Martha Shelley

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Martha Shelley
Martha Shelley.jpg
BornMartha Altman
(1943-12-27) December 27, 1943 (age 76)
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
OccupationActivist, writer, poet
EducationBronx High School of Science
City College of New York

Martha Shelley (born December 27, 1943) is an American activist, writer, and poet, best known for her involvement in lesbian feminist activism.

Life and early work[edit]

Martha Altman, later Martha Shelley, was born on December 27, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, to parents of Russian-Polish Jewish descent.[1] Samuel R. Delany was a Bronx High School of Science friend. She was involved in a group based on the work of Harry Stack Sullivan which led to her first Anti-Vietnam War movement protest. In 1965 she graduated from City College. In November 1967 she went to her first meeting of the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) and of which she later became president.[2] Because of FBI surveillance, members of the DOB were encouraged to take aliases. Altman took Shelley as a surname.[3] While working for Barnard College, she joined the Student Homophile League[4] and worked with bisexual activist Stephen Donaldson, who she was also dating at the time. Shelley has described the affair as causing a scandal, stating "We used to walk into these meetings arm in arm...because the two of us were so blatant and out there in public being pro gay, they certainly couldn't afford to throw us out."[5][6]

Gay Liberation Front[edit]

She was in Greenwich Village the night of the Stonewall riots with women who were starting a DOB chapter in Boston.[7] Recognizing the significance of the event and being politically aware[8] she proposed a protest march and as a result DOB and Mattachine sponsored a demonstration.[9] According to an article in the program for the first San Francisco pride march she was one of the first four members of the Gay Liberation Front, the others being Michael Brown, Jerry Hoose and Jim Owles. Shelley claims that she was one of the people involved in naming of the group.[10][11][12] Certainly she was one of the twenty or so women and men who formed Gay Liberation Front immediately after Stonewall[13] and was outspoken in many of their confrontations.[11] She wrote for Come Out!.[14]


In 1970 she was instrumental in the Lavender Menace zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women.[15] She produced the radio show Lesbian nation on New York's WBAI radio station.[16] She contributed the pieces "Notes of a radical lesbian" and "Terror" to the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.[17] After moving to Oakland, California in October 1974, she was involved with the Women's Press Collective where she worked with Judy Grahn to produce Crossing the DMZ, In other words, Lesbians speak out and other books. Her poetry has appeared in Ms. magazine, 'Sunbury, The bright Medusa, We become new and other periodicals. Shelley appeared in the 2010 documentary Stonewall Uprising, an episode of the American Experience series.[18]

Activism and political views[edit]

Despite being involved with lesbian feminism, Shelley does not describe herself as a lesbian separatist from the gay rights movement. Though she liked the idea of lesbian-only spaces, she has said that the splitting of gay liberation into splinter groups weakened the movement as a whole. She also was allied to many other left-wing causes of the 1960s and 1970s such as the pro-choice movement and civil rights groups such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords and has described herself as a socialist.[1] Shelley was also a strong critic of the prevailing psychiatric views of homosexuality in the 1960s and argued that the stigmatization of homosexuality as a mental illness was a major contributing factor to psychological issues within the gay and lesbian community.[19]

Works and publications[edit]


  • "Gay is good" in Out of the closets : voices of gay liberation. Douglas Books. 1972. ISBN 0-88209-002-X.
  • "Notes of a radical lesbian" in Sisterhood is Powerful : an anthology from the Women's Liberation Movement. Vintage. 1970. ISBN 9780394705392.
  • "Our passion shook the world" in Smash the church, smash the state : The early years of gay liberation. City Lights Books. 2009. ISBN 9780872864979.

Short stories[edit]


Poetry in anthology[edit]


  1. ^ a b Anderson, Kelley. "Voices of feminism oral history project" (PDF). Retrieved 2 November 2013.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Jay, Karla (1999). Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-08364-1.
  3. ^ Marcus, Eric (1992). Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-016708-4.
  4. ^ Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices. M.E. Sharpe. 2010. ISBN 978-0-7656-1761-3.
  5. ^ "Martha Shelley Interviewed by Kelly Anderson" (PDF). Sophia Smith Collection. Retrieved 2010-01-21.
  6. ^ Tucker, Naomi. Bisexual Politics. p. 33.
  7. ^ Duberman, Martin (1993). Stonewall. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-93602-5.
  8. ^ D'Emilio, John (1983). Sexual politics, sexual communities : the making of a homosexual minority in the United States 1940-1970. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-14265-5.
  9. ^ Gallo, Marcia (2006). Different daughters : a history of the Daughters of Bilitis and the rise of the Lesbian rights movement. New York: Carroll and Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1634-7.
  10. ^ Bernadicou, August. "Martha Shelley". August Nation. The LGBTQ History Project. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  11. ^ a b Carter, David (2004). Stonewall :the riots that sparked the gay revolution. St. Martin's. ISBN 0-312-20025-0.
  12. ^ Faderman, Lillian (2015). The Gay revolution :the story of the struggle. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-9411-6.
  13. ^ Teal, Donn (1971). The Gay Militants. New York: Stein and Day. ISBN 0-8128-1373-1.
  14. ^ Brass, Perry. "Coming out into Come Out!". Archived from the original on 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2011-04-24.
  15. ^ Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present. Psychology Press. 2001. ISBN 0-415-22974-X.
  16. ^ Love, Barbara (2006). Feminists who Changed America, 1963-1975. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-03189-X.
  17. ^ Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970). []. OCLC 96157.
  18. ^ "Stonewall Uprising". Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  19. ^ Self, Robert O. (2012). All in the family: The realignment of American Social Democracy since the 1960s. Hill and Wang. ISBN 978-0-06-016708-0.

External links[edit]