“This radical feminist collective affected so many lives,” said Edie Daly of Gulfport, one of the founders of the original Salon. “This community encouraged women to find the joy in being lesbians and to claim our rightful place in life to feel included rather than excluded. What a lucky bunch we are and have been.”
Daly, 79, a native of St. Petersburg, returned to the area in 1981 and couldn’t find like-minded women that had been obvious to her in New York and Massachusetts. So, she and her partner at the time decided to open a small bookstore named after a famous 1928 lesbian novel entitled “The Well of Loneliness.”
“We decided to name it that because women would know,” Daly said.
They got the word out by making bookmarks and distributing them to everyone standing in line for a local Margie Adam concert sponsored by the National Organization for Women.
“People were saying, ‘It’s about time,’” Daily said.
At the new Madeira Beach bookstore, in the era before the internet and email, women were encouraged to write their names and U.S. Postal mailing addresses in a black book that was kept behind the counter.
“Everybody was hiding still,” Daly said.
Within a couple of months, there were enough names to send out invitations to the first Salon and 50 women attended. It was held in the Madeira Beach town hall where at the other end was the police station.
“I didn’t know the area very well,” Daily said. “I don’t know if there were people who didn’t even come in because they saw the police station. That would not have been cool.”
The monthly gathering was then located in other venues like a condo association meeting room and a Girls Club, but after several months in each, they were asked to leave because they were told lesbians were not welcome. Next, they found space in a dog grooming business after hours and had to haul in tables and chairs each month.
Then, Christine “Tina” O’Brien, a local social activist and leader of the St. Petersburg Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, for more than 20 years offered the group the Friends Meeting House at 130 19th Ave. SE.
Daly said, “For us, that was like manna from heaven. We just couldn’t believe that somebody wanted to do that.”
Phyllis Plotnick said, “It was a wonderful feeling,” in the Friends Meeting House. “We didn’t need a lot. We just needed to be together.”
The Friends operate by consensus and O’Brien was “instrumental in helping us to learn the process,” Daily said. “The Friends themselves were so supportive and integral to the way we were at Salon.”
Each month for nearly 25 years, a different topic for discussion was featured. Women learned from each other and formed the Women’s Energy Bank (WEB) organization, which did fundraising that led to the establishment of the Sonia Plotnick Health Fund, a local charity named after Phyllis Plotnick’s mother. The fund still sponsors annual Valentine’s-themed women’s dances that draw hundreds to the Gulfport Casino. For a few years, circa 2008, the dances were held in the St. Petersburg Coliseum where up to 1,500 women attended, Daily said.
WEB also produced a monthly publication called Womyn’s Words that ran continuously until July 2011.
“In the last decades of the 20th century, we made Salon a special place for lesbians being together in community in a world where lesbians could be ourselves,” Daily said.
By about 2005, the original Salon stopped meeting because community needs had changed in the era of the internet. The newsletter ceased publication for similar reasons.
By July 2015, Anna Linville of Gulfport saw a need to restart the group where women could meet to learn and share stories with each other without having to be in a restaurant or a bar. The first couple of monthly meetings took place in her home, then she found a larger space at The Longhouse in Gulfport.
“All women are welcome,” Linville said. “Trans, bi, straight, gay. There is a lot of laughter. Nothing is too dramatic or serious.”
Daly was the featured speaker at the May meeting of the Gulfport Womyn’s Salon where 30 people attended. It meets every third Sunday of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit prosuzy.com/beyond-prosuzy-2/gulfport-womyns-salon/.