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Kay Lahusen papers

Identifier: MS-Coll-122

Scope and Contents

The Kay Lahusen papers are comprised primarily of content Lahusen retained, created, or consumed in the fourteen years following Barbara Gittings’ death in 2007 until her own passing in 2021. The materials have been arranged into nine series: I. Personal files, II. Writing, III. Correspondence, IV. Subject files, V. Photography, VI. Audiovisual materials, VII. Christian Science and religious texts, VIII. LGBT themed texts, and IX. Artifacts. Much of the content is arranged alphabetically by subject heading and then chronologically, except as noted below. Many of the materials are undated. These arrangements reflect Lahusen’s organization where such order could be determined. Materials may be duplications of content housed in this and other archival collections. I. Personal files, 1979–2020, undated Personal files contain the contact lists and personal planners of Kay Lahusen from 2007–2014 and 2019–2021. Also included are legal documents, awards honoring both Lahusen and Gittings or Gittings alone, and several iterations of “vitae” biographical briefs for both Gittings and Lahusen, dated 2003–2010.

II. Writings, 1964–1966, 2008–2020, undated Handwritten drafts and notes created by Lahusen. Lahusen’s drafts are largely undated and not organized by subject matter. Such notes may also be evident in other files within the collection. Topics include fellow activists, reflection on the history of the LGBT rights movement, and Gittings’ legacy. Also included is a printed copy of Frank Kameny’s speech, "Civil Liberties: A Progress Report,” July 22, 1964. Conservation note: This series includes many pages with post-it notes layered onto the legal and notebook paper. These notes obscure some of the written content.

III. Correspondence, 1992–2021, undated [bulk 2006–2021] Correspondence is broken into two subseries. General correspondence, with Lahusen’s written interactions with 78 individuals and organizations, is arranged by last name of the correspondent or by organization name. Greeting cards, 2008–2021, received by Lahusen from friends and acquaintances during her time living at Kendal at Longwood, are arranged chronologically. Many of the correspondence files include additional materials such as drafts, interview content, and photographs. Additional material interactions between correspondents may be found elsewhere in the collection. Of particular note is the photograph-filled correspondence from Rita Adessa, former executive director of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (PLGTF); author Tracy Baim, who went on to write the book Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer (CreateSpace Publishing, 2015) with Lahusen’s photographs and assistance; and author David Carter’s (1957–2020) early draft of his unfinished biography Frank Kameny: Father of the LGBT Rights Movement.

IV. Subject files, 1964–2021, undated [bulk 2000s-2021] Subject files are organized into two subseries: General subject files and Clippings. General subject files include mixed materials and formats which may include but are not limited to: correspondence, notes, clippings, photographs, internet printouts, and some electronic content. The materials reference and record some of the many organizations that honored Gittings and Lahusen for their role as foundational figures in the LGBT rights movement. Also collected here are subject files about films, publications, exhibitions, and interviews on the topic of LGBT rights and more specifically, Gittings’ and Lahusen’s work. The files include planning and research for Tracy Baim’s book, Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer; additional files related to David Carter’s unfinished biography of Frank Kameny; files related to Victor Salvo’s work on the Chicago “Legacy Walk;” filmmaker Grete Miller’s planning for a project labeled “Mother of a Movement;” research and correspondence with author and health advocate Margaret Rubick for her essays, “Ascending the Ladder” (2010–2012) and “The Women Who Took On the APA” (2009-2013); and files detailing Timothy Gold’s (né Scofield) plans for a national LGBT history museum developed by his nonprofit, the Velvet Foundation. Documents reference and record the administration and digitization of Gittings and Lahusen’s large archival donation to the New York Public Library in 2007. The Clippings, 2001, 2005–2021 subseries represents the substantial number of clippings, newspaper and magazine sections, and printed articles consumed, shared back and forth, and retained by Lahusen. The majority of these relate to LGBT rights issues with special attention to certain individuals and causes, such as Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and marriage equality. V. Photography 1961–2014, undated Photographs within the collection are broken into two subseries, each arranged loosely chronologically: Activism and professional photography and Personal snapshots. Photographs, in original form and duplicate, are also found throughout the collection. The photographs in the Activism and professional photography subseries are mostly large prints and include many duplicates or photocopies showcasing Lahusen’s photojournalism and activism between 1962–1978, including some of the earliest gay rights pickets from 1964–1969, and post-Stonewall gay rights activism focused on the APA and the ALA. Works by additional photographers are present and noted where possible, including photos from founding GAA member Fred Orlanski taken in the 1990s and photographs by Anne Moore from the ALA’s tribute to Barbara Gittings in 2007. Most of the titles and attributions were derived from Lahusen’s personal filing system. The Personal snapshots subseries include photographs of Barbara Gittings’ family and undated interior shots from the early 1960s. There are also a number of photographs from the 1990s showing Gittings with her aunt Katherine Batchelder, known as “Tante Kay.” Additional photographs in this subseries date from the 1990s through 2014. These include many portraits of Gittings alone or Lahusen and Gittings together; photos taken with friends, activists, and care staff; special events; and vacations. The file labeled “Heaven Sent Helpers,” records a personal project of Lahusen’s where she displayed personal photographs in acknowledgment of the many people who assisted and supported her over the years. These photos were displayed around the mirror on her door in Kendal at Longwood, room 339, with the assistance of the facility’s activities directors. Similarly, in the year prior to Lahusen’s final illness, she identified materials for a collage for display in her room, made with staff assistance, which included photographs of friends and loved ones. Pieces of the final collage are held in series IX. Artifacts. VI. Audiovisual materials, 1971–2020, undated Audiovisual materials are arranged into three subseries by format, with each series arranged alphabetically: DVDs, VHS tapes, and Audio cassette tapes. The DVDs include a handwritten list noting films that were stored on Lahusen’s desk. The DVDs Lahusen kept are a mixed assortment, including documentaries, archival materials, and feature films. The VHS tape subseries is mostly comprised of archival content documenting tributes, panels, or interviews featuring Barbara Gittings. The five Audio cassette tapes in the collection contain content from the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force in the 1980s and 1990s.

VII. Christian Science and religious texts, 1960–2021, undated Lahusen’s religious texts include a personal bible and hymnal, books, and journals. These present evidence of her connection to the Christian Science religious movement in which she was raised. Lahusen’s interests include a small number of Episcopalian and Quaker literature which explore how those Christian sects have navigated LGBT inclusion and acceptance. Books are arranged alphabetically by author’s last name and journals are listed alphabetically by title.

VIII. LGBT themed texts, 1969–2020 A larger portion of Lahusen’s library features LGBT-themed books and periodicals that indicate Lahusen’s reading consumption or personal and professional author relationships. They are arranged into two subseries: LGBT themed books and LGBT themed periodicals. Books are arranged by the author’s last name and periodicals are arranged alphabetically by title. Additional books from Lahusen’s collection may be found in the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Library.

IX. Artifacts, 1990s–2020, undated Artifacts have been divided into two subseries: Framed and unframed images from Kay Lahusen's room at Kendal at Longwood and Objects. Many of these are undated and have been arranged alphabetically by file or item name. Lahusen displayed many framed images around her room. Some images have been removed from their frames for preservation purposes. Images within this subseries may include duplicates of photographs and materials found elsewhere in the collection. Among the Objects subseries is a box of keepsakes made up of several pieces of Gittings’ clothing and personal items. Two heart-shaped boxes contain handwritten wishes for the future from both Lahusen and Gittings during Gittings’ initial breast cancer treatment in 2000. Also within this subseries are two rainbow surgical masks from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The subseries also contains several sections of photo collage on black construction paper, magnets, buttons, mugs, several small keys, and tote bags. A sweatshirt is embroidered with a small dinosaur, a favorite symbol of Gittings’ and Lahusen’s, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to their post-Stonewall label as “dinosaurs” of the LGBT rights movement.


  • 1961 - 2021


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may exist. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives of the William Way LGBT Community Center.

Biographical / Historical

Katherine “Kay” Lahusen (1930–2021) was a photojournalist, author, activist, and longtime partner of Barbara Gittings (1961–2007), considered by many to be the mother of the LGBT movement in the United States. While Gittings was often at the forefront of LGBT activism, pre-Stonewall, and was a vocal LGBT rights organizer for decades after, Gittings noted during her life that Lahusen was equally, if differently, responsible. Lahusen photographed, documented, and co-planned many of the protests and actions organized by Gittings and fellow activist Frank Kameny. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lahusen was raised by her grandparents in the Christian Science religion. Her relationship with her family became strained after discovering that the woman she had always believed was her sister was in fact her mother. Lahusen attended University of Cincinnati briefly and graduated from Ohio State University. After college, Lahusen moved to Boston, Massachusetts and worked in the research library of the Christian Science Monitor from 1956-1961. She met Gittings in 1961 at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic in Rhode Island. Lahusen moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to live with Gittings, where the couple would reside for much of their lives. Gittings held the position of editor at the Daughters of Bilitis’s publication, The Ladder, from 1963–1966, and Lahusen acted as largely unattributed art director and contributing writer under her early pseudonym “Kay Tobin.” During this time, Lahusen was responsible for replacing the typical illustrations on The Ladder’s cover with her own photography of real lesbian subjects. Lahusen documented and participated in some of the earliest pickets for gay rights, from 1965-1969. Attending with activist-organizers Gittings and Kameny, Lahusen photographed the first LGBT demonstrations at the White House, the Pentagon, and the July 4th Annual Reminder protests on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. A founding member of the post-Stonewall organization the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA), Lahusen stayed heavily engaged in LGBT activism. Lahusen worked alongside Gittings as they continued to organize for change and LGBT acceptance within the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Library Association (ALA). Lahusen worked as a photojournalist and writer for GAY newsweekly, founded and edited in the early 1970s by partners Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke. In 1972, Lahusen co-published the book The Gay Crusaders (New York: Paperback Library), with Randy Wicker, however, Lahusen and Wicker often recounted in interviews that his inclusion was largely to satisfy publishers’ desire to have a male co-author. After decades in Philadelphia, Lahusen and Gittings moved to Delaware. Lahusen and Gittings understood that the materials they had personally collected and maintained over their decades of activism represented unique evidence of the history of the LGBT rights movement. They had already distributed some of their personal materials to LGBT archives and libraries around the country when, in 2007, they donated the remaining bulk of their combined archival materials to the New York Public Library. Shortly before Gittings’ death that same year, the couple moved to the assisted living facility, Kendal at Longwood, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Lahusen continued to live in the retirement community until her final illness in 2021. During her last 14 years, Lahusen was a staunch protector of Gittings’ legacy and continued to be an advocate for LGBT rights, accepting interviews and honors on Gittings’ behalf, corresponding with friends and scholars, and collecting news clippings highlighting current events on LGBT themes.


23.84 Linear feet (39 document boxes, 2 photo boxes, 1 record carton, 1 custom keepsakes box, 4 flat boxes, 2 oversized flat boxes, 1 oversized folder, and 2 oversized framed items.)

Language of Materials



Katherine “Kay” Lahusen (1930–2021) was a photojournalist, author, activist, and longtime partner of Barbara Gittings (1961–2007), considered by many to be the mother of the LGBT movement in the United States. Lahusen’s photography and activism was integral to the organizing work of Gittings and fellow activist Frank Kameny. The Kay Lahusen papers are comprised primarily of content Lahusen retained, created, or consumed in the fourteen years following Barbara Gittings’ death in 2007 until her own passing in 2021.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the estate of Kay Tobin Lahusen, 2021.

Related Materials

Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections:Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen collection, 1965-2007. Coll. 7645.

John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives of the William Way LGBT Community Center. Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen collection, 1950-2009 [Bulk: 1964-1975]. Ms Coll 3.

New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division: Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs, 1855-2009. Mss. Coll. 6397.

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives: Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Collection, 1962-2007. Coll. 2008-069.

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives: Kay Tobin Lahusen photographs, circa 1965-1972. Coll. 2012.074.

University of Minnesota Libraries. Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies: Barbara Gittings papers, 1967-2006. Tretter. 225.

Kay Lahusen papers, 1960-2021
Alisa Kraut
October 11, 2022
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center Repository

1315 Spruce Street
Philadelphia PA 19107