CAMP Memories: Rehoboth's Gay History
|by Fay Jacobs and Libby Stiff|
This is one in a series of remembrances, oral histories and tales of the way we were in gay Rehoboth Beach during the Twentieth Century. The short vignettes are based on interviews, newspaper clippings and whatever lore has been passed down through the years in our gay-friendly town.
On Saturday evenings in the summer, the comfortable porch at a certain South Rehoboth beach bungalow is always humming with cocktails and good conversation. Local residents, making up a huge spectrum of young and older, gay and straight, male and female, gather at a Gertrude-Stein-like salon with long-time Rehoboth homeowners Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford. And the conversation can sparkle with comments about anything from politics, religion, music, local transportation planning, gay rights, literature, or their beloved cats.
The couple, who celebrated their golden anniversary one year ago, never seem to tire of the stream of visitors, familiar faces as well as newcomers, brought to the porch to meet them. And the fact that Muriel and Anyda have become local celebrities is due partly to some recent press coverage, partly to the inclusion of their love story in a book on gay marriage, and partly due to their decision to come out of the closet just six years ago.
The pair met in 1948 when they were both working for a Washington, DC law firm. But Muriel had discovered Rehoboth Beach in the 1940's when she came here with relatives. After she and Anyda got together, they both spent time in Rehoboth at the Dinner Bell Inn"fishermen stayed there!" By the mid-50's they'd bought a house on Ann B. Street. "We were surrounded by farms," they recall, "and we'd have tea on the porch of the Dinner Bell and breakfast sometimes at 3 or 4 a.m. at the Robin Hood with the fishermen."
Was there a gay presence in town back then? "If there was, we certainly didn't know about it," Anyda says.
"We didn't even say the word lesbian. We had a friend who used the word, but we did not. Since we were always saying "shush!" to her about it, when we saw someone on the street who we thought might be gay we'd say Do you think she's a shush?"
Muriel and Anyda do remember seeing some men, who they suspected were gay, walking around Rehoboth in the 1950's and they would wave to them, but that was it. "As far as we knew, we never saw any other women at all."
But being in the closet for Anyda and Muriel didn't mean they kept to themselves. They found full acceptance with their families, all without saying a word about their relationship. "There was an old style of society, where people just accepted things," says Muriel. "Anyda's mother called me Muriel-my-love. It didn't make a difference. There wasn't the kind of religious bigotry we see some places today."
And they certainly didn't see it in Rehoboth. Both Anyda and Muriel are long-time members of Rehoboth's All-Saints Church. "We became friendly with Father Bailey and his wife Charlotte. He certainly knew all about us," they recall. "We were very welcomed at church. People treated us like we were anybody else."
As for participation in the growing gay subculture, Muriel and Anyda made their considerable mark in the 1970's and 80's without leaving the closet. Anyda became a well-known novelist, penning romantic stories with lesbian themes under the name Sarah Aldridge. She wrote her tales in long-hand on yellow legal pads with Muriel following up and typing them.
Though the couple remained discreet, they did begin to see a change in Rehoboth. "I remember, in about 1973, we went to the Boathouse in Dewey" Anyda says. "It was a mom and pop operation and there were men and women therewith juke boxes and a snooker table."
By the 1980's Rehoboth began to change, and the couple watched the influx of gay men. "It was obvious they brought a lot of money into town and a lot of renovating," Muriel says.
As for their own journey out of the closet, press coverage for Sarah Aldridge and her novels in a Wilmington newspaper pretty much made it inevitable. "They wanted to do a story on me," Anyda remembers, "and I had no objections, but we couldn't very well do the story without revealing the situation. It behooved me, since I had a certain position, as a novelist. I told Muriel what I wanted to do and asked her if it was alright with her."
"I really didn't want to, but I told her to go ahead. Then on the day after the article came out, I just slunk into the pew at church, very afraid."
No need. They were greeted with wide opened arms and congratulations. And now, they are delighted with the diversity of life in Rehoboth and in their own lives.
As Anyda told Eric Marcus, in his book Together Forever, when she was a young woman, she "didn't foresee a life where you could really settle down with another woman."
Now, after more than fifty years together, Anyda and Muriel, who can still be heard calling each other "sweetie" are a terrific reminder of how courageous women and men changed our culture and our community. Right here in Rehoboth beach.
Can you tell us more about these and other Gay Rehoboth memories? Rehoboth residents and visitors wishing to contribute their recollections, photos or printed matter may contact both authors via CAMP Rehoboth or Fay at email@example.com ; Libby at lstiff@hotmaiLcom. We'd love to hear from you!
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 14, Oct. 15, 1999