Why Alice B. Toklas?

Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

The first question many people ask about Alice is, why the organization was named after Alice B. Toklas?

Alice was chartered in December, 1971, just two years after the Stonewall Riots at a time when there was enormous hostility towards gay people.

By 1971, the year Alice was chartered, an average of 2,800 gay men were being arrested annually by the SFPD from raids on gay bars and meeting areas. Convictions of any kind of morals charge often carried the requirement that the defendant register as a sex offender. In the 1970’s, almost all professional licenses (even for people who worked as hairdressers) had to be cleared by the police, and so a conviction could destroy a person’s ability to work. People’s lives could be ruined by coming out.
Alice was formed as an organization that would fight discrimination through political action, but getting people to join the club and come out publicly in support of gay rights was a hard thing to do in this context.

To make people feel more comfortable, the club was called “Alice”, referring to Alice B. Toklas, the lesbian partner of the famous author Gertrude Stein. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying you were a “Friend of Dorothy”. This would protect the anonymity of new members who might be coming out, while still allowing Club members to recruit newcomers.

If you are interested in learning more about Alice B. Toklas, there is a fantastic exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum currently on Gertrude Stein that also has a section on Alice B. Toklas. Follow this link to Find out more info about the exhibit.

Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

Follow this link for other articles in this series and for events marking the 40th Anniversary

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