Partner Ricci Cortez

Queer Places:
The Roaring Sixties, 2305 S Shepherd Dr, Houston, TX 77019

Rita Wanstrom (November 5, 1924 - November 17, 2009) was a pioneer in the Houston fight for LGBT equality. Wanstrom, known as "Papa Bear" to her many friends, owned and operated nightclubs for lesbians, including the 1960s-era The Roaring Sixties, located on South Shepherd. A leading activist at a time when gay women were arbitrarily arrested for cross-dressing if they wore fly-front pants, Wanstrom's efforts were instrumental in having that ordinance repealed. Among her many honors, she served as a grand marshal in Houston's 1981 Pride Parade.

Her parents owned a ranch in Bell County, TX. Her mother’s father had come to Texas about 1910 with 90c in his pocket and 6 children. Soon he owned the first electric cotton gin in Texas. Her parents died in 1957 in a car accident. She married four times. In 1942 to Henry, the marriage was annulled. With her second husband, Chris, she spent five years in an 18 room home in New York and in a family’s summer home in New Jersey. Her third husband was Hal, the father of her only child, Stephan. They divorced after 14 months. Her fourth husband, Maurice, was 18 years older than her. The marriage lasted 6 months. She operated Dallas’ first private club with wide-open gambling and for a year taught dancing at the Fred McQurne Studios. She met her longtime partner Ricci Cortez in 1951 at the Ace of Clubs in Dallas. Following her parents’ deaths in 1957, she moved to Houston and took a job at Baylor University’s College of Medicine.

Wanstrom died November 17 from breast cancer and other health issues in Austin, in the company of her son and daughter-in-law. She was 85.

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