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Archiving the stories of local lesbian activists

As a born-in-Petaluma native, what’s a fond growing-up memory?

“Back in high school, we used to cruise the boulevard ... starting at the Foster’s Freeze and heading out to the bowling alley.”


Born-and-raised in Petaluma by her poultry veterinarian father and school-teacher mother, Tina Dungan — as some locals may recall — was once a song leader at Petaluma High School. This was before working as an x-ray technician at Hillcrest Hospital, spending two years at the University of the Pacific, transferring to Sonoma State’s English Dept. and then to the SSU Women’s Studies program. Eventually, she would enter the SSU Psychology Deptartment for training as an art therapist.

Constantly busy, Tina has held a variety of other jobs, too - music arranger for various ensembles, massage therapist, school bus and truck driver, and adult educator. But until 2007, even Dungan had no idea she would one day become an active founding member of the steering committee for the Lesbian Archives of Sonoma County (LASC).

“It all started with a presentation on the Women’s Movement in Sonoma County,” Tina says. “It was put together by students in the SSU History department, and several well-known lesbians were included in articles and photographs.”

Even though many of the organizations that were mentioned were either started by or heavily influenced by lesbians active at the time (i.e. Women’s Voices, SSU Women’s Studies, etc.), one particular word was conspicuously absent from the presentation.

“When we looked closer,” she recalls, “we saw that the “L” word was never mentioned. Not once.”

Tina, and many of the other women were concerned about what they’d observed. When a former chair of the SSU Women’s Studies Program, Ruth Mahaney, threw a potluck at her Russian River home, an estimated 40-60 Sonoma County lesbians showed up to share food and record their memories.

“The consensus,” Tina says, “was we needed to collect and preserve oral histories and ephemera from Sonoma County Lesbians, and archive them for the future.”

A group of six people, including Tina, Mahaney, Marylou Hadditt, Nancy Moorehead, Ann Neel and Mary Kowatch, formed a consistent core and established the LASC’s goal — to archive thirty years of Sonoma County lesbian activists in the latter part of the 20th Century (1965-1995).

The LASC has since recorded interviews with many Sonoma County individuals, businesses and groups, such as Brown Bag Readers Theater, Clairelight Books, the Penngrove Woman’s Center, even a number of Lesbian softball teams.

As Tina recalls, “As we did more and more interviews, we noticed that often these gatherings provided an additional perk - they were reunions of sorts, and allowed participants to reminisce and be proud of what they had accomplished…back in the day. Those years, 1965 to 95, saw lots of emphasis on the collective and consensus. At one time, there was a lot of controversy about whether there should even be any leaders. Gathering together was how we lived back in those days — meetings, events, political actions. It is how we created community, each and every day, by getting together to plan and orchestrate the community that we wanted to create for ourselves.”

As the Committee expanded, it was recognized that the over-arching atmosphere had been one of valuing accomplishments made by people involved in known groups and organizations, but that they must include others as well. There has been recent interest,” Tina says, “in eliciting written and oral histories of lesbians that didn’t necessarily get involved at the level most of us (in LASC) did.”

As a born-in-Petaluma native, what’s a fond growing-up memory?

“Back in high school, we used to cruise the boulevard ... starting at the Foster’s Freeze and heading out to the bowling alley.”

To contact the Lesbian Archives of Sonoma County, send an email to Lezarchsc@gmail.com