Sally Miller Gearhart

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Sally Miller Gearhart
Sally Miller Gearhart in Eugene, Oregon, November 2013
Sally Miller Gearhart in Eugene, Oregon, November 2013
BornSally Miller Gearhart
(1931-04-15) April 15, 1931 (age 88)
Pearisburg, Virginia, US
GenreScience fiction, Feminist Theory, Gender Studies

Sally Miller Gearhart (born April 15, 1931) is an American teacher, feminist, science-fiction writer, and political activist.[1] In 1973, she became the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position when she was hired by San Francisco State University, where she helped establish one of the first women and gender study programs in the country.[2] She later became a nationally known gay rights activist.[2]

Early life[edit]

Gearhart attended an all-women's institution, Sweet Briar College, near Lynchburg, Virginia. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in drama and English in 1952. At Bowling Green State University, she obtained a master's degree in theater and public address in 1953. She continued on at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, getting her Ph.D. in theater in 1956, with the intent of pursuing a life of academia.


Gearhart began teaching speech and theater at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas,[3] and later moved to Texas Lutheran College (now University) in Seguin, Texas.[4] In both positions, Gearhart lived in the closet, determined to hide her true sexual identity to fit with the culture of the schools. As a professor, she was incredibly popular and sought-after, but her personal life was full of the struggles of living in the closet.[5] This continued until she moved to San Francisco, California, in 1970.

By 1973, Gearhart was employed at San Francisco State University, where she went from teaching speech to teaching women's studies. There, she was able to develop one of the first women and gender studies programs in the United States. She continued at San Francisco State University until her retirement in 1992.[5]

A fund was established by Carla Blumberg, one of Gearhart's former students, in Gearhart's name in January 2008 at the University of Oregon for the Sally Miller Gearhart Chair in Lesbian Studies, as a part of the women and gender studies program.[6]


Gearhart lives north of Willits, California, and labels herself "a recovering political activist."[7]

After Gearhart received tenure from SFS, she was able to continue her writings focused on lesbianism and related political topics, along with becoming politically active, fighting in particular for radical feminist causes.

In 1978, Gearhart fought alongside Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S., to defeat California Proposition 6, known as the "Briggs Initiative".[8] Gearhart famously debated John Briggs, attacking the initiative to ban homosexuals from academic positions.[9] A clip of the debate appeared in the documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk, which also included Gearhart talking about working with Milk against Proposition 6, and reactions in San Francisco in the aftermath of Milk's assassination.

Gearhart was also featured in several documentaries, including Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, released in 1977,[10] and "Last Call at Maud's" released in 1993.[11]


While living in San Francisco, Gearhart began writing feminist science-fiction novels and short stories that highlighted her utopian ideals for a wider lesbian audience. In 1978, her most famous novel, The Wanderground, was published, exploring themes of ecofeminism and lesbian separatism. She wrote two books as part of the Earthkeep trilogy, The Kanshou, published in 2002, and The Magister, published in 2003. Both stories explore a dystopian world where women outnumber men, and humans are the only beings on the planet.[12]

She co-wrote A Feminist Tarot with Susan Rennie. When it was first published in 1981 by Persephone Press, it was one of several tarot divination books on the market attempting to find alternative meanings within the symbology, the most famous of which is probably Motherpeace. Unusual for a work of feminist spirituality at a time of goddess worship, she kept the conventional Rider Waite Smith imagery, reinterpreting and subverting the stated meanings.

She also wrote a book entitled Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church, which was aimed at the conservative Christian churches and communities that barred homosexuals from fellowship. While never fully embracing the Christian faith, Gearhart did acknowledge the parts of it that were meaningful for her own ideals. She once stated that "love is the universal truth lying at the heart of all creation."[13]

In her early career, Gearhart took part in a series of seminars at San Francisco State University, where feminist scholars were critically discussed issues of rape, slavery, and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Gearhart outlines a three-step proposal for female-led social change:

I) Every culture must begin to affirm a female future.
II) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture.
III) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race.

Gearhart does not base this radical proposal on the idea that men are innately violent or oppressive, but rather on the "real danger is in the phenomenon of male-bonding, that commitment of groups of men to each other whether in an army, a gang, a service club, a lodge, a monastic order, a corporation, or a competitive sport." Gearhart identifies the self-perpetuating, male-exclusive reinforcement of power within these groups as corrosive to female-led social change. Thus, if "men were reduced in number, the threat would not be so great and the placement of species responsibility with the female would be assured." Gearhart, a dedicated pacifist, recognized that this kind of change could not be achieved through mass violence. On the critical question of how women could achieve this, Gearhart argues that it is by women's own capacity for reproduction that the ratio of men to women can be changed though the technologies of cloning or ovular merging, both of which would only produce female births. She argues that as women take advantage of these reproductive technologies, the sex ratio would change over generations.[14]


The Sally Miller Gearhart Papers (1956-1999) are held at the Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries.[15]

Gearhart is an entry in the 2003 dictionary-like book The A to Z of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage, by JoAnne Myers.[16]

The Sally Miller Gearhart Fund for lesbian studies was created to promote research and teaching in lesbian studies through an annual lecture series and an endowed professorship at the University of Oregon.[17] The annual Sally Miller Gearhart Lecture in Lesbian Studies at the University of Oregon was first held on May 27, 2009; this first lecture was titled The Incredibly Shrinking Lesbian World and Other Queer Conundra, and was given by Arlene Stein of Rutgers University.[17]

Gearhart was portrayed by Carrie Preston in the 2017 miniseries When We Rise, which dealt with the evolution of the LGBT community in San Francisco and advancement of LGBT civil rights in America.[18][19]


  • Some modern American concepts of tragic drama as revealed by the critical writings of twentieth century American playwrights (1953)
  • Aristotle and Modern Theorists on the Elements of Tragedy. (1969)
  • The Lesbian and God-the-Father, or, All the Church Needs Is a Good Lay ... On Its Side (1972)[20]
  • Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church. (1974)
  • The Wanderground (1979)
  • " The Sword and the Vessel Versus the Lake on the Lake" (1980)
  • " The Future - if there is one - is Female " (1981)
  • A Feminist Tarot (1981)
  • “Future Visions: Today’s Politics: Feminist Utopias in Review” (1984)
  • The Kanshou (2002)
  • The Magister (2003)

Further reading[edit]

  • Tyrkus, Michael; Bronski, Michael; Gomez, Jewelle (1997). Gay & Lesbian Biography. Detroit, Michigan: St. James Press. ISBN 1-55862-237-3.


  1. ^ "Sally'S Story". Sally Miller Gearhart. 1931-04-15. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Guide to the Sally Miller Gearhart Papers". Northwest Digital Archives. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  4. ^ Detoit, Gale. "Sally Miller Gearhart". Contemporary Authors Online. Literature Resource Center. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  5. ^ a b Sandra Pollack, Denise Knight (1993). Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the United States. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 207–211. ISBN 0-313-28215-3.
  6. ^ Sheehan, Jane Russo (Fall 2012). "1952". Sweet Briar Magazine. p. 38. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  7. ^ Profile - LGBTRAN
  8. ^ Faderman, Lillian (2015). The Gay Revolution. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 372. ISBN 978-1-4516-9411-6.
  9. ^ Guide to the Sally Miller Gearhart Papers 1956-1999
  10. ^ "The Word is Out (1977)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  11. ^ Holden, Stephen (March 19, 1993). "Fond Recollections of a Part of Gay HIstory". New York Times. ProQuest 109206864.
  12. ^ "Sally Miller Gearhart". Barnes and Noble. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Sally Miller Gearhart, "The Future—If There Is One—Is Female," Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence, New Society Publishers 1982:266–284.
  15. ^ Guide to the Sally Miller Gearhart Papers 1956-1999
  16. ^ Myers, Joanne (2009-08-20). The A to Z of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage - JoAnne Myers - Google Books. ISBN 9780810863279. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  17. ^ a b Sally Miller Gearhart Fund for Lesbian Studies | Department of Women's and Gender Studies
  18. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 15, 2016). "Carrie Preston to Star In ABC's LGBT Rights Miniseries 'When We Rise'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  19. ^ Clarke, David. "ABC's 'When We Rise' is a Timely Lesson in Intersectionality | Out Magazine". Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  20. ^ Daley, James, ed. (2010). Great Speeches on Gay Rights (1st ed.). Dover Publications. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-486-47512-7.

External links[edit]