One of only a handful to thrive was the Theta Chapter in Madison, Wisconsin, This Chapter was one of the most active and best organized, largely due to the efforts of Fran Connors who became its president. Conners and his wife began a newsletter, Theta Report, later Theta Thoughts, in 1963, and it lasted 21 issues until June 1965. In March that year, Conners reported that 10 regular and 32 associate members (from other states), and the members voted to include wives at business meetings as well as socials. They raised money and sent clothing to an associate member in Florida who had fallen into ill-health and lost most of his savings in a divorce settlement. Theta had a project of contacting Madison doctors to educate them about heterosexual cross-dressing. One such doctor was a guest at the June 1965 meeting. In May 1965 Theta in coordination with Beta (Chicago) and Delta (Cleveland) put on a Midwest Conference in South Bend, Indiana. However only 14 members and 3 wives showed up.
Fran became the executive secretary of the national FPE and editor of Femme Forum in June 1965, and following that activity in Theta largely ceased. This may have been compounded by a disgruntled wife of a member: there was a fear that she might inform on the group to the police. However Theta Tau in Minneapolis-St Paul became active in 1966. Theta and Theta-Tau had a combined party in January 1967 on the occasion of a visit by Virginia Prince.
Until this point, Prince ran the national organization out of her home and her work office. She alone collected dues and handled membership applications. There were complaints about autocratic style, and profiting from the dues. Thus Prince appointed Fran Conners, as executive secretary, and Sheila Niles of New Jersey to be field co-ordinator. Niles had a job that involved frequent travel around the US and was able to visit the various chapters. They divided the US, in fact the entire world, into regions, and appointed a regional counselor and deputy for each. The counselors were to encourage the renewal of dues, and also to meet with each new applicant to ensure that they were suitable – however vast distances made face-to-face meetings almost impossible, and some became members without being screened. The membership voted in 1966 to increase the annual dues to $11. Like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, FPE was a white, middle-class organization with concerns about being respectable. An applicant must purchase fives issues of Transvestia before applying. This was not just to sell more copies, but also to ensure that he was serious, and that, having read the issues, he was acquainted with the philosophy of femmepersonation. The application asked about sexual orientation, marital status, employment status and cross-dressing history. The applicant had to sign his legal name and write his home address, however these were not passed on the the regional counselor. He also had to pledge to keep secret all information about other members. Prince and Conners were the only people who knew the legal names and home addresses of the members.
Fran was executive secretary of FPE from 1965-72. Virginia Prince took credit as the founder of FPE but recognized that Conners as the one who had done most to grow the organization in this period. A count was made that year by Fran Conners of all FPE members, past and present. The total came to 1,800. This would be comparable to the size of the pre-Stonewall homophile groups (although of course after the Stonewall riot in June 1969 the gay and lesbian groups had significantly increased).
Conners cited increasing work and family commitments and retired on January 1972 as executive secretary of FPE and as the editor of Femme Forum. His replacement was Donna , a former president of the Alpha Chapter (Los Angeles). However, Donna suffered from ill health and Femme Forum did not survive beyond the end of the year. The next year Prince announced that FPE was non longer a non-profit organization, but was now to be an adjunct of Chevalier Publications. All membership dues were now to go to her and were now raised to $12. Hill (296) speculated that there was a mass exodus of members to the other more open groups at this time. For the next few years the national organization was minimal.
- Robert S. Hill. ‘As a man I exist; as a woman I live’: Heterosexual Transvestism and the Contours of Gender and Sexuality in Postwar America. PhD Dissertation. University of Michigan. 2007: 266-7, 273-8, 280-4, 287-9, 291, 296, 301, 306, 312, 315-7, 341.
Several of the accounts of Virginia Prince uncritically credit her with building a transvestite movement in the US. 1965-72 was the one period when a) the group was growing, b) Prince gave full credit to the person doing the work, and c) did not fall out with that person.
I wrote an account of Virginia Prince almost 5 years ago. With all due modesty I think that it still stands as the best best short account of her. I wrote it based mainly on the books by Richard Docter, Richard Ekins and Vern Bullough. Particularly after I wrote my TG, Words and Concepts series, I realized that my account of Prince can be much improved. This realization was further developed by reading Robert Hill’s dissertation. I have been writing a longer and better account. Look for it soon.
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