Ep 6: GALS Just Want to Have Fun - A Lesbian Fishing Group for Chicago
“This one is a small but mighty collection”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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”
“Are you kidding me? A lesbian campground with fishing nearby? That’s my idea of a great time.”
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.
Photos of GALS members from Memorial Day weekend trip to C.K.s Outback and Donna's.
“We spent quite a bit of time baiting hooks for the girly girls”
“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.”
Photos from GALS archival collection
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”
Full July 1994 GALS newsletter which includes the "Memorial Day Overnight Awards." Awards included the "Virgin Award", the "Roving Eye Award," and "The Better-Late-Than-Never Award." Scroll through to read the full newsletter.
“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
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!
Want to learn more?
- GALS Archival Collection at Gerber/Hart
- Autostraddle - "The Great Angling Lesbian Society: A History of Chicago’s Lesbian Fishing Club" by Lindsay Eanet