away just because we suddenly say we’re feminists or lesbians. And I don’t think we do enough of that interpersonal reflection in terms of how we’re participating. I would like us to do more. But in any case, so that’s so I just I stepped back. I also saw a lot of class stuff going on. And with three other women there were four of us who really wanted to elevate the class awareness and we tried to do some stuff, but I don’t think it ever—class has never been fully respected as something to really understand. It’s sort of on the back burner, people mention it but it’s not something that—I don’t know what to say. It's much more of a given and people just accept it as almost a right. So there’s very little that really happens with class. In fact, the Creating Change used to have—they have all-day seminars on certain subjects and they haven’t had an all-day thing on class for a couple of years. They just stopped having it I don’t know why. But class is this sort of (laughs) you know? Who does it?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:39:37] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:39:38] And you don’t have to be a socialist to do class analysis. I think that’s a weird mistake. But for me, when you’re raised with enough of everything you want, you develop a certain level of expectation in your life and that expectation, no matter what happens to you, proceeds. Through your life. If you’re raised not having everything you need or want, that expectation is also developed and proceeds through your life. So like OLOC, we have women who were raised middle class, have always had everything they want, and they’re the first ones to apply for financial aid, simply because they want it. So if you want something, you expect it will be there. And that’s not true for women who were raised poor or as working-class women. And that’s a dynamic that’s never looked at really. And it’s like I said before, “I only eat in three days a week” that’s a harmless statement on so many levels but it says so much about what individuals think is real. So anyways I left and some years later got involved in another land project called the Land Collective, but similar thing. We were a large group of women, had land, wanted to do things, we would do different workshops, different conferences, stuff like that. And again, just stuff peters out. I don’t know it just did, so. So we sold that land.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:41:50] We’ve talked a lot about like the lesbian community in Cleveland. Did you experience a lot of lesbian community outside of Cleveland—
SALLY TATNALL [02:41:56] Mm-hmm.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:41:57] —and if so how did that compare to what you experienced here in Cleveland?
SALLY TATNALL [02:42:01] Well I traveled a lot in those days to go to different communities so—well it’s about the same. Women were doing stuff. They were creating things, they were active, they drank a lot, they smoked a lot of weed (laughs). They had parties. It was very similar. I visited Tucson, Arizona, I visited San Francisco, New York, different places. There was a—what was it? A magazine that came out of Iowa that was very radical. Big Mama Rag, was that it? Anyway, places I went. We went in Atlanta the first all-lesbian conference was held in Atlanta and I remember there were a whole bunch of us that went and we were driving down in this huge marquee says “Welcome Lesbians” and we all just shouted. It was like “Oh my God look at this!” Just fantastic, we’d never seen anything like that, and so we all just were totally hyped. And we had come to do a workshop on the Land Project, it was one of the things we were going to do. It was amazing, there were a lot of women there, a lot of women. Lot of lesbians. Yeah it was happening all over. I had not seen the Dinner Party. So I was traveling and it came to Houston and so I was traveling by myself—I used to camp a lot and go by myself a lot in a lot of places so I was traveling to relatives in El Paso ultimately to go to Tucson which I’d been to a few times and I was going to go through Houston and see the Dinner Party so I roll up to where it’s housed. It’s closed. I almost wept.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:44:40] (laughs).
SALLY TATNALL [02:44:41] I was like “Oh no!” I’d been waiting—I have friends that worked on this project, I’d been involved in this project since it began, I was just devastated and there was a caretaker, somebody was there and I just gave him this story about my travels and coming from Cleveland and so he let me go in.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:45:09] Aww.
SALLY TATNALL [02:45:11] And I was all by myself and I went in and the light was very—you can see everything but it was low and I went through the banners and then I went in and there was the table. I cannot tell you how I felt. It was just the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It was like reading poetry by Robin Morgan. I never understood poetry and then I read Robin Morgan and all the sudden it’s like “Oh my God.” I had poems of hers I memorized, poems that would make me cry. Just it was about me, I guess. So all of the sudden there was all of this stuff. A lot of stuff. Women were saying “I don’t think so anymore” and we did what we had to do.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:46:14] And is that what inspired you to bring it to Cleveland or help make that happen?
SALLY TATNALL [02:46:19] Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Because we had connections and one day we had a film, what do you call it, not a CD but something you could show on TV and that’s another thing. Mickey and I would travel around showing this movie about the making of the Dinner Party to everybody everywhere and I was just sitting at home one day and the phone rings and it’s this guy from Akron saying “You know, I’m wondering if you have any interest. We’re going to be showing this film about the Dinner Party,” and as soon as he said “The Dinner Party” I don’t even know how he got my name but I said, “Oh, yes. Of course.” And I called Mickey, we went to Akron to see this film. Got a copy, but at that point, the Akron people were really wanting to bring it to Akron. And they were going to have it at EJ Thomas Hall. Well somehow, the hall fell through, I don’t know. Somehow it came to Cleveland instead. And a lot of big names in Cleveland got involved. That was the first proposal I ever wrote. A friend of mine and I wrote a proposal that we gave to the Cleveland Foundation who then gave a piece of it to the Gund Foundation to fund a group to bring this. And I can remember, there was a lot of controversy about The Dinner Party “Oh, it’s just vaginas on plates “on and on, and so I was looking in every magazine I could find to get an article and both sides talking about it. All the pros, the cons, everything. So what went with that proposal was this huge backlog of information which I guess is what impressed them the most, that we had presented all this stuff and obviously it was noteworthy, if all of this stuff was being said. I think it was like five or ten thousand, it wasn’t a big thing but they did give us money. And so we just started putting it together. It was held at The Civic, and amazing. Amazing, amazing. And it went into storage for a long time and finally a woman named Elizabeth Sackler built a wing of the Brooklyn Museum to house it.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:49:24] Right, right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:49:25] So, yeah. Mickey was very involved with the Dinner Party. She was very supportive of Judy Chicago and Judy would come—Judy’s been here several times. Just for whatever reasons. Fundraising most likely.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:49:45] So we’ve talked about some of these—ope. Is that your call?
SALLY TATNALL [02:49:53](answers phone)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:50:08] So you mentioned everything kind of dwindled eventually so tell me about after things were kind of dwindling and you didn’t have the Collective anymore, what did that feel like and what did you continue on with? What did you—yeah?
SALLY TATNALL [02:50:25] Well I had a very—I had a job that was very work-heavy. I was the executive director of a community health center on the near west side, Neighborhood Family Practice. And that took a lot. Well, first we had opened Preterm, and I told you about that. So Preterm was for like ten years, and then I left Preterm. I didn’t work for about a year and then a friend of mine who was a doctor—here’s another thing. Okay, this woman had submitted an application to Case Medical School to be admitted and they didn’t admit her, they said she was too old. She was twenty-seven. And so the women got this petition together. We wrote all this stuff, we had fifty signatures, some well-known women in Cleveland, and sent it to them. They admitted her.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:51:36] Wow.
SALLY TATNALL [02:51:38] It was like, “Are you Kidding? What is wrong with you?” That’s the kind of thing. Maybe there aren’t those kinds of opportunities, but I don’t even know if that would happen today. I’m glad that women are rising up about the abortion stuff. If a woman doesn’t believe that she has a right to her own reproductive health, I don’t know what she’s doing. You know? That is so—talk about biology. That is a threat that hangs over every woman’s head even today. And having been in an abortion clinic for ten years, and I went back for another ten because I—oh that’s another story. I don’t know what they’re doing. I really don’t.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:52:40] Right.
SALLY TATNALL [02:52:41] But in any case—are you pro-reproductive health?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:52:46] Yeah.
SALLY TATNALL [02:52:47] You never know. Feminists who are pro-life it’s like “What is a pro-life feminist?” I hadn’t been working and she said “Well, would you like to come and help part-time” Because she had this practice on the near-west side. And at the time it was at an under-served area. Because she had gone—in those days, I think they still do—you get your medical degree and the government pays for it if you then put time into being in underserved areas. So she was in this area and I couldn’t be a patient but I could come and work. And she said, “Well we need some help with billing.” So I walk into this office. Stacks of bills. For a while there I’d get it under control and then I’d open another drawer. It was unbelievable the amount of billing. So that was my sort of initiation of sorts into the world of family medicine. And so I stayed. I just stayed. I was there for over twenty years. Not over. Twenty years. And expanded the practice significantly. They now have five sites on the near west side, or on the west side. As a federally qualified community health center, which is a huge deal—you apply for a government grant and that was—well I had done more but you apply for a grant through the feds and if you’re applying for anything through the feds, you got to have your ducks in a row and then some. So we did get the designation finally which meant we had a rate for Medicaid, we didn’t take what Medicaid paid us. We had a rate that meant we didn’t lose money on Medicaid. So that was good. Then, I retired, and I was, we were still doing a lot of stuff. Doing the same stuff, I guess. Still raising money, book groups, but the organizing stuff wasn’t like it had been. I don’t want to say petered out, but women started going to school and getting [degrees]. (phone rings. Tatnall answers)
SALLY TATNALL [02:55:51] So anyway, yeah, I retired and then decided I couldn’t afford to retire. And I was retired for about five years. And I was still doing the house and we were still doing a lot of stuff with that. So, I went back. Jamie, I had hired her at Preterm and she was still there and so she called me and I had been talking about “alright, maybe I should go back to work” and so she called me and said ‘Well there’s this position dah dah dah dah dah” at-not United Way what’s the other—Community Shares. So I worked there for a little bit and she said “Well I have something here at Preterm if you want to work here” and so I went back and worked at Preterm.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:56:48] How did you and your community deal with burnout? Just doing so much work, how did you strengthen yourselves when it got hard?
SALLY TATNALL [02:56:58] Well I know one thing, I don’t think we were as aware of burnout when we were there burning out as we later became aware, but I know that in the spring (laughs) every spring, while I was working at Neighborhood Family Practice, I would take my kids and grandkids and go to the shore for a week or two. Because I had to get out of Cleveland, I had to get out of the snow, the grey, the everything. So I experienced it more like that. I went into therapy, a couple of times actually. Just to get a grip. And I’ve always been a pretty positive, like my mother used to say, “come home for Thanksgiving, we need a peppy person here”
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:57:56] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [02:57:59] I’ve always had that sort of thing going for me, but boy I used to get really, by the time March hit, I had to get out of here. So that was certainly one way, and therapy. So.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:58:18] You mentioned that you haven’t been in a relationship in a number of years—
SALLY TATNALL [02:58:21] Right.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [02:58:22] —and was that a conscious decision? And tell me about what that has meant for you.
SALLY TATNALL [02:58:30] Conscious decision. Yes and no. You just keep yourself busy with other things. A friend once said to me, “Wouldn’t you like to have a partner” and my answer was “I don’t know what I’d do with them.” And that’s the truth. Where would I put them? What part of my life now would go towards a partner? Because a part of your life goes there, whether you want it to or not and a friend—and I have a partner, I have several partners. I have a partner in crime, my daughter is my definite partner in terms of this household. My partner in crime, she’s a very “gay gay gay gay gay gay gay” and I’m “women women women women women women.” So we support each other in a lot of ways. So it’s really good. She was—she wrote a note to a woman a girl in like how old was she? Maybe eighth grade did she say? Or freshman in high school she wrote a love note and it was taken by the parents and she was put in the hospital and submitted to shock therapy to get her out of that frame of mind. And so what she did was drink. She got married, she had kids, but she drank. And finally decided “no” it wasn’t going to work. So, a lot of stories like that around. But today, I feel that way. I don’t want to be that involved in another person’s life where I’m constantly in response to how they feel, to what they think. It’s enough being with my daughter, with my granddaughter, with friends around town. I have limited energy for—well anybody says this, as you get older, the drama really drops out a lot. Like, I have a shirt, “it’s not that I forget, it’s that I don’t care” and that’s true. It’s just true. You have certain commitments and that’s that. And I play a lot of solitaire, or cards—all kinds of cards—online. I’m still a bridge addict, online, or on the computer.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:01:38] And tell me about your work with [Old Lesbians organizing for Change]. What made you join OLOC and be in the position you are—
SALLY TATNALL [03:01:43] Because I became an old lesbian.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:01:45] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [03:01:46] And I’m always involved in organizations that are about women so I just—I joined. I went to the conferences. And a good friend of mine who lives in southern Ohio, another lifelong—not lifelong but very active active social justice person. Also a lesbian [who has] done amazing work and is a minister. She was one of the first out ministers in the United Church of Christ ever. Jan Griesinger is her name if you ever want to look her up. I joined, which was good. We’re all lesbians. We’re thinking, we’re acting. Still activists, a lot of us. It may not all strictly be feminism but it’s about the issues. For a while there I was very involved in immigration, another travesty that’s happening. I think feminists go where things are horrible. And so anyway—and she recommended that I join the steering committee, so I said, “okay” so I’ve been on that—more fundraising—for several years.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:03:02] And kind of in some reflection, looking back on your life, what are you most proud of so far?
SALLY TATNALL [03:03:30] Oh gosh.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:03:32] (laughs)
SALLY TATNALL [03:03:33] I’m proud of a lot.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:03:34] Yeah.
SALLY TATNALL [03:03:39] I’ve done things I wish I had known something better to do at the time, but I don’t have regrets. I think that’s an amazing thing to be able to say. I had a—I made this sign that I put on my wall at Preterm and at when I was at Neighborhood Family Practice “I don’t make mistakes, I get more information” because I think that that’s true. We make decisions based on what we know at the time, and that doesn’t mean that that’s ground. We learn more and especially as we age, that learning adds to more and more acceptance. You start learning a lot about the grey areas. Everything isn’t black and white anymore. And there are a lot of grey areas that are shaded so differently that you really, you learn to listen. This is (laughs) I always have something to say, but I listen too.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:05:04] What about—if you could say anything to younger lesbians what would you say?
SALLY TATNALL [03:05:11] (laughs) Don’t forget who you are. I am afraid that some of that’s happening. We were talking earlier about it and there are young lesbians who feel totally isolated in the movement because of what’s happening [in the gender wars] and they’re a part too, you know? So, that’s what I have to say. Don’t forget or ignore who you are. And are meant to be. Women are amazing. Absolutely amazing. I don’t know about men. Can they do stuff? I don’t know, they think they can. But it’s not who I study. All I know is that women can do whatever they set their mind to. Good or bad, they are amazing, amazing people. And the fact that we have to put up with what we do put up with is criminal. There’s no other word for it. Criminal (laughs) says it. I love the young lesbians. They’re bright, they’re hopeful. I remember being like that. I remember being so hopeful, “We can lick this, we can handle this, we’re together, we know what we're doing,” and here we are. Still fighting, still fighting for birth control, Margaret Sanger must be twirling in her grave for this. (laughs)
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:07:04] (laughs).
SALLY TATNALL [03:07:08] You keep going. We gave you a platform. Don’t let it slip out from under your feet. (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:07:23] Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or share?
SALLY TATNALL [03:07:25] I can’t imagine (laughs).
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:07:27] (laughs).
SALLY TATNALL [03:07:28] Is there anything you think of?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:28:30] I don’t think so.
SALLY TATNALL [03:28:31] What would you like to say on this tape?
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:28:33] I think we’ve covered it all. I think we’ve covered most of what I wanted to get to so. Okay.
SALLY TATNALL [03:07:40] Wonderful.
CALLAN SWAIM-FOX [03:07:41] Thank you so much.
SALLY TATNALL [03:07:43] Well, thank you.
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"Sally Tatnall interview, 05 June 2019" (2019). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 999159.