Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Ed note: I was off-mic for this one, so my part is a little ... quieter. I hope that doesn't take away from Midgett's incredible life story. — Jeff
In Part 1, Mary Midgett, the 85-year-old ex-school teacher shares the story of her life with us. It starts in the British West Indies, where Midgett's mom was born. That family moved to Boston, where her mom met her dad. Midgett was the only girl in a family otherwise full of boys. Her mom was a strong woman, but, Midgett feels, overly protective. And so she spent a lot of time with "auntie."
She shares stories of her first sexual encounters, her lesbianism another source of strain in her relationship with her mom. After high school, her aunt convinced her to join the U.S. Army. It was there that her preferred name emerged—Midgett. She shares stories from her time as a young, Black lesbian in the service, including her first encounter with prejudice.
After a little bit of partying in New York City, the Army sent Midgett to Germany. It was her first time overseas, and through some experiences there, she came to see how good people have things here in the U.S.
In the early '60s, Midgett got back to the States and out of the Army. She wanted kids and made that happen. She and the father of her son moved around a bit, then she went out on her own. She married another man and had a daughter, but that didn't work out either. One of her brothers lived in San Francisco, and Midgett saw a way out.
In Part 2, Midgett talks about how she had just escaped an abusive relationship out east and decided to make her way to San Francisco.
One of her brothers was in the Navy and already in the Bay Area. Another had just moved out here, and so Midgett had people already in place. Her mom had left an apartment on Jones Street in The City that she was able to move into with her two kids. It was 1974 and the women's movement was well under way.
She met Roma Guy and got involved with opening the Women's Building, among other things LGBTQ and women's rights activists were engaged in at the time. It was there that Midgett started doing her workshops.
We rewind a little to discuss how Midgett got started teaching. It began with her agreeing to serve on a school board, then she got her daughter into that school, and others recognized how good she was with kids suggested she teach. Her first job in San Francisco was at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. She also taught fifth graders in after-school programs.
She retired at 70 in the face of petitions that she stay on. She went back as a substitute regardless. She's currently working with the Kai Ming Head Start program.
These days, Midgett is launching a subscription service to publish writings based on the workshops she did at the Women's Building for years. The topics include: parenting, friendships, relationships, sensuality, sexuality, and aging. Please go to her site, Midgett's Reading Room, and consider subscribing.
We end the episode with Midgett talking about what it means for an 85-year-old to still be here.
Shout out to JoJo Depakakibo for connecting us with Midgett.
We recorded this podcast at Midgett's home in Bernal Heights in August 2021.