Margo St. James

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Margo St. James
Margaret Jean St. James

(1937-09-12) September 12, 1937 (age 82)
OccupationFeminist activist
Known forFounder of St. James Infirmary Clinic & COYOTE
Spouse(s)Paul Avery

Margo St. James (born September 12, 1937 as Margaret Jean St. James), is an American self-described prostitute and sex-positive feminist. In 1973 she founded the organization COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), which advocates decriminalization of prostitution. In 1999, she was instrumental in founding the St. James Infirmary Clinic, a medical and social service organization serving sex workers in San Francisco.


Margo St. James was born in Bellingham, Washington.

She lived in the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love in the mid-1960s and her home became an informal salon, living with her guitarist friend Steve Mann, hosting visitors such as Ken Kesey, Dr. John, Frank Zappa, members of comedic improvisational ensemble The Committee, and comedian and publisher Paul Krassner. In the late 1960s, she was the live-in housekeeper and chauffeur for Alan Watts, in Marin County.[1]

St. James founded COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) in 1973. The forerunner of COYOTE was WHO: Whores, Housewives and Others; Others in this case meant lesbians. The first meeting of WHO was held on Alan Watts's houseboat; and the name COYOTE came from novelist Tom Robbins who dubbed St. James the coyote trickster.

St. James began attending international conferences: the United Nations Decade Face of Women Conferences in Mexico City, the 1976 Tribunal of Crimes Against Women in Brussels, the 1977 International Women's Year Conference in Houston, the 1977 Libertarian Party Convention, the 1980 Decade of Women Conference in Copenhagen, the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City—where St. James organized loiter-ins—and the Republican Convention in Kansas City. In 1974, St. James lectured at Harvard, among other campuses.

In 1976, COYOTE, led by St. James, filed a lawsuit against Rhode Island. In the case, COYOTE v. Roberts, the argument was based on how much power the state should have to control the sexual activity of its citizens. The lawsuit also alleged discrimination on how the law was being applied. Data was submitted that demonstrated selective prosecution, the Providence Police were arresting female sex workers far more often than the male customers. St. James testified in the case. Although the case eventually was dismissed when the General Assembly changed the prostitution statute in 1980, COYOTE and St. James are given credit as one of the reasons prostitution in Rhode Island was decriminalized,[2] prostitution was outlawed again in 2009 (see Prostitution in Rhode Island).

Other documentaries detailing St. James's activism include Hard Work, directed by Ginny Durrin, Ain't Nobodies Business, and Hookers. Hard Work, which is set in Washington D.C., was filmed in 1976 during the Bicentennial. The short documentary won the NYC Golden Eagle Cine Award in 1978 and the Edinburgh, Scotland award for Best Documentary in 1979.[3]

St. James claims to be a former prostitute and has been criticized by the anti-pornography feminists, including Dorchen Leidholdt. Her claim to have been a prostitute is based on a 1962 prostitution conviction. According to St. James, her conviction was based on her knowledge of the word trick.[4] From 1974 to 1979, COYOTE published its newsletter, COYOTE Howls, from St. James's office in San Francisco. Fund-raising involved an annual hosting of the well-attended Hooker's Ball, which nabbed 20,000 attendees in 1978.[4]

St. James sought the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States in 1980.[5]

In 1985, COYOTE’s records were archived at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, in the prestigious Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.[3]

In 1993, St. James returned from France, where she had organized for decriminalization internationally, and married journalist Paul Avery. Avery, who died in 2000, was best known for his investigation of the Zodiac Killer and Patricia Hearst cases.

In 1996, St. James received 78,669 votes in her bid to become a member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, finishing seventh in a race where the top six were seated. In the late 1990s, she served on the Board of Supervisors' Drug Abuse Advisory Board.[6]

In 1999, Margo St. James founded the St. James Infirmary Clinic in San Francisco to help provide health care to the sex worker community.


St. James was married to journalist Paul Avery, who gained fame while writing for the San Francisco Chronicle during the Zodiac Killer case. He was one of the leading reporters on the case, and at one point received a personal threat from the killer in the form of a greeting card. Avery and Margo St. James were married until his death on December 10, 2000 from emphysema on Orcas Island, Washington.

As of 2013, St. James was still living on Orcas Island.[7][8]


  • Pheterson, Gail, ed. (June 1989). A Vindication of the Rights of Whores. Seal Press. ISBN 978-0-931188-73-2.


  • Behind the Green Door: The Sequel (1986) - she received a "Special Thanks" screen credit. [9]
  • Dreamwood (1972) [10]
  • Happy Endings
  • Hard Work

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Summer of Love: 40 Years Later / Margot St. James, San Francisco Gate, Joel Selvin, May 20, 2007. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  2. ^ Arditi, Lynn (2009-05-31). "'Behind Closed Doors" How RI Decriminalized Prostitution". Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 2009-06-01. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  3. ^ a b Boyd, Dick.
  4. ^ a b Wells, Stephen Dyer. "The Unofficial Margo St. James Fan Club". Archived from the original on 2001-07-20.
  5. ^ Stannard-Friel, Don (2016). Street Teaching in the Tenderloin: Jumpin’ Down the Rabbit Hole. Springer. p. 148. ISBN 9781137564375.
  6. ^ Board of Supervisors (20 December 1999). "Agenda & Minutes Archive". City and County of San Francisco. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  7. ^ Anne Gray Fischer (February 11, 2013). "FORTY YEARS IN THE HUSTLE: A Q&A WITH MARGO ST. JAMES". Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  8. ^ BrittaRuth (April 18, 2011). "Margo St. James (Paul Avery's widow) visit - 2011". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  9. ^ "Behind the Green Door: The Sequel" – via
  10. ^ Dreamwood(1972 Director: James Broughton from

External links[edit]