On this day in 1934, the American writer, artist, and social
activist Kate Millett was born. The author of the classic feminist text Sexual Politics, Kate enjoyed a long career as a speaker and writer on the topic of lesbian-feminism.
Kate Millett photographed in 1979 (x).
Katherine Murray Millett was born on September 14, 1934 in
Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her father was an engineer and an alcoholic and Kate
recalled living in terror of him, as he frequently beat her as a child. He
abandoned the family when she was only 14-years-old, “consigning them to a
life of genteel poverty.” Her mother worked two jobs to help support Kate and
her two sisters. In 1956, Kate graduated from the University of Minnesota and
then went on to study at Oxford University. In
1958, she became the first American woman to graduate from Oxford with a
first-class honors degree in English literature.
Kate on the cover of the May/June 1977 edition of The Lesbian Tide magazine. The headline reads “Millett’s Passions” (x).
After leaving school, Kate became a teacher and taught at
several universities both in American and abroad. It was during her time living
in New York City and teaching at Barnard College that she joined the second
wave feminist movement. Before long, she had become a leading committee member
in the National Organization of Women (NOW) as well as a member of the New York
Radical Women and the Radicalesbians. In 1970, Kate’s PhD dissertation, Sexual Politics, was published and made
a huge splash in the world of feminist theory. The book quickly became a
bestseller and included feminist literary critiques of popular straight male
authors compared to that of gay authors.
Kate Millett reads from her novel The Basement at a meeting of The Woman’s Salon in New York, December 17th, 1977. Photograph: Marilynn K Yee/The New York Times (x).
Kate officially came out when she was giving a talk at
Columbia University and a student asked her, “Why don’t you say you’re a
lesbian, here, openly. You’ve said you were a lesbian in the past.” Kate
responded, “Yes I am a lesbian.” She ended up writing over 10 books during her
lifetime, both about theory and fiction books. She married a man while teaching in Japan in
the 1961, but the two divorced in 1985 and she later married a woman named
Sophia Kier. Tragically, Kate passed away just last week on September 6, 2017
after suffering from unexpected cardiac arrest while celebrating her birthday
with friends and family.