Queer Places:
Harvard University (Ivy League), 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138
199 W Springfield St, Boston, MA

Barbara Rodamer Hoffman  (January 28, 1933 - April 3, 2015) was a clinical psychologist and activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. She graduated from Radcliffe College (AB 1957) where she helped organize the Lesbian Alumnae of Radcliffe College, a precursor to the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus. She received a master's and doctorate from Boston University and worked for the state Department of Mental Health. Hoffman helped found and served on the board of The Open Gate, a nonprofit that funds sexual orientation scholarship, and was active with the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus as well as a number of Democratic Party organizations.

Hoffman recalled the tremendous stereotyping within the lesbian community in the 1950s. She had friends who were a "young college crowd who ran around in our Bermuda shorts and big fuzzy, long, loose, sweaters to the utter horror of the butch/fem crowd."

An only child, Barbara Rodamer was born in New York’s Westchester County and grew up on a farm in Deep River, Conn. In later years, she spoke little about her childhood, except to say she finished high school at 16 and moved alone to Boston. She graduated from Radcliffe, where she was a social relations major and, as a senior, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. Hoffman received a master’s and a doctorate in psychology from Boston University, and worked for the state Department of Mental Health.

During the McCarthy era in the mid-1950s, when publicly acknowledging homosexuality could lead to losing a job, Barbara Hoffman married while still a Radcliffe College undergraduate. She didn’t admit to herself that she was a lesbian, she recalled in 1991, until months later when she fell “hopelessly in love with the matron of honor at my wedding.” Even though she divorced and spent six years in a relationship with a woman, she remained publicly cautious. “I came out sexually, but I climbed right back in the closet and slammed the door shut,” she said in the 1991 interview with the Globe. “I never took back my maiden name. I used ‘Mrs.’ and ‘divorcee’ as a cover. And I kept my personal life very separate from my professional life.”

As political battles for gay and lesbian rights evolved, however, Dr. Hoffman opened the door to her personal life and became one of Boston’s most tireless and articulate grass-roots organizers. A clinical psychologist, she rose to become an area director of the state’s Department of Mental Health, and as an activist, she advocated for numerous liberal candidates and causes.

“She worked extraordinarily hard over the years in a variety of capacities as we fought for LGBT equality, starting back in the day when there was no L, B, or T, there was just G,” said Arline Isaacson, who cochairs the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. “She worked on the highest levels, and she worked on the most nitty-gritty levels. She would meet or talk to any elected official and advocate for our rights, and she was perfectly happy to roll up her shirt sleeves and do the grunt work.”

Dr. Hoffman left Radcliffe more than a decade before the 1969 New York City police raid at the Stonewall Inn. Subsequent demonstrations were a turning point in the movement for gay and lesbian rights. Before Stonewall, she told the Globe in 1991, there were no advocacy organizations or public discussion, and “homosexuality was only a word. It had no content or context.” Despite the dangers, however, the clandestine nature of the time offered glimmers of glamour. “It wasn’t all gloom and doom,” she said. “There was something very exciting, different, about a subculture with its own customs, jargon, jokes, dress, and code words.” Gays and lesbians were “in the life” or “a member of the committee,” she added. “We lived in a secret world with secret codes. It was like the French Resistance — underground.” She began to emerge into the light when she purchased her South End brownstone, a moment she recalled in a letter to the editor of The Gay & Lesbian Review, taking issue with a columnist’s assertion that African-Americans have a “reputation as deeply homophobic.”

“In 1967, I bought a house in an entirely black neighborhood in the South End of Boston with my lesbian partner,” she wrote. Middle-class African-American families along the street welcomed Dr. Hoffman and her partner “and apparently couldn’t have cared less that we were lesbians.” Dr. Hoffman met an older lesbian couple and was impressed at how their congregation comforted the survivor after one died: “Most white churches in that time would not even have considered being open to GLBT people,” she wrote. Still, Dr. Hoffman kept her sexual orientation secret at work until 1978, when she was in line to become a Department of Mental Health area director. She told her boss she was a lesbian and that she wouldn’t take the job “if that was a problem,” she recalled in 1991. “He said, ‘It’s not a problem.’ But his voice went up an octave.”

In the South End, she helped launch the Worcester Street Community Garden and she was an organizer of the Lesbian Alumnae of Radcliffe College, a precursor to the current Harvard Gender & Sexuality Caucus. She also helped found and served on the board of The Open Gate, a nonprofit that funds sexual orientation scholarship, and she was among the advocates who pushed Harvard to include sexual orientation in its antidiscrimination policies. While at Radcliffe and secretive about being a lesbian, “I figured I’d be thrown out of school if anyone found out,” she said in the 1991 interview. “If someone had told me that, 25 years later, I’d be meeting with the president of Harvard about sexual orientation discrimination, I’d have said, ‘Lie down until the fever subsides.’ ”

After her career in mental health, she became a full-time activist, volunteering with the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, the Ward 4 Democrats, and the state Democratic Committee. “She always wanted to get people at the table,” said Tim H. Davis, a former South End neighbor who considered Dr. Hoffman a political mentor. “Every time she found out there was a new neighbor on the street, she would show up with voter registration forms.” Her brownstone was a gathering place where volunteers addressed envelopes and where she held rallies. “She would stuff 150 people in there for a fund-raiser,” said David Gearhart, a friend from her community garden work. “If it was a cause she believed in.” Dr. Hoffman often summoned friends to political action by leaving distinctive, detailed phone messages, Cherry said. “It was a completely organized, multi-paragraph message. Then she’d get to the end and, almost as if she was writing a letter, she’d say, ‘love, Barbara.’ It was such a trademark.”

Dr. Hoffman died of a circulatory ailment April 3, 2015, in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She was 82 and had lived for nearly half a century in a South End brownstone. “Barbara was quite a presence,” said Elyse Cherry, CEO of Boston Community Capital, who formerly chaired the same-sex marriage advocacy organization MassEquality. “For kids coming of age today, they have a sense of it always being like this. It has been the commitment of an enormous amount of people over the decades who made this instantaneous change happen, and Barbara was an enormous part of making that change occur.”

My published books:/p>

See my published books