Personal Histories

Contact us if you would like to write your own personal history or conduct an oral history to be posted on this page.

The 1920s

Leslie “Pratt” Spelman (OC 28). Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.Leslie “Pratt” Spelman (OC 28)
Oral history
Although I knew I was different from the other town boys, I knew nothing about what we now call gay…

The 1930s

Robert Durand (OC 34). Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.Robert Durand (OC 34)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
Most young people had their minds pretty well open…They wouldn’t dream of preaching!

blank-thMargaret Caroline Yeakel (OC 35)
Obituary
A social work professor known for her support of the downtrodden…

The 1940s

blank-thFrank Burton (pseudonym; OC 49)
Oral history
I knew a guy at Oberlin who was thrown out because another guy reported him for being queer. We all thought it was a travesty…

The 1950s

blank-thGeorge Brenner (pseudonym; OC 50)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
I discovered a whole gay world had come out. And that was the wonderful revelation for me. And I joined them…

Wood-thRev. Robert Wood (Graduate School of Theology 51)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
We called it the Throne Room because it was always occupied by the queens on campus…

Fisher-thDavid Fisher (OC 51)
Essay
A year or two later I heard that the waiter had attempted suicide, and I wondered if it was somehow related to our furtive episode…

blank-thJohn Poynter (OC 51)
Essay
There was no vocabulary to describe who we were, other than some few pejorative terms…

blank-thBobbi Keppel (OC 55)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
These people were mostly expatriates from England, because at that time the sodomy law was twenty years in jail…

Vance-thBill Vance (OC 56)
Oral history
And so long as I remained religious, of course, it was something I was praying against, and agonizing over at night…

Spear-thAllan Spear (OC 58)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
Professor Artz was a classic queen who made no attempts to conceal his effeminate manners and his elegant “bachelor” lifestyle…

Tibbetts-thThomas Tibbetts (OC 59)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
I felt very little homophobia…and there were very notable, very well-placed homosexuals in the institution…

The 1960s

Palmer-thLarry Palmer (OC 60)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
We went to see the very revered head of the theory department, Robert Melcher…and just very frankly said we’ve fallen in love…

Wells-thTony Wells (OC 62)
Essay
We…thought we were becoming members of the same elite, glamorous fraternity as Tchaikovsky and Proust and Gide…

Kramer-thGale Kramer (OC 63)
Essay
I was terrified! I went secretly and ashamedly to the county mental health clinic in Elyria…

Stiefel-thRobert Stiefel (OC 63)
Essay
In a folder marked “Oberlin” was every letter or scrap of paper that I
had ever sent Michael, even things written on napkins.

Clemmons-thFrançois Clemmons (OC 67)
Oral history
That’s where I first heard about the Harlem Renaissance and all of the writers that ultimately turned out to be gay…

Goodman-smallRoger Goodman (OC 68)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clips)
I loved being the Oberlin College scandal…

The 1970s

Matter-thAnn Matter (OC 71)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
We had all the Noël Coward periphrastic ways of referring to ourselves, like “she’s a vegetarian,” or “he’s very musical”…

Boswell-thHolly Boswell (OC 72)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
The whole climate at the time was all about rebellion, and turning things around, and creating a new world…

blank-thMisha Cohen (OC 73)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
When I went to [Oberlin]…I immediately became a vegetarian [and] I immediately met all the…women’s liberation people…

Vasseur-thDominique Vasseur (OC 73)
Essay
I had adopted what I felt was a “gay” manner of dress—tight bellbottoms, blue suede clogs, [and] lots of beads…

Graham-thStella Graham (OC 73)
Oral history
It would have been very “un-PC” to criticize someone for being a lesbian. More likely you could be criticized for not being…

Pfeiffer-thBill Pfeiffer (OC 74)
Essay
Being able to hit that note and to sustain it was a sure sign of being a “thoroughbred Oberlin queen and a lady of true refinement.”

hood-thBill Hood (OC Professor of Art History)
Interview
I realized that I could support them in a way that no one had supported me when I was young, and I sort of reached out to them.

Rakich-thChrista Rakich (OC 75)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
People talked a lot about a continuum—everybody being at least a little bit gay…

The 1980s

Bechdel-thAlison Bechdel (OC 81)
“Coming Out Story” Comic
In a cruel twist of fate, I found myself fending off nerdboys, while my wildly popular, hip heterosexual roommate had discovered real live lesbians!

Young-thJohn “Martey” Young (OC 83)
Essay
He was one of the “banished” brothers from the Black community on campus because of his open homosexuality…

Rosenbaum-thDennis Rosenbaum (OC 84)
Essay
I would have to say that the most important lesson I learned while at Oberlin was that it was okay to be me…

myers-thLeslie Myers (OC 85)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
This was at a time politically when there was a lot of separatism in communities of color…

The 1990s

kuku-siemons-thDiepiriye Sungumote Kuku-Siemons (OC 97)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
I really want to document the experience of queer people in different parts of the world…

The 2000s

Dargel-thCorey Dargel (OC 01)
Essay
We decided to promote the concert using something less ordinary than a standard concert poster…

hickman-thPaul Hickman (OC 01)
Oral history audioicon (with audio clip)
If you were transgendered, you transitioned or you made a whole lot of effort to pass…

Eler-thAlicia Eler (OC 06)
Essay
Before I went to Oberlin, I thought that I knew everything about being queer…

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