Sweet Briar alumna Sally Miller Gearhart ’52 remembered for activism

Posted on August 06, 2021 by Meredith Woo

Dear Sweet Briar community,

It is with sadness that I write to share the news with you that one of the College’s most eminent alumnae, Sally Miller Gearhart, Class of 1952, passed away on July 14, 2021.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Gearhart, all that I’ve read about her indicates she possessed the qualities of intelligence, leadership, and courage that epitomize a Sweet Briar woman. As an academic, writer, staunch feminist, and ardent political activist, Sally Miller Gearhart fought tirelessly for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. Dr. Gearhart made a difference in our world.

After graduating from Sweet Briar with a degree in dramatic literature, she earned a master’s degree in theater from Bowling Green State University and a doctorate in theater from the University of Illinois. Like many lesbian women of her generation, she did not at first openly acknowledge her sexuality. As one of her Sweet Briar classmates wrote about Dr. Gearhart after learning of her death, “Sally was forced to pretend….She never ‘came out’ and we never asked it of her.”

But by 1973, when Dr. Gearhart joined the faculty at San Francisco State University, she became one of the first openly lesbian tenure track professors in the nation. She was a pioneer in the development of women and gender studies programs, authored a ground-breaking work of lesbian science fiction, founded the all-female community Women’s Land in Willits, California, and worked with fellow activist Harvey Milk to defeat a ballot measure that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California’s public schools.

You can read more about Dr. Gearhart’s life and accomplishments in her obituary in the New York Times. Please join me in cherishing and honoring the memory of this remarkable Sweet Briar woman.

Meredith Woo