Dr. Holly Baggett | Missouri State University | 14279
Missouri State University History Professor Dr. Holly Baggett was approached to write an article about the history of Springfield’s gay and lesbian community for Springfield’s Urban Histories.
“This is what historians call “social history”-the history of everyday people and writing about every-day people who, for the most part were trying to remain invisible was going to be a little tough,” says Baggett. “The good was, that there has always been a vibrant community here, since World War II, which surprised me”
Gay and lesbian men and women always found ways to get together.
“The bad part of it is a lot of people had bad experiences during those days. There were straight bars that would let people in but sometimes it would get a little ugly and people had to go running out, police taking down their license tags, etc.”
Jim House told Baggett:
“At Drury I was president of my fraternity and editor of the newspaper and really active on campus and in those days if you would’ve ‘come out,’ you would have been out. So I was really afraid.” He was appalled at the lack of organization of the gay community. “And I decided I would open a bar to give gay people a nice place to go. I opened a bar called Mister Jones which was where Martha’s is. It was small and intimate, but it was nice.”
The AIDS Crisis hit hard in the Ozarks as it did across the country. House started the AIDS Project of Springfield.
“It was kind of a rough go because people didn’t want to talk about it. The poor guy who came in and admitted he was HIV-positive was a customer at the bar and when people found out he had AIDS, man, they were like, ‘do you really sterilize his glasses, do you throw his glasses out, you should serve him in a paper cup, what if he uses the bathroom?’ Ignorant stuff. I thought, that’s what the AIDS project needs to do, is educate, particularly the gay population.”
Another incident that many remember is the 1989 backlash to the play, The Normal Heart. Local representative Jean Dixon opposed the play and led a petition drive and media campaign to try to convince then Southwest Missouri State President Marshall Gordon to cancel the play.
In Springfield’s gay and lesbian community, the good and the bad have often been intertwined. “Those events helped galvanize the community. People started to get politically organized and say ‘You know, we’ve got to let people know we’re here, and this is our home, too.”
The push to organize after the failed attempt to add sexual orientation to the city’s Biased Crimes Ordinance led to the creation of GLO. Today, it is the only gay and lesbian community center open in the state of Missouri.
Anne Baker is the Archivist for Special Collections for the Ozarks Gay and Lesbian Archives in the Special Collections Department of the Meyer Library at Missouri State.
“Part of what we’re doing here, is not trying to document ancient history. We’re looking at what we can document now that will be needed a hundred years from now. So contemporary activities, we try to get newsletters that are still going out, the oral histories, quite a few of these people are younger, but their stories being told now will be very useful 50 years from now, a hundred years from now.”
Holly Baggett won the 2013 MCH Award for Best Article on Missouri History from The State Historical Society of Missouri for her article and research.