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Defender of the Oppressed and Vulnerable

As a queer woman and successful lawyer, Pearl M. Hart advocated for the civil liberties of LGBTQIA+ Chicagoans and other underrepresented groups. Hart grew up on Chicago’s Near West Side and graduated from John Marshall Law School in 1914, becoming one of the first female attorneys in Chicago to specialize in criminal law. Throughout her career, Hart sought to protect Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens, such as immigrants threatened with deportation. In 1948, Hart became a member of the executive board and trustee of the bail fund of the Civil Rights Congress, Illinois chapter, which worked, among other things, against racially discriminatory housing laws that enforced segregation.

An undated portrait of Pearl M. Hart at her desk. CHM, ICHi-039673

In 1965, she helped reorient the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society, a national gay rights organization, to be more politically active in response to escalating police harassment at gay bars. The new Mattachine Midwest monitored police harassment, published a politically conscious newsletter, and by 1968 succeeded in securing ACLU support in defending gay men arrested by the police. Despite her failing health, Hart worked up until her death on March 22, 1975. She is one of the namesakes of the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives and was posthumously inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 1992. Read more about Hart.

Chicago Sun-Times article about some of Hart’s HUAC work. She is pictured at the bottom, center. May 26, 1965. Pearl Hart papers, Box 2, folder 1

Formed in a period of repression, Mattachine Midwest carved a permanent place for itself in Chicago history as the city’s first enduring gay rights organization. Learn more about the group in Studs Terkel’s 1970 interview with members Jim Bradford, Henry Weimhoff, and Valerie Taylor, who was Pearl Hart’s partner. Listen now.

 

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