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Wide-Open Town

A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965

Nan Alamilla Boyd (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 334 pages
ISBN: 9780520244740
April 2005
$29.95, £25.00
Other Formats Available:
Wide-Open Town traces the history of gay men and lesbians in San Francisco from the turn of the century, when queer bars emerged in San Francisco's tourist districts, to 1965, when a raid on a drag ball changed the course of queer history. Bringing to life the striking personalities and vibrant milieu that fueled this era, Nan Alamilla Boyd examines the culture that developed around the bar scene and homophile activism. She argues that the communities forged inside bars and taverns functioned politically and, ultimately, offered practical and ideological responses to the policing of San Francisco's queer and transgender communities. Using police and court records, oral histories, tourist literature, and manuscript collections from local and state archives, Nan Alamilla Boyd explains the phenomenal growth of San Francisco as a "wide-open town"—a town where anything goes. She also relates the early history of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement that took place in San Francisco prior to 1965.

Wide-Open Town argues that police persecution forged debates about rights and justice that transformed San Francisco's queer communities into the identity-based groups we see today. In its vivid re-creation of bar and drag life, its absorbing portrait of central figures in the communities, and its provocative chronicling of this period in the country's most transgressive city, Wide-Open Town offers a fascinating and lively new chapter of American queer history.

Introduction: San Francisco Was a Wide-Open Town
Oral History: José Sarria
1. Transgender and Gay Male Cultures from
the 1890s through the 1960s
Oral History: Reba Hudson
2. Lesbian Space, Lesbian Territory: San Francisco’s North Beach District, 1933–1954
Oral History: Joe Baron
3. Policing Queers in the 1940s and 1950s: Harassment, Prosecution, and the Legal Defense of Gay Bars
Oral History: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon
4. "A Queer Ladder of Social Mobility": San Francisco’s Homophile Movements, 1953–1960
Oral History: George Mendenhall
5. Queer Cooperation and Resistance: A Gay and Lesbian Movement Comes Together in the 1960s
Conclusion: Marketing a Queer San Francisco

Appendix A: Map of North Beach Queer Bars and Restaurants, 1933–1965
Appendix B: List of Interviewees
Plates follow page
Nan Alamilla Boyd is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Sonoma State University.
“Boyd zones in on the city’s status as a destination for ‘sex and race tourism’ and its concomitant reputation where, sexually speaking, anything goes.”—Bookforum
"Wide-Open Town is a well-researched and well-written history of an essential topic that manages to be scholarly without being dull. To those who came of age after Stonewall, this book is a vivid look at a bygone era, and of the women and men who made gay San Francisco what it is today."—Jesse Monteagudo Gay Today
"A dynamic, immanently readable study of the making of queer public culture in San Francisco."—Benjamin Shepard Left Turn
"Boyd provides deeply detailed context by relating the broader American social and historical forces at work, as well as the personal perspective of oral histories. ... [A]s San Francisco is virtually gay Mecca, Wide-Open Town is recommended for large public libraries as well."—Library Journal
“For anyone interested in as-yet-untold queer history, this is a must-read.”—New York Blade News
“[An] insightful and thought-provoking study of the social, economic, cultural, sexual, gender and geographic factors that created San Francisco as the gay capital of the U.S.”—Kevin McAteer Out In The Mountains (Vt)
"In its vivid re-creation of bar and drag life, its absorbing portraits of central figures in the communities, and its provocative chronicling of this period in the country's most transgressive city, Wide Open Town offers a fascinating and lively new chapter in American queer history."—Pink Pages
“The book is deeply informed and enlivened by 42 oral histories she [Boyd] gathered with lesbians and gay men who have lived in San Francisco since the 1930s . . . and this terrific material allows Boyd to explore topics that have traditionally been ignored by gay historians. . . . Boyd has a keen ear for distinctive details, and it is this . . . that drives this welcome study."—Publishers Weekly
“A vital book, a fact-packed chronicle of the people and the places that kept San Francisco ‘open.’ It not only demonstrates the richness of the city's early gay culture but also seeks to validate the influence of the (not so) underground bar culture on generations of queer San Franciscans and on the city they call home."—San Francisco Chronicle
"A smart, insightful, readable book. Boyd expertly outlines the political, economic, and legal contours of San Francisco's queer history. With a rich array of sources, she reconstructs the nightclubs and bars where customers, workers, and owners fought for the right to public assembly and helped inaugurate a movement for gay and lesbian civil rights."—Joanne Meyerowitz, author of How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States

"An outstanding book, a major contribution to U.S. gay, lesbian, and queer history. Nan Boyd has produced a fascinating account that helps us to understand why and how San Francisco has come to occupy such pride of place in the queer imagination. Traversing the complicated geography, the multiple gender and sexual cultures, and the multi-layered politics of a great metropolis, Wide-Open Town is a must-read for historians, students and scholars of sex, gender, and sexuality, and all those who have ever left their hearts in San Francisco."—Marc Stein, author of City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972

"Boyd spins out a fascinating story of a unique community and in the process informs our understanding of the development of gay/lesbian communities and activism in places beyond San Francisco. She does this by showing the links between and relationship of cultural resistance and various forms of political organizing, and by rethinking the ways that major events in U.S. history, such as Prohibition and the Second World War, have shaped gay/lesbian history."—Leila J. Rupp, author of A Desired Past

"Nan Boyd has excavated a queer pre-history of gay liberation movements in San Francisco. By highlighting sex and race tourism as well as the centrality of gender transgression to the creation of gay communities, she sheds new light on the formation of sexual identities in the twentieth century. Both insightful and highly readable, Wide Open Town takes lesbian and gay history a step further by locating its roots in gender subversion and through the compelling stories of individual sexual pioneers who frame her analyses."—Estelle B. Freedman, author of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women

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