When Sheila Alexander-Reid co-founded Women in the Life in 1993, she wanted to create a space where same gender-loving women could congregate, dance, and feel like they belonged.
“I came out late in life, around age 26, and went to a couple of [lesbian] clubs: Hill Haven, Hung Jury, and Phase One,” says the current board chair of the Women in the Life Association. “[I] realized, after going for several months, that there was no one place I felt comfortable.”
Alexander-Reid began organizing parties at her own house, and eventually branched out to larger venues as the dance parties attracted more and more women. In June 1993, Reid’s brainchild took root with a party at Blagden Alley that attracted more than 1,000 women. Five months later, she started Women in the Life magazine, a four-page publication with articles that focused on news and events of importance to same gender-loving women from a black lesbian perspective.
“I really just wanted people to know about health disparities that I heard about in the news, and then I wanted them to know what was going on in the community, so I started putting together a calendar of events,” Alexander-Reid recalls. The magazine lasted 10 years and 90 issues, eventually ceasing publication in 2003.
Alexander-Reid kept copies of the magazines in storage in her basement, only unearthing them last year to show to Dr. Nikki Lane’s class at American University as an example of a D.C.-area publication documenting LGBTQ stories. The students were fascinated and enthralled by the magazines, and Lane suggested that they be donated to American University to be preserved for posterity. Alexander-Reid instead decided to donate the copies to the DC Public Library so they could be more easily accessed by the larger public.
Kerrie Cotten Williams, director of special collections at the DC Public Library, says the library will digitize copies of the magazine so they can be accessed online.
“For the longest time, I didn’t really see the value and understand what a contribution Women in the Life magazine had made,” says Alexander-Reid. “It is like a time capsule of what was going on around the country for that 10-year period of time…. Everyone’s familiar with a lot of the covers, but the pages in between are what people haven’t seen in years, and that’s going to be available to whoever wants to see it, and that’s really exciting.”
As part of the DC Black Pride weekend festivities, Women in the Life will hold two events commemorating the organization’s impact as part of its “25th Anniversary Resilience Reunion.”
For Friday, May 24, organizers have set up a pop-up gallery featuring enhanced pictures of the magazine and other memorabilia, including clothing, magnets, postcards, and promotional materials for the association’s planned-but-never-launched black lesbian dating site, Soul Links, as well as its business networking program WOMB, focusing on black lesbian-owned and -managed businesses. The event will also feature an open mic session and a short concert from BOOMscat, a musical duo of queer black women from D.C.
On Saturday, May 25, it’s back to Women in the Life’s roots for what Alexander-Reid calls “a big epic dance party reunion.”
“To have all these people come back to capture this moment in time is just an amazing opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to it,” she says.
Women in the Life’s 25th Anniversary Resilience Reunion pop-up gallery and open mic night is Friday, May 24, from 8 p.m. to midnight. The dance party is Saturday, May 25, from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. Both events to be held in the Lower Level Ballroom of the Renaissance Washington DC Downtown, 999 9th St. NW. For tickets visit www.eventbrite.com and search Women In the Life.