George Washington University, 2121 I St NW, Washington, DC 20052
700 E St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Guild Bookshop, 507 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
118 Linkhorn Dr, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Mark II cinema, 808 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Village Books, 819 13th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Village Books, 14th St NW & H St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Village Books Inc., 3410 Washington Ave, Newport News, VA 23607
Herman Lynn Womack (January 15, 1923 – September, 1985) was an American publisher, and the founder of Guild Press, a Washington, D.C. publishing house that catered almost exclusively to a gay male audience and played a major role in expanding the legal protections for gay publications against obscenity laws in the United States.
Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in 1923 to tenant farmers, Womack began school at the University of Mississippi, but transferred to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to complete his degree and to pursue graduate studies. Womack was a heavyset man and an albino.
By 1946, Womack came to terms with his homosexuality and ended his marriage to his second wife. This coincided with the collapse of one of his business ventures, the Howell Academy, a private boarding school at which Womack reportedly was rarely present. After the closing of the Howell Academy, Womack enrolled in a Ph.D. program in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, receiving his doctorate in 1955. After completing his Ph.D., he became a professor of Philosophy at the George Washington University.
An investment that he had made earlier in his life paid off and resulted in his becoming the owner of a small printing plant. With this printing press, he developed MANual Enterprises, an earlier incarnation of the Guild Press.
By 1960, Guild Press became a profitable publishing enterprise under Womack's leadership as publisher and sole proprietor and was printing physique and art magazines and providing a national mail-order business.
In 1962, the United States Postal Service tried to shut down the distribution of three of the Guild Press's publications: Manual, Trim, and Grecian Guild Pictorial. Womack responded by taking the U.S. Postal Service to court in MANual Enterprises v. Day (1962), which was one of the First Amendment cases that determined that erotica intended for gay males was "not obscene as a matter of law". He ultimately won the case on appeal in the United States Supreme Court, thereby carving out greater freedoms for gay publications throughout the United States.
At its height, Womack's business enterprises included Guild Press; Guild Book Service, its mail order distribution service; the Grecian Guild; the Potomac News Company; the Mark II gay cinema (808 K St NW in Washington, DC); and Village Books, a chain of bookstores along the East Coast. In Washington, DC, there were Village Books outlets at 819 13 St NW and at 14th and H Streets NW. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Womack ran his businesses through partners and subordinates, such as J. J. Proferes (also owner of DC's Metropole Cinema), Henry Pryba, and Raymond Pechin.
Womack's mail order business, Guild Book Service, started in 1964, distributed a regular bulletin to members with reviews of selections. In its first Bulletin, Guild Book Service announce that it had "been organized primarily as a service to meet the needs of the subscribers to the various publications of Guild Press, Ltd. We will provide a critical evaluation of much of the material now flooding certain areas of specialized interest and will make these materials available as efficiently and economically as possible." The Guild Book Service goals were to bring the "collective output of gay titles and provide them to a newly defined gay reading public."
Womack was not known for being a competent businessperson. At one point, he committed himself into St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. to avoid creditors. He set up a makeshift office in the hospital, from which he could run his business without interruptions from creditors or lawyers. He had run out of money and could not complete the manufacture of books that had been in progress for years.
In March 1964, Samuel Steward (a.k.a. Phil Andros) met H. Lynn Womack in New York to discuss the publication of a collection of short stories that he had been working on. The lunch meeting between Steward and Womack was productive, and Womack ultimately decided to publish Steward's book $tud. By late 1965, the final manuscript had been submitted, and $tud was slated to be published in 1966.
Unfortunately, due to Womack's legal and financial problems, the publication of $tud was delayed for more than three years. Because Womack was hiding in St. Elizabeth's Hospital and refusing to return Steward's calls, Steward was unable to buy back the rights to his manuscript and had to wait until Womack could pull together the money to finish the production of his book The text block of the books had been printed in 1966 but had sat for three years with no bindings.
By 1969, Steward found another publisher (J. Brian) willing to publish a cheap paperback edition of $tud. Utilizing an escape clause in the contract, Steward agreed to allowing J. Brian to publish the paperback edition. Womack retaliated by immediately having the unbound books in his warehouse bound, but instead of selling or distributing them to bookstores, had them remaindered which meant that Steward would never earn any royalties.
In 1970, Womack decided to launch a short-lived gay newspaper, The Gay Forum, with national distribution. Womack's new venture into the newspaper business quickly floundered due in large part to renewed prosecution of Guild Press and Womack on charges of using underage models in the increasingly photo-illustrated publications produced by Guild Press. In April 1970, the FBI conducted major raids on adult bookstores up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
As part of a plea bargain reached in 1971 to reduce Womack's sentence from two-and-a-half years to six months, Womack agreed to legally separate himself from his adult businesses, including the Guild Press. Guild Press ceased nearly all publishing within two years and was bankrupt by 1974.
In the 1970s, after the end of his connection with Guild Press and its ultimate demise, Womack moved to Boca Raton, Florida, where he died in 1985.
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