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WAC Sergeant Johnnie Phelps vs Eisenhower
August 7, 2014 1:29 PM   Subscribe

"Johnnie Phelps, a woman sergeant in the army, thought, “There was a tolerance for lesbianism if they needed you. The battalion I was in was probably about ninety-seven percent lesbian.” Sergeant Phelps worked for General Eisenhower. Four decades after Eisenhower had defeated the Axis powers, Phelps recalled an extraordinary event. One day, the general told her, “I’m giving you an order to ferret those lesbians out. We’re going to get rid of them.”" [via (via TheWhelk)]

A little more on Johnnie Phelps life after the army.
posted by marienbad (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ha! This is one of my favorite parts of "Before Stonewall". (The rest of the documentary is great too!)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:43 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


that was today's little slice of completely awesome
posted by Auden at 1:48 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]




To his credit, Eisenhower, when scope of his request was pointed out, turned on a silver dollar.
posted by kokaku at 1:58 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


While it's an awesome story, some folks are stating that just isn't true. Her tombstone shows she only had the rank of corporal, as well.

Here's a link to an excerpt in Release a Man for Combat: The Women's Army Corps During World War II by M. Michaela Hampf, who states that Phelps' claim was investigated via FOIA requests by researchers for her military records and nothing at all panned out about it.
posted by Atreides at 2:06 PM on August 7 [15 favorites]


I remember seeing this documentary when I was very young and didn't know any actual gay people yet. I stayed up very late one night to watch Channel 4, which was known at the time for its pushing of the envelope with regards to matters of sex and such. It blew my mind a little bit that there were actually people out there, talking about being gay and being proud of it. And there was me, huddled under my duvet with the sound on the television turned right down so my parents wouldn't know I was watching something.

The DVD of Before Stonewall is available on Amazon. I'm going to buy a copy, I think. I feel like I owe these women something.
posted by Solomon at 2:07 PM on August 7


Randy Shilts is the author of the book in which this story appears. He should have been mentioned in the post.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:09 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Sadly, and relatedly, Eisenhower also issued Executive Order 10450.

However, this led to Frank Kamany's firing (among many others), which Kamany then challenged in what is thought to be the first civil rights lawsuit based on sexual orientation. Between this and Eisenhower's appointments of Justices Warren and Brennan to the Supreme Court, Harry Blackmun to the Eighth Circuit, and John Minor Wisdom to the Fifth Circuit, Eisenhower was pretty excellent at inadvertently putting the judicial framework in place for major social change.
posted by sallybrown at 2:13 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


To Eisenhower's credit he also gave an order to lesbian out the ferrets.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:13 PM on August 7 [25 favorites]


The story in the doc is that the typist who was present told Eisenhower "No, my name will be first."
posted by brujita at 2:30 PM on August 7


No, I said "out-lesbian the ferrets!"
posted by zippy at 2:45 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


It sounds like a story from the gay edition of Reader's Digest.
posted by pracowity at 2:47 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Sorry the struggle for equality in the military during which countless careers were destroyed is only as interesting as Reader's Digest.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:06 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Sorry the struggle for equality in the military during which countless careers were destroyed is only as interesting as Reader's Digest.

That very-real, historical, and ongoing struggle is far more interesting than Reader's Digest. It's the pat, too-easy, feel-good, consequence-free quality of this particular story that comes off as Digest material, especially given that it was almost certainly a complete fabrication by Phelps. This story is not a part of the struggle for equality in the military, except inasmuch as the struggle produced its own share of feel-good myths and legends.
posted by jedicus at 3:15 PM on August 7 [14 favorites]


Memorial Plan Called a ‘Five-Star Folly’

Goddamn, that is some serious garbage.
posted by phaedon at 3:29 PM on August 7


Hey now. I liked Reader's Digest when I was kid. Vast swathes of the country like Reader's Digest. If there's a heartwarming lesbian story that the Reader's Digest crowd will love, it's a win all around. The Reader's Digest heartland needs lesbians, too, and this sort of thing can only make it friendlier for them.

Get somebody telling the Phelps-Eisenhower story onto Ellen, stat.
posted by clawsoon at 5:14 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Reader's Digest
Lesbian Humor in Uniform.
posted by ikahime at 6:30 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Is the 97% figure exaggerating for effect or was there some sort of selective pressure that resulted in such a disproportionate percentage relative to the general population?
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 PM on August 7


The Reader's Digest heartland needs lesbians, too

"I am Jane's U-Haul."
posted by zippy at 7:56 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Is the 97% figure exaggerating for effect or was there some sort of selective pressure that resulted in such a disproportionate percentage relative to the general population?

It was exaggeration because it never happened.
posted by Atreides at 7:02 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


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