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Guide to the Elsa Gidlow Papers, 1898-1986 (bulk dates 1920-1986)
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The content of this collection (13 linear feet) documents Elsa Gidlow's personal life, public activity and literary accomplishments from 1920 until her death in 1986. The Papers are divided into nine series: Correspondence, Subject Files, Manuscripts, Published Works, Journals and Yearbooks, Audio-Visual and Photographs, Ephemera, Oversize Materials, and Original Documents.
Poet-philosopher Elsa Gidlow died peacefully in her mountain home retreat, "Druid Heights," near Muir Woods, Mill Valley, California on June 8, 1986.Born in Yorkshire, England in 1898, six-year-old Elsa Gidlow immigrated with her family of nine to the French Canadian village of Tetreauville. She was mainly self- educated, being allowed what she called, "the untutored space to be."Gidlow's editor, Celeste West of Booklegger Press, says "We always joked that Elsa was born avant garde: North American's first published writer of a lesbian poetry volume (1923); radical feminist of the "first wave;" protest-poet attacked by McCarthyites; member of San Francisco's bohemian, psychedelic, then New Age and women's spirituality circles. Elsa fought life-long against class privilege, organized religion, and sexism, while fighting for all varieties of love and beauty."Gidlow led the precarious career of a freelance journalist. She created a rich vein of protest and love poetry, while supporting her family and others. She also created, in the fifties, one of the renown garden-retreats of the coast redwoods. Gidlow insisted her life was her art: "We consider the artist a special sort of person. It is more likely that each of us is a special sort of artist."Gidlow left Montreal for New York in 1920, where she became poetry editor for Frank Harris' progressive, much censored Pearson's Magazine. She sailed to San Francisco in 1926 with her long-time companion Violet Henry-Anderson. In San Francisco, she became friends with Ansel Adams, Robinson Jeffers, Kenneth Rexroth, Lou Harrison, Ella Young, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Margo St. James, Clarkson Crane, Clyde Evans, and zen philosopher Alan Watts, who dedicated his autobiography to her.In 1962, Gidlow co-founded, with Alan and Jano Watts, the Society of Comparative Philosophy, one of the first organizations to bring eastern wisdom to the west. Of Elsa Gidlow's thirteen books, five are in print, including her recently released autobiography, ELSA: I Come With My Songs (Booklegger Press), and her luminous love poetry, Sapphic Songs: Eighteen To Eighty (Booklegger Press). The ELSA autobiography has been called "A magnificent portrait of the artist as an old woman, of the esprit libre," who wrote, "Let none speak sadly of October, / I, Elsa, from the peak of years, / Say this: I have loved all seasons."Elsa Gidlow is survived by her sister Thea Gidlow in Santa Rosa. Memorial donations may be made to "The Druid Height Trust for Women Artists,".....
Copyright to unpublished manuscript materials is not held by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.
Collection is open for research.