Ep 6: GALS Just Want to Have Fun - A Lesbian Fishing Group for Chicago

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Sandy posing with fish at Shabbona Lake, Illinois

“This one is a small but mighty collection”

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Highlights from the GALS archival collection at Gerber/Hart

“You know – we need to find some people to go fishing. And that was the advent of GALS…it was just an idea and we just went for it, and it turned out to be a heck of a lot of fun.”

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GALS logo 

GALS (the Great Angling Lesbian Society) was founded in 1994 by Sherry Pethers and Susan McCann. Sherry and Susan met in the late 1980s at a house party in the late 1980s. Sherry moved up to Chicago where she worked at a law firm while Susan worked in corporate America. Looking for ways to destress, they decided to form a fishing club and advertise in the gay papers.

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Ad in Nightlines Personals which read "FISHING CLUB for lesbians now forming. Experienced anglers, beginners welcome. Especially looking for women who understand 'A River Runs Through It.' Planning outings around Chicago & trips to Wisc, Ky, Tenn., & Mich, in search of everything from Bluegills to Northern Pike. Call voicemail"

While they were worried they wouldn’t get a response (or would get a response mocking them), they had over 30 people respond and held their first meeting as a brunch on February 5th, 1994 at Buddy’s, a gay male owned bar next to Sherry’s apartment.

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GALS business card which listed the GALS Voice Mail Network number as well as the phone numbers for co-founders Sherry Pethers and Susan McCann. 

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GALS Fishing Club Member Information Survey which included questions like how members would characterize thier fishing ability, if they had experience fly fishing, and what kinds of camping were preferred. 

At its largest, GALS boasted over 60 members. They sent out a "Dear Jane" letter to anybody who gave their name and address at the first meeting and set up a voicemail network where you could call in to leave messages about where you were fishing so other people could join.

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Instructions for how to access the voicemail - "The Fishing Club Hotline"

“The idea is that if you or any club member decide to go fishing you can call the voicemail number and leave a message. I might call and say ‘this is Susan McCann, I’m going fishing out at Busse Woods Saturday morning and would like some company – call me if you’d like to go”

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Sherry with fish at Shabbona Lake, Illinois

“Are you kidding me? A lesbian campground with fishing nearby? That’s my idea of a great time.”

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Newsletter from Spring 1995 that lists an outing to C.K.'s Outback for Memorial Day weekend

One of the places GALS frequented was a lesbian owned campground called C.K.’s Outback. At a time when it could be dangerous to be publicly lesbian, the camp was a haven where the members of GALS could be their full selves.

“We spent quite a bit of time baiting hooks for the girly girls”

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On the back, the photo notes this was taken at Shabbona Lake, Illinois, and that the woman was “Trying to avoid the fish touching her (would not take the fish off the hook”)

“It was a great way to meet people and share a lot of fun little trips without having to go to the bars – because, let’s be honest, the bars were intimidating. So having a common interest besides finding someone to hang out with was a big benefit.”

GALS grew to include fishing trips, training seminars, and various other activities. The GALS newsletters are a wonderful insight into the group and are incredibly funny. In this newsletter from 1994, they include “Smelting Awards” for their overnight camping trip and a note that “To increase our luck, someone suggested sacrificing a virgin, but we couldn’t find one. Sandy volunteered, but we decided that extended periods of abstinence doesn’t count”

“Do we have any sentimental souls in this group? Has anyone saved our first newsletter? We’ve lost our original, and we need a copy for the GALS ‘archives’ (You know, we ARE going to be famous someday; Gerber-Hart will be clamoring for this stuff)” - Spring 1995

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One newsletter even foreshadowed the eventual donation to Gerber/Hart!

This episode profiles one of the smallest but most beloved collections at Gerber/Hart. Why are small collections like GALS so important? How did this collection end up at Gerber/Hart? What did GALS mean to the women that were part of it? This episode includes an interview with co-founders Susan McCann and Sherry Pethers. Listen in to learn more!

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Clair with her first fish at C.K.'s Outback in 1995