Sally Miller Gearhart papers , 1902-2015

Overview of the Collection

Sally Miller Gearhart papers
1902-2015 (inclusive)
1940s-2015 (bulk)
46.5 linear feet, (34 containers)  :  26 record storage boxes; 3 manuscript boxes; 3 flat boxes (18" x 13" x 3.5"); 1 photo box (13" x 10" x 3"); 1 half manuscript box
Collection Number
Coll 305
Dr. Sally Miller Gearhart was a scholar, educator, science-fiction writer, feminist, and lesbian activist. The papers include correspondence, literary works, academic work, public appearances and publicity materials, photographs, journals and artwork, personal papers, and writings of others.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Access to the academic work series folder ""Scharlotte", circa 1958-1959" is closed until 2029 due to the presence of medical records of a third party individual.

Additional Reference Guides

See the Current Collection Guide for detailed description and requesting options.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

Dr. Sally Miller Gearhart was a scholar, educator, science-fiction writer, feminist, and lesbian activist.

Sally Miller Gearhart was born in Pearisburg, Virginia, on April 15, 1931, to Sarah Miller Gearhart and Kyle Montague Gearhart. Gearhart's parents divorced when she was young, and she spent much of her childhood with her maternal grandmother, who ran a women's boardinghouse and owned a theater building.

After graduating high school in 1948, Gearhart attended Sweet Briar College, a women's college near Lynchburg, Virginia, where she graduated with a B.A. in English and drama in 1952. She earned an M.A. in public address from Bowling Green State University in 1953 and a Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Illinois in 1956.

In 1956, Dr. Gearhart began teaching speech and theatre at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where she taught until 1960. She was a visiting associate professor of theatre at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, from 1959-1960. At Texas Lutheran College (now University) in Seguin, Texas, she was an associate professor of speech and drama from 1960-1970 and a department chair from 1965-1970. She did post-doctoral work at the University of Kansas from 1969-1970. During these years, Dr. Gearhart hid her sexuality and attempted to fit in with the conservative Protestant environments in which she lived and worked.

In 1970, Dr. Gearhart moved to San Francisco and began living openly as a lesbian. She was hired by San Francisco State University in 1972 to teach speech communication, where she became the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position. At San Francisco State University, Dr. Gearhart helped establish one of the first women's studies programs in the United States. She developed and taught the first university course on sex roles and communication. She served as chair of the Speech Communication Department from 1981-1984, associate dean of the School of Humanities from 1984-1986, and the Women Studies Program coordinator from 1989-1990. Dr. Gearhart retired from teaching in 1992.

After receiving tenure, Dr. Gearhart became increasingly politically active, advocating for gay and lesbian rights, animal rights, and radical feminist causes. In 1978, Dr. Gearhart rose to prominence fighting alongside Harvey Milk to defeat California Proposition 6, known as the "Briggs Initiative," which would have banned gay and lesbian teachers from working in public schools. In an influential televised debate, Dr. Gearhart and Milk debated Senator John Briggs, the author of the initiative.

In addition to her scholarly writings on rhetoric, religion, sexuality, feminism, lesbian rights, and animal rights, Dr. Gearhart expressed her utopian feminist ideals in science fiction novels and short stories. Her most famous novel, The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women (1978), explores themes of ecofeminism and lesbian separatism. Her other works include Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church (1974), The Feminist Tarot (1975), and the Earthkeep series (2002-2003). Dr. Gearhart featured in films including Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Framing Lesbian Fashion (1992), Last Call at Maud's (1993), and No Secret Anymore (2003).

Dr. Gearhart established an all-female community, Women's Land, near Willits, California, where she lived in a cabin in the woods. Dr. Gearhart's partner was Jane Gurko, a fellow professor at San Francisco State University and a co-developer of the women's studies program, until Gurko's death in 2010. After a gradual decline in health, Sally Miller Gearhart died in Ukiah, California, on July 14, 2021.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Sally Miller Gearhart papers document Gearhart's work as a scholar, educator, writer, and activist. The papers include correspondence, literary works, academic work, public appearances and publicity materials, photographs, journals and artwork, personal papers, and writings of others. The correspondence series includes personal and professional correspondence exchanged between Gearhart and friends, family, partners, publishers, colleagues, and fans. The series contains handwritten and typed letters, greeting cards, and printed emails. The literary works series documents Gearhart's literary career and output of works written between 1947 and 2014. This series contains materials related to Gearhart's novels, short stories, essays, articles, speeches, performance works, and poems. For example, this series includes annotated drafts of The Wanderground and the books in the Earthkeep series. Topics covered in the material include speech and rhetoric, religion, sexuality, feminism, lesbian rights, and animal rights. The academic work series contains course materials, teaching and research files, student material, publications, notes, correspondence, clippings, and ephemera related to Gearhart's work as a student and teacher. This series includes materials related to Gearhart's quest for tenure and the development of a women's studies program at San Francisco State University. The public appearances and publicity series contains materials related to publicity and public appearances by Gearhart. This series includes materials from events and interviews, newspaper and magazine clippings, and audiovisual materials. The photographs series contains photographs of Gearhart and her family, friends, partners, pets, and home. The photographic material includes prints, film negatives, transparencies, and a photograph album. The journals and artwork series contains personal journals, cartoon drawings by Gearhart, and logs recorded on audio cassette tapes. The personal papers series documents Gearhart's personal life. This series includes biographical material, family papers, and awards, artifacts, and ephemera. The writings of others series contains collected publications and writings not written by Gearhart. The collected publications include magazines, newsletters, and newspapers.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Feminist fiction, American--Authorship
  • Feminists--California--San Francisco
  • Gay rights--United States
  • Homosexuality--Religious aspects--Christianity
  • Lesbian feminism--United States
  • Lesbians--California--San Francisco
  • Oral communication--Study and teaching (Higher)--United States
  • Science fiction, American--Authorship
  • Women authors, American--20th century
  • Women college teachers--United States
  • Women's studies--California--San Francisco