Tag Archives: correspondence

Sally Miller Gearhart Letter







Dear Sally,                                                                                                                                                11-5-13


I am incredibly excited to be meeting you on Thursday, I’m not even sure where to start.


For the past month and a half I’ve been reading through your papers in the University of Oregon archives and I’m fascinated by your work for civil rights. Reading letters you wrote to the different communities you’ve been a part of, all calling for a more just, inclusive world, I am blown away. I have great respect for who you are, and how you live, particularly because I see you standing up not only for your personal interests, but also on behalf of any group you notice facing discrimination. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear more about those experiences.


I’d also love to know more about The Wanderground. How did the stories go from zine publications to a full novel? Is the setting based off of your time in northern California? Some of the descriptions sound so much like our beloved northwest.


Above all, I’d like to thank you. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Thank you fro donating your letters to the Archive-they have been so helpful in doing  & learning to do research. And thank you for the difference you’ve made with your life- you are an inspiration & a light.




Aimee Fritsch

Sally Letter


Dearest Vonda

Dearest Vonda,

This weekend I attended a party for the first time in months.  I hardly knew anyone there, and no one talked to me except one guy who walked up, exposed his abs, and asked me about their sex appeal.  My response of “all bodies are good bodies” did not deter him, and I ended up leaving early.  A while ago, you said that you hoped things would be different by now (see Quintin’s last blog post).  We’ve come a long way thanks to awesome ladies like you, but I feel I still struggle against sexism on the daily.  Does that disappoint you?  Or, since you’ve lived the years in-between, seen the challenges women have faced, do you know why we seem stuck?  It’s an uphill battle, of course, that will not be easily won.

I have many other questions for you, about everything from your favorite color, to why you left genetics, to what you think about Doctor Who, to your favorite breakfast food, to your childhood in the Netherlands.  My research through your letters and books and Internet comments has led me to believe all your answers would be witty and eccentric.  I can save those for later, but I’d love it if you answered just this one: what are you reading right now?  I’m always looking for suggestions.

Watching you learn and grow through your letters has been fascinating, as I’m in a similar period of growth and tumult.  It’s partially comforting, to know most people experience something like this.  It’s also eerie, to read over your words regarding isolation from my empty studio apartment, experiencing the joys of introversion, tainted by the sting of unexpected loneliness, that I imagine you may have felt.

Like a bridge across time, your words to Joanna Russ have connected me to a person I have never met – Vonda of 1972.  While I regret not getting the chance to meet her, I can’t imagine how freaking cool Vonda N. McIntyre of 2013 will be.  Thank you for everything you’ve done for sci-fi, for women, and for this class.

Warm regards,


A Letter to a Not-Ghost

Dear Alli,

After your mother died, you wrote of her ghost that was not truly a ghost. You spoke to her. When I read your letters, though I am just as much an atheist as you, I feel a similar phantasm filling the chair beside me. You feel so damn real.

Perhaps when you’re visiting some time, you could tell me why you really left the Psychology field. Your writing career emerged around the same time you finished your dissertation, so that would be an understandable explanation… though you must have put considerable efforts into writing, drawing energy from the focus on Psychology. Why? Was teaching too much for you? You seem to have an all-or-nothing switch, which could make it impossible to take care of yourself while doing the job to your standards. Or maybe you didn’t feel support from the department at George Washington– as a woman, as an empathy researcher?

The Psychologist Who Empathized with Rats: James Tiptree, Jr. as

Illustration by Alice Sheldon, 1967 PhD Dissertation.

I like to think you chose the world of SF, rather than feeling forced to leave Psychology, that soft science. So much of your life feels familiar to me, I’m afraid I will make a similar misstep. Though I’m sure your writing would not have been the same without your knowledge of Psychology. In that sense, it wasn’t wrong at all, just moving forward.

What would you think of the world today, twenty-six years after you died? I hope there is room and acceptance for a woman like you. You took the whole world into you and asked for nothing in return; is this what broke you? Like you named your lost birds, I will name you osprey (those seahawks Ting watched near the Lodge). Despite your power, you were still subject to the flimsiness of your delicate bird body. But your words and your not-ghost are still very much alive.

With love,
Naomi Wright [a stranger and a friend]

Mother’s death: Box 10, File 30: 10/27/1976 Letter from Tiptree, James Jr., Joanna Russ Papers, Coll 261, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Or.

Elms, A. C. (March 01, 2004). The Psychologist Who Empathized with Rats: James Tiptree, Jr. as Alice B. Sheldon, PhD. Science Fiction Studies, 31, 1, 81-96.

Phillips, J. (2006). James Tiptree, Jr: The double life of Alice B. Sheldon. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Sheldon, A. “Preference for Familiar Versus Novel Stimuli as a Function of the Familiarity of the Environment.” Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 67.4  (1969): 516-21.

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Ahead of Her Time

Reading through Sally Miller Gearhart’s correspondence in the Archives, I often lose my sense of time. She writes with so much energy, and such a passion for justice that her letters feel alive. She continually insists on increased civil rights, not just for women, but for gays, lesbians, people of color, and animals. Her life-force is so strong and clear, she feels contemporary, so much so that I often forget that the letters are not from recent years.

It was a gift I received from participating in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute reading group this week that opened my eyes to the perspective of time. In our discussions it was brought up just how much has changed in the past 50 years, something I had been taking for granted. Looking then, at the archives later this week, I was caught by surprise by one letter in particular, from 1980.

Sally is writing to Doris Leal, an officer in the Sweet Adeline singing group about the inclusion of greater diversity of women in the organization. She calls for affirmative action, not just lip service, so that all women can participate in this barbershop singing organization. This is 1980, and Sally Miller Gearhart is talking about unconscious and institutional racism, and how to fight it. In 2013 that is important, but the norm. Stopping and realizing that this is 1980 and she both recognized and called out an organization on these practices, I am wowed by her vision and courage.

Sally Miller Gearhart Papers, Coll 305, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

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