lesbian pulp and the lavender universe: Mona's Club 440, San Francisco's First Lesbian Bar

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mona's Club 440, San Francisco's First Lesbian Bar

Mona's Club 440 was San Francisco's first lesbian bar and most likely first in the USA. In 1934 Mona Sargent originally opened the bar on Union Street as a bohemian hangout for artists and writers. By the time the nightclub moved to 440 Broadway in 1939, Mona's had become a mecca for lesbians, transgenders and male impersonators. 

Shown above standing (l to r): "Butch"Minton, Jan Jansen, Kay Scott, Jimmy Renard. Seated: (l to r): "Mike," Beverly Shaw, unidentified, "Mickey".

Napkin from Mona's "Where Girls will be Boys"
One of the most loved performers was Gladys Bentley, sometimes called “The Brown Bomber” who often created raunchy lyrics to well known songs and flirted with all the women in the audience. Along with Bentley's growing popularity also came financial success and she eventually married her female lover from New Jersey.
Gladys Bentley advertised on Mona's banner.

Gladys Bentley
Mona's Club 440 lead the way for many other lesbian bars and nightclubs to open in the South Beach area. The 1940s and 1950s brought the Paper Doll, the Chi-Chi Club, the Tin Angel and Miss Smith's Tea Room plus many others.

Mona’s, San Francisco, 1945. (l to r): Kay Scott, Butch Minton, Jimmy Renard. 

Mona's old location (shown on a recent map)

For more on Gladys Bentley and other lesbian performers of the 1930 see my other post:

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  1. It's amazing the nightclub opened in 1933. I wonder how much they needed to stay under the radar. Though the picture with the banner certainly makes it appear as a very public place. Bravo Mona.

  2. Butch Minton was my great-grandmother and who I was named after--her female name was Emily. My grandfather, her son, was so proud of his mother for doing what she loved. And he loves to tell stories of going to her shows, the fun that was had. I remember her, I lived with my grandparents when I was a little girl and she would come to visit. She always wore a white shirt with a cardigan and black pants. Of course, from the mens' department. And she was so funny! I remember laughing whenever she was visiting. Thank you for these pictures.

    1. What a fascinating story! So glad and grateful that you shared your memories. People like your great-grandmother, those who fully live their lives as they desire, are an inspiration to us all.

  3. Such free spirits ...I can't image the peace and joy they experienced to actually have a place to be themselves in such oppressed and judgemental times


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